If I were to ask you how many food decisions you make on average each day, what would your answer be? Maybe 20? Or even 50? Well… that’s not even close! We make over 200 food decisions every day! So there’s no wonder it can feel incredibly overwhelming when you’re trying to make smart food choices in order to lose weight. Understanding the psychology behind your food choices is key to resetting your mindset for long-term health and weight-loss success.
There’s a thing called ‘Mindless autopilot’.
Have you ever wondered exactly why you ate six chocolates from the office snack jar, why you ate two bites of chicken for every one bite of salad at lunch, or why you consumed three helpings of creamed potatoes for dinner?
A New York-based university study reveals that we are aware of only a fraction of the food decisions we make every day as well as being unaware of environmental influences on these decisions.
When 139 university staff and students were asked to estimate how many decisions they make about food each day, the average response was 15. However, when the volunteers then answered specific questions about when, what, how much, where they ate and who made decisions about meals, snacks and beverages, the researchers found that the staff and students made an average of 221 food-related decisions each day.
It’s easier than you think to let small things around you — plate size, package size, people around us, distractions, recommendations — influence these 200-plus decisions, especially when you are not aware of them in the first place…. AKA ‘mindless autopilot’.
There’s no wonder that your daily food choices can become completely overwhelming when you’re trying to focus on your nutrition for weight loss or general health goals!!
So… how can you simplify the process so your brain isn’t overloaded with too much information, every time your body tells you it’s hungry?
One trick – reduce your daily food decisions.
Plan your meals
If your meals are planned out every day (or even better, for the full week!) it makes it easier on your mental capacity, by reducing the decision-load and preventing poor food choices. Meal planning does not have to be hard! There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning the same breakfasts and lunches for the full week (if you’re someone who doesn’t get bored quickly), then add variety with your dinners. Minimising the options for some of your meals means it’s yet another less decision you need to make each day! See example meal plan below:
- Breakfasts: 4 Ingredient Banana Pancakes – get recipe here
- Lunches: Zucchini Pasta with Lentils & Feta – get recipe here
- Dinners: Beef & Burrito Bake, Butter Chicken, and Chicken Parmigiana
- Snacks: Wholefood Energy Bar – get recipe here
Learn your hunger and fullness triggers
By understanding when you are truly hungry and truly full, it prevents mindless food decisions that lead to overeating or bingeing. Learning to deeply understand your body’s personal hunger and fullness triggers is invaluable for a healthy relationship with food long term – and everyone is different! These are the signals to look out for, and you may experience one or all of them.
- True hunger signals: lack of concentration, irritation, dizziness or a rumbling tummy (even after sipping on water – as sometimes you are just thirsty rather than hungry)
- True fullness signals: you feel comfortable and your stomach feels pleasantly full. If you continue to eat past this point, you will start to feel uncomfortably full, sore and further to that, physically sick.
Learning your own hunger and fullness triggers is something everyone should spend time working on as it can completely reshape your mindset around food. Learn more about the hunger/fullness scale here.
Consistency of portions
Everyone has their FAVOURITE meals… (hello pasta!). And of course, these are the dishes that you tend to go back for seconds of or entice you to fill up your plate that extra bit more. The trick is to try to ensure that all your meals are of consistent portion sizes. That way it takes the thinking away from how much you should have each meal or snack.
See this general guide below to help create healthy habits of portion sizes within each meal.
Focus on your food
Limiting distractions while eating may be much harder than it sounds. But try your very best at each meal to get into these healthy habits below to ensure you’re consciously enjoying your food and eating mindfully:
- Eat at the dinner table
- TV off, phone away
- Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls
- Aim for 10+ chews for each mouthful (It’s hard yes! But it helps with mindfulness)
- Be present: if you’re enjoying your meals with family or a friend, use it as a chance to catch up properly (something that is getting harder to do in this world!).
For more tips on improving or growing your nutrition mindset, click here.