Susie Burrell

‘your food, your body, your life’

With many of us working from home and the fridge within easily reach, it seems like a great time to talk about how we can take control of mindless eating.

Ever since the term “mindless eating” was coined by eating behaviour researcher Brian Wansink there has been more attention paid to not only what we eat but the way we do it. It seems that busy lifestyles have given way to busy eating and unfortunately busy eating often means eating too much, too often.

Mindless eating refers to the type of eating that occurs when we are not really paying attention.

A handful of jelly beans from the office lolly jar, a couple of bites of the kids leftovers, the pre dinner snack of cheese and crackers while you chop the vegetables. Extra food, extra calories that we not only do not need, but that we also fail to compensate for.

It seems that when we are not paying 100% attention to what we are putting in our mouths, we are not only more likely to eat far more than we need but we do not register that we have eaten it, so fail to eat less at our next meal to compensate. Although such a behavioural matrix is complicated, and influenced by many factors, basically it means that simply being more mindful about the way we eat is crucial to avoid extra calories slipping into our day, which will end up being extra weight long term.

Mindless eating is more likely to occur when you are distracted – eating while simultaneously doing something else.

Eating when driving, eating when watching TV, getting dinner ready, eating when you are not really hungry. Eating mindlessly can easily become a habit that develops when we naturally link a certain situation to eating – always grabbing a chocolate bar when filling the car with petrol, nibbling while watching TV late at night or saying yes to coffee and cake when you are out meeting friends.

The first step towards gaining control of your mindless eating habits is to keep a record of the times when food is entering your mouth and then simply asking yourself; “Am I hungry or is eating that food, at that time just a bad habit?” Once you are more aware when you are eating out of habit, the easier it will be to stop yourself.

The second step in controlling mindless eating is to make sure you control the amount of food stimulus you have around you. Studies have repeatedly shown that basically we eat when food is in front of us. You are not weak, or a pig, you are just human and basically we are taught from a very early age that if food is in front of us, we should eat it. So, now that you know this, it is time to rid your home, office and social environment of as much visible food stimulus as you can. It is time to clear the desk and bench of lollies and snacks, the office kitchen of the visible biscuit jar and the car of hidden snacks. Not having food in front of you all the time means that you are less likely to think about it outside of meal times, and start to relate your feelings of hunger to food rather than simply because it is in front of you.

Finally, eating mindfully requires you to concentrate on eating and eating alone when you are supposed to be doing it. This means concentrating fully when you are enjoying a meal or snack, savouring each mouthful and chewing it properly. Focusing solely on the eating experience not only means that you are likely to enjoy your meal more but as you are more aware of how much you have actually eaten, over time you are in a better position to regulate your energy intake appropriately.