We’ve all been there. Fridge door open, aimlessly staring at the food choices in front of us. We’re not really hungry, but eating seems like a good way to pass the time. Sound familiar? It likely does because, in general, few of us enjoy the monotony that boredom brings, and food is a pretty satisfying go-to when life gets dull.
If you have found yourself eating to pass the time or to break up the same old routine, it may be time to talk about boredom eating and the negative impact it can have, not just on your weight but your overall health, too.
When you are hungry, you eat because you need to eat. Your body requires energy and nutrients to survive and thrive each day. When you eat for reasons outside of physiological need, it’s unnecessary eating. Boredom eating falls into this category and can cause you to overeat or prioritize less nutritious foods over those your body needs.
Boredom eating can quickly turn into emotional eating. Whenever we eat for the wrong reasons, there is a chance we’ll feel even worse after the poor food decision. This emotional response can trigger further unnecessary eating and perpetuate negative food experiences over and over again.
The food you eat wasn’t designed to solve boredom or to quench emotional distress. Unfortunately, it often serves as the answer to both because of how readily available food is to us and the quick gratification it can provide.
Here are eight simple strategies to help you kick the bad habit of boredom eating.
Become familiar with your boredom cues. The sooner you can readily identify true hunger, the easier it is to recognize boredom and emotional eating cues. Once you can identify these cues, it becomes much easier to respond to them in ways that will allow you to stay on track.
Have a plan. Once you become aware of what boredom eating looks and feels like, it becomes much easier to address it. You may even begin to identify certain triggers in your life that set the stage for boredom eating. Take note and develop a plan to avoid these pitfalls. It may mean you go to bed an hour earlier if boredom eating always strikes at the end of the day when you’re overly exhausted. Or perhaps it means taking a walk at three o’clock when you know you get restless at work.
Get moving. Just like your body is meant to be fueled by nutrient-rich foods, it’s also meant to be active! If you feel boredom strike, consider moving! Whether it’s a five-minute walk around the block or a quick yoga session, adding a little flow to your day can be a great way to overcome a stale routine. It may also give you a change of scenery to shift your perspective.
Pick up a new hobby. If you find yourself in a perpetual state of boredom, it may be time to mix up your routine. Whether it’s reading a new book, trying your hand at a DIY Pinterest project or teaching yourself how to knit, discovering ways to enjoy your downtime can add excitement to your day. Keep in mind that your new hobby doesn’t have to be elaborate. Instead, try to identify at least one activity easy enough to do anywhere, anytime so you’re always prepared to confront a bored state of mind.
Embrace being bored once in a while. In today’s culture, we are used to being entertained every single moment of every single day. This can make us more prone to boredom because we can become easily distracted or disconnected from the world around us. But what is boredom, really, and what is its purpose? According to Canadian researchers who studied the concept, it’s “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.”
By learning how to be OK during unconnected times of your day, it may just be possible to slow down and pay attention to the world around you. You may also begin to realize that it’s not the world around you responsible for your bored state. Instead it’s your lack of comfort with being still within it.
Keep nutritious foods front and center. According to recent findings presented at the Annual Conference of British Psychology Society, people tend to crave sugary and fatty foods when bored — not apples and celery as we may hope. This may not be all that surprising, but it is important to note. It also helps strengthen a theory held by some experts that boredom occurs when levels of dopamine in the brain are low. In theory, people may be more likely to eat foods with higher levels of fat and sugar to try and boost their dopamine levels in an attempt to feel better.
As you attempt to relieve your boredom through other means, it may be beneficial to keep nutritious foods front and center. These foods might be less appealing during tedious moments and help you to better identify true hunger versus boredom or hunger cues. The added benefit? If you still attempt to tackle your boredom through food, you’ll have done so with more nutrients.
Keep a list on your fridge. To further ensure that your new habits stick, consider listing out all the great nonfood ways you can deal with boredom on a piece of paper on your fridge. This will serve as a helpful last-minute reminder to try something new before reaching for the food behind the door of the fridge.
Ask for help. Eating can be complicated, and it’s OK to ask for help. If developing new boredom-busting habits doesn’t seem to be working for you or you can’t distinguish between true hunger and boredom eating cues, it may be beneficial to work with a professional. Consider consulting with your physician or your registered dietitian for additional strategies and techniques to help you achieve your health and wellness goals.
Being bored is no fun, but food isn’t the boredom cure-all. Instead, look for ways to bust boredom that won’t sabotage your weight loss or maintenance goals.