Are you a mindless eater?
Do you find yourself wolfing down meals without noticing and eating everything in front of you just because it’s there? That’s mindless eating at work. Discover how to eat with more awareness…
Given the massive preoccupation many of us have with our diets and the food we’re eating, it’s ironic how little attention most of us pay to the eating process itself. Whether we’re eating our meals at our desks while working, in front of our TVs, or out at a restaurant where the focus is on company and conversation, there would be very few of us who didn’t fall into the category of being a mindless eater, at least some of the time.
“Most of the time we eat, we’re mindless, because we eat so often and it’s so habitual that it’s very easy to not pay attention,” explains Louise Adams, a clinical psychologist at Treat Yourself Well in Sydney.
For many, mindless eating has become so commonplace, it’s affected our ability to regulate what we’re eating. “If it’s habitual, we lose contact with our internal signals of hunger and fullness and that means we eat more because of external cues such as the portion in front of us,” says Louise, something anyone who’s devoured a huge tub of popcorn while engrossed in a movie could certainly attest to.
As well as distractions and our busy lives, Louise says another pervading factor that contributes to mindless eating is “the diet mentality that’s saturating our culture”.
“Many people are unsatisfied with their bodies and feel like they should be losing weight and the most popular way of doing that is to go on a diet, which is basically following a set of rules of eating certain things,” explains Louise. “When you start listening to food rules, you feel deprived, and when you feel deprived you want to rebel and break the rules. And when we do break the rules, we usually overdo it.”
Louise adds that this obsession with following food rules means we’re ignoring the cues of our own bodies, which is one of the first things she teaches people in her Mindful Eating program.
“Start paying attention to hunger, which is something most people don’t look at,” she says. “We are usually looking at what we’re eating when we start trying to cut things out, but mindful eating is about looking at why you’re eating. Am I hungry? On what scale?”
Louise says the key is to eat when you’re hungry – but not too hungry. “When we wait too long to eat, it’s very hard to be mindful because our whole body is telling us to eat a lot of food and eat it quickly.”
Once you’re ready to eat, it’s important to take the time and space to connect with what you’re doing. “Sit down, put the fork down between mouthfuls,” advises Louise. “Pay attention with your senses, looking at the food, smelling the food, even touching the food and when you eat a mouthful, close your eyes and savour the taste, the texture, the stuff that’s going on in your mouth, it’s what I call a mindful mouthful.”
Kevin Jankelowitz, Chief Meditation Officer and Co-Founder of Centred Meditation, explains that mindful eating is very similar to mindful meditation, using the various stages of eating as an anchor for your awareness.
“Gather your attention, and gently rest it on whatever stage of eating you are at: scooping up a mouthful, putting it inside your mouth, chewing, tasting, swallowing, and use it as an anchor for your awareness,” he says. “When you realise your mind has started to produce commentary about the food or process itself, or has wandered off and is caught up in random thought, just gently bring it back to your current anchor, without judgment.”
Another key to mindful eating, explains Louise, is forgetting everything we’ve learned about dieting.
“Mindful eating is definitely anti-diet,” she says. “In the mindful eating world, there’s no such thing as good food or bad food, healthy food or unhealthy food, there’s simply food, because mindfulness is not judgmental, whereas that dieting mentality is extremely judgmental about whether food is good for us or not.”
While those of us with a diet mentality might panic at the thought of no food being off limits, Louise is reassuring. “When people start doing mindful eating, they might overdo it for a while, say eating potato chips, especially if they’ve been dieting for a long time, but if you just sit tight and keep paying attention to hunger, fullness, satisfaction, enjoyment, people find naturally that they start to lose the enjoyment of being able to eat potato chips whenever they want and are then able to just eat them when they feel like it.”
Of course, regular meditation goes hand in hand with mindful eating – and mindful living in general. “The actual process of meditating is doing two things to our brains, which eventuate in us becoming more mindful in our daily activities,” says Kevin. “Firstly, it is reducing stress in our physiology. Amongst a host of other detrimental effects, stress affects our ability to think clearly as it is so clogged up with our worries and concerns. By decreasing our level of stress, we are then able to become attune to and enjoy everything else that is happening in our present moment once the meditation is over.
“Secondly, during meditation, each time we realise we are thinking and return our attention back to our anchor (breath, mantra, etc), we are strengthening important neural pathways in our brain, which allows us to hone in on everything in our present moment with more focus and awareness.”
- Meditate with Kevin on Bodypass.
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website