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Health Risks of Mindless Eating and Ways To Avoid it

In recent times there have been a lot of discussions on mindful eating and how one can take steps toward shedding mindless eating habits. Mindless eating, as the name suggests, is when one doesn’t pay attention to what they are consuming. An individual is unaware of the quality, quantity, and how frequently they consume food products. Many individuals start eating subconsciously, which means their minds do not register their eating.

Avoiding mindless eating is more straightforward than one might expect it to be. All one needs to do is make the necessary lifestyle changes and dietary modifications after proper consultation with the dietician or the doctor. Opting for healthier snacking alternatives, meal planning, and making it harder to access unhealthy foods are some steps to avoid falling into the habit of mindless eating. Moreover, studies show that exercising regularly helps break eating habits and promote better health and lifestyle.

What Triggers Mindless Eating

Mindless eating can happen due to environmental and social changes in one’s immediate surroundings. Individuals often observe a change in eating habits from season to season, their family and peer groups, and even during drastic lifestyle changes such as lockdowns, as witnessed during the recent Covid 19 pandemic.

Improper Eating Schedules

One of the leading causes of mindless eating is improper eating schedules that either restrict one’s food intake too severely or are simply poorly structured across the day. Most often, when people follow harsh eating schedules, their bodies do not get enough nutrients and energy to function properly throughout the day. As a result, it increases the frequency of hunger pangs, which often leads to unhealthy mindless snacking. 

Being Distracted

Eating while having distractions is one of the most common habits among people- especially children and young adults. Studies show that sitting in front of the television, being glued to one’s phones or laptops, or being engrossed in video games while eating food is the leading cause of mindless eating and obesity. Due to these distractions, one often loses track of the quantity of consumption, leading to binge eating and gaining unnecessary calories. 

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety are the leading causes of mindless eating. When an individual is in a bad mind space, they seek comfort through distraction. Eating becomes a coping mechanism, as affected individuals start binge eating unhealthy fast food snacks to keep themselves in an emotionally happier state.

People are often forced to help themselves to extra servings and try out new dishes during social gatherings or outings, even though they might not be hungry. Mindless eating occurs when people indulge in food even though they are already full. Moreover, the eating habits of people around us often shape our eating habits too. So being in an office where your co-workers love to indulge in unhealthy snacks throughout the day often makes you follow the same suit. 

How Our Environment Changes

Studies show that environmental changes and social events which directly impact daily lives often lead to a change in eating habits, thus often leading to mindless eating. For example, in cooler climates, individuals are more likely to exercise less and stay at home more often, which leads them to indulge in mindless eating to pass their time. Similarly, in the holiday seasons, individuals eat out more often and lose track of what they eat and what nutrients they put into their bodies. Additionally, events such as pandemic lockdowns which trap people inside their houses, are some significant causes of mindless eating to pass the time.

The HealthifyMe Note

Different social and environmental factors affect the probability of individuals falling into the unhealthy cycle of mindless eating. Therefore, it is essential to know the cause to prevent eating disorders. Therefore some common triggers are improper eating schedule, mental and physical health issues, inability to concentrate, peer pressure, environmental changes and many more. 

How To Avoid Mindless Eating

Avoiding mindless eating is surprisingly simple, and all one needs to do is follow a few simple steps and make the necessary lifestyle changes and dietary modifications. However, one must remember that individuals affected by mental health issues and those having cardiovascular diseases and diabetes must consult their dieticians or doctors before making any drastic modifications to their diets and eating habits. 

Drink Plenty of Water

Many times our bodies produce false hunger pangs when one is simply dehydrated. Hence, drinking plenty of water throughout the day is essential to prevent our bodies from giving false signals. Moreover, drinking a glass of water before every meal helps us induce the feeling of fullness which prevents us from mindless overeating.

