Do you ever finish a meal feeling that you’re too full? Do you find yourself staring mindlessly into the fridge when you’re not even hungry? Mindless eating is when you eat foods or snacks if you’re not necessarily hungry, or even if you’re full.
Recently a study was undertaken in the United States, where cinema-goers were each given a free bucket of popcorn to eat while they watched their movie. Some were given medium-sized containers, while other were handed extra-large containers. The popcorn, however, was five days old and stale enough to squeak in the mouth when chewed. One moviegoer later likened it to “eating Styrofoam packing peanuts”. Despite this, it was found that at the end of the movie, the majority of those in attendance had eaten most of their popcorn. The study found that those with the larger tubs ate almost 50% more than those with the medium tubs.
This kind of mindless eating leads to excessive energy intake, and can make BMI and general health difficult to maintain. But how can you identify when you’re doing it, and how can you stop if you are?
- Eat at the table With the busy lives that most people lead today, a lot of families are opting to eat dinner while watching TV or sitting at a computer. If we do eat at the table, it’s not uncommon for us to have some kind of device such as a smartphone or tablet nearby. Making a conscious decision to eat as a family at the table can mean that dinner becomes a shared experience. You may find that you become more aware of what you are eating, and realise sooner when you are starting to feel full. Banning devices at the dinner table can help everyone focus on the task at hand, meaning you’ll not only be less likely to over-eat, you will also experience the joy of interacting with your family.
- Start with less on your plate
Studies show that the more food that is available in front of you, the more likely you are to overeat. Instead of piling up you plate at the start of the meal, opt for a smaller serving size. If you finish the smaller plate, you can always get up and get some more, however you may find that you realise you are full sooner, and that you don’t want those extra portions after all.
- Out of sight, out of mind
This age-old expression rings true when it comes to your food. If you can see something yummy and delicious in front of you, you’re more likely to eat it. In fact, even if the food is cold and stale you are still more likely to eat it simply because it’s there! The same goes with food in your cupboards and in the fridge. Store foods that you know are appealing to you at the back of the shelf so that it is more difficult to grab them and munch on them mindlessly. Use this idea to get good, healthy foods into you by storing fruits on your kitchen bench or dining table where you can see and access them easily.
- Try to have a drink
When we are thirsty, our bodies can sometimes send us confusing signals leading us to believe that we are also hungry. If you think this may be happening, instead of going to look for food, have a glass of water first. Wait about ten minutes and if you’re still hungry, then chances are you actually need some food. If not, you can relax knowing you just needed a drink. Drinking a glass of water has the added benefit of keeping you hydrated, and will help you digest any food you do have.
- Honour your feelings without using food
Some people are prone to eating when under stress or when they feel sad, lonely or angry. Alternatively, many of us over-indulge when we are celebrating and socialising. Although it is perfectly okay to do this occasionally, it is important not to use food as a reward, or as a way to avoid bigger issues. Feel your emotions freely, but try not to use them as an excuse to eat unhealthily. Instead, take on an activities that you enjoy to celebrate or to make yourself feel better when you are down, such as going bowling, watching a movie (hold the popcorn!), or even going for a walk or swim.