Have you ever opened a box of chocolates and sat down to watch a film, just to realise you've finished the whole box without even blinking? Or maybe you've come home after a long day's work and just raided the fridge in about 2 min? Feeling unsure how you managed to eat a block of cheese, half a loaf of bread and a pack of crisps in such a short space of time. If that sounds familiar, you might be experiencing fog eating or storm eating.
Fog Eating is when someone eats in response to an emotional need like soothing anxiety, stress or needing comfort. It may also have become a habitual mindless eating action.
On the other hand, Storm Eating is eating excessively or/ and really quickly without paying attention to what and how is actually eaten.
You may be experiencing Fog Eating, Storm Eating or feel like your mindless eating habits are creating guilt and shame and are affecting your well-being. Keep reading as this article will provide some with easy actionable steps on what you can do now to stop.
How to know if you are Fog Eating?
If you find yourself mindlessly reaching for food out of habit you likely are experiencing Fog Eating. It can be influenced by environmental cues, such as seeing nachos at a party, although you just had a big dinner. Similarly, walking past a bakery and getting cake, just because,
If this has been a habit for a while, it sure can be tricky to recognise when it's actually happening. That is until you 'wake up' and notice the wrappers or realise you're approaching the end of the chocolate bar. Fog eating is often followed by feelings of regret and guilt and promises to 'do better' next time. But the next time you're in a situation like this, you fall for the same triggers.
A study of 158 filmgoers by Wansink and Kim (2005) found that people tend to eat about 33.6% more when they are distracted, such as when watching TV. They also used larger bowls and found that it led to a 31% increase in the average amount of popcorn eaten. Some participants were given stale popcorn and even when food wasn't tasting as good, people ate more.
Another study found that people often underestimate how much they eat when they eat mindlessly, leading to increased calorie intake. This is especially true when the food is high in fat and sugar, such as fast food or sweet stuff.
If we learn anything from these studies is that mindless eating has a profound effect on our dietary habits and health. Even if we are unaware of it!
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So what can you do about fog eating to stop it for good?
Recognising when Fog Eating is happening requires switching your brain in and some conscious effort. Also, detective work towards mindfulness and awareness of your eating habits. This isn't about drastic changes overnight; instead, it's a journey of self-discovery and understanding.
Start by paying close attention to your diet, eating patterns and triggers. Are there specific times, places, or emotions that prompt you to eat mindlessly?
Do you tend to reach for food when you're feeling stressed, bored, or lonely? Each time you feel the urge to eat, pause for a moment. Ask yourself, "Am I really hungry, or is there something else going on?"
How to know if you are Storm Eating?
Storm Eating is characterised by much more extreme behaviour and often has a compulsive element to it. Generally, storm eaters tend to consume large amounts of food in a very short space of time.
If you find yourself eating uncontrollably, it may be a sign that your food relationship needs some extra attention and care. Behaviours, such as going back for seconds or thirds, or eating past the point of fullness consistently might be giveaways.
However, eliminating Storm Eating is very possible – even if it can feel like an overwhelming task at first. Start small by setting yourself manageable goals. Take small breaks between each bite or make sure to chew your food slowly.
Also, make sure that you regularly nourish yourself during the day, starting with a balanced breakfast. If you skip this step, you will likely have cravings and urges for food that will feel out of control.
How does Mindless Eating affect your health?
Mindless Eating (whether it's fog or storm eating) can have lasting effects on both physical and mental health. It can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and regret afterwards which in turn affects how you feel about yourself. Mindless eating can also create an unhealthy relationship with food and cause you to make food choices that you are proud of.
The study mentioned earlier on 158 filmgoers confirms that mindless eating can lead to weight and health concerns. Consistently consuming a 1/3 more energy than needed can lead to weight gain and may increase diabetes risk for some.
However, the psychological impact of mindless eating can be as concerning. A research article in the Journal of Health Psychology highlighted the connection between mindless eating and negative emotions. Guilt, shame and distress can further increase excessive food intake, highlighting the connection with the vicious cycle of emotional eating.
Lastly, a study from The Journal of Nutrition revealed how mindless eating can disrupt signals of fullness in the brain. This can lead to a continuous feeling of hunger and potential overeating. So if you ever felt like you can't get full, yet often engage in mindless eating, your body may have (unhealthily) adjusted to that. Not only that contributes to weight gain but also fosters dependency on food for comfort.
How is Fog Eating and Storm Eating different from Binge Eating Disorder?