Use Smaller Dishes

Studies show that individuals who use smaller plates and glasses consume healthier portion sizes than those who use full-sized dinnerware. In addition, smaller containers trick our minds into feeling full even after consuming a smaller portion of the meal, which often eliminates our visual hunger.

Opt for Healthier Snacking Alternatives

While mindless snacking is detrimental to one’s health, healthy snacking in moderation is often encouraged. One can replace junk foods, fast foods, sugar, and preservative-rich foods with healthy snackable such as dried fruits, nuts, soups, and salads. In addition, foods rich in protein, fibres, and roughage make us feel fuller for longer durations, thus preventing mindless eating.

Keep the Junk Out of Sight

According to various studies, people are much less likely to mindlessly binge on foods that are out of sight or inconvenient to access or prepare. Like the old proverb says, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’- hence keeping unhealthy snacks out of sight is one of the smartest ways to prevent reaching out for them every few minutes.

Avoid Distractions while Eating

Disturbances such as the television, video games, phone, and laptops around while consuming food are the major causes of mindless eating among children, teens, and young adults. Studies show that such distractions impair cognitive sensibilities and make people lose track of how much food they consume. Hence it is essential to unplug the digital and virtual world away from us and practice mindful and conscious eating.

Regular Exercising and Meditation

Getting in regular exercises not only helps you get into a healthier headspace but also helps in shedding off the extra calories gained by mindless eating. Adding exercise to daily routine breaks the habit of staying inside binge eating. Additionally, meditation and yoga help battle mental health issues that lead to harmful mindless eating practices.

The HealthifyMe Note

Regular exercise and meditation, drinking plenty of water, limiting junk or fast foods, adopting portion control, opting for healthy alternatives and following a healthy lifestyle will assist in avoiding mindless eating. 

Healthy Snacking Alternatives

Mango Citrus Smoothie

Servings: 3

Total time: 8 mins

Ingredients

Mangoes (sweet and ripe): 2 to 2.5 cupsOranges (Large): 2 wholeBanana: 1 wholeYoghurt (or almond milk): ½ cupWater (or any juice of choice): ½ cupMint leaves: 6

Method of Preparation

Wash and peel the mangoes and dice them up. Next, peel the oranges and piths and deseed them.Freeze all the fruits in the freezer or add ice cubes for a frozen smoothie.Add the fruits to a blender with a banana and ¼ cup of water or juice to add more flavour to the smoothie. Finally, add the yoghurt and nut milk to the mixture.Blend until smooth, and top it up with chopped mangoes and mint leaves.

Nutritional Value 

Carbohydrate: 46 gFibre: 6 gSugar: 37 gProtein: 4 g

Chilli Broccoli Tofu

Servings: 4

Total time: 25 mins

Ingredients

Broccoli (chopped): 700 gGluten-free cornflour: 2 tbspRed chilli flakes: ½ tspTurmeric: ½ tspFirm tofu (drained and cut): 250 gOlive/Macadamia oil: 1 tbspGarlic cloves (crushed): 2Carrots (julienned): 2 wholeSpring onions (chopped): 4 wholeCapsicum (chopped): 1 wholeTamarind powder: 1 tbspCoriander leaves: ⅓ cupSesame/ sunflower seeds: 1 tbsp

Method of Preparation

Break down the broccoli florets into smaller pieces using a food processor in small batches and set them aside.Combine the cornflour, chilli flakes, and turmeric in a zip lock bag.Add the tofu into the same bag and toss it until the tofu is fully coated. Remember to shake off any excess cornflour.Heat half the oil in a large wok over high heat. Stir fry tofu in 2 batches for a few minutes until golden brown and transfer it onto a plate.Use the remaining oil to stir fry the garlic, carrots, and spring onions for a minute or two, and add the chopped capsicum and chopped broccoli. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes more till the vegetables are tender.Stir through some tamarind powder and coriander. Serve the broccoli topped with tofu and sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on top along with finely cut spring onions.

