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10 steps to overcome mindless autopilot that drives mindless overeating

We all make decisions about food and according to the article published in the January 2007 edition of Environment and Behavior, Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Decisions We Unknowingly Make , by" Brian Wansink and Jeffrey Sobal, we make nearly 20 times more decisions about food each day than we are aware of ... approximately 250 each day.

As quoted in the Cornell Chronicle Wansink noted "So many food decisions are made on mindless autopilot." The problem with this mindless autopilot is that "each of these small decisions is a point where a person can be unknowingly influenced by environmental cues."

These mindless decisions about eating are influenced by a multitude of distractions in our environment and the people within our environment. More specifically to the variety of food; it's packages, aromas, descriptive names given foods, ease of access, merchandising and packaging, variety, size of serving plate, or etc.

What does Wansink suggest? "Rather than try to overly obsess about our food decisions, it's better to change the environment so that it works for us rather than against us, making it easier to make decisions to eat less,"

Wansink and James E. Painter and Jill North also point to the psychologically aspects in our food decision making in, Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake, published in Obesity Research (2005). The premise, regarding decision making, is that people are simply “not well-enough calibrated to know when they hungry or full”.

To a considerably extent it is the environment and our lack of awareness or mindfulness that determines "when to eat and how much to eat."

Ten steps you can take to overcome mindless autopilot that drives mindless overeating;

  1. Select one aspect of your mindless eating such as snacking out of an original box instead of out of a portion control container and develop a strategy to overcome it, such as always portioning out our snacks. Once this is mastered move on to the next.
  2. Setting a non-negotiable, like never allowing yourself to become overly hungry before eating. This may require that you develop a mindfulness of body sensations, mood, energy levels, etc. that indicate hunger or it is time to eat.
  3. Substitute Healthy Mindless Eating for Mindless Eating until such time as you have developed more mindfulness of the many factors influencing eating. One idea - do not purchase unhealthy snacks or bring them into your work or home environment, op for healthier options like carrot sticks, celery sticks or apple slices – mindless eating of these will increase your fruit and veggie intake without giving it much thought.
  4. Think mindfully and positively - become aware of your negative self talk; that mindless chatter in your thoughts like; "Why did I do that stupid thing." or "I shouldn't have eaten that ..." that can influence your emotions, sabotage your best intentions and trigger overeating. Change it to positive self talk like: "I am doing so well with ..." or "We all have an occasional relapse, I will do better next time." Your mind can only hold one thought at a time.
  5. Develop an awareness of eating - When you eat, make that the focus. Do not include eating with other tasks like watching TV, driving, while on the telephone or surfing the net.
  6. Take time to enjoy food - Practice by place you fork down between bites and enjoy the aroma, the texture, the taste and the mouth feel.
  7. Be aware of patterns like eating the same foods day after day or in the same environment or at the same time; change it up on occasion.
  8. Conduct a hunger check before and during eating - before eating ask yourself on a scale of 0-10 how hungry am I. Ask yourself what physical sensations am I having; hunger pangs, feeling weak, unable to concentrate, etc. During eating check in on how hungry you still are.
  9. Seek out friends that support you in your efforts and not sabotage them. If you find that you are being influenced to eat mindlessly by comments like "lets split a slice of cheesecake when you intention is not to eat rich desserts like cheesecake, it may be time to ask your friends for more support and less temptations.
  10. Have mindfulness discussions - avoid marathon mindless discussions about food and dieting, and avoid "fat talk debates. Discussions like " I've gained 10 pounds", "well I have gained 12" or "I buy all of these snacks for myself and my family eat them" "so do mine, just the other day..."

This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical/nutritional/fitness advice. Information presented is subject to change as additional discoveries are made or additional research is published. Links to various sites are provided for your convenience only and we are not responsible or liable for the content, accuracy of information provided or privacy practices of linked sites or for products or services described on these sites.

Sources: Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Decisions We Unknowingly Make; Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake; https://www.cafewell.com/; http://www.news.cornell.edu/; http://eab.sagepub.com/content/39/1/106.refs; http://eab.sagepub.com/; http://www.obesityresearch.nih.gov/