Put down all the banana bread… here’s how to prevent mindless eating

June 5, 2020

I know so many people who are getting lean and strong, and I feel I’ve just fattened my curves. The slice of banana bread I ate but didn’t really feel like, the pretzels I ate while watching series that I wasn’t even aware of, and the sweets I ate for some comfort.

I’m trying to rein in some self-control, and so for my sake, and for anyone who might need it, I got some tips from Nutritional Solutions on how to prevent mindless eating. I’ve also included some really practical and easy tips on how to eat healthier right now.

What is mindful eating?

It is choosing healthy food that you enjoy, that will awaken all your senses and allow you to find pleasure in your food by smelling, chewing, tasting, swallowing and savouring each bite. This will contribute to you being consciously aware of your level of hunger and fullness.

The goal of mindful eating is to support the shift of focusing on external thinking about food, to explore the eating experience. The focus is more on HOW to eat, and a bit less on WHAT to eat.

Michelle May, a registered medical doctor in the United States and founder of the mindful eating workshops “Am I Hungry?” believes the awareness of food and the eating process is a necessary component that facilitates positive behaviour change around food.

Since most people eat for reasons other than physical hunger, the first question of “Why do I eat?” is often key to ultimately changing unwanted behavior.

Below are the questions she uses to get us thinking why we are actually eating:

“Why do I eat?” Mindless eating may happen when we are bored, stressed, anxious, frustrated, angry or sad. We want to distract ourselves from the discomfort of the unwanted emotion, so we eat to mask the feelings we are feeling.

When do I want to eat?”  This could be triggered by routine and the power of habit (snacking in between meals), eating even when we aren’t hungry; conversely it could also be driven by unpleasant emotions or stress.

“What do I eat?” This boils down to what we chose to eat; Do you prepare your meals at home for the day, watching the ingredients used in preparation?  Do you reach for the ready pie and cold drink from the garage on the way to your next meeting? Do you stop over at a fast food outlet for a quick bite?

“How do I eat?”Do you eat in the car on the way from one appointment to another wolfing down a convenient large muffin and coffee? Do you sit at a desk/table and eat your food slowly, savouring each bite…pausing mid-meal and reflecting on the flavours your mouth is experiencing based on what you are eating?

“How much do I eat?”This could be driven by habit and the package sizes of meals you choose to buy. For example, when shopping, do you chose the small 30g packet of crisps or the large 150g packet of crisps?

Where does the energy go?” Do you eat food to fuel you for the day and upcoming physical activity you have planned, or do you eat for the sake of eating? This may lead you to feel lethargic and bloated as your body is not “physically” hungry. Ask yourself how the energy you consume is used throughout the day. Do you need that extra serving of potato’s for lunch if you are going to be sitting at your desk ‪until 7pm?

Here are some top tips to avoid mindless eating:

Before eating ask a few basic questions:

  • Sit down. Don’t eat on the go. You are less likely to appreciate your food when you are multitasking. It is also much harder to keep track of how much you are eating when you snack on the go.
  • Am I hungry or am I thirsty? If so, what type of food/drink do I want? Remember hunger can mask itself as thirst, so if you feel peckish, first drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes if you are still feeling that hunger craving, then it is most likely true hunger.
  • Eat slowly, aim to chew each bite at least 10 times before you swallow. Pay attention to the smell, taste, sound, texture and look of the food.
  • Put utensils or food down between mouthfuls.
  • Serve your food on a smaller plate. Smaller plates will help you with portion control; it is an especially good strategy for those all-you-can eat-buffets.
  • Turn off technology. Eating while you’re distracted can lead you to eat faster, feel less full and mindlessly eat more than your body needs.

Jade Seeliger, a dietitian from Nutritional Solutions, has some more advice for healthier eating:

Store treats smartly

Out of sight…out of mind.  It is highly likely that when you open your food cupboard or fridge that any treat foods you keep in the house are right there at eye level inviting you to indulge. Keep any treats in an opaque container in a cupboard you open less frequently to prevent said foods from being front of mind.

Have healthy foods close by

Keep healthy at a hands reach. Keep healthy snacks easily available ready to eat such as small tubs of yoghurt, a container of crudité veg, various dips such as smooth cottage cheese or hummus, popcorn (home-made & portioned into bags), or high fibre crackers.

Make soup

Use up vegetables that are about turn by chopping them up, adding some low sodium stock and cooking them up into a large pot of soup which is comfort food in a mug.

Clever winter eating

As the weather gets cooler we often seek roasts, stews and one pot dishes that are warm and comforting.  These are easily made healthy by controlling the amount of oil used – stick to 1 teaspoon per person you’re cooking for to sauté onion or spices. 

Use lean cut of meat, or alternatively remove visible fat on red meats or skin of the chicken. Bulk up stews, soups or curries with vegetables such as butternut, baby marrows, onions, peas, carrots, cauliflower or broccoli to enhance their nutrient profile.

Swap salads for mashed or pureed vegetables such as cauli, carrots, broccoli or peas, which are also great as low carb pie toppings for cottage or fish pie.

Make extra for leftovers

Use leftovers for lunches, and to save time by packing your lunch the night before as you would if you were going to work so that come lunch time your meal is ready and waiting.

Drink water

Be sure to hydrate well as they weather cools to prevent your body confusing thirst signals with hunger signals.  Keep a large pot of herbal tea or a jug of flavoured water (water with added lemon, mint or sliced orange) on your work desk to help encourage drinking.

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1 Comment

  • Slindile gugu nduli

    I find it hard to change the way i eat but i will try this tips

    June 5, 2020 at 10:30 am Reply
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