Much of our life, we operate on automatic pilot. We do things reflexively, without giving them much thought. This can be a big problem when you are trying to change a behavior like mindless eating. Have you ever decided to start a new habit (eat less, not eat dessert, or avoid the snacks in the break room) and then gotten frustrated because you didn’t remember to DO the thing that you intended?
Sherrill shared a common situation recently:
Sometimes . . . I feel stressed about something in particular, and I just start to put food in my mouth . . . After it is over, I feel like “What was I thinking?” and “How did that just happen?” I didn’t even have the least bit of emotion or guilt until looking back on it afterwards. Very frustrating! . . . I need to know how to trigger my mind or decision making process BEFORE this happens, or soon enough to stop the process.
Jenna has made tons of progress with mindless eating. But she still finds that in certain situations, especially social occasions, she loses touch with how much she is eating and how hungry or full she feels. Afterward she feels guilty and frustrated.
Stopping the mindless part of mindless eating is critical if your goal is to be purposeful and in charge of your actions.
The interesting part about changing mindless eating is that you can work on building your ability to be mindful both when you are actually in the difficult situation and at other times of day. Practicing techniques that help you tune in to yourself (your needs, feelings, and thoughts) at other times of day can actually help you be more aware and mindful in troublesome situations.
Here are my top strategies to stop mindless eating:
- Practice meditation: Notice that I said “practice.” You don’t have to get it perfect, devote an hour every day, or become a Zen Master for meditation to work for you. Meditating is a structured way of getting quiet and focusing your mind or detaching from all the chaos in your head and instead simply noticing your thoughts. It’s a great practice for getting present which can be very helpful if you are stressed and busy and spend a lot of time either worrying about the past or looking ahead to “what needs to be done.”Practicing meditation can help you be more focused and mindful when you need to be. Personally, I’ve found that when I take even ten minutes to sit quietly and focus my attention on my breathing, it makes a huge difference in how purposeful and effective I feel in the rest of my day.
- Practice interrupting mindless behavior: If you are very busy, you may spend a great part of your day focused outside of yourself and not being tuned in to what’s going on with you. This is not an ideal situation if you are working on changing your eating – because you aren’t paying a lot of attention to your own priorities and needs. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to practice tuning back in. Set a timer on your phone or computer to alert you every hour. When the timer goes off, use this as a cue to check in with yourself. Take inventory. This means taking a few seconds to notice how you are feeling, what you might need, and even something as basic as whether you are hungry or whether your shoulders are up around your ears. Tuning in to your needs and feelings allows you to respond to them directly (instead of turning to mindless responses like overeating). Tuning in regularly can also help you keep your new habits and intentions on your radar.
- Start your day with focus and clarity: Want to be more purposeful and focused on your goals? Then spend the first 10 minutes of your day reviewing them, planning your intentions, or getting clear on your priorities. Identify upcoming situations where mindless eating might be a problem for you and make a plan. Busy high-performers sometimes underestimate how effective a short, simple ritual like this can be. The Success Soundtrack™ is a set of ten-minute audios that you can rotate through during the week. It’s an easy way to plug yourself into a new morning routine since all you have to do is push play and listen.
- Stop multitasking: A simple yet challenging way to tune up your purposeful, mindful behavior and tone down mindless eating is to stop multitasking. Multitasking actually divides your focus and makes autopilot reactions more likely because you aren’t as focused when you are doing more than one thing at once. The research is very clear that multitasking during eating leads to eating more and feeling less satisfied.I know what you are probably thinking, and no, you don’t have to go cold turkey with this behavior. Instead, if you are a dedicated multitasker, start inserting periods into your day when you commit to doing one thing at a time and giving it your full attention. If you want the most bang for your buck, start by eliminating multitasking during meals. In order to have more control over mindless behavior, you need to strengthen your “mindful muscle.” This practice will help.
- Make mindfulness hard to forget: Use your ten minutes of morning time to get clear on the challenges you may face in the day ahead. Then, approach them with a strategy for staying present (that’s the only way you will remember to DO your new habit). If you don’t want to eat the snacks at the meeting, try arriving with a bright new pen in hand that catches your attention and reminds you, every time it does, that your goal is to avoid the snacks. Write yourself notes and reminders and put them where you’ll see them. Put a picture on your phone that brings your new habit to mind. Be creative in designing strategies to keep yourself aware.