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Mindless vs. Mindful Eating: How a Simple Change Can Have an Extraordinary Impact

Jaime Hope, M.D. Articles, Healthy Living

empty-chip-bagWe’ve all done it. Reached our hand into the bag of chips only to find that the bag is empty. We peer into the bag, slightly surprised and wonder “where did they all go?” Or take in the last bite of the desert, only to find that we don’t even really remember eating it. This is called mindless eating. It can be detrimental, if we are using it while eating unhealthy foods. Or we could take advantage of the power of mindless eating and learn new techniques for mindful eating.

Think of times where mindless eating is most likely to occur – in front of the TV, at the computer, in the car, or while otherwise distracted. We’re not fully engaged in what we’re doing while we are eating and not enjoying eating to the fullest extent. Realistically, there are times that we need to eat during these distracted periods. So instead, you can train yourself to take advantage of these times.

I remember a specific instance in which I had been chopping vegetables to prepare snacks for the upcoming week, when I got a call from my sister that her water broke and my nephew was going to be born soon. I scooped up a bunch of vegetables into a bag, hopped in my car and drove to the hospital as fast as the speed limit would allow. When I arrived, I look down at the bag of vegetables that I had cut and was very surprised to find that I had chomped through most of them. It dawned me in that moment that mindless eating offers the perfect opportunity to eat foods that don’t taste as delicious as some other foods. It’s the perfect time to eat the foods that some of us might consider to be “a chore”.

healthy-veggiesSo, if you’re not particularly crazy about your chopped up vegetables or any other particular food that you know that you need to eat in order to improve your health, plan on eating these foods when you are otherwise distracted. It will make them seem like less of a chore, because you are not focusing directly on the food.

This reminds me of another situation when I was a young child. I was a rather picky eater, and one of the things I liked the very least was green beans. Although my palate has expanded significantly as an adult, through efforts to expand my food horizons, I still don’t particularly care for green beans.  I recall a specific instance in which I was staring down a plate of green beans that was growing colder by the minute. I was locked in a battle of wills.  My mother would not allow me to leave the table until I finished my green beans, but I was very determined not to try them. By the time I worked up the “courage” to put a cold bean in my mouth, I was already gagging. The problem?  I was in full mindful eating mode! Every part of my being was focused on the food that was in front of me – the sight, the smell, taste, and everything about it. The problem was it was a food that I didn’t like.  My mom finally gave me a hint to try plugging my nose and eating them quickly to get it over with, which is why, decades later, I’m not still staring at the same beans on that plate (when mom made a rule, she stuck with it!). If I had my beans at the beginning of the meal while I was distracted by pleasant conversation with my family, it might not of been such a sensory overload and such a big deal.

Now let’s take mindful eating and turn it around to our advantage. Imagine eating something delicious such as the aforementioned chips or cake or dessert.  It’s a shame to eat these things while we are distracted, because we are not fully enjoying the sensory experience of something that actually tastes good.  So next time you do eat a treat, whether it’s a favorite fruit, side dish, or even dessert, stop all the distractions. Don’t eat it in front of the TV or computer, or while you’re driving in your car. Be fully present in the moment and take in what you are eating. Enjoy the sight, smell and taste of it and the feeling in your mouth. Eat it slowly and blissfully. Ensure that you are ringing the joy out of every last little bite. By eating this way you will achieve two helpful things: The first is that by slowing down, you will eat less of it because your body will get the full signals faster. The second is that while you are taking the time to enjoy it, you will be satisfied with less of it, meaning you won’t need to eat the entire bag of chips in order to satisfy the craving. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

So in our quest to eat 90% healthy and to eat no more than 10% unhealthy, we are going to use mindful and mindless eating to have overcome some specific hurdles. We will mindlessly eat the foods that are healthy for us that we might not enjoy the taste of as much, and we will mindfully eat the things that we enjoy.

So, your action plan for today is:

  • Determine the foods that you should eat that you don’t enjoy as much, and find times to mindlessly fit them into your schedule.
  • Determine foods that you love the most, and find time to mindfully eat them and enjoy them

Use your smarter goals worksheet to help you achieve some specifics with these goals and you will find that you are eating better in no time!

Dr. Jaime Hope is a physician with Allure Medical Spa, working with patients on a range of services. She has had a lifelong passion for healthy eating and living, and recently directed the launch of the Allure Weight Loss program. Through this effort, Dr. Hope intends to help Allure Medical Spa patients reach their health and fitness goals through manageable plans that fit easily into any lifestyle.