The exact time when you choose to eat badly – your ‘choice point’


Amidst busy lives we are constantly reminded of the importance of being ‘mindful’ – fully aware and paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. Of course that makes a whole lot of sense but between work, Facebook, mobile phones and Instagram who can maintain that level of attention?! However difficult this goal may seem, eating mindfully is important. Research published in the eating behaviour journal Appetite has repeatedly shown that that mindful eating practices result in a slower rate of eating; sees us consume significantly fewer calories in a meal whilst simultaneously increasing the eating enjoyment factor.

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Specifically it is mindless eating that gets many of us in trouble with our weight – the extra biscuit here; glass of wine there; a few spoons of kid’s leftovers and before you know it the jeans are getting tight. That is unless you are in touch with your ‘choice point’. The psychological term coined almost 100 years ago by renowned behavioural psychologist Dr Edward Tolman.

Put simply, our ‘choice point’ is the brief interlude of time that occurs between thought and action that allows us to make a different or better choice. In the case of mindless eating, one of the key skills to help you take control of your food intake is having the ability to differentiate the sweeping thought action repertoire that sees us grab and gulp at food and drink without taking any time to consider the choices we are unconsciously making. Here the ‘choice point’ is the brief moment of time in which we have available to us to reflect on what we are about to do, and then slow down and even adjust our choice of action. In this instance we are then able to take control of habitual behaviours and instead make informed decisions. When this is translated into individual food and drink decisions, being able to identify and control our ‘choice points’ can make a big different to our calorie intake long term.

According to psychologist Dr Gordon Spence, who researched the role of mindfulness in goal attainment as part of his doctoral studies, using choice points to help guide our decisions will have the most relevance when we are working towards a specific goal such as weight loss or to actively make better food choices. Spence reminds us that; ‘Mere awareness is not enough – you can know you are doing the wrong thing and still fairly happily do the wrong thing. Without a clear goal choice points are interesting but they are not necessarily enough to guide behaviours in the right direction’.

If you still have any doubt over the importance of this seemingly incidental period of time, consider how many parties, drink functions, kids birthday parties and late afternoon feasts in which you could have consumed far fewer calories if you had the awareness and ability to be guiding by your ‘choice point’. And the good news is that you do not have to attend any complicated training to learn to identify your own choice point. The steps are very simple;

1. Practice mindfulness, whether this involves meditating for a few minutes each day or simply focusing on one thing at a time rather than multitasking. With specific reference to eating, commit to doing nothing else but concentrating on what you are eating. Chew your food; put your knife and fork down in between each mouthful. Pay attention to how the food tastes and what the texture is like. This simple step will slow down your eating and allow you to have greater awareness of your hunger and fullness signals.

2. In scenarios in which you are making food choices whether it is via a buffet, canapés or even off a restaurant menu, practice identifying your choice point and rather than choosing what you are instantly excited by, consider what would be the best option considering your health and fitness goals. Simply creating this space of time is imperative in switching from autopilot to making considered food decisions.

3. Take time to reflect on strong and weak decisions. In scenarios in which you have made poor choices or deflected to autopilot consider what your mental state was in these conditions. We learn from experience which means reflecting on times you make better decisions based on choice point thinking, compared to times in which you did not consider your choice point will help you shift mindless eating behaviour to a default of mindful eating. Once we reach this point weight control will become much easier.