Mindless Overeating: The 10 Most Common Reasons Why We Eat Mindlessly

Posted on 13 April 2017 by Dominic

Most people think that mindless overeating stems from a lack of control or willpower. There are valid reasons why we overeat or eat mindlessly and more often than not, we eat as a way to cope and out of habit. Mindless eating is eating without awareness. It is eating when we are not hungry and not paying attention to our hunger or levels of fullness. It is putting food in our mouths for reasons other than hunger.

1. Fear

I remember growing up and my mom saying to me “Eat something because you might be hungry later!” Fear of being hungry later is a trigger for many people to eat. It’s as if hunger is the worst possible feeling and for those of us with a history of dieting – hunger can be a scary feeling!

Fear of not having a specific food again – you are on holiday and not sure when you will have the opportunity to eat that food again, so you eat because you don’t want to deprive yourself.

Fear of missing out is another trigger to eat. You aren’t hungry but there is food in the fridge and you don’t want someone else to get it before you, so you eat it!

2. Senses

The smell and sight of a food has triggered the desire to eat it! You are in a restaurant and quite satisfied but you see a delicious looking crème brulee and you think have to have it! Or you are walking in the supermarket and you smell the aroma of freshly baked bread – who can resist that!?

The taste of highly palatable foods can be triggering to want more and more.

The mouth is a very difficult thing to satisfy. The mouth wants constant entertainment in the form of textures and tastes; that is why we can so easily go from sweet and smooth to salty or spicy and crunchy. Eating our food with awareness of our senses can help reduce the desire to want more and more.

3. Money

How often do we overeat because we have paid for the food at a restaurant or because someone else is paying? Sometimes we also eat because it’s free.  Or when we cook food at home, we eat it so that we don’t have to waste. Eating to the point of being overfull is like wasting food in our bodies. Our bodies don’t need that food for energy. Why is it okay to waste food in our bodies and not in the bin? Don’t treat your body like a rubbish bin – try find other ways to deal with waste!

4. Availability

We eat because the food is there whether we are hungry or not. Picture the scene: you are in a meeting and there are biscuits and sandwiches on the boardroom table – you have just had breakfast but you eat because the food is there! Or you eat because other people are eating and in order to feel included, you join in.

 5. Time

Breakfast, Lunch and Supper… Tea time… It’s time to eat! But are you hungry at those times? We are conditioned to eat at specific times and it makes sense to eat at those times (especially breakfast) but very often we are not actually hungry, so we end up eating more than we need. Most of my clients aren’t hungry at breakfast and prefer to eat something at 10 am and have a later lunch. Try it out – see when you are hungry.

6. Feelings – the dreaded F-word!

We use food to numb, distract or avoid difficult emotions. Rather than feel stressed and anxious – we eat. When we are bored we eat, when we are lonely we eat, when we feel irritable or frustrated we eat, we feel guilty for eating something and “all or nothing” thinking sets in and we continue to eat more. The way we experience anxiety in our bodies can mimic the feeling of hunger so often that we are not able to distinguish between the two and eating can temporarily soothe the feeling of anxiety. To learn more about the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger, read this.

 7. Relief

Many people don’t eat due to extreme stress, however often when we come out of a very stressful period we tend to eat out of relief and that relief eating can last for a day or a month or a year.

8. Reward

We learn “reward eating” as babies. When babies cry, the first thing moms do is give them milk. As children, this continues… If we are sad, our parents tell us not to be sad and offer us food to make us feel better. At school we do well and the teacher give us lollipops, or our parents tell us if we do well in a test we can have ice-cream. So as adults we have already learned to reward ourselves with food.

Does this sound familiar…? “I’ve had a bad day so I am going to reward myself with pizza”. Or “I deserve this chocolate because XYZ”.

Remember, you don’t need to be good or to have suffered in order to earn the right to eat pleasurable foods – you can eat them whenever you want!

9. Physical feelings

So often when we are tired, we eat to make ourselves feel better. Or if we have any physical discomfort – a headache, a sore back or achy joints – eating distracts us from the discomfort in our bodies temporarily.

10. To please

Aunty Mary has gone to the trouble of preparing your favourite food, you eat it to show your appreciation so that you don’t offend her. We do this to ourselves too, we prepare food, taste it as we make it and then by the time dinner comes we aren’t hungry anymore but we still eat because we went to the trouble of preparing the food.

What can we do to deal with these triggers?

The first step is awareness — noticing which are your specific triggers to overeat. Once you know what they are, you can create a strategy around them.

Here is a free worksheet for you to download, to create a strategy around the reasons you eat mindlessly.

Are you are tired of yo-yo dieting, emotional eating and obsessing about the size of your body or what you are eating? Do you want to learn how to let go of diets and change your relationship with food, eating and your body? Join our 8 Week Mindful Eating Programme (starts 5 October in Jo'burg) OR book a FREE Mindful Eating Introductory Session with me.

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