What is Boredom Eating?
Envision this– you are home, it’s about 8-9 pm, or possibly later. You are relaxing with your family or are perhaps alone, you already ate dinner, and then BAM! It hits you. An urge to get up, walk mindlessly to the pantry or the big white mama (also known as a refrigerator), hunt around for something to snack on then 10 minutes later you realize you stuffed yourself silly.
Not an evening snacker? Then envision this– you are at work, its been a long day, you’ve been staring at your computer all day, then BAM! You are hunting around the office for whatever you can get your hands on, even those donuts you willfully avoided in the morning that are now stale.
These are just two scenarios where the natural human tendency to avoid boredom is filled by consuming food. In fact, according to this NIH study, this natural tendency to avoid boredom means we are also more likely to choose foods that are unhealthy and unexciting. Food breaks up the monotony, especially fun food!
So you might be wondering, well, what if I don’t define my tendency as “boredom eating” but something else? Well, there are some other possible causes to boredom eating tendencies.
What causes boredom eating?
- Emotional Triggers:
If you are feeling emotions of sadness or anger, the consumption of foods can actually release dopamine, the feel good hormone. Therefore, food provides a really good sensation in your body after you eat it. When you feel good after you eat, of course you will go back for more.
Stress eating as a way to seek comfort is similar to emotional eating. Stress is typically a negative emotion, therefore, that dopamine release is another way to “feel good” again. Have you ever been cramming for a test or you have a really big work project due and then you find yourself at the bottom of a bag of chips and didn’t even realize how you got there? Yes, that is considered stress eating.
Anxiety eating is a clinical disorder. These emotions brought on by anxiety can express itself many ways, and binge eating is one of them. This is a tough one to conquer and many times, those suffering from it need professional mental help.
How To Stop Boredom Eating
- Become Self Aware
- Assess your hydration
- Plan Your Meals
- Distract Yourself
Becoming Self Aware:
First thing you need to do is realize you are boredom eating. If you are reading this article, it is likely you have already recognized that habit in yourself and are looking for ways to change. Good job, keep reading!
After becoming self aware of your boredom eating habits, you need to start understanding your triggers. For example, are you just eating at 3 pm because you have conditioned yourself to think, “Welp, it is 3pm, time for a snack!”? Or, are you eating popcorn on the couch after dinner because that’s the habit you have developed over the years while tuning into your favorite shows?
Or, are you responding to a stressful situation at work, or possibly at home, where eating just seems to make you feel better (remember dopamine? Yeah, its legit). Once you start understanding your triggers, you become more self aware to practice more mindful eating.
Assess your hydration:
So, you might not be that emotional trigger boredom eater, but perhaps you find yourself snacking or breaking up the monotony because you do feel those twinges of hunger. What if you are feeling those twinges after you know you recently ate an adequate meal?
Well, check in with yourself in assessing how much water you had that day. If you reflect and realize, hmmm, I don’t think I had much, then you definitely need to drink a big ol’ glass of water before you go eat! Another way to determine if you are hydrated throughout the day: check the color of your urine! The lighter the better.
Plan your meals:
When you decide to make change, you need to approach this with a plan. By planning your meals, you will be able to assure you are planning on eating enough of the right foods. Also, you can discipline yourself by sticking to that plan!
If you need help finding a weekly meal planning tool, look no further! I have one right here for you to use.
Sometimes, preventing boredom eating requires plain and simple distraction. Get your mind off the food right away. For those who struggle with boredom eating, I recommend making yourself a “distraction jar”.
What is this you say? Well, its a jar full of ideas to help distract yourself from boredom eating. When you realize you want to snack but did a self check and realize that you are wanting to snack out of boredom, try creating your distraction jar! Here are some ideas to get you started.
Are you always going to stop boredom eating?
I wish I could say that yes, you can absolutely stop it, but the reality is that these habits can take time to change.
Practice the strategies above to help yourself stop boredom eating. Plan your meals, try distraction, but most of all, give yourself grace! If you find yourself needing additional support, reach out to your local Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Sometimes all you need is accountability and that bit of extra encouragement. If you want to learn more about setting goals to help you overcome boredom eating, then consider reading about it here.