It’s amazing what your body can do while your mind is switched off … especially while you’re eating. Have you ever eaten an entire bag of chips without realizing what you’ve been doing? Or a pint of ice cream? Or half a jar of peanut butter?
This is called mindless eating. Over time, eating without paying attention can pack on thousands of extra calories and plenty of extra pounds. A recent study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism gives us another reminder of how tasty food can be so alluring that it lulls us into eating more.
The researchers brought in eight people and let them eat all the delicious food they wanted. But don’t get too jealous that you didn’t take part in this study – a month later, the participants came back in and ate items with the same number of calories and nutrients, but this time the food was bland and unappealing.
When the people ate for pleasure, levels of chemicals in their body that triggered feel-good sensations rose. The less-palatable food didn’t lead to this result.
These findings make sense. Certain foods – mashed potatoes, pizza, and the snacks I already mentioned - are called “comfort foods” for a reason: They make you feel good when you eat them, even if you aren’t fully aware that you’re eating. The foods that you eat because you know they’re healthy often don’t provide this flood of contentment. (I’m guessing you’ve never eaten a plate of steamed broccoli florets without realizing it.)
When you eat – especially if it’s a tasty option - it’s a good idea to eat mindfully. That’s because:
- Mindless eating can lead people to become overweight, and it’s probably an important reason for the obesity epidemic around the country.
- If you’re going to eat foods that make you feel good, you might as well get all the happiness from them you can.
Here are a few pointers that will help you squeeze more enjoyment from your foods by being more mindful:
- Serve yourself reasonable portions from the bag, box, or can, then put the container back in the pantry or refrigerator.
- When you eat, just eat! Be sure the TV is off, you’re away from your computer, and you’re not carrying on a texting conversation. Spend a few minutes just focusing on the food.
- Get all the enjoyment you can from the food. Feel its texture as you chew it. Let the flavor hit all your tastebuds. Smell its aroma deeply. Savor the sensation of fullness in your belly.
Be sure to do this with all the healthy foods you eat, too. Learning to appreciate them more may help you find them more appealing when you’re making food choices each and every day.
For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms.