Eating is a central and important part of everyone’s life – a basic need that that we depend upon to essentially keep us alive. It is such a common and regular activity that we can quite often complete the ‘task’ of eating without thinking, on auto pilot. Eating or drinking as we go throughout the day, almost unconsciously, can become part of our daily routine. A bite of this, a piece of that, a slurp of the other, all without thought and usually whilst we’re busy or preoccupied with other tasks, thoughts and activities – sound familiar?
Well this way of eating became the norm for me, as of my daily life up until quite recently and which definitely had a massive effect on my ability to successfully lose weight and improve my health.
Fitting eating in to my busy lifestyle often meant that I did it whilst doing other activities, it made sense for me to try to combine ‘tasks’ or ‘multi task’ so I could use my time in the most effective way, or so I thought. For example, watching my favourite TV show or the news and having my tea on my lap; eating lunch at my desk and reading emails or a document etc – this again will probably sound familiar.
However the practice of eating and doing other things became more wide spread and I found that I’d progressed to eating a sandwich whilst making tea; picking the leftovers from the kids plates whilst washing the dishes; munching through a sharing sized packet of crisps whist watching a film; eating a huge bag of sweets whilst driving on long journeys… I could go on and on with the amount of ‘mindless’ eating that took place and at the end of the day I would genuinely have no idea of what I had actually eaten that day, as most of it was done without conscious thought.
This would continually thwart my eternal efforts to lose the lbs and would see me getting angry and frustrated at my lack of progress. I remember thinking on numerous occasions, ‘I don’t understand why I’m so big, I don’t eat that much’ or ‘I have been really good, I don’t understand why I’m not losing weight’.
It was only when I actually started to examine my eating habits and relationship with food this time that I realised the extent of how much I actually ate without thinking and how common it had become in my daily life. I then realised that if I was ever going to achieve long term success with the weight that I was now losing, that I would need address this habit, as well as the others that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.
I approached this in a number of ways, the first was to begin to make a diary of all the food and drink that I had each day – trying where possible, to note this down at the time of eating, so that it wouldn’t be forgotten later. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget having a couple of biscuits with a brew or a slice of something, especially if its not something that you’ve previously planned for.
The second was to throw out all left over food straight away or to ask people to scrape their plates into the food bin after leaving the table. This now removed any temptation of eating anything left on a plate and meant that I didn’t have to worry about this anymore.
The third was to ‘eat consciously’. This may sound a bit odd, but I found when I looked further into this, that actually its a really common habit that many people have and you are more likely to eat far more when eating ‘unconsciously’, than when you eat in a planned and structured way. However with a few simple steps you can begin to correct this unhealthy trait – these include;
- Planning meals in advance and eating in a structured way. As mentioned in my previous post, 4: Change your ‘Final Destination’ by Planning for Success, I now plan my meals for the week in a structured way to help me stay on track and trouble shoot any potential tricky situations in advance.
- Eat when you are hungry. Sounds straight forwards but I can tell you that I am a grazer and pick and graze throughout the day if I can. I now question why I want to eat, as quite often it is not linked to hunger but something else, like boredom, nerves or even not drinking enough.
- Eat in a designated place. So for me this meant that I now sit at the table, with my family where possible, to eat my meals.
- Do nothing whilst eating – no reading, watching TV or making plans etc, whatever I was doing before is now off limits and I now focus entirely on enjoying my meal.
- Savour the food you are eating. Enjoy the taste, smell and texture of the food you are eating. Make sure that it’s not a cardboard TV dinner type rubbish that you would struggle to truly enjoy. Make mealtimes something to look forwards to!
- Chew each mouthful 10 – 15 times before swallowing. This felt totally alien to me at first, as I found that one of my habits was to wolf food down super-fast, sometimes without even chewing it at all! Now chewing each mouthful for this amount of time before swallowing, has slowed my eating right down and gives me the opportunity to actually taste and enjoy the food I am eating.
- Place your knife, folk or spoon down in-between each mouthful. I found that quite often in the past whilst I was eating I was cutting up my food and getting the next one ready to go, meaning that I was still distracted from what I was doing – eating – and also consuming my meal much faster. I now find that eating is a much more pleasant experience, feeling more relaxed, where as in the past it felt hurried and sometimes a little bit stressful.
- Stop eating when you feel satisfied. I found that eating in this slower and much more controlled way, allowed my body to recognise when I was actually full and helped me to stop eating when I had eaten enough. This had been a particular problem for me in the past, as I would often eat so fast, (particularly when bingeing) that it didn’t register until I had eaten so much I could barely move.
- Do this as often as you can to make it a habit! Sounds obvious but as I’ve mentioned before it takes up to six weeks of consistently doing something, before it becomes a habit.
The fourth was to Plan for snacks in advance. Before I started to do this I would quite often graze without thought, continuously on bits and pieces throughout the day – whilst at work and in the evening when cooking or watching TV. I now take what I want to eat into work with me, like a couple of pieces of fruit and a cereal bar, along with my lunch and only eat this. I also put to one side the things I want to eat at night and will eat them whilst watching TV or even going to the Cinema, in a planned ‘conscious’ way. I do still sometimes eat the odd piece of ham or chicken whilst cooking if I’m hungry, but I feel I am aware of it now and able to control how much I consume. I also note everything I eat and will include these within my daily tally of food consumption.
By following these fairly simple steps I have managed to get a better handle on what and when I am eating and feel much happier as a result. We now quite often (when we’re all together) enjoy family meals at the table and I have started to enjoy cooking more adventurous foods that I enjoy the taste of. Eating is no longer a means to an end that is squeezed into my day, it is something to look forward too and enjoy the space that this new way of eating has created. I am also more aware of when I am sliding back into old habits like picking or grazing on random bits of food and feel able to stop and question myself on, ‘why’ I want to eat’ and ‘if’ I am actually hungry or if something else is at play.
Mindfulness is a really useful tool which I’ve not only used for helping me gain a better awareness and control of my eating, but in combating stress and other pressures that life can bring – which I will talk more about in a future post.
I hope you have found this post interesting, next time I will be looking at exercise and how beginning to conquer my fears around this helped me to scale mountains.
Have a good week