Are you eating mindlessly?

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One of the easiest ways to over eat and make poor food choices is by mindless eating. Mindless eating, put simply, is being distracted from thinking about the food we consume and eating for convenience rather than nutrition.

Sounds like something we are all guilty of doesn’t it? However, this is something that we can all take charge of.

The result of mindless eating is usually an increase in the consumption of high calorie processed foods with low nutrition density or value, which can easily lead to unregulated weight, nutrition deficiencies, as well as lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

 

Here are some ways in which we may mindlessly eat:

  • Eating out of boredom: There was a general report of increased eating, especially that of snacks during the Covid 19 pandemic. This was significantly due to the fact that people were restricted and limited in their movements during lockdowns. While at home, many people became bored and reached for more snacks.

  • Eating simply because we are in an environment surrounded with food and not because we are hungry

  • Eating for social reasons: Similar to social drinking, we tend to eat just because our family members, friends or colleagues at the time are doing so. Often times we feel a sense of pressure or even obligation to do so even without direct pressure from any of our family members, friends or colleagues.

  • Eating based on emotional status: Many turn to food for comfort when faced with challenging and stressful situations, on days when everything seems to go wrong and when they feel that things are out of their control. Beyond biological, social, and environmental factors, emotions have increasingly been recognized for their role in influencing and shaping our eating habits [14,15,16,17,18]. The importance of emotions in our lives cannot be understated. Emotions shape our experiences, guide our actions, and fundamentally influence our well-being. Hence, it is not surprising that for many of us, our food choices and our relationship with food changes based on our emotional status or condition.

  • Eating while binge watching movies or favorite TV shows; We have long been made to associate movies with snacking. Think of how long going to the cinema, even before it was an indoor event, involved bringing snacks to munch on.

  • Eating just to feel good: Highly palatable foods ( foods that are tasty and provide a great sense of pleasure) can quickly become additive due to their fat, salt and or sugar content. Believe it or not, there is a certain euphoric feeling that individuals can experience during or after eating highly palatable foods. Specifically, overeating sugar-laden foods may disrupt satiety signaling systems (Avena et al., 2008) by altering homeostatic physiological mechanisms that regulate energy intake and biasing individuals toward increased hedonic eating (where people eat for pleasure rather than for energy needs); Bellisle et al., 2012; Colantuoni et al.,

  • Spontaneous snacking as a result of a food cue or commercial on the television or social media platform: Exposure to food commercials provokes hedonic food cue processing and eating behavior on multiple levels including heightened visual attention to unhealthy foods (Spielvogel et al., 2018), hedonic eating (Harris et al., 2009), requests for and consumption of the advertised foods (Gorn and Goldberg, 1982; Utter et al., 2006), and preference for and consumption of high-fat, high-sugar, energy-dense foods (Boyland et al., 2011, 2016).

    TAKING CONTROL: The following simple strategies can help us all take control and practice Mindful eating (where we are fully aware of our environment with regards to what we are eating, the amount we are eating and even why we are eating). Mindful eating involves focused eating, eating in response to hunger and satiety, eating with awareness and eating without distraction.

 

Simple strategies:

  • When bored, engage in other activities rather than heading to the cupboard, pantry or refrigerator. It may be reading a novel, playing with your pet, completing a puzzle or a walk at the park. The options are not limited.

  • Avoid highly processed grab and go snacks when grocery shopping. In that way you will have more control over your home environment. This will help reduce habits such as grazing; where individuals feel compelled to repetitively eat small amounts of food throughout the day even when they are not hungry.

  • Plan in advance what you will eat on a social outing with family, friends or colleagues or eat a nutritionally dense meal in advance of the outing that will keep you full, so as to avoid spontaneous social eating.

  • Make an effort to deal with emotions that arise from challenges or stressful situations rather than using food as an escape. A simple call to talk about the issue with a trusted individual can make a big difference.

  • Have a nutritionally dense meal before you binge watch. Keep water next to you.

  • Pay attention to your body. Learn to recognize, hunger, thirst and satiety signals. What we interpret as hunger signals are often a thirst drive.

  • Practice chewing your food thoroughly rather than eating quickly. Doing so will allow you to tell when you have had enough. Savor every bite. Use all your senses to thoroughly enjoy the food.

  • Get into the habit of eating nutrition dense meals with sufficient complex carbohydrates, quality protein, healthy fat, and fiber. Such meals will keep you satisfied throughout the day.

  • Limit food commercials and media time. However, a more effective approach would be to remember that the intent of advertising is to increase sales through persuasive content. Therefore, get into the habit of thinking critically about food commercials.

  • If you are one who requires more discipline, keep a food diary to help you track what and how much food you are eating.

 

  • REMEMBER: No matter how powerless you feel over food and your feelings, it is possible to make a positive change.

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