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Imagine you’re taking a trip to the movie theater. After you buy your ticket and settle into your seat, you’re given a bag of popcorn. The lights dim and as the show starts, you begin scarfing down buttery handfuls. Take a moment to reflect, are the kernels freshly popped? Are they stale? Would you notice? And even if you noticed, would it change how much you ate?
A study suggests the last answer is no. When two groups of movie-watchers were handed either fresh or week-old popcorn, they ate equal amounts. This begs the question: why? Didn’t the stale popcorn group taste the aging snack and decide to enjoy the movie without it? A possible reason for this can be explained in mindless versus mindful eating.
Mindless eating is when you eat while distracted. And let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of it. When humans have a lot going on, our multitasking tendencies come out, and food is often a casualty. It’s easy to consider eating as a chore. It's something to do while reading the morning’s headlines, scrolling through emails, or binging the newest TV show.
This behavior can have unfortunate consequences. “Mindless eating can lead to overeating because you’re not as likely to pay attention to hunger cues,” said James Rouche, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
Rouche also suggests that if you consider eating a nuisance, you might not put time and effort into your meals and eat an unbalanced diet. You may trend towards processed, convenience foods. This can lead to weight gain, inconsistent energy levels, and even hormonal imbalances.
On the other hand, mindful eating is when you attentively consume food. It’s fully engaging with your meal, free of distractions. It’s not easy, but dedicating time to intentional eating has various health benefits. You’re more likely to pick out healthy foods and only eat to the point of fullness, which can aid in a consistent release of energy. You might even notice stronger concentration levels throughout the day.
Luckily, eating with a purpose doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as committing to disturbance-free table time: sitting and eating. Not only can this help cinch those health benefits, but you’re likely to find enjoyment out of the experience.
And to those who are sure that you would have been a stale popcorn-eater, have no fear. Even the chronic mindless munchers can start small. James Rouche suggests beginning with one daily mindful meal. “This can help you get into the habit. You could start with breakfast and pay attention to how it makes you feel throughout the day.” Odds are, you’ll notice the positive difference and want to adopt the practice for all meals.
In honor of National Nutrition Month, consider connecting with an SCL Health dietician, like James Rouche, to discover how mindful eating can improve your wellbeing.