Staying Mindful: Are You Hungry or Just Bored? (w/ Self-Test)
Written by: Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Kim Feinstein, RedMountain Weight Loss’ Behavioral Weight Loss Specialist
Do you eat meal after meal, snack after snack, barely aware of what you are eating and how much you are consuming? For example, do you mindlessly munch on popcorn at the movies or in front of the television and then, eventually, your hand reaches the bottom of the bag only to find that the popcorn is all gone? Or, have you ever bought a pizza and thought, “I am only going to have one slice;” however, you go into a food trance and then realize the pizza is almost gone and you don’t remember eating it all? If you have ever continued to snack when you were already full, restrict your caloric intake when you were hungry, or utilized guilt to guide your eating, you have experienced mindless eating. Now, if you ate mindlessly only once in a while, it may not be such a problem. However, it becomes a destructive habit when are in a food trance most of the time.
If you are like most others in our modern culture, you allow other people, events and emotions to control how you eat, how much you eat, how fast you eat and how you use food in your life. Unfortunately, when you give up your control in this way, you allow mindless eating to be the rule. Over time, this unskilled way of eating can result in unhappiness with food and how your body responds to it. It can also lead to chronic dieting, recurrent binge eating, and significant weight gain.
People who habitually eat mindlessly have become disconnected with their internal signals of hunger and fullness. Therefore, learning to eat mindfully and becoming aware of your cues for hunger and satiety is a necessary tool for changing your relationship with food. In fact, research demonstrates that mindfulness training can help individuals lose weight, maintain weight loss, self-regulate eating behaviors, and reduce both the rate of bingeing and the amount of food eaten during binges. Engaging in mindful eating meditation practices on a regular basis can help you discover a far more satisfying relationship to food and eating than you ever imagined or experienced before.
I encourage you to complete the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. It is important to note, while mindful eating can’t be measured with complete objectivity, this questionnaire will deepen your understanding of yourself and of how mindful eating can begin to liberate your relationship to eating and food.
Mindful Eating Questionnaire
INSTRUCTIONS: Answer each question with the number that best matches your experience. Answer as you think you are, not how you think you should be. Treat each question as a separate question. If you don’t know how to answer a question, leave it blank.
1 = Almost always
2 = Frequently
3 = Infrequently
4 = Almost never
- I’m unaware that I’m hungry, or full, until sometime after the fact.
- I am stressed out.
- I don’t really taste or appreciate my food.
- I force or control what or how much I eat.
- I eat when I’m not hungry.
- I avoid eating even though I am hungry.
- I rush when I eat.
- I eat without being aware that I’m eating.
- I eat when I’m stressed out.
- I believe that I can only succeed by controlling or being rigid about my diet.
- I am unaware of thoughts that precede my eating behaviors.
- I find it difficult to remain focused in the here and now.
- I don’t love and accept my body and myself as it is.
- I don’t regularly feel a desire to exercise.
- My body image is negatively impacted by media exposure to the “thin ideal.”
- My exposure to media stresses me out or lowers my moods.
- I am living or eating “on automatic.”
- I am stuck in mental and/or behavioral patterns that I would like to change.
- Emotions “take me over” and I am not aware of what has happened until later.
- I eat to manage strong or uncomfortable emotions.
SCORE YOURSELF: Add up your answers and divide the total by 20 (or if you didn’t answer all the questions, by the number you answered). Your score will be a number between 1 and 4.
INTERPRET YOUR SCORE: A higher number (closer to 4) reflects more mindfulness (and freedom) in your eating behaviors. A higher number also reflects a more mindful and liberating relationship to the many forces, particularly bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts, which (usually unconsciously) precede and influence eating behaviors.
What was your score? Try not to worry or judge yourself if you didn’t get a score close to 4.0. Nobody is perfectly mindful all the time! The goal is progress not perfection. Just know, the more mindful you are, the freer you will be.
Hopefully, this questionnaire has given you insight into how mindfulness can transform and liberate your relationship to eating, exercise, your body, your mind, your emotions, and yourself. Mindfulness (awareness) is the foundation for positive change and transformation in any area of life, including in your relationship to food.
The good news is with attention and practice you can re-train yourself to become a mindfully skilled eater and recapture power over food! It’s time to break free from the food trance!
(Kristeller & Hallette, 1999)