The Secret to Ending Unconscious Eating

Speed eating. Unconscious eating. Eating until whatever you are eating is gone. If you tend to overeat—either often or on occasion—you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s eating so fast, as if to “get rid of the evidence” as one client used to say. It’s getting to the bottom of the potato chip bag and wondering what the heck just happened. It’s eating until not a thing is left on your plate, even though you were physically full seventeen bites ago and now you are stuffed. To overeat, you have to disconnect from your body. Your mind takes a mini-vacation while you’re eating, only to return after the food is gone to commence in the mental beat-down that sounds something like this: “Why did you do that? You’re such a pig! You will never lose weight now. You’re disgusting! I hate you for doing this—again!” Though you are the one doling out the harsh words, you are also on the receiving end of this verbal tirade, and you end up feeling worse, which often fuels even more overeating.

Eating is such an automatic thing. We’ve been doing it our whole lives that the mechanics of eating can be performed unconsciously. Kind of like tying our shoes or brushing our teeth, we’ve been doing it for so long, that it takes no thought to perform these tasks. This morning, I discovered (quite by accident) a way to practice paying attention while you are eating. Let me share the story with you.

I am babysitting two dogs while their family is on vacation for Spring Break. This morning, I found a small puddle next to the refrigerator. As I swiped a paper towel under the fridge to mop up the puddle, I sliced the top of the knuckle of my middle finger on the edge of the metal grill. OUCH! That freaking hurt! And it bled like a mo. Once I got the bleeding to stop, I put ointment on it and one of those fancy knuckle bandages. I thought, “Great, now I have to keep it dry,” and decided against making the breakfast I had planned to make, as that involves a lot of prep and clean up. Since I was hungry, and the Farmers Market didn’t open for another two hours, I foraged in the kitchen for something to eat that didn’t involve dishes.

On the top of my fridge was a bag of BBQ potato chips. Yes, not the best breakfast for my body, but I wasn’t willing to let myself get over-hungry while I waited for the Farmers Market to open. I opened the bag and started eating with my left hand since I didn’t want to get BBQ powder all over my right hand with the bandage. My right hand is my dominant hand, so it was awkward as ass to eat with my left. It took focus and attention to pinch the chips and bring them up to my mouth. I was forced to eat slowly and thoughtfully. Eating that slowly, I could really taste the chips and their texture in my mouth. And then it dawned on me, “I’m done. I don’t want any more of these.” It was so easy to stop eating, and I put the rest of the bag of chips back on top of the fridge. Why was I able to do this? Because I was present.

If you find it hard to slow down or stay present while you eat, I invite you to try eating exclusively with your non-dominant hand for the entire day and see how it impacts you. What do you notice when you slow down? Does the food even taste the same? When you slow down and actually taste it, you might discover that you don’t even like the taste or texture of what you’re eating and decide that you don’t want to keep eating it. For some of you, it might even taste better, because when you are eating so fast, you often miss the experience of actually tasting the food you’re eating. When you slow down and are present with your food, you are likely to find that you are easily satisfied with less.

Try eating with your non-dominant hand for a day. It’s a cool experiment! If you like the new awareness it brings, why not commit to this practice for an entire week and see what happens? Eventually, you will go back to eating your meals with your dominant hand, but maybe you’ll consider making it a practice to only eat fun foods (chips, ice cream, cookies, candy etc.) with your non-dominant hand to maintain that connection with yourself and not slip back into the mindless eating like before. What might your body look like if you did this one practice for a month, or six months, or a year? Any time you do something differently than the way you are doing it now, you will create different results. And then you can applaud yourself with both hands.