10 tips to stop mindless eating

Whilst it’s easy to forgive yourself for having the occasional blowout if you overeat at Christmas (especially with all those delectable festive goodies around!), what about the other eleven months of the year?

Letting your hair down once in a while is fine but in order to maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to be mindful of what you eat and how often you eat it.

It goes without saying that a lack of self-control, however it manifests itself, is one of those things we’re all susceptible to at one time or another. Whether it’s alcohol-related, playing computer games excessively or even watching too much TV, our self-control often goes out the window. This is especially true when it comes to food, and it can be a tough nut to crack. Aside from an increased risk of developing diabetes and/or heart disease, overeating can sometimes lead to bouts of depression coupled with a lack of self-worth.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a few useful tips to help you break the habit of overeating once and for all.


Before we delve in, let’s take a brief look at “mindless eating” and see what it is and whether it’s something you’re familiar with. The term was coined as a result of studies conducted by professor Brian Wansink, who became well-known in dieting circles back in 2005 for his “bottomless bowls” study. In short, some participants ate soup from a standard bowl whilst others had a bowl that could be refilled from underneath without their knowledge. The conclusion drawn was that those who had “bottomless bowls” didn’t think they’d eaten any more than those with standard bowls. Although some of Wansink’s research has since been called into question, the notion of ‘smaller plate, smaller you’ still persists and may well still have some merit.

Whether 100% scientifically valid or not, munching through food as though you were on autopilot is the essence of mindless eating. Picture the scene; you’ve had a busy day and still have plenty left to do so you decide to wolf your food down as quickly as you can to save a few precious seconds. You may even be checking your text messages or catching up on Facebook whilst you do it. In today’s high-octane world, it’s all too common to eat-on-go but it can turn out to be very counterproductive in the long run, especially if you struggle with your weight.

The biggest problem is that when we do this, we’re not really paying attention to, or even aware of, the food decisions we’re making. It’s not exclusive to eating indoors when we’re rushed either; it can happen when we’re out with friends or family too. Are the portion servings too big? Did we go for second helpings at the ‘all you can eat’ buffet? Have we starved ourselves all day so that we can make the most of our visit to the local restaurant? Did we chat for too long and then have to eat quickly to catch up with others at the table?… and so on.

As a case in point, when asked how many food decisions they made per day, the average answer of the 139 test subjects involved in Dr. Wansink’s experiment was 14.4 – Now, that doesn’t sound too unrealistic, but as it turned out, they were reportedly making around 200 on average; a huge difference indeed!

It’s no surprise if that comes as a bit of an eye-opener since hardly any of us are truly aware of what we’re doing when it comes to eating food. So, bearing in mind our busy lives are full of distractions, here are a few tips to un-zombify your eating habits!

Tip 1 – Become More Mindful
This may be stating the obvious but it’s time to start being more mindful of what’s going into your body, and when. That means no more eating on autopilot just for the sake of it, no more picking at food just because you’re bored but not even hungry, no more eating what’s left on the plate even when you’re full. It’s easier said than done of course and it takes practice but it can be done. Cutting out the distractions at mealtime is key, so start by stepping away from the computer and focusing on your meal instead. Turn off the TV whilst you’re eating so you can pay attention to what’s on your plate, not what’s on the screen in front of you.

You should also avoid snacking beforehand for quick boosts of energy or just because it’s something you’ve ‘always done’. It’s far better to give your body what it needs rather than low-nutrition tasty goodies here and there throughout the day. You’d be surprised at how much more you enjoy eating when it has your full attention and you’re also more likely to recognise when your stomach lets you know that it’s full. If we’re distracted we often miss the cues our body gives us.

Tip 2 – Eat more protein & Fibre
Since it takes more time for the body to digest protein than it does carbohydrates, starting your day with protein-rich food can actually mean that you consume less calories over the course of the day. It can also reduce the desire to snack later in the evening so starting your day with something like scrambled eggs with some beans on the side is a good choice. Fibre is also great because it makes you feel fuller even though you’ve eaten fewer calories. Again, beans are a good source of fibre.

Tip 3 – Get a good night’s sleep
Lack of sleep and appetite are intertwined. When your body is tired it wants an energy boost and a quick way to get it is from food. Furthermore, it’s more likely that you’ll gravitate towards junk foods as they generally contain a higher calorie content, giving your body the boost it’s craving.

Tip 4 – Avoid comfort eating
Habitual comfort eating can become a real problem. Be aware of the triggers that cause it and take steps to avoid it. Bad habits, boredom or stress are common factors so be mindful of any of these.

Tip 5 – Plan ahead
Plan your meals at home before you go shopping. This will help you buy more of the ‘ good stuff’ and less of the bad snacky stuff. Also, plan what’s going to be on your plate beforehand. For example, if you roasted a few too many potatoes, don’t just plop the extra ones on your plate just because they’re there. Cover and refrigerate them instead. Also, if you’re eating out, have a look online to see if the pub/restaurant has their menu on their website. This can help prevent impulse ordering when you get there.

Tip 6 – Use smaller plates
Large dinner plates can make it appear that there’s not enough on our plates to start with so buying smaller ones can have the reverse effect. Try it and see!

Tip 7 – Try using blue plates too
It sounds weird but it may just work. Blue is a rare colour in the food world and our bodies aren’t used to associating it with food. Have a look at the blue food pics on this page and see if you agree.

Tip 8 – Eat slowly
This is an important one. In general, the faster you eat, the more you’ll consume. It can take around 20 minutes before your brain registers that you’ve had enough so eating too fast can hijack this natural process causing you to continue eating even when your body has actually had enough.

Tip 9 – Be mindful of the end result
If you’re trying to lose weight, focusing on the ‘new you’ that’s just around the corner can really help. If you can see the end results more clearly in your mind, you’re already well on your way. Bear in mind that even a 5% weight loss can bring about significant gains in how you feel about yourself, both mentally and physically.

Tip 10 – Be honest with yourself
Again, this can be tough. Self-denial is common and we all do it at times in one way or another. For example, the cliche “I can’t lose weight because I have a slow metabolism” story may be true in certain cases, but not all of them. What’s your story? Honest self-reflection in those quieter moments can help us reveal our own truth to ourselves.

We hope you’ve found these 10 tips useful and we know it’s not always easy to follow all (or even some) of them!

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