Do You Eat on Autopilot?

We all know the feeling of having arrived at a frequently visited destination and having little to no recollection of the drive there. Does this ever happen to you with food?

Posted on | Katie Rickel, PhD | Comments ()

We all know the feeling of having arrived at a frequently visited destination and having little to no recollection of the drive there. Does this ever happen to you with food?

How many times have you looked down at your empty dinner plate and wondered where your mind was when you were eating your meal? Most of us live in a constant state of  “eating and…”: eating and watching television, eating and driving, eating and helping kids with homework, eating and completing a work assignment. When we engage in this “eating and…,” we are usually so absorbed in the other activity that we lose awareness of the eating experience completely. 

This “eating and…” is formally called mindless eating. Mindless eating is our culture’s faulty solution to increasing efficiency and saving time. However, we are paying a price for this multitasking. Research clearly shows that we eat more and make poorer food choices when we fail to take that 15 minutes and do nothing else besides eat.

There is a relatively easy antidote: mindful eating. Mindful eating is a set of strategies that helps people eat less, feel fuller, and experience greater satisfaction with their food.  These are particularly useful for those wanting to shed a few pounds and for people who struggle with binge eating or food addiction. Here’s how to get started:

  • Create an attractive and comfortable area designated only for eating. Set your table with accessories and dishes that make every meal feel like a special occasion. 
  • Turn off the television, drop the newspaper, shut down the cell phone and computer. For the next 15 minutes, your only task at hand is to enjoy your meal.
  • Before you start eating, take a moment to really look at your food and pause to feel some gratitude toward those who contributed to producing the meal you are about to enjoy.
  • Make a conscious decision about what item or section of your meal you’d like to consume first.
  • Take a bite of food onto a utensil, place the food in your mouth, and return the utensil to the table before you begin to chew.
  • Pay attention to various sensations you are experiencing with the food in your mouth.  Tune into the flavors, textures, temperatures and consistency. 
  • Try to resist the urge to swallow until the entire bite is completely chewed.
  • As you swallow, use your mind’s eye to follow the food down your esophagus and into your belly. Notice whether you feel one bite more nourished, one bite more powerful, one bite more energetic.
  • Before selecting your next bite, ask yourself if you are growing more satisfied. When you reach the point of feeling satisfied, make a conscious choice to stop eating, even if food remains on your plate.

Try these steps during your next meal, and pay attention to whether your experience of eating changes for the better. Sacrifice those few minutes saved during “eating and…,” and you’ll shrink your waistline, increase your appreciation of food, and enhance your awareness of what you choose to put in your body. 

Blog written by Katie Rickel, PhD
Dr. Katie Rickel is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in weight management and health behavior modification. She...