You are supposed to be working from home today. The work is boring, you have too much to do and it’s overwhelming. We’ve all been there. What breaks up the monotony? Snacking on some yummy food, crisps, chocolate, sweets washed down with a can of something. Yet you are not hungry. This is boredom eating.
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Why Do We Eat When We Are Bored?
Previous studies show that eating distracts us from the awareness that we have a feeling of boredom. Being bored raises our awareness that we have a lack of purpose or meaning.
Emotional eating is well known for reaching out for food to suppress or help cope with negative emotions. Boredom eating is a form of emotional eating. Eating is much more satisfying than doing something we don’t love.
When we are boredom eating, we tend to reach out for unhealthy snacks like sugary, salty and fatty foods. These types of foods give us the most satisfaction in the shortest time. We release the hormone dopamine when eating them and dopamine makes us feel good.
Related Reading – Why Can’t I stop eating- Compulsive Eating
The Difference Between Real Hunger and Psychological Hunger
True hunger is the physical need for food. It’s when your body tells you it needs sustenance that a meal or snack will satisfy you. You feel physical hunger in your stomach. It will come in waves and get stronger gradually over time. Eventually, your stomach will start rumbling and it is telling you it is time to feed yourself.
Psychological hunger, on the other hand, is not an actual need for food but rather an emotional trigger to eat something (usually unhealthy food). It is usually an unconscious association you have with something. For instance, you might have paired eating with a certain time, like 4pm, or every time you look at a specific thing on your laptop. Therefore it is not real hunger, it is the trigger making you think that you are hungry. This is perhaps known as boredom hunger.
Boredom Eating is a Band-Aid
Previous studies show that boredom eating is not about food. In fact when we eat out of boredom, we are more likely to make poor food choices. For instance eating less nutritious food. Boredom eating is helping to break the negative emotion that we are feeling. It is adding something interesting to our day. Stopping eating, is a good idea, or switching to healthier food, however we need to look at the problem driving the eating.
If eating is making your day more interesting, how can you make it more interesting without food? If it breaks up your day, what can you do apart from eating?
Unhealthy food acts as an aid for boredom. It diverts our attention from the edgy boredom feeling to a pleasurable feeling.
Look for “the primary emotion” that drives boredom eating
Enquire into the causes of your eating and work on the cause, rather than forcing a solution. You will find when the cause gets sorted, the eating will naturally fall by.
What are the primary emotions for you? Our brain naturally wants to think boredom. However what is causing the emotion of boredom?
Explore can you sit with yourself in silence? Can you sit with your own thoughts? Can you sit without any distractions. What does it feel like? Exploring these and at first you may feel an increase in boredom. Push your own comfort zone, and this will help you to notice what is behind the boredom.
If you’re Bored Because you Have “Nothing to Do”
Often we become bored because we think we have nothing to do. If you look around your house or your work, there are probably plenty of things that you could do, you just may not want to do them. We fill this time with activities like eating and or phone scrolling and do this in a bid to combat boredom.
What if you are somewhere where you cannot eat or go on your phone? helping yourself through this can require
1. Exploring the silence within yourself.
2. Doing some deep breathing exercises, to help you to become more comfortable.
3. Creating a vision, or long-term and short-term goals, so you can be working towards achieving these and minimising a position where you are bored.
4. Get outside and enjoy the outdoors. Even if you are in a city, walk around the block and get the fresh air in. This gives you some mental space to think about what you want to do.
5. Setting small and achievable tasks gives us a positive satisfactory feeling.
Further Reading – The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
If You’re Bored Because of What you Have to Do.
There are some aspects of life that may not be as exciting as others. This may be parts of your work or errands that do just have to be done. How can you add fun to them?
1. Give yourself a challenge of either how quick to do the task or how well to do the task
2. Make the task exciting or unusual. For instance, tidying is not the most exciting thing, but when you put on your favourite music, tidy dancing around and you have to finish a section by the end of the song, it makes it more fun.
3. Break the task down into sections. Maybe you don’t have to do it all at once.
4. Give yourself an intrinsic reward when you have completed mini-sections or tasks.
5. Get the boring and mundane tasks out of the way as soon as possible so they are not hanging over your head for the whole of the day.
5 Tips On How To Stop Boredom Eating
1. Move Your Body
One of the first things you can do is what’s called breaking your state. That means, breaking up the feeling of boredom. Moving our body jolts us from the state we are in and brings us to the present. Keeping your hands busy is a good way to break your state. You could always mimic the hand-to-mouth action without any food as a good break.
A tip someone taught me is called pomodoro. You set your timer for 25 mins and do solid work. Then you have 5 mins break and in that time, you can stretch, do some yoga poses, workout, dance. It breaks the state and mood and uplifts you, then you’re ready for the next 25 mins of work.
2. Recognize eating is not the answer
Eating might break up the boredom feeling. But it is only going to do so for a short period of time. You are going to develop poor eating habits, that get harder to break the longer you have had them. It is a feel-good now short-term strategy, that can have negative effects on your emotional health and physical health in the long term.
We want to make a switch from mindless eating to mindful eating. Mindfulness will help you to develop a healthy relationship with food and help you to choose healthy foods naturally.
Having a meal plan can help you to stop grazing when you know you have a healthy meal ahead. Eating regular meals and balanced meals can help squash any cravings as
Further Reading – How to lose weight without dieting
3. Change old habits
James Clear in his book Atomic Habits breaks down how to change bad habits one at a time.
To help you break the habit of boredom eating:
1. You are not eliminating the habit, you need to replace it with a positive one
2. Work out your triggers and as best as possible avoid them. To help you keep track of what your triggers might be, keeping a food diary might help. You log down when you ate and then what boring task you were doing beforehand, to help you become mindful of any unpleasant self-awareness. This also makes you aware of your current dietary choices.
3. Visualise a new habit and keep practicing it until it becomes second nature.
4. Initially to break the habit try switching your food of choicee to a healthy snack.
Further Reading – How to stop yo-yo dieting
4. Make room for discomfort
To make any changes, first comes awareness and then comes being uncomfortable for a little bit. You may at first be aware of your emotion of boredom. Your response to boredom may lead you to the kitchen. Eating is a way of stimulating yourself, which is an aspect of boredom. Instead of responding, let yourself sit in the discomfort of the feeling of boredom for a moment. This could look like, just sitting with your eyes closed, taking some deep breaths and feeling your feelings. This is a state of objective self-awareness. It is also referred to as your zone of tolerance.
This is then helping you to break your old patterns of automatically reaching for the cupboard of food. In that moment of space you are giving yourself, you can bring in the logic and apply the new habit you have thought about.
In that moment of stillness, you can contemplate are you hungry or is it boredom hunger?
5. Bring in kindness and compassion
What makes changing habits hard is the way we feel and talk to ourselves about them. We often feel like we are a bad person because we have this habit and in a bid to stop we are self-critical and tell ourselves off. It doesn’t work, in fact it only serves to make us feel even worse.
Think about helping a friend change a habit, you would give them support and encouraging words like, you can do it, what do you need to help you? Start noticing when you are being self-critical and replace it with kind and encouraging words.
Boredom Eating is not about eating, rather it is a response to the emotion of boredom. A number of elements could be the cause, including boredom with food. If you don’t address it, it could cause you health issues down the line.
Develop an action plan of alternative habits to break the habit and lastly be kind and support yourself through the process.