What Is Mindful Eating?

There are plenty of reasons why people struggle to control their weight. Health problems, medicines and other concerns can all work against even the best intentions. Often, though, one of the biggest issues that people face is one that they likely aren’t even aware of: mindless eating.

Put simply, mindless eating is…well, eating mindlessly. It’s the act of eating with little or no thought, often taking in much more food than you realize or had intended when you sat down. That entire bag of chips that disappeared while you were watching Ninja Warrior? Another victim of mindless eating.

But, why is mindless eating such a problem? More importantly, how can you counteract this negative habit?

The Sneaky Effects
The issue with mindless eating was vividly demonstrated in a 2013 research review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In the paper, researchers looked at 24 different studies that all examined how distraction impacts dietary thinking.

What did they find? Eating while distracted – whether that diversion comes from TV, reading, or anything else – lead to a much higher caloric intake. Not only did people eat more, but they were typically less satisfied with that food.

Interestingly, people also ate more when they couldn’t easily see or gauge the amount of food in front of them. Think about the way that bags and other containers tend to veil your food and how easy those packaged foods are to devour.

The situation, then, ends up looking like this: You are most likely to eat more food when you’re doing something else. To make things worse, the convenient snacks that tend to be on hand at these times are also less satisfying, calorie-rich, and nutrient-poor.

It’s also important to realize that hunger and fullness signals take about 20 minutes to hit your brain. So, by the time that you feel full, there’s a good chance that you’ve already overeaten.

Fixing The Problem
If mindless eating is such an alarming problem, though, the obvious solution would be the opposite approach: mindful eating. To be fair, there are a lot of different techniques that all call themselves by this same name – some pulling in meditation in addition to the more basic tools.

All of these strategies, though, all have a few basic things in common.

  • Take at least 20 minutes to eat
  • Do not eat while distracted
  • Before eating, ask: “Am I really hungry?”
  • Think about how that food makes you feel

Some of the more detailed mindful techniques, though, involve eating in silence while thinking through every step that it took to produce that food.

Regardless of how you chose to integrate it, mindful eating is about slowing down and thinking through your food choices. The idea is to directly counteract the trap of mindless eating that one can fall into quite easily.