I remember the first time I encountered mindless eating.
One day after school I ate a Marks And Spencer cream and jam scone that my Mum had bought.
I was having a really unhappy time, the usual bitchy girls nonsense that happens.
I bit into the scone and then pretty much inhaled it.
I don’t remember enjoying it, I remember it squashing the feeling of unhappiness though.
I consider myself very fortunate. It is not a pattern I repeat often, that day after school has always stayed with me as a reminder of when it doesn’t feel right to just inhale food to shut down my feelings. It is, however, something that has always stayed with me and a big reason I like to try and help others with it.
I am able to recognise when it happens and the strategy I use to deal with it. I would love to help you with it if it has become a habit you identify with.
What is mindless eating?
There are various descriptions of mindless eating out there, I think of mindless eating as eating for reasons other than genuine hunger.
You have just had a delicious dinner, you are full and satisfied.
You then sit down on the sofa and after 30 minutes go to the kitchen and grab snacks to eat as you watch an evening of TV.
Were you hungry for food?
What then? This is mindless eating.
Why do we do it?
The reasons we do it are complex and individual.
I truly believe that mindless eating stems from our formative years.
There is also an element of habit involved.
Let me give you a personal example:
I became aware of potentially heading towards mindless eating a few years ago.
My girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) was away from home working on a show.
I missed her. During the day I was super busy at work and not really thinking about being alone. In the evening I would make dinner and instead of making a big batch and then storing the rest I would keep going back and picking at it. `
So what was going on?
At first, I thought I was bored.
I wasn’t bored. I was lonely.
So we now have a trigger = loneliness. The action = picking at food to avoid feeling lonely.
It’s important that we allow ourselves to sit with a feeling. To just stuff it down causes it to keep bubbling up.
I sat with the feeling and then came up with a solution.
Each day we would have a skype/facetime call. It gave me something to look forward to. In the period between dinner and our call, I worked on a Christmas present project.
If we unpack the behaviour pattern a little more then my childhood unhappiness at school was actually loneliness. I went through a chunk of my school life feeling lonely.
The Mindless Eating Map
Try using the Mindless Eating Map above if you are reading this and want to make a start to eat more mindfully.
Let me know if you are struggling to work out what the trigger is and I will help you!
Here is an example you can follow:
- Identify the trigger – loneliness/anger/sadness/overwhelm/happiness/excitement/nervousness. Beware of lumping something under stress or anxiety – dig deeper into it.
- Recognise that feeling – sit with it for a bit.
- Ask yourself the question: “What is it I REALLY need”. This forms part of your solution. In the example of overwhelm – drill down deeper. Maybe you need a cleaner to tackle the ironing pile, a part-time gardener to deal with the tangled mess of weeds, a pillow and a baseball bat to let the anger out.
- Now pick an alternative strategy to form a new habit when the trigger is pressed. I have found, for example, the mindfulness colouring in books work really well for both nervousness and excitement. Your new habit/solution needs to be something that is easy to put in place.
- Create the association that every time the trigger is set you reach for an alternative solution to mindless eating.
- Practice makes perfect – this new habit association takes time and repetition. It will come though!
Top Tips – from mindless eating to mindful management
Ditch the labels you place on food – there is no good food or bad food, just food. This just adds to the mindless eating problem – we associate certain foods with punishment and reward.
Keep a diary over a week to jot down what you are feeling and what might be triggering it.
Adopt the 5-4-3-2-1 approach. We make decisions on what we think we want in split seconds. I love using the 5-4-3-2-1 approach with people. The moment you feel you want to reach for something instead of sitting with a feeling count down from 5 to 1. Then ask yourself “What is it I REALLY want?” It’s rarely food.
Be mindful of external marketing and the message it sends to us. Fast-food companies don’t want us to be unhealthy, they just want to sell more products. So do healthy food companies. Become your own marketer – market to yourself.
Eat when hungry. This seems like an obvious one but actually, it isn’t. We are hard-wired to eat at set times of the day as that is what is done. If you aren’t hungry, don’t eat. If you are then EAT. Then look at the times you eat when you are not hungry and go back to the map above.
I recently did a couple of ‘What’s Eating You’? workshops at Yoga Fit Ibiza. I will be doing more at the next retreat in April 2018. For details on how to book and come and join me visit here You can use my discount code to get money off your holiday (yay!) Use the code YOGAFITBRIDGET
I am currently designing an online programme for my wonderful friends to follow to put an end to dieting and mindless eating. I hope to be able to share it with you soon.
Please let me know if I can help you in any way.