Nutritional Values

Fat: 30.4 gProtein: 47.2 gCarbohydrate: 71.5 gSugars: 20.7 gSodium: 1 mgFibre: 22.3 gIron: 12.1 mg

Conclusion

Mindless eating can take many forms, such as fog eating, joy eating, and anxiety eating. All these depend on human emotions and environmental and social changes. Mindless eating is when one’s brain does not register the food consumed by an individual due to distractions in one’s vicinity, boredom, and social and environmental changes. You can improve it by making certain dietary and lifestyle modifications in a conscious and well-informed manner. Additionally, mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and behavioural disorders often lead to the affected individuals using food to cope with their inner turmoil. In such cases, affected individuals can practice integrating meditation and physical exercises daily to keep their mind and body in sync, thus shedding unhealthy eating habits.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What causes mindless eating?

A. Mindless eating is usually caused by events triggering visual hunger or as a coping mechanism to stressful conditions in one’s environment. Depression and anxiety, boredom, environmental changes- both climatic and social, and unhealthy eating schedules are the leading causes of mindless eating.

Q.What is mindless eating?

A. Mindless eating is when one is not aware of their food intake. Not only do individuals not realise the quantity of food they are consuming, but they are also unaware of the quality or health implications that follow.

Q. How do I stop mindless eating?

A. According to studies by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, some of the best ways to prevent and stop mindless eating are to listen to your hunger pangs. It means snacking only when your body tells you it is hungry, having a proper meal plan charted out, measuring out your portions to keep track of the quantity, and consciously staying away from unhealthy fat and sugar-rich snacks.

Q. What is the difference between mindful and mindless eating?

A. Mindful eating, as the name suggests, is when one is in proper control of the quality and quantity of food one consumes. On the contrary, mindless eating is when one is completely unaware of what food items they consume throughout the day. In mindless eating, the mind is in some internal turmoil or is full of distractions making it impossible to keep track of dietary intake. 

Q. How do I stop eating between meals?

A. The first step towards preventing unhealthy snacking between meals is to keep track of one’s snacking patterns compared to their daily eating schedule. After that, one must consciously make the necessary dietary modifications and lifestyle changes that promote healthy snacking alternatives, portion control and drinking plenty of water throughout the day to prevent false hunger pangs. Additionally, proper sleep and meditation to improve one’s mental headspace help cope with anxiety and prevent unnecessary eating. 

Q. What happens when you stop snacking?

A. When one stops snacking, the body stops getting the excess calories it used to store as fat. Therefore, it leads to healthy fat loss accompanied by weight loss. Not only that, one feels much healthier and more active by stopping unhealthy snacking. However, as studies show, one must note that healthy snacking in moderation is often beneficial and necessary to keep one’s glucose levels throughout the day.

Q. What is fog eating?

A. Fog eating is associated with brain fog. Brain fog is when one is unaware of their surroundings and takes actions subconsciously. Fog eating is a classic example of mindless eating when our minds aren’t aware of the food items we consume and don’t even remember having consumed them later. 

Q. What is one health consequence of mindless eating?

A. As research has shown, mindless eating has many harmful health consequences. It mainly includes obesity, cardiovascular illnesses and high cholesterol levels. Additionally, it also increases the chances of developing Type 2 Diabetes and many eating disorders and mental health problems. 

Q. What are unhealthy eating habits?

A. Three main types of unhealthy eating habits associated with mindless eating are joy eating, fog eating, and storm eating. When an individual takes up eating as a coping mechanism to all the environmental and social changes around them, it becomes dangerous. Additionally, binge eating or starving oneself, as in the case of anorexia patients, are some eating habits that are most often life-threatening.

Q. Can meditation help with food addiction?

A. Studies show that meditation has positive results in curing food addiction. Food addiction can also result from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The affected individuals often turn to binge eating and distress eating to cope with their mental state. Meditation is beneficial in curing such mental health issues and thus indirectly helps with food addiction.

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