One simple tip that can snuff out ‘mindless eating’ like a light

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What I write about on this blog is inspired by a variety of things, including published research and political issues that arise in the area of food or health generally. Another source of inspiration is the clients who consult me in practice. And yesterday, I spoke to more than one person over the course of the day that asked specifically about how much in the way of nuts constitutes a snack. The problem with these individuals was that they can find themselves eating endless amounts of nuts, often only stopping once the bag is empty (however big it is!). When, over a short time-frame, more than one person has such a specific query then I usually take it as a sign it’s a relatively common issue that I perhaps should be writing about.

As a rule, I do not tend to advise ‘portion control’ for individuals looking to eat healthily and even those seeking to lose weight. My rationale is that people benefit from responding to what their bodies are telling them about how much they should eat. With the ‘primal’ diet I generally advocate, it’s common for individuals not to have to exert any conscious restraint in terms of volume, as still lose weight very effectively. One reason for this is that ‘primal’ foods, by and large, are generally good at satisfying the appetite, and individuals tend not to overeat them.

However, I recognise what and how much we eat is not always solely governed by hunger and appetite. Lot’s of other factors, such as social setting and food availability, can play a part too. I, for instance, eat a generally very healthy diet, but that’s at least part due to the fact that I generally don’t have much in the way of unhealthy food in my home. If I did, my suspicion is that my diet wouldn’t be as good.

On the other hand, I strongly recommend keeping healthy foodstuffs like nuts quite close to hand, as snacking on these can sate genuine hunger, and dramatically reduce the risk the someone will eat rubbish subsequently (once they’ve got just ‘too hungry’). I was on a radio show recently with someone who had lost weight successfully following the principles outlined in my latest book Waist Disposal. He’d taken on board the message that ‘hunger is the enemy’ and was snacking regularly on nuts, including on the day of the radio broadcast.

Prior to going on air, the producer of the show was tempting us to eat her homemade scones with jam. Both of us declined politely because we were, quite honestly, not tempted by what was on offer. I’m sure the scones were fine – it’s just that neither of us was hungry.

So, on the one hand we want to have something like nuts available to us and use them to prevent uncontrolled eating later on, but we don’t want to munch on them indiscriminately either. What to do?

Here’s my advice to those prone to bit of ‘mindless eating’: keep the nuts available, but not visible. You should know they’re there should you need them, but you can’t see them and they’re certainly not, say, in front of you on your desk.

Ideal storage places would be inside a kitchen cupboard, a desk drawer, a handbag, briefcase or laptop bag, or the glove compartment in a car. Now, if we get peckish, we’re at liberty to take some nuts and eat them. I recommend tipping a few into the palm of the hand and returning the bag to where it’s normally stored. Once the nuts are eaten, the fact that the nuts are not right in front of us will generally give our body a little time to register that food. If we’re still hungry after a while, we can take some more nuts.

The crucial thing is that if someone is properly sated, there usually isn’t any tendency for them to go foraging for the nuts again. Keeping food out of sight is usually enough to snuff out mindless eating like a light.

Now, this tendency to consume things ‘mindlessly’ is not always a bad thing, and can be used to our advantage. I suggest, for instance, that individuals would generally do well to drink enough water to keep their urine pale yellow throughout the course of the day. The standard advice I give here is ‘just keep water by you’. This, for most people, will be a bottle of water and a glass on their desk. Once it’s there, people usually quaff water quite happily and even unconsciously. As a result, for these individuals, dehydration is rarely an issue.

For more about mindless eating, I recommend Professor Brian Wansink’s book which is appropriately titled ‘Mindless Eating’. For more about Prof Wansink’s work and the book see here.

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