How to stop mindless eating and cut the extra calories

Our tendency to eat little extras at home, work and play without even realising it can result in us consuming hundreds of extra calories every single day, warns dietitian Susie Burrell.

“Mindless eating occurs when we’re not really paying attention – a handful of jelly beans from the office lolly jar, a couple of bites of the kids’ leftovers, a pre-dinner snack of cheese and crackers,” Susie says. “It’s all extra food, extra calories that we don’t need and that we fail to compensate for by cutting down elsewhere.”

As a behavioural matrix it is complicated and influenced by many factors, however Susie says being more mindful about the way we eat is crucial to avoid extra calories slipping into our day.

“This sort of eating is more likely to occur when we’re distracted – eating while simultaneously doing something else,” she warns. “Snacking when driving, nibbling when watching TV and getting dinner ready, eating when we’re not really hungry.

“Eating mindlessly can easily become a habit that develops when we link it to a certain situation – for example, always grabbing a chocolate bar when filling the car with petrol, nibbling while watching TV late at night or saying yes to coffee and cake when we’re out meeting friends.”

The passionate nutritionist says the first step towards gaining control of mindless eating habits is to keep a record of the times food enters our mouth and ask the question: ‘Am I hungry or is eating that food at that time just a bad habit?’

“The more aware you are when you are eating out of habit, the easier it will be to stop yourself,” she says.

“The second step in controlling mindless eating is to control the amount of food stimulus you have around you. Studies have repeatedly shown we eat when food is in front of us.”

She suggests clearing our homes and office of as much visible food stimulus as possible.

Finally, she says, eating mindfully means concentrating fully when you are enjoying a meal or snack, savouring each mouthful and chewing it properly.

“Focusing solely on the eating experience not only means that you are likely to enjoy your meal more but as you are more aware of how much you have actually eaten, so that over time you’re in a better position to regulate your energy intake appropriately.”

Susie’s top tips to avoid mindless eating:

  • Limit your eating occasions. “We eat far more times each day than we need to.”
  • Eat mindfully, and be 100 per cent focused on what you are doing.
  • Keep food out of sight. “If it’s in front of you, you will probably eat it,” she says.

Catch up on the full episode of The House of Wellness TV show to see more from Zoe, Ed, and the team.