Do you sometimes overeat because there are lots of options and you don't want to miss out on any of them? Or maybe you eat more than you need to because you're afraid you'll get hungry before your next meal? Understanding the triggers that lead to mindless eating is the first step in eating more mindfully.
I recently spent several days at a wonderful yoga retreat center in New England. The idea was to unplug, slow down a little, and practice being a bit more tuned in to the present moment. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that, and it was really an amazing experience. The center does a great job creating an atmosphere of mindfulness, whether you're taking a yoga class or walking through the woods or having a meal.
And the meals were well worth paying attention to! The food was excellent: fresh and flavorful, varied and exotic, and served buffet-style. Ironically, however, despite the focus on mindful eating, it took me two days to stop overeating!
Given where I was and what I was doing there, it was a little embarrassing to leave the dining room and realize I had eaten way more than I meant or needed to. Again. (Although, in comparing notes with other guests, I was far from the only one!)
I spent some time trying to analyze what was going on, and I realized that my mindless overeating was being driving primarily by two somewhat irrational fears. Once I saw what was going on, I was able to reframe these anxieties and, by Day 3, I had it down: I was totally enjoying my meals and leaving the table satisfied but not stuffed. And those same insights seem to have followed me home, where I'm finding that I am less likely to lose track and overeat.
Is Fear of Missing Out Causing You to Overeat?
The first fear was the fear of missing out (FOMO). Every meal featured half a dozen different dishes, one more delicious than the next, plus an extensive salad bar, homemade soups, the most amazing homemade breads with all kinds of delicious spreads and nut butters, plus fresh fruit, and ... well ... you get the idea.
All-you-can-eat buffets are always a set up for mindless overeating. And, to their credit, they were really trying to help us by providing small trays and plates, which research shows dramatically decreases the amount of food people serve themselves as well as the amount of food that gets thrown away.
But novelty and variety also encourage overeating. (This is something I've talked about before.) When everything is so delicious and unusual and interesting, it feels like you just have to taste it all ... even if you have to go back for the stuff that wouldn't fit on your ridiculously tiny tray the first time! Otherwise, you might miss something amazing.
I totally fell into this trap. I couldn't stand the thought of missing out on any of the delicious things they had prepared. So I was eating way more than a reasonable amount of food at every meal.
But when I go to a restaurant and everything on the menu looks amazing, do I order everything on the menu? Of course not. I might agonize for a while. I might conduct complicated negotiations to get other people at the table to order things I want to taste. But eventually, I make my choice and—for the most part—never look back.
See also: Eating out
I eventually realized I had to simply view the buffet in the same way: as a menu of delicious options from which to choose one or two things, and not an invitation to eat the whole thing! Reframing the issue this way really helped ratchet down my fear of missing out.