Let’s be honest…we’re all guilty of mindless eating.
You, me, the jacked fitness model on Instagram.
We ALL do it.
But some of us? Eh…we do it a little more than others.
Yes, I count myself among that “we” I just spoke about. I love soda and carby, starchy things way too much. Whereas I am not a pillar of perfect eating, I am someone who does a fairly good job at keeping the mindless eating at bay.
That’s what I want to help you do!
So what is mindless eating?
Mindless eating is basically what it sounds like: eating on autopilot. It’s that constant shoveling of food in your mouth, losing track of time, and then wondering, “Who ate all the chips?”
(It was you.)
So many of us eat that way.
In his book, Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink, the author talks about “defusing your diet danger zone” by identifying five mindless eating types.
See if any of these are familiar to you.
1. The Meal Stuffer
These are the folks who usually just eat at meal times, but when they eat, boy do they eat! They’ll stuff themselves to the point of discomfort and routinely go for seconds.
2. The Snack Grazer
The snack grazer has never seen a candy dish they could pass up. I’m guilty of this one. I never buy candy, but if my mom has a bowl of M&M’s on the counter, you best believe I am going to have way too many of them.
Grazers will eat whatever is available.
3. The Party Binger
Parties are high-distraction environments. Bingers thrive in parties. It’s baked into the whole vibe! (Pardon the pun.)
There’s a buffet of food just lining the tables. Aunt Betty made that dip you like and there’s enough of it in the crockpot to feed an army. How could you NOT?
(We’ll learn how in a minute.)
4. The Restaurant Indulger
Or as I like to call it, the “treat yourself trap.” The restaurant indulger goes out to eat (too much, honestly), opens up the menu and says, “Ohhh let’s be bad today.”
Because it’s a restaurant, somehow that gives the indulger carte blanche to order whatever, which inevitably catches up to both their pocketbook and waistline.
5. The Desktop (or Dashboard) Diner
These are the folks who mindlessly shove whatever snack food or takeout item is convenient as they barrel through some work. If this is you, you probably have no idea what you’re even eating.
All you know is that there are crumbs on your keyboard and you have a sudden desire to crawl under your desk to take a nap.
Weird Tips To Combat Mindless Eating
Personally, I don’t strive to be a perfect eater, and I’m not sure that anyone should. But what I do strive to achieve is control over my eating.
Control means I’m making a conscious choice to eat whatever I’m eating. It has nothing to do with including or excluding certain food groups, calorie restrictions, or anything like that.
But if I decide to have some BBQ Pringles with my sandwich, it’s because I’ve made the choice and put a reasonable amount on my plate. The opposite would be deciding to having some BBQ Pringles and then 10 minutes later, lifting that cardboard tube to my mouth so I can shovel in the remaining crumbs at the bottom.
(You know you’ve done it.)
So how do you work on getting control over your mindless eating?
Notice I said work, because that’s what this is – work!
A lot of the junk out there, including my beloved BBQ Pringles, is designed to keep us voraciously coming back for more.
Our job is to actively create conditions that shield us from food that is designed to make us stuff our faces with it, crave it, and buy more of it.
Here are some ways you can do that:
1. Buy some small, colorful plates.
Psychologically speaking, the bigger the plates, the more food we will pile on them. Our brains do not like to see a sparsely populated plate. Fill that thing up!
You can trick your brain by using smaller plates (10 inches or smaller).
It’s the same thing with grocery carts. Ever wonder why they’re so enormous? So you’ll fill them!
Your brain just wants the space to be filled. By controlling the size of the plate, you’re managing what “full” looks like.
Now why colorful plates specifically?
Again, psychology, my friend!
If you want to eat less and curb your mindless eating, use plates with a color that contrasts with your foods. If you’re eating pasta with a red sauce, choose a yellow plate. Noshing on some mashed potatoes? Choose a green plate.
When you eat food that is the same color as your plate, you will eat more of it. In fact, research shows you’ll eat about 30% more under these conditions.
By using colorful plates, you can more easily avoid the extra indulgence.
James Clear has a brilliant hack if, like me, you find yourself going a little heavy on the bread, potatoes, and other delicious, mostly white-ish, carbs.
