This One Sneaky Habit is Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Success
Healthy eating is beneficial, not only for physical health but for mental and sexual health as well. Healthy food may lower the risks of heart disease, obesity, stroke, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and more.
If you’ve finally decided to become healthier, you should be prepared to commit, which means building new habits to replace the negative ones for the rest of your life.
The key to eating healthy begins by realizing the root of any potential eating problems.
Do you overeat or don’t eat enough?
Do you often munch on snacks?
Do you have a high consumption of sugar and salt?
Do you have a habit of mindless eating?
What is Mindless Eating?
Have you ever eaten an entire quart of ice cream while watching your favorite TV show? You didn’t intend to eat all of it, but you did. In truth, just a small scoop or two would have satisfied your craving for the tasty treat.
Mindless eating is the consumption of food without realistic attention given to need, hunger, or craving. Thus, if you binge on a bucket of popcorn while watching your favorite movie, you are eating mindlessly. Mindless eating means you are not paying attention to the food or the amount consumed. You could eat more than your body needs at that moment.
Food psychologist Brian Wansink observed the difference between eating until full vs. eating until the plate is empty. Eating while driving, watching TV, and studying are some examples of mindless eating.
For many, mindless eating starts at a young age. Children can eat mindlessly if their food is not portioned. Thus, the entire household shares responsibility in proactively promoting healthy eating vs. mindless eating.
What Happens During Mindless Eating?
Many people are unaware of the term ‘mindless eating.’ However, most health experts are aware of it and how it can significantly impact one’s health.
When you eat mindlessly, your mindless margin is affected. The mindless margin is a calorie range in which you are unaware of the minor changes in eating habits. A difference of up to 100 calories may go unnoticed, making you lose or gain weight gradually because of a mindless margin. That 100 calories may increase over time, thus increasing the margin.
Mindless eating makes it impossible for the body to realize when hunger has been satisfied. An easy solution is to ask yourself, “Am I still hungry?” instead of “Am I full?”
A few other tricks that work effectively in fighting mindless eating include chewing food thoroughly, and patiently asking yourself occasionally if you are, indeed, still hungry. If you’re not hungry, stop eating at that moment. Eating until satiated and not “stuffed” is a crucial factor in becoming healthier.
Mindless Eating in a Super-Sized World
Over the past few decades, our food portion sizes have significantly increased. It has led to rapidly climbing obesity rates, not only in the U.S. but also around the world.
An example of increased portion sizes can be seen at fast-food restaurants. Fries, sodas, burgers, pizzas, etc., are much larger than 20 years ago. Combining large portions of food with mindless eating sets us up for overeating and weight gain.
Overeating puts one at risk for many health problems. However, studies have revealed that individuals may take 20% less than their usual servings without detecting any difference.
This 20% amount is the main difference between feeling satisfied and no longer feeling hungry.
When it comes to the perception of food, the size of the meal is not as important as we think. According to Dr. Barbara Rolls’ book, The Volumetrics Eating Plan, people can consume just half of the food they originally planned to eat and still feel satisfied. To demonstrate this, Dr. Rolls placed a quarter-pound hamburger alongside a half-pound hamburger in front of some participants.
What were the results?
After the participants were instructed to only eat the quarter-pound hamburger, they noticed that their hunger persisted. They already observed that it was small compared to the half-pound hamburger. However, when she added more toppings like tomatoes, lettuce, and onions and didn’t squish the quarter-pound hamburger to make it seem larger, she was shocked to discover that the participants were no longer hungry after consuming it. The extra toppings made the quarter-pound burger appear larger than it was, thus making the participants believe they were more satiated.
She concluded how we perceive the amount of food in front of us may affect our eating patterns.
Based on these observations, she concluded our eating patterns could be significantly affected by our perception of the food in front of us.
When eating out with friends and you request some fries, you have no way of knowing how many fries you’ve consumed once you’ve cleared the plate. You will most likely be distracted by the discussion and continue eating until the portion is entirely gone.
