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The Causes of Mindless Eating

  • Eating

What prevents you from being a mindful eater? Mind you (pun intended), I’m not encouraging you to be a perfect eater but, rather, one who generally puts enough attention on what you’re eating to enjoy it and stay attuned to appetite signals. Here’s my take on what gets in your way:

  • You’re mentally distracted by “all you have to do” and therefore don’t believe you have or deserve time to relish food and feed yourself in such a way that you know when you’ve had enough and are comfortable stopping. Your body may be sitting at the table—or more likely standing at the stove, plopped on the couch in front of the TV, or hunched over your computer—but your mind is miles away obsessed with all the things you feel you “should” be doing. Your focus is on everything but eating. People looking at you might see a person having dinner, but you’re really planning the rest of your day—or the rest of your life.
  • You’re multi-tasking and doing several activities at once. Maybe you’re folding laundry, doing your taxes, cleaning up your kid’s room, or cleaning out your car. Whatever it is, you break from doing it long enough to snack because you’re hungry or because food just makes the task you’re doing more tolerable. It’s a companion to your current activity, not a discreet activity in itself. Or it’s an intermission from the tasks at hand. Because you weren’t paying much attention to it; later you may even forget that you ate. That’s how the brain works: it remembers what you focus on.
  • You’re using food as a mindless activity. You won’t eat mindfully if you’re looking to turn off your brain. If you conceive of eating as an activity to help you go unconscious, that’s what will play out. You don’t want to pay attention to eating because the whole purpose of doing so is to think and focus less not more. This view suggests that you don’t have nearly enough brainless or joyful activities in your life. You’re looking for food to do something it’s not meant to do. Sure, it might transport you in the moment you have your first spoonful of double fudge ice cream or your initial bite into your family’s recipe for eggplant parmigiana. But food is not meant to be an ongoing mindless activity. For that, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

If you’re a mindless eater, identify which of the above reasons are causing the problem and find a solution. Take time to eat without distraction (you can find 10-15 minutes for a meal!). Practice staying focused on food’s taste and texture and on your body feeling satisfied and full. Make sure you have enough mindless time in your life to shut off your brain and still your body and enough pleasure that brings you joy and contentment.