Fog and Storm Eating are concepts that describe some of the more common types of mindless eating. While Binge Eating Disorder is an officially diagnosed eating disorder. BED is characterised by recurrent episodes of uncontrolled overeating accompanied by feelings of guilt or distress.
People with BED tend to eat more quickly than normal during binge episodes. They consume larger amounts of food than most people would in the same amount of time. Also, they often eat until feeling uncomfortably full. In comparison to fog/storm eating, BED is more severe and more likely to cause serious physical health problems and requires specialist support.
5 Strategies to Stop Any Mindless Eating in its Tracks
Whether you're experiencing mindless eating, or even binge eating episodes, breaking free from these habits is achievable with the right strategies. Let's delve into five effective techniques to regain control and foster healthier eating habits.
1. Observe your Routines and become Aware of your Triggers
The first step to breaking the cycle of mindless eating is to become conscious of your routines and triggers. Start by keeping a food diary and writing down everything that you eat in a day, including snacks. Add feelings, emotions and events you think may be helpful to the food journal.
Over time, patterns will start to emerge—notice what emotions you experienced before or after eating, and in which circumstances those emotions occurred, as these could be essential keys towards awareness.
2. Plan ahead and keep yourself Nourished
Planning ahead will help you to stay in control and help you feel more relaxed around food. Prepare meals and snacks for the week or a few days ahead, focusing on nutrient-dense foods. That way you won't find yourself reaching for convenient or ultra-processed foods that imbalance you further.
If you know that your cravings might hit during certain times of the day, make sure to eat at regular intervals (not more than 4-5 h between meals) as this helps maintain blood sugar levels. It also prevents overeating and keeps your energy levels stable.
A food journal could help you figure out what balance of fuel foods versus fun foods you have daily. Often, the balance is not what our brain tells us.
3. Prioritise Self-Care
Self-care has a HUGE part to play in changing your relationship with food. Turning to food for comfort or different emotions often stems from a lack of "me time" or properly tending to emotions that arise.
Make sure to implement activities in addition to a balanced diet, that will nurture your well-being. This includes taking walks in nature, doing yoga or simply making time to sit down for 5 min with a steaming cup of tea.
During your self-care routine, aim to take the time to reflect on yourself and how you are feeling. Reflection can help you learn more about yourself and your triggers and reduce stress levels. In turn, this will help prevent you from reaching for food to cope with difficult emotions and situations.
4. Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful Eating definitely requires practice, so start slowly, one bite at a time. Figure out how long it takes you to eat a meal and aim to increase that to 15-20 min for bigger meals. Allow yourself to be mindful and present whilst eating.
Use this opportunity to savour the flavours and textures of your food, connecting with your body's hunger and fullness signals and needs in order to make more balanced and nourishing choices. If fog and storm eating has become a habit, you might find yourself mindlessly reaching for food even when you've had enough.
So next time you find yourself mindlessly eating, practice pausing and taking the time to assess what you need. How hungry are you? What do you really need right now? This will help break down old habits and make way to establishing a healthier relationship with food.
5. Learn effective stress-coping strategies
It is important to recognise that emotions and especially stress can be a trigger for Fog and Storm eating. The best way to break this cycle is by learning effective strategies to support your unique brain health and cope with these triggers before they take over.
Some activities that can help include exercise, meditation, journaling and mindfulness practices such as breathing techniques. These activities can help you acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and help better manage them, without turning to food. Yet, it's important to try a few different techniques and find your go-to strategies.
When to get help with Your Food Habits
If your fog or storm eating habits are taking over your life and affecting your physical or mental health, it might be worth considering getting professional help. You might not have a diagnosed eating disorder or feel like "you're not sick enough". However, if your food habits are causing you grief every single day, it's a good idea to consider getting help with your food habits.
Professional support could help you understand what's keeping you stuck in the cycle of mindless eating and how to get out.
There are plenty of professionals who specialise in problems with food, from counsellors, psychotherapists and nutritional therapists. They can provide support on developing healthier habits and coping strategies that can empower you to take back control of your relationship with food.
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The Bottom Line
Fog and storm eating can be a response to stress, boredom or anxiety that causes us to turn to food even when we're not hungry.
Try out mindful eating, and different coping strategies or get professional help. There are plenty of ways you can get support and bring balance back into your relationship with food.
If you're feeling overwhelmed or stuck when it comes to managing food habits, reach out to a nutritional therapist and ask for help. Understanding the root causes of your eating problems will give you back control over your life and empower you to make peace with food for good!