Eating on Autopilot: 5 Simple Strategies to Break the Cycle of Mindless Eating | TMOHP Episode 074

I’ve had multiple requests to address the problem of mindless eating or overeating on autopilot. How do you break the cycle? How do you prevent mindless eating? How can you interrupt an autopilot binge? Let’s talk about this.

Mindless eating is at the root of a fair amount of overeating and emotional eating, and it can be a frustrating pattern to change. It’s hard to intervene when it seems like you’re doing something that’s at least partly outside of your attention or awareness.

The antidote to mindless eating is mindful eating. Breaking a cycle of mindlessness and finding ways to be present changes the power dynamic between you and food. When you’re present you can assess. You can make choices. You can do things differently. It sounds good, but how does one accomplish this? This is exactly what I’m covering in this episode.

In this episode:

  • Mindless eating or eating on autopilot
  • The antidote to mindless eating
  • Strategies to break the mindless eating habit
  • How to use discernment to eat less more easily

[If you love this podcast, will you take 30 seconds to leave a review? It makes all the difference in my ability to share this information!]

Featured on the show:

  • Come join the Freedom from Emotional Eating and Overeating private Facebook community!
  • Not sure why you’re overeating, or what your Hidden Hungers are? Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and get a free set of resources matched to your results.
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

Enjoy the show?

Full episode transcript:

Hello everybody. Welcome back or welcome to the podcast. Today I'm talking about eating on autopilot. I recently asked in my private Facebook community what they would like to hear me cover on this podcast. What are some topics that they want to hear more about? One topic that kept coming up was mindless eating or eating on autopilot in one form or another. Automatically reaching for food, making food choices without thinking, finishing what's on your plate or in the bag thoughtlessly when you no longer even want it. And then realizing, I can't believe I ate that whole thing, or I wasn't even hungry.

Mindless eating, which is also referred to as eating on autopilot, tends to leave you feeling hungry. It's less satisfying. And when you are eating mindlessly or when you have eaten mindlessly, you tend to want more. You don't end up feeling like you got enough. It's also a really challenging habit to pull yourself out of. And that's what the members of the Facebook community were referring to. I mean, how are you supposed to intentionally do something else when the problem is that you aren't tuned in to what it is that you're doing. Right? You're in the state of mindlessness.

And by the way, if you are not in my free Facebook group and you are on Facebook, then you should totally come join us. So I will put the link to that in the show notes.

So this whole dilemma of eating on autopilot, Can be solved with something called mindful eating. Being mindful while you're eating. Right? When you develop strategies to move from mindless autopilot behavior, mindless autopilot eating to a situation where you are present? You change the power dynamic. When you make that shift from being mindless to being present, you change the power dynamic between you and overeating.

Mindful eating. Being mindful and present and aware while you eat gives you your power back. It's so important. It gives you your power back and it puts you back in charge. Mindful eating is a strategy or a practice with a lot of benefits, but it can feel awkward and even uncomfortable, and you can be pretty resistant to it at first if you have been doing the opposite thing, the mindless thing.

So if this is you or if you find that resistance surprising you and coming up as you try some of these strategies that I'm going to talk about in this episode? Here's some incentive. Mindful eating practices have been shown to help women feel more satisfied sooner. So that you eat less and have more enjoyment. And that enjoyment piece is so important to me. So much overeating happens without enjoyment. Without really tasting or experiencing the food that we're overeating.

We tell ourselves we're using food to treat ourselves or to take care of ourselves. Or we tell ourselves, we're overeating this thing because we don't want to feel deprived. But when you're on autopilot, you're not even fully experiencing the taste or the pleasure that food can bring. And life's too short for that.

The practice of mindful eating is incredibly powerful. If you struggle with emotional eating, binge eating, or even an unexplainable difficulty losing weight. You're trying to lose weight. You feel like you're doing the right things, you don't know what's going on. Mindful eating is almost always your best next step toward figuring things out and toward achieving success.

