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Do We Need More Mindlessness

I know I’m bucking the trend here, but hundreds of conversations with clients have convinced me that there is an often missed correlation between mindfulness around food and mindlessness in the rest of the lives of disregulated eaters. From my perspective, many of them would benefit greatly from being more mindless in life so that they can become more mindful around food. Here’s why.

As I wrote in Nice Girls Finish Fat (whose ideas also apply to “nice” men), your typical disregulated eater—at least those I’ve come across in my 30 years in the field—is no goof off who wants only to party, play, take life easy, and let loose. I’m not saying that some weren’t perhaps that way at one point in their lives, only that when I meet them, they’re fixated on being responsible, doing things “right,” achieving success, and desiring above almost all else to be “good” people. Frivolity, recklessness, and wild abandon would be hard-pressed to make their list of stated intentions.

In my experience, most disregulated eaters are so tightly wound that they find it almost impossible to unwind, relax, chill out, and kick back. To the contrary, they exhibit excessive mindfulness—guarding what they say in order to please others, putting too much effort into doing the right thing so they don’t offend, keeping their noses to the grindstone, and obsessing about decisions to ensure they’re on the “correct” path. They’re so driven to “mind” what they do, that they knock themselves way out of balance in the mental energy department.

Paying such rigorous attention to staying on top of life, it’s natural for them to seek ways to be less mindful and more mindless. And what arena do they pick for that? Well, eating, of course. Or skipping out on the gym or exercising. Or sloughing off taking care of themselves. They have, unfortunately, got things exactly backwards. Sure, it’s essential for us all to have times of focused attention and mental vacations, but they need to be intentional, not accidental. We must choose when to attend carefully and when to turn off our burnt-out brains and give them a well-needed recharge or rest.

The way to make this shift is to view non-hunger eating as your best effort to chill out and, as Geneen Roth says, “Go unconscious.” Next is to find ways to do that without food. Watch TV or movies, net surf, play computer games, read trash, air out your head in silly ways with the sole and gleeful intention of being mindless. Instead of chiding yourself, “Better get to work,” try saying, “It’s time to get out and play!”