Aug. 27. 2021
Mindful Eating
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Have you ever found yourself eating without really thinking about eating? This is mindless eating which is the opposite of mindful eating

Mindless eating is when you’re disconnected from experiencing your food and your body, making it difficult for you to enjoy what you’re eating and tune into your body to know when you’re satisfied and satiated. 

We’ve all done it before. Maybe we’re eating while watching TV or grazing on food all afternoon. 

We’re busy people, so we’re not always going to be 100 percent mindful every single time we’re eating, but the problem with mindless eating is that it can lead to several unwanted results. From binge eating episodes to feeling overly full, causing digestive upset, and even regret and guilt, mindless eating never serves us well. 

In this article, we’re exploring the common reasons you may find yourself mindlessly eating so you can overcome them. 

6 Most Common Causes of Mindless Eating

Better understanding exactly what leads you to eat mindlessly can help you better recognize when it’s happening and also take steps to prevent it. 

1. Eating for Comfort

Food tastes good, therefore food makes us happy, right? Well, this unfortunately can be a slippery slope. 

Food is delicious and enjoyable, and because of that, it’s meant to be enjoyed! But, what we don’t want to do is start to look to food as a means of comfort, or as a coping mechanism to help deal with other parts of our lives that are not enjoyable. 

When someone is eating for comfort, they’re generally looking to food to remove a previous sensation, and replace it with joy. 

For example, let’s say you’re feeling super stressed out after work. Maybe you can’t quite shake that anxious feeling once you get home, so you reach for your favorite chocolate cake because you know cake always tastes good and will help you forget the stress you were feeling. 

This causes mindless eating. 

You’re not eating the cake because you simply want to eat the cake, savor every bit and enjoy it for exactly what it is! Instead, you’re looking to the cake for comfort, for an escape. This can also happen as a result of almost any heightened emotion — from sadness to anger or even frustration.

2. Environmental Cues

Are there any particular places you go to that evoke a specific craving? 

One of the most common ones I hear about is the movie theatre. When you get to the movie theatre, do you immediately want a bag of popcorn? Or maybe it’s your favorite candy? 

Now simply wanting to enjoy a food item is nothing to be ashamed of by any means! Food is meant to be both nourishing and enjoyable, that’s a part of our philosophy here at Nutrition Stripped. 

But the mindlessness comes into play here when we want the food item despite a lack of hunger. If we’re totally full and simply eating as a result of an environmental cue, we aren’t able to listen to our hunger and satiety cues to guide how much we eat and when. We’re simply eating to eat. 

This often leads to an overconsumption of food which leaves us feeling super full, bloated, and possibly somewhat regretful after having eaten more than we had intended to. 

Another common example of environmental cues can often be found in social eating situations. In many of these situations, there is often food that’s put out on display for grazing, such as bowls of chips or a charcuterie board. This could simply cause you to want certain foods that you normally wouldn’t say were the most satisfying to you. It can also lead you to overindulge because you’re grabbing something every time you walk by or because it’s sitting right in front of you the whole night. 

3. Distractions 

Distractions are another common cause of mindless eating. Everything from scrolling Instagram to watching TV or working as you eat is a distraction from your experience with food. 

When you’re distracted eating, it’s more challenging to feel satisfied with what you’re eating because you’re not really paying attention to the taste and texture of the food. 

Think about it — have you ever been curled up on the couch watching Netflix with a big bowl of chips? Before you know it, you ate much more than you likely would have if you were sitting down at the table and paying attention to what you were eating.

Now, it’s important to know sometimes it’s totally okay to do that! Sometimes all we want is a good Netflix night and to eat some chips while we watch. But, if this is part of your regular daily routine, that’s when you would want to work on replacing that habit. 

4. Mindless Eating as a Result of Peer Pressure 

Everyone has that friend or family member, “No you absolutely have to try this, it’s so good!”, “I know you said you don’t want any, but please just have some with me!”. 

Sound familiar to anyone? When we aren’t really hungry for food, or we don’t really enjoy the food item, but we eat it anyway, we’re mindlessly eating. 

We’re once again, eating to simply eat. We’re not thinking about how delicious the food tastes, how it makes us feel, or how it smells, we’re instead eating because someone told us to. 

5. Boredom

Boredom eating is very similar to eating for comfort, but it’s more habit-driven than anything else. 

Our habits allow us to function on autopilot when needed so we can complete daily tasks with ease. This is the great part about habits! But what they also do, is sometimes cause us to act without intention, or mindlessly, when we’re around food. 

For example, let’s say when you were growing up, you would always head over to the kitchen when you were done with your homework and not playing or doing any specific. You were bored! You got into the habit of rummaging around the pantry and grabbing whatever was there. 

Well, now, whenever you’re bored, your brain may immediately go-to food. A habit was formed. 

Once again, we’re not eating because we’re hungry and want to mindfully experience the food item, we’re eating to fulfill a different need that it, unfortunately, cannot truly fulfill.  

6. Eating Schedules Cause Mindless Eating

Clients so often come to me with a particular eating schedule they must stick to. 

They eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a certain time every single day. Why you might ask? Well, because they thought they were supposed to. 

What happens here, is we’re intentionally ignoring our hunger and satiety cues once again. Instead of listening to the body and responding accordingly, we’re forcing the body to eat when we believe we’re supposed to. When we’re not checking in with how the food makes us feel, we’re mindlessly eating once again. 

How To Stop Eating Mindlessly 

Now we know what causes mindless eating. So how do we stop? 

Well, first we want to become aware of our individual triggers. Do you often look to food for comfort? Succumb to peer pressure? Adhere to an eating schedule? Or maybe get influenced by boredom or your environment? 

Once you’re aware of what frequently causes you to eat mindlessly, you can actively work to break those habits and build more positive, new ones. Inside our free guide, we share the simple yet effective tools you can start using at your next meal to experience more balance with your food choices today, plus the steps to maintain balanced eating habits for life.

Practice Mindful Eating

You can also learn to intentionally practice mindful eating. This is what we teach all of our students and clients to do in order to reach their individual goals. Moving away from mindless eating and into the world of mindful eating allows you to take control of your life and your wellness goals.