On mindless eating

Anyone else prone to mindless eating? You know, you’re sitting at home or in the office, and you’re either bored or stress or thinking about a delicious food item (or both), and even though you’re not hungry, before you know it you’re standing with the fridge door open, or you’re looking into the display case at the local cupcakery.

I’m a believer that mindless eating is a big, big, big contributor to the North American waistline expansion. There are definitely people who only eat when they are hungry, and stop eating when they are full, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they are not overweight. This post is not for those people. For the rest of us…

Do you ever stop yourself when you’re about to go get some food even though you’re not hungry? Ever think that maybe there’s another solution to your boredom, stress, or desire for that rewarding feeling you get from eating something delicious?

This is really another look into my new found fascination with habits and behaviour, which I also wrote about last month in the post, should you eat when you’re not hungry?. In this post, I suggested a couple of options for self-rewards that I found effective. I suspect those might be a bit flighty for some, so I thought I’d offer up some more alternatives to mindless eating.

Did you know that the brain’s reward system is actually based on food and sex? It makes sense if ¬†you think about it. We are wired to encourage survival, which requires us to eat and have sex. So is it any surprise that we yearn for delicious food?

I think this is an interesting consideration when we look at mindless eating. I’m not suggesting that we should give up on resisting the temptation of delicious foods at all hours of the day – that would be a health nightmare! I am suggesting that we should recognize it; acknowledge it; and then come up with strategies to address it. And by “it”, I mean the notion that food is a reward.

If each bout of mindless eating is a yearning for a reward, then couldn’t we come up with alternative rewards? Ones that don’t contribute to weight gain?

Next time you find your feet taking you for a walk to the fridge, take a look at this list and see if there’s something here you can do instead of eating that will feel rewarding:

  1. phone a friend
  2. go for a walk
  3. have sex
  4. do some push ups (from the knees or to the counter instead of the floor counts)
  5. listen to your favourite song
  6. draw
  7. read a few pages of a great book
  8. play with your kids
  9. take care of an item on your ‘to do’ list
  10. masturbate
  11. hug your partner
  12. go for a bike ride
  13. fly a kite
  14. write a thank you note to someone important to you
  15. pet your cat
  16. go outside and admire your garden
  17. dance to whatever song is playing
  18. play fetch with your dog
  19. go outside and talk to your neighbour
  20. donate ten bucks to your favourite charity

Twenty things you can do that will give you as much or more of a rewarding feeling than any cookie or bag of chips could. I just avoided a handful of chocolate chips by being aware of what I was doing and choosing to call one of my best friends instead. Much more satisfying!

Have you ever tried this approach to avoiding mindless eating? Do you have any suggestions to add to the list?

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa who is fascinated by human behaviour.

 

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