07/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mindful Not Eating

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of the refrigerator, looking for something to eat? You look and realize there is nothing in there you want and leave the kitchen, only to return maybe ten minutes later. You open the refrigerator again, look around, close, and repeat ten minutes later? As if something would magically appear in there that wasn't there a few minutes before, even though you are home alone? One of my clients actually counted the number of times she opened and looked in one day and it was 72. She only ate 5 of those 72 times, but she was trolling a lot.

I was playing this little refrigerator game myself one day when I realized that what I was looking for was not in the fridge. Not only was it not in there but it wasn't going to be in there because I wasn't hungry. I was trolling for food because I was looking for something to do. I might have been bored, or in need of a break if I was working on a project. I might have needed to make a call that I didn't want to make and was using the idea of food as a stalling technique. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with being hungry and needing to fuel my body. It is completely appropriate to eat when your body needs fuel but not when you need something fun to do.

I remember watching the sitcom Mad About You years ago and Helen Hunt's character is trolling in the kitchen. She tries the refrigerator, the cupboards and finally in frustration says, "There is nothing fun to eat." That line stayed with me. Eating for fun, eating to fill time, eating to take a break, eating to dull feelings, eating for the hell of it, all contribute to our weight problems. If we all only ate when we were hungry (and not too hungry), ate mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, stopped when we were no longer hungry vs. full and/or stuffed, there would be little if any morbid obesity in our country. Most of us don't eat this way.

So to become more aware of why you are eating; before you eat ask yourself this very simple question, "Am I hungry?"

If the answer is no, see if you can do something else besides eat. I recommend writing a list of non-eating, home-based activities you can do when you realize that what you need is something fun to do.

Examples are: knit, garden, call a friend, watch TV, read, internet surf, write in a journal, play computer games, do a jigsaw puzzle, take a hot bath, clean, go through your sock drawer, play guitar (harmonica, learn a new instrument), put all your photos in a scrapbook, paint... Some of my clients have posted their own lists of alternative activities on their fridge, to remind them.

So to sum up: Before you eat ask yourself if you are hungry. If not, don't eat. I call this "Mindful Not Eating".

Post a list of non-eating, home-based activities you can do when you are bored, tired, needing a break, wanting to procrastinate, etc...

If you are hungry head for fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Stay away from high fat, high calorie processed foods and drinks.

Eat until you are no longer hungry. Not until you are full or stuffed.

If you do this you will be amazed at how often you head for food when you are not hungry. You will also learn why you are looking for food and hopefully develop a repertoire of other behaviors to fill that empty space.

That's it for now. Good luck and let me know how you're doing.

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