Mindless Eating is Way Too Easy

mindless eating

It should be hard to eat mindlessly shouldn’t it?

I mean, eating takes a bit of effort. You have to pick up the food with your fork, spoon, or fingers. You have to put it in your mouth. You have to chew. That takes some effort – right? That takes some deliberateness – right?

Well, eating does take effort and you do have to be deliberate about chewing, but the act of eating is definitely easy enough to be mindless – if you are not careful.

My History with Mindless Eating

I know from personal experience that mindless eating is way too easy. I was a master at eating and eating and eating and paying little attention to how much, or even what, I was consuming.

In fact, I was a master at mindless eating during my high school years, my college years, and the first 10 years of my marriage. I guess in some ways I am still a master at it, because I still have to be aware of the foods I am eating and not fall into the mindless eating trap.

Here’s an example for you. I was famous for eating half a chip bag before I realized it was gone, finishing off all the candy in the children’s Christmas stockings, or eating large quantities of ice cream while watching television.

I always felt embarrassed when John would come home from work and say, “Hey, where are the Ritz crackers we just bought yesterday?” I would shrug, but I knew where they were. I had finished off the last sleeve and half while standing in the backyard watching one of the girls swing.

I ate watching television, folding laundry, or talking on the phone. I’d grab the food, begin eating, and before I knew it, a whole lot of it was gone. Sometimes I was surprised at how little was left. I’d feel guilty and tell myself, “I’m finished eating for the day. But by the time dinner came around, I was eating large quantities of food again without even tasting it.

The Surprise Factor

I was often surprised that I ate so much each day. Eating takes effort, but mindless eating seems to take no effort at all. A dozen cookies could disappear and leave a pound on the scale in their place. I spent a lot of money replacing food that I shouldn’t have eaten in the first place and I constantly felt frustrated by how heavy I stayed, even while dieting.

You would think that I would have learned not to take the cracker box to the laundry room or couch, but I didn’t learn. I walked around with food, leaving little cookie or cracker crumbs much like Hansel and Gretel did.

When I dieted, which was frequently, I would read books that talked about mindless eating or listen to my Weight Watchers leader explain how to avoid mindless eating. I’d agree silently that mindless eating was bad, but promptly forget the words of wisdom before the evening was over.

So what changed for me?

I realized that I had to get a handle on all my bad habits, including mindless eating. Of course not having a bunch of junk in the house helped immensely – but what was even more beneficial was developing an awareness of my eating patterns.

Because after all – mindless eating is just that. Mindless. Not much awareness involved in mindless eating.

Here are five tips to help you overcome mindless eating:

1. Never eat directly from the box, ice cream container, chip bag, candy container. (Or just avoid those unhealthy choices all together!)

2. Place a measured portion on your plate to help train yourself to be satisfied with just one helping at a time.

3. Stay in the moment while you eat. Don’t get distracted by conversations, television programs, or other things.

4. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly.

5. Analyze how you did after each meal. Ask yourself how aware of your food intake you were and what you could have done differently. Ask yourself if you really tasted and enjoyed each bite.

This time of year in particular, it is very easy to mindlessly eat. A handful of pretzels here or five or six Hershey kisses here can add up to serious calories day after day. I still watch myself for mindless eating patterns, because they are easy to have and difficult to break.

How do you do at mindless eating? Is it harder this time of year? Diane

Photo Credit: www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Master Isolated Images

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  1. Great post it is very easy to get into mindless eating or emotional eating and very hard to break the bad habit best not to start. Since losing my 40 pounds years ago to maintain the lose I try to eat much the same way year round. I don’t buy the junk food to start with any more. If I have a dessert I eat a measured portion also I plate the food at the stove and don’t serve from the table family style. After a few years you get used to eating this way and it is the new normal.

  2. Eating whole putting away leftovers is a habit I had to break. Now my husband cleans up and I avoid the situation most nights. We gave up the candy bowl, eating dessert ‘out’ and eating in movie theaters. I plan my food the commit it the night before. I don’t get the free samples in the supermarket display venues.

    I am going to a party this evening. It is a catered buffet set up. I am bringing steamed green beans and broccoli and brown rice for myself and partaking of the chicken marsala on the buffet line. I will not be having their salad (the ingredients do not match my food plan), their pasta, their breads and definitely not their dessert table. In fact, I have a plan to leave for a half hour and miss dessert completely. I will skip even the diet soda because the sweet taste opens me to wanting other sweet things.
    Excellent post for the Holidays Diane.
    Jane Cartelli recently posted…Self Absorbed WomanMy Profile

  3. The one thing I do differently than you, Diane, is that I do eat in front of the TV. And I love it! It is the best way for me to enjoy my food and really taste it. When I’m eating around the family dinner table, I’m jumping up and getting things, trying to keep a conversation going (no one’s a big talker!), and generally am distracted. I treat myself to “mom’s nights in” when I have my dinner while watching a movie in peace. It’s not mindless eating, because it’s what I would have anyway — a dinner salad, or a homemade soup, or whatever. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy my food more (and don’t overeat) when I’m by myself.

  4. Great post, Diane, and one I totally understand. For me, it was the hubby asking where the bag of cookies had gone–since buying it that morning! I was such a sneak eater, and the mindless thing went hand in hand with that. To help my mindless eating, I do what you do: measured portions, taking stock of hunger and daily food intake (e.g., three servings of frozen yogurt means it’s time to eat veggies and fruits and lean meats for the rest of the day). I am also mindful of how my body reacts to foods. For instance, I’m mindful how half a slice of pumpkin pie makes me feel jittery and I’ll stop eating it or cut it out. Before, I’d plow through that piece and half the pie, convincing myself the taste and food coma would be worth it.

