Are you looking to learn how to stop eating mindlessly? Did you find yourself sitting on the sofa with a half-empty bag of chips or a half-eaten carton of ice cream without realizing it, again?
Mindless eating is a habit developed over time, and conquering it requires us to build new healthy habits.
Luckily, there are many simple and practical steps we can take to catch ourselves in the act and easily start new habits to stop mindless eating.
What is Mindless Eating?
Mindless eating is eating without conscious awareness.
It’s eating when we are not physically hungry, and not stopping when we’ve eaten enough to satiate our physical hunger.
It’s the habit of putting food in our mouths for reasons other than physical hunger.
Why Do We Eat Mindlessly?
One of the main reasons we overeat is because we rely on our external environmental signals rather than our own internal signals of our level of hunger.
We eat just because we see that bowl of candy on the desk calling our name.
We eat because we are bored.
We eat because we were taught to finish the entire plate or bowl, even when we are already feeling full.
There are many reasons we give ourselves for overeating. But the only reason we should ever eat… is if we are feeling physically hungry.
How to Stop Eating Mindlessly: 10 Practical Tips and Tricks
1. Build awareness
In order to reduce mindless eating, we need to first build our conscious awareness of this habit.
Think about the last time you ate mindlessly. Where were you? What was the time of day? What else were you doing? Who were you with? What was on your mind?
Start paying attention to these mindless eating incidents and identify potential triggers.
Keep a journal to help you track and identify patterns and triggers.
2. Learn to differentiate physical vs emotional hunger
Once we have developed the tendency to eat mindlessly, often we eat not because we are physically hungry but just out of habit.
Real physical hunger is a physical sensation similar to that of the heat we feel on our skin on a hot and sunny day or the coldness we feel holding an ice cube in our hands.
If we have been eating a lot of processed food, our sense of physical hunger may no longer be accurate as processed food can wreak havoc on our hormones.
Hormones that signal our brain when we are hungry or when we are feeling full.
In this case, one of the best ways to tell if we are actually physically hungry is to ask yourself whether you are hungry for healthy proteins or fats (such as grass-fed steaks or nuts), or are you hungry for unhealthy comfort foods (like candies or muffins)?
If you are craving unhealthy comfort foods, your reason for wanting to eat is most likely not physical hunger.
One of the best ways to reset your body and hormones is to avoid processed foods and eat clean.
3. Practical delays of gratification
Delay your food gratifications with practical actions such as washing your hands thoroughly before you touch the food.
You can also pause to say grace or simply give gratitude for the healthy food you are about to eat to nourish and fuel your body.
These delays with “extra work” will give you more time to think about whether you are actually physically hungry and whether it’s worth the additional effort to get the food.
4. Increase the inconvenience of eating
Another delay tactic is to place unhealthy snacks in hard-to-reach areas.
Put them on the top shelf somewhere that requires you to get a step ladder to reach.
Place the ice cream against the back of the freezer behind other items.
Try not to buy food in bulk, and make sure you store the unhealthy items you usually crave in hard-to-reach places.
The extra effort required to get them will have you think twice about whether you really wanted to eat right at the moment.
5. Smaller plates and slim, tall glasses
Pay attention to your food portion size if you want to avoid mindless eating.
A study showed that if we are served more food on a large plate, we’ll eat it regardless of our hunger level (1).
We also tend to underestimate the amount of food put into large plates and bowls.
One way to visually trick our minds is to fill up smaller bowls and plates with food so our brain thinks that we are eating more.
Another study found that we pour 50% less liquid into slim, tall glasses compared to wide, short glasses (2).
6. Favor smaller packaging
One of the best ways to stop mindless snacking is to not eat out of its full-sized bag or carton.
Buy smaller bags or pre-portioned packages of healthy snacks.
If you buy the family or bulk-sized packaging, pre-portion the item yourself before storing the item away or during your weekly meal prep.
Proactively limiting your portion size goes a long way to help you to avoid eating mindlessly.
7. Eat slowly
Focus on staying in the present moment and take the time to fully enjoy the look, smell, texture, and taste of the food.
Eating slowly also helps you to consume fewer calories because it allows your body time to realize it’s full.
8. Beware of “healthy foods”
Back in the days when fat was vilified as a cause of weight gain and heart diseases, many foods were marketed as healthy low-fat foods.
However, not all fats are unhealthy, and having fats in food usually made them tastier, so a substitute was needed to enrich the taste of so-called “healthy” low-fat food.
That substitute was added sugar, which had the added benefit of triggering a dopamine hit and a feel-good response in the brain, thus making the food more addictive and profitable for the food industry as our brains like to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
The added sugar contains a high amount of empty calories, which actually sabotages our weight loss efforts.
The best way to eat healthily is to eat clean. You want to consume a balance of healthy fats, produce, and carbohydrates.
Related Post: The Ultimate Guide to Clean Eating for Beginners
9. Brush your teeth after dinner
If you have a tendency to eat mindlessly sitting in front of the TV after dinner, you may want to try brushing your teeth after dinner or before you sit down in front of the TV.
Once you have cleaned your teeth and freshened your mouth, you are less likely to want to eat again for the night.
At the very least, you don’t want to have to brush your teeth again before going to bed.
10. Unplug when you eat
One of the easiest traps we fall into eating mindlessly is to eat while distracted.
Whether you are watching Netflix, browsing the internet, or playing video games, our brain is actually not as good at multi-tasking as you’d like to think.
Often you end up losing track of how much you are eating or what you were doing before you got distracted with the food.
Turn off electronic distractions when you eat. Not only will you be less likely to overeat, but you’ll be able to focus on enjoying your food more.
As you work through these 10 ways on how to stop eating mindlessly, I recommend that you pick only one new habit at a time and focus on implementing just that one action until it becomes a sticky habit (like brushing your teeth twice daily).
Remember to strive for progress, not perfection. Habits are built on taking small but consistent daily actions.
Give yourself a healing space by being curious and compassionate to your reasons for choosing to overeat.
Take notice of any criticisms directed towards yourself and reduce the self-blame chatters with understanding and empathy for yourself.
Focus instead on building these new healthy habits and how to best implement them to suit your lifestyle needs.
Let your mind and body be your best friends instead of your worst enemies. You’ve got this.