Mindless Eating – What Causes it?

by | May 20, 2021 | Disordered Eating

As humans, we make around 35,000 decisions each day. These range from the biggies, like what your ideal career may be, or whether you’d like to start a family, to the tiny everyday choices, like what you’ll wear and what you’ll eat. If you have any form of Disordered Eating Behaviour, the little choices such as what to eat become difficult decisions and this can ultimately lead to mindless eating. 

Your decision making is made more complex by the sheer volume of information that you process each day. Increases in technology mean your mind is in a constant state of information filtering.

How Do We Make Decisions?

We use a range of strategies to make these decisions.

  • Impulse – you go for your first option;
  • Compliance – you choose the most pleasing or popular option;
  • Delegation – you ask others to make the decision;
  • Avoidance – you put off making the decision, or abstain from it entirely;
  • Balance – you create a list of pros and cons and use this to make your decision, or
  • Prioritising – you consider what action will have the greatest impact, and base your decision on that.

Making decisions is one of your most complex and constant tasks each day. Understanding this can help you to realise why this leads to an increase in cognitive load, and why your attention is compromised.

Mindless Eating and Attention

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This increase in cognitive load impacts your working memory. Working memory is closely related to attention. If you place too much burden or cognitive load on your working memory this will lead to mindless, automatic behaviours such as mindless eating.

Working memory functions by supplying you with templates for behaviour based on previous experience (habit), and whilst there are various theories about the relationship between working memory and attention, there is a broad consensus that cognitive load, working memory and decision making are linked. Put simply, when our brains have too much to process, decision making becomes hard, and slipping into automated habits like mindless eating becomes all too easy.

Learn more about how Willpower is a working memory process and will lead to sabotage and failure.

How to Recognise Mindless Eating

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Mindless eating is simply defined as not being aware of what you are eating. A study by Brian Wansink’s found that while you think you make around 15 food and drink decisions each day, the real figure is closer to 200. That’s a lot of mindless eating!

So how can you start to recognise this type of behaviour? Consider these 5 types of eating behaviours:

#1 – Eating when you’re not hungry: often because you’re bored and need something to do;

#2 – Eating when distracted: perhaps when watching TV, or chatting with a group of friends;

#3 – Eating unawares: consuming food straight from the bag makes it really easy to eat a great deal more than a serving size;

#4 – Emotional eating: the complexities of eating for comfort, dampen or avoid emotions play a large part in mindless eating. Being mindful of emotions while eating can help to break these patterns, or

#5 – Outside influences: we’re surrounded by advertising that seeks to suggest we need a juicy burger or a luxe tub of ice cream. The implication of potential happiness is enough to trigger a significant craving.

Why Being More Aware Will Help Your Food Choices

Mind & Body Architect is dedicated to creating healthier, happier minds and bodies. Mindless eating is just another form of Disordered Eating Behaviour which leads to overeating, emotional eating and binge eating.

Simply by understanding the relationship between the volume of decisions you make each day and how this impacts your food choices, you can begin to regain control over your choices.

We can help you learn how to change your habits to reduce distraction, stay more present and make more conscious choices to create healthier food choices and reduce emotional eating, mindless eating and binge eating.

Read more about my journey through food addiction, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, yo-yo dieting, binge eating, and all the way to recovery to understand the wonderful things our minds are capable of.

Next Steps

The true shift begins with understanding and managing your cognitive load in order to step forward into breaking free from the habit of mindless eating.

When you truly value and attend to the act of eating and making healthier choices, overeating and emotional eating have the capacity to reduce. The result is a happy, healthy relationship with food, and a step towards truly enjoying every mouthful you eat.

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