Here's something important. You probably won't break habits with eating on autopilot all at once, and this is perfectly okay. In fact, you may not need to break habits with eating on autopilot all at once. Your best bet may be focusing in on certain situations where that eating on autopilot isn't working for you. Breaking the autopilot habit is most likely going to be a process. And I have some strategies that can be very helpful and help you be more mindful of your eating. Again, so that you can take your power back in these situations.

So here is what I recommend if you want to break the autopilot overeating habit. The first one you may want to resist, but I highly recommend that you experiment with making eating a solo activity. Eating at your desk, eating in the car, eating in a meeting. We're now in a culture that eats while doing other things so much of the time. The problem is this eating while you're doing everything else is a recipe for eating too much, for emotional eating and for eating without enjoyment.

Try practicing eating without doing anything else. Anything else. This means not watching TV, not having the TV on, not staring at a computer screen, not having your phone at the table while you eat, not reading a book. If this isn't your usual practice, don't be surprised if it feels uncomfortable at first. Now, I'm not suggesting you go all perfectionistic or all, all or nothing here. Pick a situation where mindless eating is a problem for you, and then experiment in that particular situation. Experiment and see what happens.

Something else that you can try that can help put the brakes on autopilot eating is making eating an activity. Think about how you approach your eating. If eating has been something that you fit in while you're 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 for eating that's free from distractions, that's stress free and even appealing.

Giving yourself a nice place setting and a flower on the table, it that may not be possible at every meal, but they're not overkill. Try creating an atmosphere that you will enjoy, that you want to enjoy being present in. Being mindful in.

I had a client who realized when we started talking about this, that she hadn't sat down to eat at her kitchen table in actually several years. There was a story behind it. She'd given up the practice of sitting down and eating her meal at the table when she had lost a family member who was living with her.

I've also seen this happen to parents of adult children when their kids go off to college. Just when life changes, sometimes we lose that concept of making eating a pleasant environment and a pleasant activity. For this client, reclaiming her dinnertime and finding a way to make it an event again? It did lead to her working through some painful feelings that of course, there were painful feelings there. And guess what? She'd been avoiding them. Which was also part of the autopilot eating. But it was important to do this. Also important was how she remembered. When she allowed herself to think about it. When she started to think about making her eating an activity. She remembered how pleasant and enjoyable the dinner experience that she had had, that she had created in the past. She remembered how pleasant that had been and how it had appealed to her. Making her eating a real activity. Instead of something she was doing without thought and actually something she was doing to try not to think? This was a turning point in the changes that she made with food. It was a turning point in how she approached her eating and ultimately it was a turning point with her weight.

Okay, another simple but powerful strategy to stop mindless eating and to take your power back is this. Slow down. Slow down. As a culture, we eat too fast. Eating fast leads to eating more. It leads to not feeling full as soon. And also not getting all the satisfaction, the taste, the enjoyment, the pure joy that you might be getting from the food that you're eating.

Slow down. Practice all those techniques that you've probably heard about and disregarded. Chew your food more. Put your fork down between bites and make your bites smaller. Take the time to notice your body signals. You can even take breaks. You can even take breaks. Lean back in your chair. Put your fork down. Lean back. Participate in conversation. Or just check in with yourself if you're eating by yourself. You can get up you can take a bathroom. Let your experience sink in. Give yourself time for the experience of eating to sink in. For your food to settle and give your brain and your stomach a chance to communicate. You might be full before you finish the portion that you've put on your plate. You might notice new things about what tastes good and also what doesn't. I will not be surprised if what you discover by slowing down surprises you. Because this happens all the time. This is a powerful strategy. Slow down.

Here's another way to disconnect from the autopilot eating habit. A key to being more mindful and less zoned out with eating or with anything else actually, is to think about feeding your senses. All of them. Eating on autopilot happens with very little awareness. That's the autopilot part. Right? Try experimenting with doing the opposite. Really dialing in on all the awareness that you can. The opposite of mindless eating is savoring. And savoring can be a full body, full sensory experiment. Play around with the ways that your meal can feed all five of your senses.

