5 tips for ending eating on autopilot and mindless eating

Do you finish the chips or the ice cream before you even realize what you’ve done? Mindless eating (also called eating on autopilot) tends to leave you feeling hungry, unsatisfied, and wanting more.

The opposite of eating on autopilot is mindful eating. Mindful eating is a strategic way of eating that not only helps people eat less, but also leaves you feeling more satisfied.  If you struggle with emotional eating, binge eating, or an unexplainable difficulty losing weight, mindful eating is almost always your best next step toward success.

Here are some simple tips for more mindful – and less autopilot eating.

Make eating a solo activity.

Eating at your desk, eating in the car, eating in a meeting . . . we’ve become a culture that eats while doing other things. The problem is, this is a recipe for eating too much, emotional eating, and eating without much enjoyment. Try practicing eating without doing anything else. This means not having the TV on and not staring at a computer screen while you eat. If this isn’t your usual practice, don’t be surprised if it feels uncomfortable at first.

Make eating an activity.

If eating has been something you fit in while you are doing something else, it’s time to make it its own distinct activity again. Eat at a table. Put your food on a plate before you eat it. Do your best to create a setting that is free from distractions and that is stress free and even attractive. A nice place setting and a flower on the table may not be possible at every meal, but they are not overkill.

Slow down.

As a culture we eat too fast. We also know that eating fast leads to eating more, not feeling full as soon, and not getting all the gusto (taste, enjoyment, pure joy) that you might be getting from the food you are eating. Practice all those techniques your mother taught you. Chew your food more. Put your fork down between bites (and make them smaller). Take the time to notice your body signals. You might be full before you finish the portion you’ve put on your plate.

Feed your senses – all of them.

Eating on autopilot happens with little awareness. Try experimenting with doing the opposite. Savoring is the opposite of mindless eating and it’s a full body experiment. Play around with ways that your meal can feed all five of your senses:

  • Sight – Do you love colorful foods? A beautiful place setting or goblet? A salad with a variety of gorgeous vegetables?
  • Sound – Notice the crunch, the crispness. Slow down and be aware of you chewing your food, the wine pouring into your glass, your surroundings.
  • Touch – How does the food feel in your mouth? Can you let the chocolate melt on your tongue? Appreciate the cold or the heat or how smooth the yogurt is?
  • Smell – Taking time to savor pays off big. You can begin appreciating your meal before it ever lands on your tongue. Pause before you pick up your fork and again before you put the food in your mouth. Smell your coffee in the morning and let those good aromas feed you.
  • Taste – It’s actually only one part of the equation. The surprising thing is, most of the time, people who overeat short change themselves on tasting. To truly taste your food (and enjoy it) you need to be present and in the moment. This doesn’t happen when you are returning emails, fighting rush hour traffic, or taking notes in a meeting while you eat. Start practicing giving yourself time and space to notice the taste of the food that you are eating.

Practice discernment.

This is the fun part where eating less really can get easier. As you stop eating on autopilot and start practicing these tips for mindful eating, start asking questions.

  • Am I hungry? Am I still hungry? You may be surprised to find that you really want less food than you are used to eating.
  • Does this taste good? Too often, we take food just because it’s there and we eat it without even paying attention. If most overeaters asked, and then only ate when they were hungry and when it really tasted good, they’d almost certainly lose weight.
  • Does it still taste good? One of the biggest problems with mindless eating on autopilot is that you will tend to continue eating (and overeating) after the point when your taste buds and your stomach are satisfied.  Keep checking in with yourself and you may find that half a cookie or part of your sandwich is exactly the right amount.
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