Mindless eating: we all do it to some degree, each and every day. Even the most subtle things can prompt us to keep eating, without even noticing it. Would you believe that if you were to sit down to a bag a Skittles with a variety of colors, you would most likely eat more than if you sat down to a bag of just red or just orange Skittles – subtle right? But it’s little things like this that food manufactures are well aware of to help “encourage” us to keep eating, sometimes eating hundreds more calories on a daily basis than we actually need.
If weight loss is a priority for you, and especially if it’s been a challenge for you, you might want to consider exploring mindless eating habits and subconscious triggers that prompt you to eat more than you realize.
One of the more common mindless eating triggers: food variety. The more variety that you see when you sit down to a meal, the more likely you are to overeat. Most people can intuitively sense the truth behind this statement. But sometimes it’s trickier to catch then other times – like with increased color variety.
A more obvious correlation would be buffets: loads of options and unlimited portions – the perfect recipe for a mindless overeating episode.
When was the last time you went to a buffet and didn’t leave feeling stuffed like a sausage roll? Buffets have that affect on people. But it’s not just buffets. Even the typical family dinner or social gathering provide so many options – too many options – for the average person to be able to eat “moderately” without overeating and without engaging in mindless eating.
Part of the reason for this is because you simply want to try and “sample” everything you eat. Other’s want to “get their monies worth”. Sure, these reasons are understandable, but there’s more to it than that – it’s called sensory specific satiety. Once you start sampling foods, it’s harder to stop. According to one study, variety in diet can be a factor in obesity. This is because trying many different dishes with different ingredients in one sitting excites and over-stimulates the taste buds. When you eat just one food (like our ancestors did) the food becomes less palatable and you naturally and instinctively stop eating it as you become full. Eating many foods in one sitting overrides this natural process called sensory specific satiety and can cause overeating in many people.
No matter how good a food initially tastes, that taste tends to fade. Think about it, does the last bite usually taste as good as the first, especially when you’re overeating? Not usually. But as soon as you start to eat a bunch of different foods all at the same time, this feeling of satiety – of feeling a sense of satisfaction from fullness – gets buried under all the taste-specific excitement happening in the brain.
To make matters worse and mindless eating (and mindless overeating) even more likely, is that these foods tend to be “hyperpalatable” which means they are abnormally high in sugar + fat + salt and cause a hyper-pleasurable response in the brain, which also triggers you to keep eating – no matter how full you are. This is how food addiction is developed. Ever been to an all-you-can eat buffet and became so full, yet couldn’t stop eating? You’re body is trying to communicate that “full” message to you but becomes muffled in the unnatural food environment that we’ve created for ourselves. We’re still biologically designed to match our food environment from hundreds of thousands of years ago, and back then, food wasn’t as prevalent as it is now – our ancestors never sat down to eat buffet dinners, and neither should we.
One way you can mindlessly eat less is to tune into your natural instincts and cultivate clear communication from your body. You can do this by eating like your ancestors did. Try eating only very few foods, perhaps only one food, at a time. Try making smoothies with only simple combinations and have that as a meal, or try simple salad combos for lunch or dinner. It’s actually easier than you think to minimize variety at meal time and also mindless minimize mindless eating!
It’s great to get variety in your diet, but it doesn’t have to be all at one meal. Variety naturally comes with the seasons. When it comes to variety at meal-time, less is more. Try to eat fewer ingredients in one sitting. You might even want to give mono-meals a try, where you eat one food at a time when you feel hungry, until you feel full. I never thought I would be into mono-meals but now I love eating this way. Explore and experiment with what works best for you, fostering mindful eating to help encourage a healthier relationship with food.
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii
Laura Dawn, Author of “Unhooked: A Holistic Approach to Ending Your Struggle with Food” and “Mindful Eating for Dummies”