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“Mindless to Mindful Eating for Weight Loss." Helpful eating practices to living healthier.

Updated: Apr 18

I thought I would share a great article written by a fantastic trainer, faculty member at San Diego State University, guest speaker for many fitness conferences and frankly very knoweldgeable in the industry, Fabio Comana. I met him years ago and was blown away by how simple he makes health concepts. See for yourself in this article. (Sidenote: this is mainly for a trainer audience, by hey, knowledge is wealth). I hope you find value in this as much as I have. Enjoy!! :-)


Faculty at San Diego State, fitness industry expert
Fabio Comana

“Mindless to Mindful Eating for Weight Loss” by Fabio Comana

“…The mindless 100 – 300 calories accumulated throughout the day (e.g., two small candies at a co-worker’s desk, a bite of your child’s ice-cream bar, etc.) generally fail to trigger conscious awareness. By the same token, many feel that they pay attention to everything they eat, but on average, we make more than 200 daily food decisions, although we believe we only make about 15 (3). The truth is that we often behave mindlessly around food and although some may discount 100 – 300 kcal daily, it can amount to a 10½ - 31 lbs. (4.8 – 14 Kg) weight gain in a year.

After eating, the presence of food in the stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) track, and the entry of food into the blood trigger neural and hormonal responses that turn off our hunger sensation. Hormones such as leptin from the fat cells and cholecystokinin released from intestinal cells can suppress the urge to eat further. However, it is estimated that these responses may take up to 20 minutes after those first bites to take effect, which raises the question over how much calorie consuming damage one can do in 20 minutes.

On average, fast food is consumed within 11 minutes, whereas food consumed in a moderately-priced restaurant takes 28 minutes (6). Implement a strategy to control your client’s eating pace by taking the time to stop, sit and eat, or to sit with the slowest eater in the group. Be mindful however of the dining ‘pacesetter’, the person who may unknowingly sets standards for how much food and how fast it will be consumed (7). If this person eats chips and salsa, he or she may influence others to mindlessly join in and eat comparable amounts. Identify the slowest eater and mindfully avoid the pacesetter.

In Sight Equals In Mind

The power of sight (what we see) can stimulate or suppress appetite, so be mindful of both. In a bottomless soup bowl study (automatically refilling bowl v. regular bowls) those eating from the bottomless bowl consumed more soup and 73% more calories (155 kcal v. 268 kcal) (8). Interestingly, the bottomless bowl group never made mention to feeling full and both groups, as expected, under-estimated total calories eaten.

On the other hand, we have also learned that sometimes what we see can raise our level of consciousness or awareness as to how much we are overeating. In a chicken wing study, when bones were left in plain sight for people to see how much they ate, they actually consumed 28% less food (9). Considering our stomach cannot count, and how we consciously or subconsciously are forgetful in tracking what we eat, we may need mindful reminders.

Interestingly, individuals who pre-plate their food (i.e., bring all they plan to eat to the table before eating) as opposed to making several trips to the buffet line will eat 14% less food (1). The takeaway message is that we need to be more vigilant about our ‘clean-plate’ mentality; sometimes visibly seeing what you plan to eat or have eaten may give reason to pause and be more mindful.

Researchers have also discovered that individuals consuming snacks from clear jars consumed 71% more food versus food concealed in opaque containers (11). Removing food visibility decreases temptations for mindless snacking (seeing, smelling or thinking). The takeaway message - if buying in bulk, immediately repackage larger containers into smaller, non-see through containers and store out of sight – this helps curb subconscious eating. Even a small strategy such as placing a lid on a container or covering it with foil can curb mindless munching.

A trade-off is another effective strategy for controlling mindless eating. Give people autonomy (ability to choose) to choose their behavioral action, but use consequential persuaders (i.e., give client the power to choose from several options, while concurrently making them aware of the consequence of each choice). This again reduces chances of psychological reactance. For example, making them aware that a 100 kcal snack is equivalent to a 23-minute walk or standing for 52 minutes (13). Present these consequences and let them decide.

  • Women: 1 kcal = 20 steps walking (1-minute walking = 4.3 kcal).

  • Men: I kcal = 17 steps walking (1-minute walking = 5 kcal).

De-convenience Convenient Foods – Create ‘pause points'

This approach is to make snacking a hassle and not a habit. This can be accomplished by making snacks less accessible and creating ‘pause points’ where one has a moment to consciously contemplate the consequences of snacking and possibly avoid mindless eating. In one study chocolates were placed on the corner of a desk, in a drawer, and then on a file cabinet six feet (1.85 m) away in random order (16). The results demonstrated that when chocolates were easily accessible (i.e., on the desk), an average of nine chocolates per day were eaten. By comparison, only six and four were eaten per day with chocolates in the drawer or on the filing cabinet, respectively.

Another classic and often-cited study looked at eating behaviors when conscious cues where utilized to help control eating. Participants were served tubes of regular Pringles® potato chips and allowed to eat as many as they wanted, but in some tubes red chips were placed at regular intervals (7th or 14th interval; 5th and 10th interval in follow-up study), a process called segmenting. Interestingly, in the tubes with no red chips, individuals ate significantly more chips whereas they ate less with the smallest red chip intervals (17). Individuals eating from the red chip tubes were also better at estimating how many chips they ate. Segmenting packages appears to effectively reduce food consumption by helping:

  • Call attention to and encourage better monitoring of eating

  • Controlling portion sizes

  • Breaking automated eating sequences by introducing a pause

The takeaway is to move snack foods outside of six feet where an individual has to physically move to access the food, giving time to structure an opportunity for a ‘pause point’ where consequences can be contemplated (e.g., that 100 kcal snack will require 20 minutes of walking). Likewise, implementing strategies whereby eaters are given conscious ‘pause-points’ may also help curb mindless eating behaviors.


These "pause-points" remind me of when TV's did not have remote controls. The volume and channel were changed based on someone getting off the couch.

Where do we start? Pick one of these mindful eating practices. There is not a wrong choice. Get started and stick with it for 30 days.

-Stacy Davis, Msc., PFT, Business owner


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