Have you ever eaten a whole bag of chips when you weren’t even really that hungry? Or maybe you’ve put on a few pounds lately, but you can’t figure out why. The reason might be mindless eating, which is defined as any subconscious eating habits that can lead to weight gain. You probably don’t realize you’re doing it, and it might be partly due to outside forces.
For instance, we are bombarded with TV ads and billboards that advertise food and we sometimes linger around (or socialize around) food. And when we are constantly seeing food in pictures and in person, that can be enough to make us snack mindlessly without paying much attention – just because of its constant presence.
But those calories add up, and if you pay closer attention to some of your habits, you may be surprised to realize how much extra you are consuming without even realizing it.
So how do you stop the pattern? Here are a few easy tricks:
Start with smaller plates
It’s so simple that it almost sounds silly, but it really works! Regardless of the size plate we use, we tend to fill it – and clear it. Countless studies have shown you can’t rely on your stomach to tell you when you’re full and most people think they are full when they clear their plates. So start smaller and then add more if you’re still hungry. Just making the switch from full size dinner plates to salad plates will give you a chance to pause for a few moments after fewer calories and then decide if you need more.
Create a barrier
Many people get the munchies when they see snack foods. So create a barrier between you and snacks. If you have cookies and chips in your house, store them in a cupboard. If you are likely to snack on whatever is most convenient, keep a basket of fruit on the kitchen table.
For some people, if they remain at the table after completing a meal, they will help themselves to a few more bites even when they are no longer hungry. If you are lingering at the table after dinner, remove the serving dishes, so the food isn’t right in front of you. Clear the dishes, make some tea for everyone, and then return to the table.
When you are eating, just eat. Don’t drive, watch television, chat on the phone, or read a book. Why? It’s easy to lose track of how much you are eating when you are doing other things at the same time. Before you know you it, you are full – or beyond full – and you realize you should have stopped much sooner.
Visual reminders won’t let you forget
You may have heard of the study where two similar groups of people were eating chicken wings, and one group regularly had the bones cleared from their table while the other did not. The group that kept their bones ate considerably less overall. The visual reminder of how much they had consumed helped clue them in when they had eaten enough and should be feeling full.
To dissuade yourself from eating or drinking without thinking, leave the reminders where you will see them. If you snack at work, leave the wrappers on your desk. At happy hour, leave the empty wine glasses on the table. Rather than having a visual reminder of what there is to eat, you have the visual reminder of what you have already eaten. Try it – it works!
These are just a few of many, many ways you can break the mindless eating habit. Start with these tricks, and you will become more mindful of what you are eating. Those extra calories won’t slip in, and you’ll start learning to eat only when you are hungry, and not just because you are distracted.