By Patrice Powers-Barker, OSU Extension
The Truth Contributor
Have you ever looked down at a bag of chips you were eating
or a bowl of dessert and wondered where all the food went?
You don’t remember eating that much but it is gone. You
don’t even remember if it tasted good. This is called
distracted eating or mindless eating. Researchers like Brian
Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We
Think,” have explored this concept and have found that when
Americans eat, we tend to rely not on internal cues, such as
how hungry we are, but on other outside factors. And those
factors can lead to overeating.
http://mindlesseating.org answers the question, “What
does it mean to mindlessly eat?”: Most of us don’t
overeat because we’re hungry. We overeat because of family
and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels
and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells,
distractions and distances, cupboards and containers.
Our studies show that the average person makes around 250
decisions about food every day – breakfast or no breakfast?
Pop-tart or bagel? Part of it or all of it? Kitchen or car?
Yet out of these 200+ food decisions, most we cannot really
One factor is eating while distracted -- when watching TV,
talking with family or friends, or eating in the car. When
our attention is not focused what we're eating, we simply
tend to eat and eat and eat -- often not even really
enjoying the food or the experience of eating it. Research
at Yale University shows that viewing television food ads,
especially those for unhealthy food, also triggers more food
Another external factor influencing how much we eat is
serving size: If a larger serving is in front of us, we tend
to eat more no matter what. Convenience and visibility of a
food is another factor -- if it's easy to reach out and grab
a food, we'll be more likely to eat it. Even the way a room
is lighted can cause us to eat more: Dim, soft lighting
encourages us to prolong the eating experience and we eat
more. Still other factors include stress, boredom or
emotional reasons for eating.
The kicker? None of this has anything at all to do with how
hungry we are.
Silly question: how do you know if you’re really hungry?
Sometimes people eat for emotional reasons verses feelings
of physical hunger. Physical hunger can be a growling belly
but emotional hunger is more in the mind like having a taste
for something. Physical hunger happens several hours after a
meal but emotional hunger can happen at any time. Physical
hunger goes away once food is eaten but emotional hunger can
happen even if you feel physically full.
So, what do we do with all these influences on when and what
we are eating? That's a whole other line of study, called
"intuitive eating." Another term for this is called “mindful
eating”. The idea is to actually pay attention and enjoy
food whenever you're eating and pausing to determine your
level of hunger versus your feeling of fullness. The idea is
to start eating when hungry, no matter what time it is or if
others around you are eating or not, and to stop eating when
full, no matter if there is more food at hand. Imagine your
scale where one is starving and 10 is stuffed: Go ahead and
eat when you feel like you're at a three or four on the
scale; stop when you're at a six or seven. It requires
thought and self-awareness, but prevents cycles of starving
and binging, and also helps prevent emotional eating.
The concept of intuitive eating also lets people eat
whatever food they want, as long as they pay attention to
hunger/fullness cues. Research shows that such permission
also reduces binge eating and is associated with a lower
body-mass index. Don’t deprive yourself of favorite or
comfort foods but stop and enjoy them.
Here are a few steps you can take to begin mindful eating:
Eat without distractions - no cell phone, TV, work,
computer, newspaper, or smart phone.
Don’t eat while driving or working at your desk.
Don't keep a dish of nuts or candy on your counter or desk
Eat sitting down.
Eat slowly and enjoy every bite.
Try to make each meal last at least 20 minutes.
Chow Line, a service of Ohio State University Extension and
the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center,
Martha Filipic and Dan Remley as well as Carolyn Dunn