What is mindless eating?

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Mindless eating is when you are eating but are not eating out of hunger. Oftentimes people eat when they are stressed, angry, happy, sad, depressed, or even from skipping meals. If you find you are standing in front of the refrigerator or the pantry looking for something eat but are not really hungry, this is mindless eating. It is important to learn hunger signals and be able to identify other times you are eating when you are not hungry.

Dr. Rovenia Brock, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics

Watch as nutritionist Dr. Rovenia Brock discusses the concept of mindless eating.

Mindless eating comes when you are not focused or aware of what you are doing so the obvious solution is to be aware and conscious of what you are doing.  I call this self accountability.  If you base decisions out of emotions (boredom, sadness, happiness) your caloric intake is not regulated either and you end up frustrated with your progress.

If you have a plan of attack, if you are monitoring your calories intaken or you actively logging your food you become more aware of what you are doing and less likely to mindless eat because you are constantly being aware of what you are doing.

Wendy Batts
Mindless eating often refers to an eating behavior where calories are consumed while the individual eating is unaware of the quantity being eaten or that he/she is eating in the first place. Mindless eating often takes place while another activity is simultaneously going on. Here are a few examples:
  • watching TV and eating chips out of a bag and before you know it half the bag is gone
  • sitting at work in front of the computer while the bowl of candy nearby slowly depletes to a small handful
  • standing at the hors d’oeuvre table chatting it up with friends while you may not have realized how many appetizers have been eaten
  • eating popcorn out of the bucket at the movies and munching away while you are engrossed by the film
Mindless eating can adversely impact a weight loss goal in particular as calories can sneak in over the course of the day and contribute to a surplus where you consume more calories than you burn. This yields weight gain.

To minimize mindless eating, try pre-portioning out your servings. For example, don’t eat out of the bag while watching TV and instead portion out an individual serving into a bowl before sitting down.  Before going to events where mindless eating is likely, don’t arrive hungry! Have a healthy snack before you go so you’ll be less likely to hang out at the buffet table munching away. Logging your food habits is also a great way to become aware of the type and timing of food intake and will help cut down on mindless eating.
Mindless eating occurs when we "check out" during our meals or snacks; we are no longer present to enjoy the foods we are consuming or honor our hunger and fullness signals.

It can become easy to rely of food to unwind and unravel but this habit is harmful for both our physical and emotional health.

To curb mindless eating it is crucial to identify the underlying reasons behind this tendency. Commonly food is turned to as a form of stress relief. so let's look at this use specifically...

Rather than fighting the urge to eat, focus in on your plan of attack to deal with your stress levels. Brainstorm various outlets to help you reduce your stress levels in healthier, more productive ways.

Do you thrive among others? Why not join a local softball team or a knitting group?

Do you recharge in quiet contemplation? An evening walk or a date with a riveting novel may be just what the doctor ordered.

Don't give up as you try to find new hobbies and habits, with persistence you will find alternatives to mindless eating that will align with your health and fitness goals as well!

Please let me know if I can help you discover your plan of attack.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.