Get dark blue or dark green plates.
These bad boys serve a dual purpose: they are a perfect contrast for the foods you want to eat in moderate portions AND they match the color of foods you’d like to eat more.
I’m talking ’bout you, leafy greens!
You’re more likely to pile on extra greens when your plate does not have a high contrast with the healthy stuff on your plate.
Brilliant, don’t you think?
2. Get some tall, slender glasses.
Not only will you feel a bit elegant, but this is another simple psychological hack to rein yourself in on the not-so-healthy beverages. Maybe you may have a bit of a thing for sugary sodas. (Guilty!)
They’re horrible for our health, no doubt! But so damn delicious.
If you’re not ready to give up the bubbles just yet, find ways to reduce your intake. That’s where some pretty, slender glasses come in.
Any standard highball glass would do.
They take less liquid to fill, but give your brain the illusion that you’ve had a full glass of juice, soda, or whatever kind of drink you’re trying to limit.
Lots of ice.
You’ll feel like you’ve had an entire drink while only consuming a fraction of what you’d normally have if you drank straight out of the can or in a bigger, wider glass.
Remember, this hack cuts both ways.
If you pour your soda into a large glass, and it only fills up half, you’re going to feel like you need more. Even if you know there’s an entire can of soda in that glass, you are still going to have a desire to fill the glass.
On the other hand, if you pour your can of soda into a slender glass loaded with ice, you’ll find that you fill the glass with maybe 40% of what’s in the can. You may not even finish the whole can, but your brain will be just as satisfied as if you did.
3. Be intentional about where you put food during meal times.
Wansink suggests pre-plating high caloric foods and leaving them in the kitchen. Let’s say you’re having lasagna with a side salad.
With this strategy, you would leave the lasagna on the stove in the kitchen and put one serving on your plate, and then go to the dining room or wherever you’re eating.
The rest of your plate?
Load that bad boy up with salad.
Want to make that salad even more attractive? Leave it on the table.
Make the high calorie stuff inconvenient to access and the healthy stuff within easy reach.
4. Mind how you store your food.
As the old adage goes, “out of sight, out of mind.”
Your brain is more likely to go for the food it can see, while disregarding whatever is wrapped up in foil in the corner of the fridge.
5. Size matters.
Our brain is naturally drawn to larger containers. Keep your healthy leftovers and snacks in larger containers towards the front of your fridge or cupboard.
When you have unhealthy leftovers, put those into smaller containers and stash them behind the larger containers. So instead of putting a full portion of mac-n-cheese in a regular size container, put half portions (or smaller) in tinier containers!
You can also pre-package snacks into smaller packages.
Remember that our brain likes to fill things, so if you put the not-so-great stuff in smaller containers, you are likely to feel satisfied polishing off whatever is in there.
6. Beware of bulk.
Bulk is great for things like rice, beans, nuts, and frozen produce. It is NOT your friend when it comes to snacks. I, too, would like a giant plastic tub of cheeseballs, but I’m not going to buy it because I know myself.
If I buy a giant tub of cheeseballs, I will eat a giant tub of cheeseballs.
Don’t buy bulk versions of anything you tend to binge on mindlessly.
You do NOT need a 5 lb bag of frozen taquitos, no matter what that nice lady at Sam’s told you.
7. Avoid environments that promote mindless eating.
If you are someone who eats food because it is there, do not go where that food is. This means avoiding the vending machine and maybe even the free snack room if you are lucky enough to work in such a place.
Put your guilty pleasure foods wayyyyyy back behind the other stuff in your cupboard, or out in the garage or basement. Don’t keep a snack bowl on your counter.
Make your environment work for you!
If you want to eat more fruit, set fruit out in clear sight. Pre-cut yummy veggies and put them in a visible place in the fridge. Don’t leave the jug of animal crackers you got for your toddler in plain sight.
And now you’re off to a great start!
These strategies are great starting points for changing your eating habits. They aren’t miracle solutions, but they are wonderful tools that use psychological tricks to encourage the behavior we want.
And then you can start working on the next thing!