Start with your sight. How does the food in front of you look? Do? How does the food that you want to eat look? Do you love colorful foods? Do you love a beautiful place setting or a goblet for your drink? Do you love a salad with a variety of gorgeous vegetables? A client who played with feeding her senses had this awareness. She said, you know what? I am a person who appreciates beauty. And I have stopped eating beautiful foods. My overeating has led to me eating all this stuff that isn't, doesn't feel good in my body. But it, it doesn't look the way I want it to look. I want to eat beautiful foods that feed my senses. For this client, and you may have a very different experience, but for her, she realized that part of savoring was eating food that was beautiful. That was colorful, that was bright.

You can pay attention to feeding your sense of sound. Notice the crunch, the crisp. Slow down. Be aware of chewing the food, the sound of your beverage, your wine pouring into your glass. Take in the sound. Put on beautiful music. Pay attention to touch. How does the food feel in your mouth? Can you let the chocolate melt on your tongue? Can you appreciate the cold or the heat or how smooth the yogurt is? And when you tune into the sense of touch in your eating. How does this change or stay the same, maybe it fades as the meal goes on? Be curious. Savor.

Tune into the smells. If you are cooking, tune into the smells before you even sit down to eat. Combine your sense of smell with pausing, slowing down. Pause before you pick up your fork. Inhale, the smell of the food. Pause again. After you put the food in your mouth. Make sure you smell your coffee in the morning. Notice the aromas of food that are around you and let those good aromas feed you.

And then there's your sense of taste. Taste is really important here. The reality is, as I mentioned before, so much of the time, people who are in an overeating pattern are short changing themselves on tasting. To truly taste your food and enjoy it, you have to be present and in the moment. We cannot fully taste our food if we're on autopilot.

If you're returning emails, if you're fighting rush hour traffic while you're, you're eating your food that you got at the drive through. If you're eating your lunch while you're taking notes in a meeting while you eat? You can't really appreciate the taste that you might even be telling yourself is the treat or the reward, or the reason that you're eating or overeating in the first place. Start practicing giving yourself time and space to notice the taste of the food, as well as the smell and the sight, and the sound and the touch. There are so many layers of payoff when you allow yourself, give yourself permission to be present with your eating.

Okay. I have one more strategy for you that can really help with mindless eating, and this is to practice discernment. Use discernment and breaking that overeating pattern, that mindless eating pattern really can get easier. And it can lead to eating less. As you stop eating on autopilot, as you slow down eating on autopilot. As you start practicing these tips for mindful eating, start asking yourself discerning questions.

Questions like, am I hungry? Am I still hungry? You might surprise yourself and find out that you really want less food than you're used to eating. I had a member of the Missing Peace program recently who surprised herself by finding that she wasn't enjoying some of the foods that she had been telling herself were a delightful treat. She didn't really like them.

Be discerning in, in reference to what I was just saying. You can ask yourself, does this taste good? It sounds like a silly question, but it can be very powerful. We get into mindless eating habits of taking food just because it's there. Or eating it just because it's there without even paying attention.

Does it taste good? Do I really want it? You can layer on another discerning question. Does it still taste good? One of the biggest problems with mindless eating on autopilot is that you will continue to eat and overeat after the point when your taste buds and your stomach are satisfied. Because you're on autopilot, you're not tuned in. So if you use discernment, if you keep checking in with yourself again, you might find that half a cookie or part of a sandwich or half a latte is exactly the right amount.

These are the ideas that I have for you today. These are the ideas, the techniques that you can start applying imperfectly. And remember, imperfect is always fine. You can apply these imperfectly to start breaking the, the habit of eating mindlessly or eating on autopilot. Give these strategies a try and see what happens.

And I'd love to hear if you have more questions about mindless eating, eating on autopilot, and how these strategies work for you.

I'll talk to you soon.


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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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