Mindless eating is a staple of emotional eating.
It’s Unregulated Anxiety
When we’re eating mindlessly we aren’t simply just ‘not paying attention’ because we’re distracted by other thoughts or by something else. The reason we eat mindlessly is because of our anxiety. It’s always there in the background going wherever we go and affecting whatever we do.
And if we pay attention enough we will see that eating is not the only thing that we do every day that’s mindless. We’re likely on autopilot when we drive, or brushing our teeth and even more so when talking to other people.
So in reality it’s not so much an eating issue as it is an anxiety issue. If we had to bring awareness to each issue that we were mindless with, or read an entire book to correct activity we’re involved in where we are mindless we would never stop. Because even if we brought awareness to what we were doing we’d simply find another outlet for our anxiety.
So in essence it’s futile to try to get our mindless eating under control. It would be like trying to bail out a sinking boat that has a hole in it, you’d never get anywhere.
TIPS & TRICKS
That being said there are a few things that can help you manage the situation until you can get a handle on the anxiety. Just like with emotional eating where we manage the eating as a temporary fix until we can get our issues handled, with mindless eating we could do a few things that “slow the damage” so to speak, or stop the bleeding.
The first thing to do when trying to manage mindless eating is to identify those situations or those times in the day we are most likely to do it. For some people it’s when they’re multitasking or if they’re watching TV, looking at their phone or talking with others. Others seem to do it all the time no matter what the setting, and no matter what they’re eating.
So if you fall in the category of people who eat mindlessly while they’re doing something else at the same time then the answer is obvious; make sure you don’t eat while you’re working or talking with family and friends on the phone.
All you have to do in that case is restructure your day so that you only eat during meal times and perhaps after dinner when watching a movie. Of course this is much easier said than done because many of us eat on the go, or while we’re working, or while we are attending to one of the thousand and one activities that we have to take on each day.
And so for those latter people the answer would be to pre-prepare their food in advance, say at the start of the day, and then they can run their brain on autopilot and not worry about over eating, if that’s their main concern.
WHY WE WANT TO STOP
I’m assuming that most people reading this are concerned about mindless eating because they feel that they eat too much and take in too many calories, resulting in weight gain and all of the unwanted effects that that brings.
But some people also want to stop mindless eating because they feel that they never really got to enjoy the food that passed through their lips. They look back on their day and remember actually eating but don’t remember the experience of eating. They never really got to enjoy it and feel that satisfaction that we all want to feel after eight.
So if it’s the end of the day and your stomach is full but another part of you is still hungry it’s because you never really got the satisfying experience that comes with eating a good meal.
If we go back to talking about ‘tips’ for a moment; so far we have the advice to prepare your food in advance (portion control), to eat only at mealtimes and at the table, and now were going to add another which is to set aside one window of time each day where you stop and focus on what you’re eating and allow yourself to savor it.
Most of this is not new advice. In fact it’s likely been repeated a thousand times over a thousand different blogs on the Internet. Most of it doesn’t work and that’s because the problem doesn’t lie with needing to be more mindful when eating as we talked about above.
So why am I repeating it? Because some of it can be helpful in managing mindless eating, especially the advice to carve out one bit of time each day where you sit and consciously allow yourself to enjoy the food. What that does is allow you to experience some pleasure you get from food on a daily basis while you work on the underlying problem.
Any more than once a day and it becomes a chore. Having to “focus” consciously on something is like using willpower for dieting. It doesn’t last long.
MANAGING THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM
This is why the title of this article is, “It’s hard to stop mindless eating.” how do you stop your anxiety? Anxiety is with you all the time and it never really goes away. It’s relentless in that it gnaws at you and takes your energy and never ever gets tired.
It’s a monster you can’t defeat, and so what’s required is a mindset shift. Everyone has anxiety and we are all affected by it to the extent that we are able to manage it. What most people call managing anxiety is really distracting from it.
And we do a lot to distract from it by watching TV, eating, working too much, staying busy, going out, doing yoga and trying meditation. Many of the methods we use to distract from our anxiety are healthy or good for us and so we don’t need to stop doing these things, we simply need to be aware that we are doing them to distract from our anxiety instead of doing them for pleasure or good health.
We may feel good after doing some of these things ( i.e. feel better) but they’re always a temporary fix and so once they’re effect starts to fade, we go right back to where we started – discomfort.
So instead of distracting from it we’re going to have to learn to embrace our anxiety, figure out what is trying to tell us and learn to live with it rather than try to make it go away.
Again this is much easier said than done. Managing your anxiety is a lifelong pursuit, hence the reason why we should spend very little time managing all of the problems that arise from it (like mindless eating), and most of our time on the anxiety itself.
We do this by going to therapy, journaling, reading books, joining a group, talking with the people who are closest to us and becoming overall more aware of how we feel in different situations in our day.
We need to do these things because it’s very difficult to see ourselves on our own. It’s hard to be aware of how we are. Therapists act as a mirror and reflect back to us what they see so that we can see ourselves better. Reading books educates us and gives us some of the vocabulary needed to work through issues we have.
Group therapy allows us to observe other people and see what they are going through, so we can see how how their experience is also true for us in some way. Talking with your family and friends in an open and honest way allows you to see how you interact emotionally with the people that are most important to you, and therefore have the biggest impact on you.
We all have issues with our mother, our best friend, or our spouse etc. so talking with them and being as honest as you can all the time, is very revealing and necessary for growth.
So it’s very important that we see our anxiety, see what we are avoiding and are afraid of. Facing the anxiety is part of the way we manage or regulate it. The other part is confronting it, being honest and open with people as mentioned above.
See you can see by now that mindless eating is not simply an isolated behavior that is annoying to us that we wish to stop doing. It’s really just the tip of the iceberg as what we really have to do is manage our anxiety.
It may feel depressing to learn that this problem will take a lot more time than you would hoped to solve. Just know this, tackling your anxiety is a way of tackling almost every problem that you have in life.
So working on this now will pay huge dividends for yourself and the people around you for the rest your life.
It’s absolutely worth it.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.