The Effects of Mindless Eating
Mindless eating can negatively impact our health by putting us at risk for many health problems later in life. Since many have adopted mindless eating habits from a young age, it’s hard to be aware of the problem. Thus, many do not realize how it can reduce our quality of life.
Also, foods high in sugar, saturated fat, sodium, and refined grains are often consumed far more than healthy fruits and vegetables; they’re what we tend to crave more often.
Most of us rarely take time to truly savor the food we’re consuming at that very moment.
Instead, we focus more on the main distraction (watching TV, reading, driving, or other actions) while eating. Mindless eating does not allow us to eat and enjoy our food but quickly meets our hunger (or emotional) needs.
Thus, as inherently wired as multi-tasking humans, we use our eating time to occupy our minds with other things rather than focus on our eating habits.
The issue lies in how we cannot seem to separate eating from other actions; it’s not that we don’t appreciate eating food.
Mindless eating is a habit that may get fixed when learning how to acknowledge the food at the moment.
Mindless eaters may overeat since they often do not pay attention to how much food they consume.
Consequential weight gain and obesity are sometimes the results of overeating. Several health complications also come with this, such as high belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and, in extreme cases, death.
Mastering the art of mindful eating may ultimately lead to a healthier lifestyle and overall well-being.
Mindful Eating: The Healthier Choice
Mindful eating is the direct opposite of mindless eating.
In mindless eating, we pay little (if any) attention to what we eat. However, mindful eating allows us to be conscious of what we eat, thus forming a powerful connection with our food.
Mindful eaters pay attention to what they eat and the quantity. It doesn’t mean they become obsessed with their food, but they acknowledge what they put into their mouths at the moment and typically stop eating when they are satiated, not “stuffed.”
How Do You Engage in Mindful Eating?
First, you must acknowledge the food in front of you. If possible, get rid of all distractions at that moment (i.e., your smartphone, computer, TV, magazines, newspapers, books, etc.). It ensures that you are present with your food and only your food. It ultimately helps build a connection between you and your food.
Take several breaths (and pay attention to each), and then take your first bite of food. Do not rush; try to engage all your senses so you can observe the smell, colors, texture, etc. Focus on your brain’s reaction to each bite. It helps you know if you are enjoying the meal.
If you include all your senses, you would appreciate the food more (even the healthy food you initially thought was bland).
These are some of the basic rules that should be followed when trying to cultivate the habit of mindful eating:
- When you eat, it should be for your well-being. Understandably, you want to enjoy pizza, fries, ice cream, etc., but it should be in moderation. When you eat those types of foods, be mindful, and enjoy them at that moment.
- Try to identify your trigger foods, the ones that tend to make you overeat.
- Focus on the effects that food has on your body.
- Before taking the next bite, ask yourself if you are still hungry.
- Be mindful of every bite, which is the essence of mindful eating. It could reduce or eliminate potential overeating. For example, I remember one occasion I went out to dinner with some people. I noticed one lady ate one French fry at a time, chewing each one slowly as if to savor each bite. By the time she finished eating her fries, she still had quite a few of them on her plate. She repeated this with other food (e.g., cheeseburger), and by the time she finished, there was still food leftover on her plate.
On your journey to becoming a mindful eater, be prepared to encounter challenges as well. Just like everything in life, there is an adjustment period.
However, even if you fail several times, do not give up. Perseverance is essential to living a healthier life!
STEPS FOR MINDFUL EATING
- Engage all your senses. To enjoy your meal, include all your senses, especially your sense of smell, taste, and touch. Also, devote your attention to the food’s texture, taste, and aroma of every bite, from start to finish.
- Eliminate distractions. If possible, avoid distractions while eating. It means sitting and eating at a table, not in front of the TV, computer, or other places that could distract you from eating. If this is not possible, portion meals out in advance; you only eat what you have prepared.
- Compile a list. Start thinking about what triggers your mindless eating. Is it a movie or a TV show? It could be hanging out with friends or your own emotions (i.e., emotional eating). Make a list and be very mindful in those situations, especially if food is present.
