Mindless eating is something we all indulge in at one time or another, because … life! Being completely mindful and zen-like during every meal and snack is unrealistic, and the thought you have to be can derail the work you may be doing to heal your relationship with food. Life is busy, stressful, and in recent years, quite unpredictable. All of these factors can lend themselves to mindless eating because we either need some comfort or to not use our minds for a few minutes. And, it’s totally OK to use these coping strategies from time to time, as long as they aren’t your only coping strategies.
Identifying why you may be mindlessly eating can also help pinpoint everything from stressors to work on in therapy to nutrient gaps that may be missing in your diet. Here are some things to ask yourself.
QUESTIONS TO ASK TO DETERMINE WHY YOU’RE MINDLESS EATING
1. AM I EATING REGULARLY?
Regular meals and snacks are key to steady energy levels, blood sugar and appetite regulation. If you’re mindlessly eating because you’re hungry from skipped meals, meals missing key nutrients, or a lack of snacks, then there are some easy fixes. First and foremost, try not to go any longer than 3–4 hours without eating. This helps keep blood sugar steady and helps you avoid getting “hangry.” Aim to have good protein, fiber and fat sources with your meals to help promote satiety and satisfaction. Examples from these categories that you can pair together are:
- Protein: eggs, chicken, fish, Greek yogurt, string cheese, tofu
- Fat: nut butter, avocado, seeds, whole nuts, olive oil
- Fiber: veggies, fruits, and whole grains like pasta, rice, quinoa and beans
2. HOW AM I MANAGING STRESS?
Or, are you managing stress? Like I said above, food can absolutely be a coping strategy when you’re feeling stressed, it just can’t be your only coping strategy. If your mindless eating occurs during stressful periods, try to develop additional strategies to help cope with stress and difficult emotions. This could be anything from journaling to meditating, reading a book, calling a friend, going to or starting therapy, yoga, going for a walk, etc. Everybody is different in what helps them destress, so experiment here and spend time taking care of yourself.
3. WHEN AM I MINDLESSLY EATING?
If your mindless eating happens around the same time each day — say, the 3 p.m. slump at work, or when you settle in for your favorite show in the evenings, then switching up your schedule or habits could be helpful. For example, afternoon slumps often happen when you’re hungry for a snack between lunch and dinner. Add a protein and fiber-rich snack to your afternoon, like an apple with string cheese or whole-grain crackers with peanut butter, and you’ll probably feel more energized and satisfied. In the evening, make sure your dinner is satisfying with protein, veggies and a carb. Skimping on carbs during dinner is a huge cause for mindless evening eating in a lot of my clients. Your body is going to crave what it’s missing, and it needs carbs! Switching your evening routine by reading, playing a game or trying a restorative yoga class can also be helpful.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Instead of beating yourself up for mindlessly eating, try digging into what your body and your mind may be trying to tell you. We can always learn from our behaviors, and in cases like this, mindless eating may mean focusing more on nourishing your body throughout the day with satisfying foods or homing in on stress management. Slowing down and taking better care of yourself is usually a good idea, and mindless eating may be a clue you need to do just that.
Originally published March 2022, updated April 2023
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