If you’ve ever found your fingers at the greasy bottom of what was formerly a full bag of potato chips while sitting on the couch watching Scandal reruns, then you’re familiar with mindless eating. And, if so, you’re probably also familiar with the feeling of guilt that can come with it. “It’s eating in a zombie-like way—just putting food in your mouth without really thinking or deciding to do it,” says Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of EatQ and Eating Mindfully. “You can eat an entire plate of food and not taste one bite.” In the short term, this way of eating can lead to regret (and the occasional stomach ache), but in the long term, mindless eating can cause weight gain and a host of health problems, says Albers.
The idea of overhauling how we eat can seem intimidating, but learning mindful eating is deceptively simple, says Albers. So, we asked her for some easy tricks to put more mind behind mealtime.
Pick Up a Plate
The first step to eating more mindfully is simply becoming more aware of your behaviors around food, says Albers. Ask yourself, is it uncommon to eat directly in front of the cupboard or fridge? If the answer is no, then try to take a load off and put your food on to a plate before eating. This will also help curb excessive snacking, as small, popable foods like popcorn and chips make us more vulnerable to mindless eating, says Albers. “It’s easy to lose track of how much you are eating if you don’t put it in a bowl.”
Mindful eating is all about balancing what you eat with how you physically eat it, says Albers. In this case, slowing your role is important. Try eating with your non-dominate hand. “Using it is inconvenient and disrupts the automatic stream of hand to mouth flow,” says Albers. “It naturally slows you down and can reduce how much you consume by approximately 30 percent.” And remember to chew slowly. “Intentionally chew slower than the person you are dining with,” says Albers. Slowing down will also give your body a chance to send signals to the brain that you’re full, stopping you before you start pizza slice number one too many.
If you’ve ever been on a date and tried to tell a story while your dining partner scrolls through a phone, you’ve experienced the negative effects of distraction. Don’t be that guy! “When you eat, just eat,” says Albers. Turn off the television and put down your phone. “A study found that you are likely to eat 14 percent more when you eat snack foods in front of the TV,” she says. Practice taking mindful bites, taking care to smell, taste, and look at your food.
Dumb it Down
A lot of mindless eating is simply out of habit, says Albers. Small changes like placing healthy foods in a convenient place on the counter and placing treats out of view can make big differences overtime. “Awareness goes a long way to end mindless munching,” says Albers, adding that once you learn how to be a more mindful eater, it’s hard to turn it off.