To snack or not to snack? For many of us, it’s not even a question. We automatically reach for the nearest tasty treat right away.
The consequences of Americans’ eating habits have been well documented. More than one in three adults in the US is obese, with costs relating to obesity exceeding $140B every year. Each obese adult costs over $1,400 per year above the average from Type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue, heart disease, and other obesity-related ailments.
Then there are the psychological and emotional costs. Those who are obese run a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Although overeating can be driven by numerous causes, one major cause is emotional comfort. We eat to comfort ourselves when we’re anxious, fearful, or depressed. Another cause is eating for stimulation when we’re exhausted. Food provides a boost so we can pretend we’re the Energizer Bunny, at least for a short while. However, if we’re not eating from physical need for sustenance, then we can easily end up overeating. So how can we tell when we need to eat versus when we’re looking just for quick comfort or energy?
How to Reach for Carrots instead of Candy
By practicing mindfulness, we put ourselves in touch with our own bodies’ states. We can more readily assess what we need and what we don’t. Through greater awareness of how we are and of what we’re doing, we can choose whether to eat, have a glass of water, or go to sleep. Mindfulness also tunes us into our emotional state and mitigates the negative thoughts so we avoid impulsive eating.
A 14-study academic review of mindfulness and eating found a connection between the mindfulness practice and healthy eating habits. In these 14 studies, as the participants became more mindful, they were less inclined to succumb to emotional eating and binge eating.
I’ve found that since I’ve been practicing mindfulness, my late-night snacking has declined. When I reach for the freezer handle, I’ll briefly examine the state of my body and mind. If I’m not really hungry, I’ll switch directions and go for a cup of tea -- or just head to bed.
Mindfulness may also lead to practitioners having less harsh opinions of their own bodies. One study found that participants who practiced mindfulness had significantly reduced body-image concern versus the control group after 8 weeks. Since non-judgment is a crucial part of mindfulness, this result isn’t surprising.
See what happens when you try mindfulness for a few minutes each day for a few weeks (instructions at the bottom of this link).
You may find yourself reaching for a carrot instead of a candy bar.