Lessons on How to Stop Mindless Eating from a Professional Eater
Another fad diet won't satisfy your bottomless-pit cravings. How I stopped mindless eating when constantly surrounded by food.
Most people think I have a dream job.
Warm chocolate chip cookies always fresh from the oven. Hand-stretched pizza from a wood-fired oven, delivered in just 90-seconds to your plate.
But when you’re 5'4" and your job requires you to be surrounded by constant temptation, endless snacking becomes extra pounds quickly.
Maybe you’re not a restaurant chef, but still, it sounds familiar.
Bored at home and filled with quarantine cravings, you find yourself making more trips to the kitchen than anywhere else these days. Now, you’re having trouble trying to stuff yourself back into real pants after months of stuffing your face.
Struggling with endless snacking or mindless eating, we tend to blame our lack of willpower. But humans are hard-wired to seek out comfort when stressed, and eating our feelings becomes a coping mechanism in times of crisis. Those anxious thoughts leave us searching for something to soothe our pain and provide temporary pleasure to help get us through.
I’ve always been a self-proclaimed health-junkie. Watching what I eat, following diet trends, and saying no to dessert even when I wanted it.
I had an all-or-nothing mindset. Restricting foods, leading to binge, and always promising to be better tomorrow.
When I started cooking in restaurants, I gave up all restrictions and embraced the clean-plate club. I vowed to eat every ounce of butter, cream, and every rich heavenly dessert.
I went all in.
Indulging in everything in sight from rich sauces and heavy pasta, to every baked good you can imagine.
Every meal became an opportunity to splurge. My healthy breakfast of oatmeal and fruit turned into croissants or pain au chocolates. It became a nonstop food frenzy.
And as my pre-kitchen pants became tighter and tighter, the joy of sinking my teeth in a warm, gooey brownie started to feel like a chore.
I missed crisp, bright salads, and plates full of bright-colored vegetables. Food that gave me energy, instead of weighing me down. My newfound food freedom, and the need to buy bigger pants, made me realized it wasn’t pleasurable consuming anything and everything in sight.
And underneath it, the comfort of stuffing my face was the attempt to cover my anxiety. Being in a new city, with no place to live, and no idea what I was doing with my life.
Prioritize guilty pleasures over forbidden fruit
A previous mindset of feeling guilty, labeling certain foods as bad or restricted, only led me to crave and binge on that food more.
Allowing myself the freedom to have whatever I wanted, made a sinful treat less desirable. By learning to not label cravings as bad or restricted, suddenly they didn’t hold the power to control me.
Because let’s face it, not all foods are equal.
An artisanal pizza from homemade dough and a wood-fire oven is nothing like a corner slice you got for a couple of dollars. But when it’s forbidden, we polish off that greasy jumbo slice and go back for seconds.
Saying goodbye to deprivation puts all foods back on the menu. It is not about the freedom to eat everything at once. Instead, it’s determining what foods are worth passing our lips and possibly onto our thighs.
Giving in to our non-negotiable desires means setting high standards for our food choices and feeling no remorse for enjoying what we love. If a food doesn’t bring total pleasure, then it’s not worth the agony of punishing ourselves after we’ve licked the plate clean.
Always full, never satisfied
My beloved breakfasts of croissants and pastries were delicious, but not exactly a balanced, nourishing meal for someone who works a 12-hour physical job.
The white flour and sugar tasted good but left me crashing an hour later. Hungry, cranky, and in desperate search of my next fix.
Mindless eating happens when we don’t give our body what it needs to thrive. Missing breakfast or skimping on lunch makes a tray of subpar cookies impossible to resist.
I’ve learned to always be prepared. My day is crazy busy, and mealtimes are never the same. I always set myself up for success with a healthy filling breakfast, determine my meals for later in the day, and have my favorite snacks close by, just in case.
Being prepared before my day starts, I can resist the urge to nosedive into the fry basket when lunch is at 3 pm.
It doesn’t require boring meal-prep or the same bland chicken and broccoli every day until the temptation of an entire pizza finally wins. A simple strategy and game plan takes away the stress of deciding what to eat when we’re starving and lack the willpower to not eat everything in sight.
Because life happens.
Meetings run late or we get so involved in a project, we don’t realize we’ve missed lunch. Now with 10 minutes to shove something in our face, we choose the easiest option or skip it altogether.
Being prepared eliminates the need to stand in front of the fridge, taking small bites of everything until we’re full but not satisfied.
Carbo-loading is comfort
We are a protein-obsessed culture. Putting the macronutrient on a pedestal, believing it will solve all our hunger and weight problems. And still, we struggle with feeling dissatisfied with our meals and our bodies.
We focus on protein and neglect one of the most underrated and unsexy superfoods. Despite its proven benefits, most of us still don’t get enough. Leaving a void in our stomach, making us crave that sweet treat to get us through.
