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4 Simple Tips To Overcome Your Mindless Eating Habits

4 Simple Tips To Overcome Your Mindless Eating Habits

In today’s modern world, where everybody is addicted to instant gratification, mindless eating is incredibly common.

Mindless eating is defined as eating food without paying adequate attention to what and how much food is being eaten. This is linked closely to eating out of boredom, or eating just to fill time – often times these two ideas are talked about as one and the same.

The role of visual cues

The underlying commonality here is that we aren’t always conscious of how much we’re eating. For example, consider this study on bottomless bowls done by Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think”. In this study, 54 participants were given 18 ounce bowls of soup, but half of the bowls were designed to partially refill so that the amount of soup in the bowl decreased at a slower rate.

On average, the people with the normal bowls ate 8.5 ounces of soup, while the participants with the sneaky refill bowls ate 14.7 ounces of soup. That’s a whopping 73% more soup eaten by those with the refillable bowls. Wansink and his research group found that the group with the refillable bowls didn’t notice that they ate more soup, nor did they feel more satiated than those who only ate 8.5 ounces.

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Wansink concluded that “people use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs. The importance of having salient, accurate visual cues can play an important role in the prevention of unintentional overeating.”

Why do we do this?

When food is available, we naturally eat, in case of a famine in the future.

At the most basic primitive level, our brains are hardwired to do one thing – survive. Even if we don’t immediately need the energy, when food is available we eat anyways and store the energy for later as body fat. That’s why having some body fat is healthy, and actually necessary for survival. That’s what makes it so hard to get to low body fat levels – your body doesn’t want you to starve.

Food Addictions

Aside from the survival aspect of mindless eating, there’s a psychological mechanism at play here as well. As I mentioned earlier, we’re addicted to instant gratification and stimulation – and that’s what eating provides: stimulation. Whether it be visual stimulation from the television, the high you get from drugs, or the satisfying taste of food, these are all types of stimulation, that appeal to our senses and hormones.

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All of these things appeal to our senses and trigger hormones in our body such as dopamine and serotonin that give us feelings of enjoyment and makes our brain say “give me more!” That’s why it’s so easy to end up binge watching netflix, become addicted to drugs, or continue to put your hand back into that bag of potato chips.

Obviously there are different levels of addiction, but they are all based on the same principle of stimulation and subsequent hormonal response.

How to overcome mindless eating habits

We need to focus on eating mindfully, to prevent the habit of mindless eating. When we eat while we’re distracted, we end up in the mindless eating trap – I’m sure most everyone can relate to this.

When you’re watching TV and snacking on pretzels for example, you might get really caught up in the TV show and just keep eating the pretzels right out of the bag without thinking about it. Another classic example is the giant bag of popcorn at the movies that you end up eating more of than you realized.

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Fortunately, there are a few ways we can help combat this common problem of mindless eating.

1. Focus on the feel of the food

Avoid eating in front of the TV and instead focus on being in the moment and being conscious of exactly what you’re eating.

Chew your food slowly. Focus on the taste and the texture of the food you’re eating and how it makes you feel. You’ll find that this will help you eat slower, which will make you more aware of your feeling of fullness and your ability to put down the fork and say “okay that’s enough.”

2. Avoid trigger foods

One thing you can do to minimize mindless eating is to keep snack foods tucked away, instead of in plain sight. Or better yet, just don’t buy snack foods – they won’t be around at all! Trigger foods like chips or biscuits are often the subject of mindless eating.

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Think about it. The more readily available something is to us, the more likely we are to eat it. If that guilty pleasure snack food is sitting on the counter-top staring at you in the face, you’ll be more likely to eat it, than if it’s still hidden in the back corner of your cupboard shelf or preferably left at the grocery store itself.

3. Visual cues for portion control

Another strategy to combat mindless eating is to monitor your portion control more carefully. Similar to the endless soup bowl principle above, controlling the perceived amount of food you eat can have a impact on satiety as well.

Try using a smaller plate – the same amount of food will look like more on a smaller plate than it would on a bigger plate. Subsequently, you’ll feel like you’ve eaten more food when you use the smaller plate and thus feel more full.

4. Listen To your body

Pause for a second to take a deep breath and focus on how you feel. Are you really still hungry? Focus on your body and how you feel. If you find that you really are still hungry, then by all means eat more! There’s nothing wrong with that.

But really take a minute to contemplate it. Being able to distinguish whether you’re really still hungry or you just want to stimulate your sense of taste more will help you stop the mindless eating.

Summary:

Start implementing some of these strategies into your daily routine today, to combat the mindless eating phenomenon.

  • Don’t leave the bowl of candy on the table or the packet of chips on the countertop – hide them away or don’t buy them at all.
  • Use smaller plates, bowls, and portion sizes – trick your brain into thinking you ate more than you did.
  • Eat slower and listen to your body – put your fork down between bites and make sure you’re eating because you’re hungry, not just because it tastes good.

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Andrew Schutt

Personal Trainer

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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