Peckish? Did you snack on anything today? Think all the way back to breakfast (or yesterday's breakfast) and make a list of everything you've chowed down on.
Tough, right? Maybe that's because you aren't really paying attention to what you put in your mouth.
Apparently, most of us eat without much thought. And this "mindless eating" is a contributing factor to why many of us are overweight. And then there's "emotional eating," which is often just as mindless. Whatever happened to plain old "hungry eating"?
The opposite of all this aimless munching is "mindful eating." An early version of the concept was popularized by Horace Fletcher, aka "the Great Masticator," who advocated chewing one's food 32 times before swallowing.
Jaw getting tired? Maybe it's time to change your environment so you can eat well even when you're eating mindlessly.
What the experts say
"Mindful eating is great, but it's way too difficult for most people. The best solution isn't to say ‘must not eat a piece of chocolate,' it's to move the chocolate to a place where you make a mindless decision that leads you to the right behaviour. Buy smaller plates and bowls so you will naturally do what's right rather than having to remind yourself. Our research has shown that the average person makes about 250 decisions a day about food, which is 200 more than they estimate having made. It's not just whether to have Froot Loops or Rice Krispies for breakfast, but whether you have two-thirds or three-quarters of a bowl, whether you have whole or skim milk. If you're unaware of these decisions, the environment around you ends up moving you to eat in the wrong way. We can make small changes that can lead us to mindlessly eat less or better. Move a candy dish off people's desks and the number of Hershey's Kisses they eat a day drops from nine to four."
BRIAN WANSINK, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
"Mindful eating is learning to become aware of the food we consume by using all of our senses and letting that awareness guide our decisions to eat or not eat. There's a lot of information people may not be factoring in, and they may not recognize that the eating experience isn't really enjoyable because they're preoccupied and forgot to check in. Preliminary studies indicate that just by asking some questions, like what am I feeling? what am I tasting? and cultivating some curiosity around food, people find they avoid experiencing feelings of guilt or depravation. When we cultivate [a positive mental space] in acts like trying to feel some gratitude and remembering all the effort that went into a meal, we bring an element of richness to the experience so we're eating with appreciation."
MEGRETTE FLETCHER, executive director, Center for Mindful Eating, West Nottingham, New Hampshire
"You tend to notice the first bite of anything, then the mind often becomes preoccupied with non-food-related thoughts and conversation. And the next food-related observation is ‘It's gone.' Mindful eating is like a muscle that gets stronger with usage, and fortunately it can be learned. Emotional eating is often the root of ‘excess' for people who are overweight or misuse food. Some eat to deal with stress, others self-deprecating thoughts, and the list goes on. A huge first step to beating this is self-awareness. [To hone mindful eating], spend some time learning to slow the pace. Practise when eating alone, with no TV or distractions. Cutting food in smaller pieces and putting down the fork between bites might help. Fast eaters eat more! The brain takes time to get the message that the body is being fed - 20 to 30 minutes to get the satiated feeling. Once the slower eating habit takes over, you can actually alternate focus from conversation to food."
LYNDA WISE, weight loss and lifestyle coach, Wise Coaching, Toronto
"People who eat mindlessly often eat when they are in a rushed, panicked or anxious state. They tend to chew their food very little and to swallow it in large chunks, and don't spend time relaxing and savouring their food. You know the phrase ‘to lunch al desko'? When people eat in a rushed fashion, food tends to digest poorly. There is also a connection between eating in a mindless fashion and eating when one isn't truly hungry but when a time has been assigned (‘it's lunch hour'). A lot of people would be better off just going for a stroll rather than eating something just because it's time to eat."
STEPHEN VAN BEEK, pychotherapist, founder of the Toronto Therapy Network