Fiber comes from whole carbohydrates that form bulk in your stomach. It swells to create a sense of fullness, then acts like a brush in your digestive system, carrying out what our bodies can’t use.
Consuming fiber-rich food carbs makes it physically uncomfortable to overeat. And when we do, we suffer embarrassing side effects, that make us forgo this helping of healthy satisfaction.
When we pair our protein-focused meals with healthy fiber-filled carbs, our blood sugar stays balanced throughout the day. We fill the nagging pain of emptiness and are full of energy to go on with our day without thinking about our next snack.
Mindful movement combats marathon snack sessions
When we get bored, we start looking for something to occupy our attention. It’s easy to run to the kitchen and crunch through an entire bag of potato chips without noticing we’ve eaten four serving sizes.
It’s the physical, tactile act and gives our brains something to distract our restless energy.
In a restaurant, you are always moving. Jumping from one task to the next, and constantly, on the go. Often it isn’t until your stomach is screaming so loud that you start to become aware of your hunger.
When our body is engaged, our mind is less likely to wander to thoughts of what can we eat. When fighting the urge for another snack, ask:
Am I really hungry? Do I need water? Or do I just need to change it up a little?
Chances are our body just needs a change in routine. Instead of exercising our jaw, take a break and switch gears. Get out of our heads and engaging our body allows us the space to reset.
Getting outside and going for a walk provides a change of scenery and allows the mind a chance to breathe. I also love a ten-minute dance party. I close the blinds, turn up my favorite playlist, and dance like nobodies watching. Because they aren’t.
Movement is the distraction we don’t know we are looking for when we mindlessly open the fridge door for the fiftieth time.
Self-care beyond self-soothing-snacks
When life feels chaotic, it’s normal to seek comfort from what makes us feel good. But continuously coping with self-soothing-snacks leaves us searching for larger pants.
Indulging isn’t only diving into another slice of rich chocolate cake or an entire delicious bowl of pasta. Practicing self-care can ease our restless minds and bottomless hunger.
Splurging on the feel-good energy of something that isn’t food, satisfies our sense of well-being beyond our bellies.
Call a friend. We are all desperate for connection these days and a quick call to a loved one can lift our spirits and make us forget about the worries for a couple of minutes.
Pampering. Put on a face mask or hair mask and sip a cup of tea. Get lost in a good book. We often prioritize everything else in our lives and forget to take care of ourselves. Take the time to do something for only you.
Be of service. We often get so caught up in our personal issues that we fail to realize that when we give to others we can also benefit. Small acts of kindness help us get out of our heads and back into reality.
Meditate. When we feel out of control, the best thing to do is go inward. Become aware and explore our surroundings, heavy emotions, and anxious thoughts. Emotional eating is often rooted in a deeper unsolved problem that is eating us. One, we may not be aware exists.
Feel the feeling, don’t try to stuff it done with another bite of chocolate.
Set the mood and healthy boundaries
Light some candles and set the table. Even if flying solo, a meal should be a special event.
Our on-the-go lifestyle, efficiency is idolized, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of a working meal. By not taking a proper break, it’s no wonder we find ourselves trolling the kitchen an hour after lunch looking for that sweet reward for our hard work.
Make a meal a ritual.
Turn off the phone, tv, and hang a virtual do not disturb the sign. A meal is a time to reconnect to loved ones and most importantly, ourselves.
It doesn’t matter what’s on the plate. A homemade dish, take-out, or a frozen dinner, take the time to taste and savor it. Connect with how each bite makes you feel.
Scarfing our food while scrolling through social media leaves us unsatisfied even when we’ve eaten enough. Removing distractions and being present with meals allows us to consciously fill our stomachs and our soul. It puts us in touch with true hunger cues of satiety and satisfaction.
In a chaotic kitchen, my rule is for 10 minutes, no one interrupts while I eat lunch. Unless there is literally a fire, which has happened. It is my sliver of time, to sit without being distracted by what else needs to get done. I properly chew my food and find pleasure in my plate.
Forget Fad Diets
I don’t know who still needs to hear this, but diets don’t work. Deprivation leads to binges and a downward spiral of guilt, shame, and failure.
Diet results are short-term because they single out and demonize an essential food group, blaming it for all our troubles (yes, I’m talking to you keto, paleo, and other low-carb lovers).
The truth is anytime you eat too much of any food you gain weight. And anytime we take an entire food group away, our body seeks out a way to find it.
We don’t need another fad diet or influencer telling us how to fuel our bodies. Everybody has different demands and personal preferences. Trying to fit in the mold of someone else’s constraints only leaves us dissatisfied with life.
The only way to conquer our bottomless-pit cravings is to find pleasure in ourselves, our lives, and, yes, even our food.
This story was previously published here