By The FIRM Master Instructor Mindy Fenske
A while back, I took a teaching sabbatical and worked out of my house for a few months. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved having the flexibility of working from home, but I had a small problem.
I would be working diligently at my computer, tap-tap-tapping the keyboard, when, all of a sudden, my fingers would stop. Then my legs would stand me up and walk me into the kitchen and, before I even realized what was happening, my hand would be force-feeding chips into my open mouth. It was as if my body was possessed by aliens!
My struggle was with mindless eating. For years I have used nibbling as a way to take a break from what I am doing. If I reach a point where I simply can’t look at the computer anymore, I go to the kitchen. This habit also invades my office space. I find myself wandering the hallways and arriving in front of the vending machine without a thought.
When this happens, it’s as if my body is on autopilot and the GPS is set to the nearest junk food. It’s like when you’re driving home from work and you know you need to go to the post office, but you miss the turn because you aren’t thinking and suddenly find yourself in front of your home. Only in this case, “home” is the most convenient comfort food.
Am I alone? Or does this ring a bell for anyone?
Here’s the thing: In order to stop being mindless, you have to start being mindful. Sounds simple, but this is one of those situations where the easiest answer in theory is the most difficult to accomplish in practice.
The great reward of toughing it out, however, is the elimination of potentially hundreds of calories that not only do you not need, but that you probably aren’t even enjoying as you consume them!
How to break the mindless eating cycle
1. Check yourself at the door. The pantry or refrigerator door, that is. Instead of just letting momentum finish the noshing task, I pause and walk away. I don’t even bother to ask myself if I want or need the food. Why? Because I am training myself to physically respond to the act of going for the snack. Once you walk away, you can think about what you should or should not do, but the first line of response is to walk away.
2. Write it down. There will be times when you don’t think to walk away. Your second line of defense is to force yourself to write down exactly what you just put into your mouth. Record what you ate, how much, the calorie amount, the time of day, and how you felt about it. This helps in three ways. First, it will force you to think about the act of eating. Second, it starts building the habit of recording your food. Third, it will be very persuasive in proving to you how dangerous mindless eating can be.
3. Empty the pantry and refrigerator. Of bad food, I mean. I know this is not a realistic solution for some of us with family who will protest and/or just buy replacement snacks. But at least make the snacky stuff hard to get to. I find that when I open the door and I can’t immediately see a snack, I snap out of my stupor. In addition, you can strategically place healthy, already prepared snacks (nuts, raw veggies, etc.) in plain sight. It may not be the food you really desire, but it will be the food that is available, which will help you decide if you really need a snack or if you’re just going through the motions.
4. Don’t carry small bills and change. This might sound a bit wacky, but if you don’t have the cash for the vending machine, you can’t get the candy bar, right? If you need change for parking or commuting, keep it in your car.
What works for you to curb mindless eating?