What Causes Mindless Eating?

Regular snacking or eating without much thought is something we all do from time to time. Although it’s not a huge cause for concern if it’s done because we’re genuinely hungry and need satiating, reaching for snack after snack when we’re feeling anxious, sad or stressed can become a problem because we lose track of how much we’re consuming. Not only can that mean loading up on unnecessary calories, but it can also have serious long-term implications for our health including increased cardiovascular problems and a raised risk of diabetes.

When we’re feeling stressed – as we doubtless all have at some point over the course of the pandemic ­– several things happen to our hormones. Cortisol, one of the primary stress hormones, is released in order to deal with the perceived threat, but another consequence of that is that it triggers our bodies to crave salty, fatty and sugary, foods in order to fuel the fight needed to combat the stress threat. At the same time as cortisol is secreted, studies also show that ghrelin levels are increased. Ghrelin is also known as the hunger hormone as stimulates appetite and signals to the body that it’s time to eat. The result of these two hormones is a tendency to eat more and more, and without really thinking.

Here are some practical ways to stop mindless eating...

Take a pause

Being mindful of why you might be feeling hungry is an important part of addressing whether you’re eating because of genuine hunger or because you’re feeling some other overriding emotion. Getting a better awareness of your emotions before you reach for the kitchen cupboards can help you stop unhealthy eating patterns in their tracks and adopt more sensible eating habits. Being mindful of what it is that your body actually needs for nourishment is also a way of showing yourself a bit of kindness and compassion, something we could all use with doing more of.

Snack better

If late night snacking is your issue and you find it an impossible one to give up, then try to snack on healthier options that won’t cause problems with unwanted weight gain or elevated blood sugar when you’re trying to sleep. Stick to whole foods and avoid processed foods as much as possible as it means your body has less work to do breaking them down. They’re also less likely to be loaded with sugar which can spike your energy levels before bed. If you feel like you need something sweet right before bed, a healthy snack that can sate your cravings is always a better option than a poor-quality dessert. A small banana dipped in nut butter or a protein-rich smoothie are both good options. Add a scoop of Workshop’s Organic Chocolate Pea Protein Formula alongside a banana and a handful of nuts, both of which are good sources of serotonin.

Don’t banish bad snacks altogether…

… just keep them out of the way. Research shows that forbidding certain foods from the house might only make them seem more desirable. If you do still want to keep your favourite snacks in the house, make sure they’re out of the way and out of easy reach. Studies reveal that putting them in harder to reach places and out of your immediate sight line (like an easy to reach, frequently used cupboard for instance) makes them physically less available and therefore less likely as an attractive proposition.

Make healthy foods more available

It seems obvious but keeping your fridge and cupboards stocked with plenty of things that can be eaten more mindlessly and without much harm, will make them seem an easier and more attractive option when you feel like you need something. Instead of the usual salty, fatty options, make sure you have a good supply of readily available things like unsalted nuts, oatcakes and cut up vegetables on hand.

Concentrate on your food

Mindless eating is only made worse when you eat without even thinking about what you’re loading up on. So that said, if you’re snacking whilst also working on your laptop, watching TV or talking to a friend on the phone, the chances are you’ll lose track of just how much you’re eating, and the calories will head north. To reduce the risk of this, take the time to pay attention to what you eat when you eat, rather than adding eating to your list of multi-tasking projects. Not only should it make you more aware of how full you’re getting, but it will also mean you take more time to chew your food more efficiently too, which is better for your digestive system.