Mindless Eating, Weight Gain & Your Health

Weight gain can come from mindless eating. How often are you unaware of what you're eating? 

Ever notice how quickly you can shovel away a bowl of popcorn while you’re watching a movie and not even notice the taste and texture of the popped corn, butter and salt?

All too often our eating becomes a routine, and we forget to take the time to experience our food. Do yourself a favor and start to be more conscious of what you’re putting in your mouth every time you eat. Use all your senses; after all, they’re there for a reason! What color and shape is the food? How does it smell? If you are eating with your fingers, what does it feel like? Truly taste the food by chewing it well and letting it linger in your mouth.

Read more about overeating and how to stop

A lot of the time we don’t really think about food – we simply follow eating scripts. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, author Brian Wansink says that we encounter certain food situations so frequently that we develop automatic patterns or habitual behaviors in order to deal with them. We all have breakfast scripts (a coffee and a bagel from the drive-thru), snacking scripts (something crunchy, sweet or salty), restaurant scripts (oh, I never get to have that at home), plate-cleaning scripts (just clean your plate), and so on. Simply being aware of and observing these habits and patterns can help us shift our behavior so that eating is nourishing and enjoyable rather than a source of frustration, guilt and regret.

The Television Script

What and how we eat when we watch television may be one of the worst offenders when it comes to mindless eating. People who watch more TV are more likely to be overweight than people who watch less. Snacking (even when not hungry) can really tip the scale!

The TV-script goes something like this: we turn on the TV, we sit down in our favorite spot, we find our program, and we go get a snack at or before the first commercial. Apart from actually encouraging us to eat with its powerful food advertising, TV prevents us from paying attention to how much we eat. We eat more while watching TV because we are distracted. TV can even prevent us from remembering that we already ate a meal or snack while triggering more habitual patterns so that we eat again. A poll of over fifteen hundred people found that 91 per cent typically watch TV when eating meals at home. Those numbers don’t really bode well for the waistline.

Be aware of your eating scripts, especially the TV one, and try some of the following tips to star in your own new health script:

1. Put what you are eating in a bowl – a small one.

Too often we eat snacks right out of the package while watching TV which inevitably leads to overeating. Put the serving you are eating into a small bowl so you can actually see and be aware of your quantities. Oh, and put the package away so there is no re-filling.

2. Be thoughtful about your snacks as opposed to just grabbing the first thing you see.

A glycemically-balanced snack will keep your blood sugar steady and help prevent more cravings. Try apple slices dipped in almond butter or raw veggies with a home-made yogurt dip.

3. Think hot.

Hot drinks are more satisfying and make you feel fuller, but they can also be full of high-glycemic calories if we are not careful. Select a mug of hot water, ginger and lemon or choose from literally dozens of naturally caffeine-free herbal teas that line the grocery store shelves.

Read more about the health benefits of tea

4. Don’t eat while you watch TV.

This tip is the most helpful, obvious, and also the hardest to put into practice. Mindful eating without distraction, like television, results in one of two things: it allows you to truly enjoy and savor your food and get maximum pleasure from eating and it can also make you aware of whether or not you are really enjoying that particular food or whether you are eating according to a behavior script, in which case you can stop and choose to change the behavior.

Image: Donnie Ray Jones

Wansink, Brian. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Random House. New York, New York, 2006.

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By Jill Hillhouse BA, BPHE, CNP, RNT| February 17, 2015
Categories:  Eat
Keywords:  Digestive Health

About the Author

Jill Hillhouse BA, BPHE, CNP, RNT

Jill Hillhouse BA, BPHE, CNP, RNT

Jill is a passionate advocate of whole foods eating and nutritional education. She believes that health starts on your dinner plate and she uses diet and lifestyle shifts to mitigate and reverse health conditions. Jill focuses on addressing her clients’ metabolic individuality as a key factor in her functional nutrition protocols and coaching. A strong voice for self-advocacy, Jill encourages and empowers her clients to be active participants in their own health care. Working as a nutritional practitioner since 2001, Jill is part of the integrative health team at P3 Health Clinic in Toronto, Canada, and she also maintains a private nutrition consultation practice. Jill is the co-author of The Paleo Diabetes Diet Solution: Manage Your Blood Sugar with 125 Recipes and a 30-Day Meal Plan and the best-selling book The Best Baby Food: 125 Healthy & Delicious Recipes for Babies & Toddlers. She also writes articles for a number of national online and print publications.

Jill Hillhouse is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner from The Institute of Holistic Nutrition and has earned her Bachelor of Physical and Health Education and her BA in Psychology from Queen’s University. She is certified as a First Line Therapist in Lifestyle Medicine by Metagenics and as a Stress and Wellness Consultant by the Hans Selye Foundation and The Canadian Institute of Stress. Jill has been a faculty member of The Institute of Holistic Nutrition since 2005. She is a member of The Canadian Association of Natural Nutrition Practitioners and the Institute of Functional Medicine.

Follow Jill on her website (www.jillhillhouse.com), facebook (www.facebook.com/JillHillhouseNutrition) and on twitter and instagram (@jillhillhouse) for commentary about new scientific studies, topical health issues and practical tools for better health.

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