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We’re in unusual times. It’s more important to focus on health than ever before. Stress can lead to poor eating habits. It’s no secret that many people turn to food during times of high anxiety. So learning how to stop mindless eating, overeating is essential.
Food can be enjoyable and a promoter of good health at the same time.
The idea of mindfulness has been circulating for thousands of years but has only become a popular topic in the Western world recently. What is mindfulness? It’s simply using your attention in an intentional way.
If you’re awake, your attention is on something. It might be a TV show, something outside your window, your thoughts, your dog, the pain in your foot, the temperature of the room, or folding your laundry.
You can’t help but have your attention on something. Even when you’re meditating, you’re focused on something.
However, if you’re having a conversation, but thinking about your weekend plans, you’re not being mindful. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment. So, if you’re having a conversation, you’re paying attention to the conversation. You’re also noticing when your attention wanders.
What does mindfulness have to do with eating? Everything!
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is simply eating with your full awareness on your food and the entire eating process.
Most people sit down for a meal and mindlessly fills themselves up. They often overeat because they aren’t paying attention to whether they’re full or not. They eat unhealthy food because they haven’t given serious thought to the nutritional value of their meal they’re about to eat.
Their mind isn’t on their meal. They’re thinking about the bills that need to be paid. They might be watching TV. They might even be driving down the road while eating a meal.
This is the exact opposite of mindful eating.
Mindful eating is putting your full awareness on the eating experience. It goes beyond the items listed above. It also includes understanding your eating habits, choosing the right foods for you, eating the proper amounts, and being fully engaged with the eating process while you’re eating.
How to Stop Mindless Eating by Controlling Your Stress
There are biological reasons that so many people eat when stressed. When a person is physically or emotionally stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol does a lot of things, including increasing food cravings for foods high in sugar or fat. Stress also increases the hormones that produce feelings of hunger. Stress is harmful to your mind and body.
It’s especially important to be mindful during those periods of time you’re experiencing stress.
Stress makes it much more likely that you will:
1. Experience hunger even though you’ve already had plenty to eat.
Eating when your body doesn’t need food increases the chance of unintentional weight gain and can negatively affect your health.
Just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean you should eat. Hunger is a signal that you should consider eating. So, consider it. But if you’ve already had enough to eat, make the decision to pass.
2. Eat when you’re not hungry.
If eating makes you feel better, your brain doesn’t care if you’re hungry or not. It will make eating seem like a great idea. Unfortunately, eating when your body doesn’t need food leads to weight gain, which contributes to the development of many diseases.
3. Eat unhealthy foods.
Under stress, many people will resort to eating all sorts of things they know they shouldn’t eat. Chips, ice cream, processed meats, sweets, and other unhealthy foods suddenly become even more appealing than they usually are.
4. Eat too much.
Eating while stressed is likely to result in overeating. And not only do you eat too much, but you’re likely to be eating unhealthy foods.
5. Eat in a way that makes you feel even worse.
If you’re eating when your body doesn’t need food, and you’re eating foods that aren’t good for you, you’re almost certainly going to feel worse after you eat than you felt before you started.
6. Eat mindlessly in general.
Stress takes your mind off the eating experience. You’re more likely to find yourself eating while watching TV, watching YouTube videos, thinking about whatever is causing you stress, or daydreaming.
Stress is a part of life now more than ever. It’s easy to allow your eating patterns to get out of control when you’re stressed. You’re more likely to crave unhealthy foods or eat when you’re not even hungry. Stress and poor eating habits are strongly linked.
Learn how to stop mindless eating in 6 simple steps
1. Keep track of your food intake.
If you’re feeling stressed on a regular basis, and many people are these days, it’s a good time to track your food intake. There are plenty of free apps, such as MyFitnessPal, that make it very easy to keep track of your calories, macronutrients, and even exercise.
Having an actual number to look at makes it easier to gauge if you have a legitimate reason to eat.
2. Assess your hunger to prevent mindless eating
Are you really hungry? Take an objective look at your hunger. Did you eat recently? Have you been engaged in a lot of physical activity since you last ate? Do you actually feel hungry, or do you just have the urge to eat?
If you’re not hungry, do your best not to eat. If you simply have to eat in spite of not truly needing to, try eating something that’s healthy but has minimal calories. Lettuce, other greens, celery, broccoli, and cauliflower are a few examples of foods that are practically calorie free.
3. Make healthy choices to improve mindless eating
If you’re feeling stress, but it actually is time to have a meal, focus more than ever on eating healthy foods. It’s so easy to eat poorly during stressful times that your food selection is especially important.
Healthy foods will allow your mind and body to deal with stress more effectively. And the last thing you need is to create even more stress by eating poorly and becoming sick.
4. Eat slowly.
One of the most effective ways to avoid overeating is to eat slowly. Very slowly. Decide that you’re going to take small bites and chew ridiculously slowly. Chew your food at least 30 times.
Take a small drink of water between each bite. That’s water, not juice, soda, or anything else.
5. Eat without distraction – Break the Habit of mindless eating
No radio, chatting, TV, cell phone, or books. It’s just you and your food.
6. Relieve your stress in other ways to reduce mindless eating
If you don’t have a legitimate biological need to eat, it’s best not to eat. Regardless of how tough you are, you must deal with the stress that’s pushing you to eat, or you’ll eventually fail. You’ll eventually give in if you don’t find something else to do. Some stress-relieving ideas are:
- Go for a walk.
- Read a book.
- Find a dance class on TV and participate.
- Call someone.
- Clean your garage.
- Take a nap.
- Take a hot shower or bath.
Stress-related eating is very common, but that doesn’t mean you have to allow stress to affect the way you eat. Stress affects the way you feel compelled to eat, but you can learn how to stop mindless eating and choose to eat mindfully instead. Mindful eating is a way to combat stress-related eating and its negative effects on your diet and health.
“When you eat mindfully, by paying attention to what you eat, you get more pleasure with fewer calories.” ~ Dean Ornish