Has this ever happened to you?
- There's a plate of cookies on your coworker's desk. Before you know it, you're munching on one. Or two.
- Your son didn't finish his PB&J. You take a few bites before throwing it away.
- You're watching TV with a bag of chips. What? It's empty already?
These are all examples of "mindless eating" -- eating not because you're hungry, but just because the food is there and you're not paying attention to what you're doing.
"You're not checking with your body's signals about how full you are, or whether or not you're still enjoying the food," says Jean Kristeller, PhD, a behavioral medicine specialist and a founder of the Center for Mindful Eating. Mindless eating can lead to unhealthy weight gain.
Mindful eating, on the other hand, means paying careful attention to what you're eating and your own reactions to it. That way, you enjoy it more and overeat less. It's an approach to healthy eating that parents can easily model for their children. The examples you set, they will follow.
Ask yourself these five questions to help you and your family eat more mindfully.
1. Why do I want to eat now?
Before you take a bite, try to tune in to what your body is telling you. "Are you physically hungry, or is it another kind of hunger?" asks Kristeller. "Maybe it's emotional, or maybe it's simply a craving for certain foods."
Teach your kids to wait and think before they eat. One way to buy time and figure it out: Have a glass of water; you may just be thirsty. If it's not meal time, you could just be bored. Try taking a walk or listening to music.
2. What do I want to eat?
Don't just grab the nearest food. Do you want something salty? Something sweet? A particular snack or specific type of food?
"When people start to tune in to that, we've found that they're more satisfied and eat smaller amounts," says Kristeller.
She once worked with a woman who would eat a frozen meal for lunch. The woman kept a stack in the freezer and just grabbed the one on top. But often she found herself snacking afterward. When the woman started thinking mindfully about which meal she specifically wanted for lunch that day, she was surprised to find that she did have preferences -- and that she was less inclined to snack when she listened to them.
And of course, it's always a good idea to steer yourself and your kids toward something nutritious: whole wheat crackers with three dice-sized cubes of reduced-fat cheese instead of chips if you want something salty, or grapes instead of candy if you want something sweet.