It was 2 p.m. and I still hadn’t eaten lunch. My stomach was growling as I tried to finish up the article due and I kept watching the clock. My daughter would be home from school in an hour and I had a lot to get done before that.
I moved to the kitchen, grabbed a banana, a handful of crackers and ate it all while standing at the counter and making notes on my To-Do List. Then, I grabbed a piece of string cheese from the fridge and a forgotten and rubbery Tootsie pop from the back cupboard and carried them to my desk.
I still don’t remember eating the lollipop but the wrapper is sitting there under the computer monitor.
The stress of much to do in a little time had me eating mindlessly and without enjoyment. That unconscious anxiety reflex was keeping me from optimal health.
Whether it’s boredom, anger, grief or anxiety when we don’t take time to stop, tune and pay attention to what we are feeling we tend to act unconsciously. We operate by default instead of making deliberate choices. Rather than connecting to the emotion in the moment and understanding how it serves us we often turn to short term solutions to make us feel better in a flash. Thing is those short-term solutions do nothing to help us improve our mood, lose weight or improve our health.
We stay late at the office thinking we’ll feel less stressed if we just get some more work done. We drink, or shop, or fritter away our time on Facebook. Or we eat trying to ease the stress or fill the hole or keep busy, or get it over with, without even realizing that mindless eating is only going to contribute to our bad feelings.
No matter how many sticky-icky Tootsie pops I consumed that day (for the record it was one, along with a stale fortune cookie) they weren’t going to ease the deadline pressure – but a pause to sit down, appreciate my food, choose items that would boost my brain and body, now that could have made a difference.
Research led by Blair Kidwell and published in the Journal of Marketing Research, shows that different food products lead to different emotional states. People who learned to become aware and respond to the emotions prompted by food and circumstance were, in the end, more likely to choose healthier snacks instead of eating the junk.
Some study participants were followed for three months and those that could recognize the emotions linked to certain foods – a la ice cream equals party time – were able to mindfully make more nutritious choices and even lose weight.
The researchers say that when we become aware of how we feel we can then use our emotions to help us create greater well-being. Mindfulness at mealtimes then, can help us turn off the habit of mindless eating and turn on to better health.
In Wednesday’s post, I’ll tell you how to do it.