  5. I break a lot of the “rules,” but portion control keeps me from over-eating.

    If I do find I am eating without really thinking or tasting the food, I stop!

  6. Eating only at meal time – planned meals.

    Sitting at the table, with nothing else going on (no TV, no book, no computer device) while we eat.

    Having only real food in the house.

    Are things that helpedme.

  7. Your #1 tip has been my downfall in the past. I know when I take that bag of pretzels or chips or whatever to the living room that I am in dangerous territory. It usually means I’ll finish the bag. That is why I keep encouraging my daughter, who buys the chips, to keep them in her room. Great post.
    Caron recently posted…Alas, No Mega MillionsMy Profile

  8. I definitely think it’s easier to mindlessly eat during the holidays. You go to gatherings, and there’s a table full of hors d’oeuvres sitting there, and it’s very easy to have “just one” and wind up eating a bunch of them. People are giving away boxes of candy and passing them around. It’s our food culture gone awry. I just try to say in my mind, “those are not for me — those are for the other people,” and say no. If anyone gives me any lip, I just tell them my doctor would kill me if he knew I were eating that stuff. And in a way it’s true. I’m valuing my health more than the taste of food. It’ like I’m an addict in recovery.
    Hope K recently posted…Singing the Plateau BluesMy Profile

  9. I remember the first time I done this. I had a banana and the flavor was amazing. How did I miss that for so many years. I do have to remind myself to slow down and be deliberate. Being mindful in all things is rewarding.

  10. I wondered how someone could eat without realizing it, but then when I thought about a lot of the habitual things people can do literally without knowing it, it made more sense. Biting nails, smoking, fiddling with things, picking at things … People can develop so many habits and then engage in them without even knowing it. If someone can look down and not know how long they’ve been biting their nails (ten seconds? ten minutes?) then I can easily see how you could snack and not even realize it until the bag is empty. It’s just one more fiddly thing to do without knowing it, and if you add the sugar/salt/fat zing to it, it becomes even more habit-forming.

  11. My biggest snacking time is the evenings and I have found that I will snack from dinner to bedtime if I don’t keep my hands busy!!!
    Kim recently posted…Time for a Fun Friday!!!My Profile

  12. I’m learning not to mindlessly eat. I hate counting calories, but I don’t mind working on portion control, so that’s what I choose to do. I make a game of it, seeing if I can take the smallest amount of this or that and not go back for more, or perhaps leave a bit of food on my plate at the end of my meal. This was one of the first strategies I tried that worked for me, and was especially helpful when I was eating favorite foods, so more tempted to overdo. Most times I can avoid mindless eating now, but I do find that there are days when my stomach seems to require more to “feel” full. I’m working on tracking that sensation to learn more about it. I used to eat mindlessly all the time, but I rarely do it now. I guess that’s progress!
    L recently posted…The Christmas Office PartyMy Profile

  13. My biggest problem time is from after dinner to bedtime. I am busy all day long and this is the only time I am not busy. I think that’s why I want to snack on stuff in the evening. So for the last few weeks I have planned activities in the evening to keep myself from having “free” time, so to speak. This has helped tremendously. Thank you for the tips.

  14. Diane you know we are similar here & I have had years of practice so…. I always stop to think first about how much I really need or even like what is in front of me.. sometimes we eat just because it is there but it really is not a 9 or 10 out of 10. :)
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Another Best Compliment Ever, Why I do What I Do & SadnessMy Profile

  15. I used to be a mindless eater. I had to set some very strict rules to get over it: no eating out of the box, no eating after certain times, and making parties about the people not the food. I used to eat way too much at parties without “noticing.”
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted…All But GlutenMy Profile

  16. This is gonna be very useful during the Holidays. Thank you for the reminder!

    I try to focus on how my stomach feels: is it empty, is it full, is it growling, etc. Then I only try if I feel actual hunger. It’s fascinating how little I actually need to eat when I only follow my hunger.

    Great Holidays to you!
    HappinessSavouredHot recently posted…In vino veritasMy Profile

  17. My biggest thing is not buying food items that lead to mindless eating….even healthier versions of things like bags of air popped non-GMO popcorn….if it’s not in the house, I don’t eat it. Works pretty well for me.
    Lynn recently posted…Machu Picchu will have to wait…My Profile

  18. couldn’t agree more. What helps me stay away from mindless eating and snacking is portion control, taking a breath before each meal, drinking sufficient water so I don’t feel overly hungry and then overeat unhealthy holiday food. Also, I make sure my plate is 75% veggies and fruits and that leaves little room left for junk, if there is any :)
    tianna recently posted…My Christmas Day Outfit + Makeup Look Ideas ♥My Profile

  19. It’s so true! I had no idea how much I did this until I stopped buying snack foods. I still do it now, but I have learned to grab a bag of carrots instead…much better results! :)
    Steph recently posted…Harvest Apple French ToastMy Profile

  20. I am doing a juice fast and I have noticed I make a lot of trips to the kitchen! I was a little shocked how many times a day I think I want something to eat! Thanks for sharing!
    Jessica recently posted…The Road to Healthy & Skinny: Juice Fast Day 3My Profile