One of the early skills we work on with clients is the skill of eating everything slowly and mindfully. This is such a helpful skill in so many ways: when dieters eat more slowly, it gives their stomachs a chance to catch up with what they’ve eaten and they get fuller faster; it allows dieters to be satisfied with less food because they get so much enjoyment from the food they do eat; it helps cut down on mindless eating and snacking, which can reduce overall calorie intake, and so much more. In order to put this skill into place, one of the guidelines we give dieters is, as best they can, no eating in the car. We work with dieters on not eating while driving for three important reasons.
First, when dieters are driving, hopefully the vast majority or their attention is on the road. This means that their food is getting a fraction of their attention at best. And when dieters eat without paying attention, they don’t feel as satisfied physically or psychologically and they often want to eat more.
The second reason we work on not eating while driving is because many dieters we’ve worked with tend to do secret eating while driving. I’ve had many dieters describe to me how they stop at the fast food drive-thru and eat a meal on their way home from work (before coming home to eat dinner with the family), or how they buy a big bag of something sweet or crunchy and snack their entire commute home. Something about being alone in the car, when no one is watching, gives dieters a false sense that what they’re doing doesn’t really “count” in some way. But of course, our bodies don’t know if 100 people are watching us eat or no one is watching us eat; they process all calories the same regardless.
A third reason we work with dieters on not eating while driving is because, if they eat while they drive, it tends to reinforce the notion that they have to or should eat every time they feel like it, or at the very moment they start to experience hunger. Unless our clients are driving far distances or have terribly long commutes, most of them are not in the car for long stretches of time. Working on delaying eating until they get to their destination is a helpful tool in teaching dieters not to fear hunger.
In order to help dieters put this skill into place, sometimes we have to be creative. One of my clients was a sales rep who drove from place to place each day and spent most of his working day in the car. We worked out a strategy where he could eat in his car – just not while he was driving. We decided it was perfectly reasonable for him to eat lunch in his car, as long as he was parked somewhere. Another client of mine really loved to break up her drive home by stopping in at a convenience store and chatting with the clerk with whom she had become friendly. In this case, we decided it was reasonable for her to continue doing this, but the only thing she would buy would be water (and we agreed that water was the only food/beverage that was okay to consume while driving). We also agreed that if she ever broke this and got more than water, she’d have to cut it out entirely (at least for a period of time).
Eating in the car can be a difficult habit to initially break, but once dieters are able to get themselves to stop doing so, it can do a world of good.