How to avoid unplanned eating?

Avoid unplanned eating and stay on track with your healthy habits

Last week’s challenge was to record any unplanned eating that occurred over the course of the week. I’d like for you now to take some time to reflect on this exercise. Were there many unplanned eating instances? When did they occur? Was it a particular time of day? A place? Were there any patterns? Many people find they are surprised at the frequency in which they are engaging in unplanned eating.

Simply doing this exercise alone, has helped my clients increase their awareness of what they were eating unnecessarily throughout the week. Knowing and becoming aware of these instances is the first step in how to avoid unplanned eating and stay on track with your habits.

There are many factors that influence our food intake. In fact, research has shown that we largely overestimate the impact that hunger has on our eating and greatly underestimate the multitude of other reasons why we give in to temptation.

After tracking your habits for the week, what was the biggest influence on your unplanned eating? Was it boredom, social influence, or a particular time of day? Or it could be a combination of factors? We are all unique and experience a multitude of influences on our daily habits however, by tapping into these reasons we can start to firstly become aware and secondly to experiment with ways in which to overcome these influences.

To continue with the foundational series, I am going to address these influences globally by looking at the key factors that the research has found can impact unplanned eating and temptation. However I would love to be able to address your particular influences head on. You can email me at to let me know what you found influenced your unplanned eating the most last week.

How do you avoid unplanned eating and stay on track with your healthy habits?

As explained above, ongoing tracking can help tune you in to the daily unanticipated temptations you may have around food. Tracking your temptations is one way to keep this present state awareness. If you found this exercise useful, you may want to continue tracking for the rest of the month, to look in more detail at the patterns of your habits over time.

However, tracking anything for long periods for the majority of us can become tedious and can often lead to boredom and abandoning tracking after a few weeks. I recommend experimenting with your tracking until you find something that works for you. If you can maintain this habit long term, then fantastic! If you find it too tedious it may be worthwhile looking at how you can scale back, perhaps tracking every season or quarter to keep an eye on your habits and avoid any drifting.

Why not set a reminder on your phone now to do the temptation tracker again in 4 months time?

Mindful awareness to help avoid unplanned eating

Another thing that can enhance your attention to your habits, and more specifically help prevent you from unplanned eating episodes is mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be defined as the ability to attend to/ be aware of, the present moment.

Mindfulness is a vital foundational habit. Not only does it help reduce stress, anxiety and depression (all of which are known to have an impact on our ability to lose weight) but cultivating mindful awareness in your eating practices has been linked with reducing unplanned eating episodes, enhanced weight loss and improved food satisfaction.

Increased weight loss whilst enjoying your food more, what’s not to love?!

This week’s challenge – how mindful are you?

Before I dive right into how you can develop a mindfulness habit. I thought, firstly, that you may find it useful to measure your level of mindful awareness.

This will help give you an insight into how much your daily awareness may be positively or negatively impacting your daily habits.

I would recommend downloading and completing this questionnaire to help quantify your mindful awareness (approx 10 minutes) [Reference: Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.]

What were your scores??

Simply add all your scores together to get your total score.

Generally, the higher your score the higher your mindful awareness.

The median (middle) score for the general population is 63. If you were below this it could mean that you are slightly predisposed to mindless snacking (i.e. eating when doing other things and not paying attention to how much you are consuming). If you were in and around 63 or below mindfulness training could have a positive impact in terms of helping you tune into your daily habits.

Next week we will explore this foundational habit in more detail. Including ways in which you can cultivate mindfulness in order to help you avoid unplanned eating and stay on track with your long term goals.

P.S. If you have 30 seconds right now I’d love to understand: What were the biggest influences on your unplanned eating? Was it a time of day? In a particular location? Boredom, stress etc. Simply email to let me know and I can look at addressing it directly in an upcoming blog. 

Published on 10th Nov 2017 at 10:10 by Dr. Heather McKee

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Copyright ©2024 Dr. Heather McKee

Dr. Heather McKee is registered in Ireland Reg. No. 687397 with the registered address at 314 Mother Teresa House, Loreto Abby, Rathfarnham, D14 NR20, Co. Dublin, Ireland

This work is in no way meant to replace any medical advice. Dr. McKee is Non-HCPC-registered. Photography by Dylan Madden.

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