- Is it necessary to eat that? Reflect and identify the drawbacks that may cause you to consume unnecessary food. For instance, if your day was hectic and stressful, make a note of this and be conscious of it; you can avoid emotional and mindless eating.
- Don’t force yourself to eat everything on your plate. Don’t eat until stuffed, but rather until you feel satiated. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable after eating. Use smaller plates or portioned plates if necessary.
- Don’t eat straight out of the bag or box. Try not to eat straight out of the bag or ice cream carton because you won’t know how much you’re truly eating. It applies to healthier foods like nuts or “healthy” ice cream as well- no specific food is exempt from this rule. Portion out nuts, ice cream, potato chips, cookies, etc.
- Differentiate between real hunger and boredom. Determine if you are really hungry or just bored. Ask yourself if you would rather have fruits or vegetables than the food you were about to get. If you say no, you were most likely just bored and wanted something to munch. If you were hungry, you would pick the fruit or vegetables to satisfy your physical hunger.
- Take your time when you eat. It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to recognize satiety. Eating slowly, bite by bite, allows you to feel the effect of satiety. Training yourself to learn how to eat slower will lower the chances of overeating. For some people, taking their time to eat might be challenging. However, solutions can help accomplish this, such as using chopsticks for every meal or using your other (non-dominant) hand to eat.
- Monitor and reduce portions at restaurants. At a restaurant, once seated, ask the waiter to take the bread off the table. When ordering food, ask if they can package half of it as a takeaway, then bring the rest for you to eat. It will help with portion control.
- Don’t develop an entitlement mentality. Some people have a mindset that causes them to think that they are entitled to eat more junk food once they eat a few healthy meals. Do not develop this type of mentality. Doing so increases the chances of creating more mindless eating habits. Your goal is to have most of your meals and snacks be as healthy as possible, planned, and portioned.
- Be mindful of eating in groups. When in groups with other people, the chances of mindless eating and consuming more food increase. Becoming distracted by everything around you mean less attention to the food in front of you.
- Do not skip meals. Try not to go for long periods without eating because this can increase the chances of impulsive overeating and eating more than you would have, had you eaten at regular intervals. It becomes hard to make conscious decisions about the food you are eating when you skip meals. The exception to this is intermittent fasting.
- Try the “eating pause” method. It may sound like a weird concept, but it might work. At the next meal, take a pause, get up for a few minutes and come back to the food. Stare at the plate and try to decipher if you’ve had enough to eat. Do not try to determine if you’re full. Ask yourself if you are still hungry. If the hunger is still there, continue to eat. However, if you are no longer hungry, save the food for later.
- If you must eat while being distracted, have meals already planned. When you’re short on time, you may sometimes have to eat on the go or eat and multitask. Therefore, have meals planned and already portioned out to prevent overeating. It can also apply to people who want to watch TV and eat their favorite food. Consider portioning servings of popcorn or ice cream out beforehand to prevent overeating.
- Eat at a regularly scheduled time. One of the most important things that experts recommend is eating meals at regular set times. Eating at regular intervals may improve insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, and digestion. One study found that people who had regular eating schedules made healthier food choices.
Unfortunately, many people develop the habit of mindless eating, which has been shown to put their health at risk. Overeating is often a result of mindless eating, and it may lead to weight gain, obesity, and other health-related issues.
This habit can develop when one doesn’t give full, undivided attention to the food in front of them, as their mind is usually preoccupied with something else.
Thus, many people overeat in one sitting. Most of the time, it hasn’t occurred to them that they overate. By the time they do, their plate is clean, and they are beyond full (to the point where they are now uncomfortable).
To stop mindless eating, you must become a mindful eater. It includes forming a connection with the food you are eating at that very moment and noticing how your body responds to it.
Mindful eating is a critical factor in creating significant changes to dietary habits that lead to permanent weight loss and weight management. It could help people live healthier lives with a healthy weight because they consume the right amount of food.
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