Mindless vs. Mindful Eating: What You Need to Know

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | January 5, 2016

Take the happier, healthier approach to eating and exercising now that the new year is here!

With weight loss on resolution lists everywhere, it's crucial to not only eat better, more healthy foods, but really get to the root of why weight loss has previously failed. Without learning that, you're doomed to repeat mistakes of the past.

The answer is relatively simple, and this theory is one that will help you all year long: you can eat mindlessly or mindfully.

Mindless eating means you're eating food just because you see it. We've all done this before. We may not necessarily be hungry, and it may not be time to eat, but we grab a handful of chips while watching the game simply because they're there. We grab some chocolate in the afternoon at work while on the computer just because it's there. We don’t think about putting the food in our mouths; we just do it. And we do it without thinking – without being mindful.

Mindful Eating

In other words, it means paying attention when you eat! When we focus our attention on what we're eating, we can make better choices. It's not a habit that's easy to adopt. A lifetime of mindless eating, snacking, and even drinking isn't going to go away with the snap of a finger. Instead, keep the following things in mind as you seek to better your health – and pause before you take your next bite!

  • Portions. Think about what it feels like when you're satisfied – this should dictate your portion size. Research has shown that the more food we're served, the more we eat, so pack a little less on your plate. Follow the Plate method and make sure each bite of food counts. Slow down when you eat and avoid rushing through your meal or eating with the TV on – this can also help your body naturally control portions. Did you know – It actually takes 20 minutes before your body's satiation signals make their way to your brain, so sit down, relax and truly savor your food.
  • Hunger Cues. You may not be physically hungry at dinner time, and that’s ok! Listen to your hunger cues. Do you need to clean your plate or can you stop when you feel satisfied? When you do this, your body naturally regulates. Reset your eating schedule and focus on eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. You should feel full, but not stuffed.
  • Plan, Pack, Prepare. Always have something on hand for those times when you are truly hungry and can't get to a healthy choice. This is when convenient and healthy options, like homemade trail mixes, fresh fruits, and Greek yogurt, are helpful.
  • Log It. If mindful eating is new to you, take a few days and write everything that you eat down on paper. This will illustrate and highlight your personal habits and areas for improvement. You can do this with paper and pen, or use one of the many food log apps available on your smart phone.
  • Focus. Sit down when you eat, listen to yourself chew, turn off all electronics, eat slowly and finally enjoy your food one bite at a time!

Eating healthfully is not very difficult. It just takes some thought, some time, and some mindfulness!

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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