25 Feb 2021
Unconscious Eating – The Nemesis of Mindful Eating
25 Feb 2021
As you’ve probably noticed from previous blog posts, I’m a major supporter of Intuitive Eating. I truly believe that Intuitive Eating can be used to achieve any health or wellness goal! I am on a mission to help people unearth the intuitive eater within. At the core of this anti-diet approach is mindful eating. Mindful eating is a skill that I teach all my clients because it addresses every nutrition issue: overeating, undereating, gut problems, metabolic issues, and so much more.
Based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, mindful eating is all about paying attention. Paying attention to physical sensations in your body, your eating experiences, and how the foods you eat make you feel.
Mindful eating involves:
- Distinguishing between physical hunger and simply the desire to eat
- Listening to your body’s signals and eating only until you are full
- Eating slowly and without distractions
- Noticing which foods keep you feeling full and energized
- Discovering how different foods affect your symptoms
- Learning which eating pattern optimizes your health and well-being
- Coping with your emotions (ex: stress, anxiety) without food
Practising mindful eating will help you to build healthy eating habits that you’ll be able to maintain. It’s the long-term solution that will give you the lasting results you’re after.
Mindful eating is an excellent tool that will help you reach your goals. However, you might not know how to start practicing this useful eating technique. Based on my professional experience, it’s important to first determine what barriers you’re currently facing that are preventing you from eating mindfully. After all, if you don’t address your challenges, how can you come up with a plan to become a mindful eater?
The nemesis of mindful eating is unconscious eating. An unconscious eater lacks awareness while they are eating because certain factors are causing them to be disengaged from the eating experience. Being disengaged while you eat is a problem because, if you’re not paying attention, that makes it awfully hard to be mindful! And the tricky thing about unconscious eating is that the lack of awareness makes it difficult to realize that it’s happening in the first place.
There are a few common reasons why people become disconnected from eating. As you continue reading, think about whether the following reasons affect your eating habits.
Deadlines, meetings, errands – oh my! Our society puts so much pressure on us to be ambitious and productive that many of us are overscheduled. This causes life to be chaotic; you might be spending your days putting out one fire after another. When schedules get hectic, this interferes with mindfulness because our busyness pushes our hunger cues to the side. If you’re focused on moving from one task to the next, it’s going to be hard to hear the messages your body is sending you to eat.
Since your life is so chaotic, you might only notice your hunger signals once you’ve reached extreme hunger. When you’re ravenously hungry, you’re less likely to make mindful eating decisions. Rather than stop to make something nutritious that would nourish your body, you’ll probably grab whatever is convenient: fast food, candy bars, chips, etc. And because you’re so hungry, that’s going to make it harder to stop eating when you’re full, causing you to overeat. On top of that, if you work on other tasks while you eat, that also distracts you from your fullness signals.
When chaos disconnects us from the eating experience, it ultimately impacts our energy levels and mood. Grabbing whatever is available to eat might keep you going, but it doesn’t provide you with the nutrients that you need to properly fuel you throughout the day. And letting your blood sugar bounce between extremes is hard on your body. Going from low blood sugar when you’re starving to high blood sugar when you’re stuffed – and back again – is going to wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.
People who have chaos getting in the way of mindful eating need specific nutrition counselling to get on the right track. Help with meal planning and prepping is essential. Tips on how to eat healthy while on-the-go or under pressure are a must. And mindful eating skills need to be tailored to fit that person’s busy lifestyle.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Do you have a hard time resisting food whenever it’s around? Maybe you feel like, if you don’t go ahead and have some now, you’ll lose your chance to eat something delicious. This is the fear of missing out. Whether you’re at a buffet or a family member is offering you extra servings, you figure, “Why not – you only live once!”
The thing about FOMO is that it can cause you to decide to eat based on whether food is near – not on your hunger and fullness signals. That means that you might be eating even when you’re not hungry. You could be munching away without paying attention to how much you’re eating. And you probably find yourself pushing comfortable fullness to the side, leading to overeating.
In order to practice mindful eating, those dealing with FOMO need to work on their relationship with food. If food is holding power over you, it’s important to seek guidance from a dietitian to figure out the root cause. I do specific activities with my clients to address those causes. Putting in the work to mend your relationship with food will decrease your cravings and puts you in control of your eating – rather than feeling like food is ruling you.
The Clean Plate Club
If you feel that a meal isn’t finished until your plate is clear, you’re a member of the clean plate club. Members of this club hate waste and feel obligated to finish every last bite they’ve dished out from themselves. They might even feel that they need to finish off their children’s or partner’s meal as well. Though it is an admirable trait to want to minimize waste, you probably find that you often feel stuffed after meals. That’s because clean plate club members tend to push past their fullness cues in order to eat every bite, resulting in overeating.
Believe it or not, you can honour your body by heeding to your fullness cues while also preventing food waste! With the right meal planning tips and eating habit advice, you can get the best of both worlds. Integrating your beliefs and values into the way you eat is at the heart of achieving authentic health. With help from a dietitian, you can adopt mindful eating in the way that fits you best.
Do you find yourself reaching for food to cope with stress, sadness, or anger? Maybe you eat to deal with boredom or snack as a form of procrastination. Emotional eating comes in different forms. It can be episodes of binge eating to cope with uncomfortable emotions. Repeatedly choosing foods that are energy-dense but not nutrient-dense (ex: fast food, sweets, packaged snacks) because you are too stressed or exhausted is another form of emotional eating. And emotional eating can also manifest as undereating; skipping meals and/or being extra restrictive.
We all need ways to cope with our emotions. However, leaning on food as a primary coping mechanism can lead to under-nourishment. If you are eating lots of foods that are calorie-dense but don’t have much nutritional value, your body might not receive the nutrients it needs. Similarly, you cannot properly nourish yourself if you are undereating. On top of feeling emotionally unwell, emotional eating can lead to you feeling physically unwell because your nutrition needs are not being met. In addition, food cannot address the root cause of our emotions. Without facing the root cause, emotional eating is destined to continue in a vicious cycle.
A registered dietitian can help those who are struggling with emotional eating. I provide counselling to my clients on how to cope with their emotions in ways that don’t involve food. I can help you discover the specific triggers of your eating and develop action plans for you to follow when you experience those emotions. And I do certain activities with clients to build their emotional muscles, empowering them to become more resilient, preventing emotional eating from happening in the future.
Which of these factors is affecting the way you eat? Maybe they all do! Or maybe some of them only affect you in specific situations or when you’re around certain people. When I work with clients, I start out by discovering which barriers they’re facing in their life. Then, I help them to develop an action plan to overcome each of their barriers, enabling them to begin practicing mindful eating.
Applying mindful eating in your daily life will empower you to achieve your health and wellness goals.
Karissa Giraldi, RD
Bjarnadottir, A. (2019). Mindful Eating 101 – A Beginner’s Guide. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mindful-eating-guide#intro. Accessed February 9, 2021.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. New York: St. Martin’s Essentials. pp 32 – 39.
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