I have always struggled with boredom eating. But now, quarantined at home, that feeling is intensified all of the time!
If you’re like me, boredom creates an irresistible itch to reach for a snack. Psychologically, food is filling a need that isn’t being met, and while it might not be a solution, it is a sufficient band aid. Knowing that eating isn’t a healthy option to cure boredom and certainly isn’t helping anyone reach their fitness goals, isn’t enough to prevent it from happening. So, let’s explore what boredom actually is and some tips to prevent using eating to cure it.
What is boredom
Boredom is individual and caused by different things for different people. Some people find the news boring, or sports, or exercise, or fashion, while other people love it. Nothing is inherently boring.
Boredom can be caused by having “nothing to do”, but people can be doing “nothing” and not feel bored.
Finding something to do doesn’t always cure boredom. I’m sure you’ve been bored at work or watching a show; you have something to do but find that thing boring.
The root cause of boredom isn’t empty time, or repetition, or having to do any one thing. The real cause of (most) boredom is a feeling of meaninglessness. That’s why two people can have the exact same job, but one person finds it boring and one person finds it interesting. Pointless or meaningless things are boring, even if they’re new. Meaningful things aren’t boring, even if they’re repetitive.
So, if boredom is a problem with meaning, why do we eat when we’re bored? Eating isn’t incredibly meaningful, yet research shows that:
People who are often bored eat more food in general.
After doing a boring task, people have an increased desire to eat unhealthy snacks.
When they’re bored, people want to eat “exciting” food – aka junk food.
Food doesn’t fix the boredom problem, but it does provide us with a distraction and a sensation we are craving. When we’re bored, we look for any sensation available just to feel something and food provides an easy solution.
Food is cheap and readily available.
You can eat in almost any situation where you find yourself bored. No one is going to stop you from snacking while you’re bored at work.
It’s easy to eat while continuing other tasks. You can snack at work, in front of the TV, while reading a book, at a sporting event, pretty much anywhere.
So, what are some ways we can prevent boredom eating?
Eat when you’re hungry
It can take some practice to learn your body’s hunger cues. A good place to start is waiting 5-10 minutes when you feel the urge to eat to see if you are actually hungry. This isn’t an article to tell you to deprive yourself or restrict your diet, if you are hungry, then eat! There are ways to ensure you make healthy choices if you do decide to eat when you’re bored. The important thing is that you are choosing to eat, mindfully making a decision instead of mindlessly filling a need.
Don’t buy it
Self-discipline is hard and takes practice. That’s why I like to make things as easy as possible for myself. The easiest way to prevent yourself from snacking is to not have any snacks on hand. When I’m bored and go searching for a snack, if there’s nothing quick and easy to munch on and I’m forced to cook something, I’m quickly dissuaded from that urge. If you get hungry between meals and need to snack, you can either eat slightly larger meals, or buy healthier snack options. Even if you choose healthier options, it’s still possible to overeat, so be sure to still follow these other tips.
You don’t have to be completely restrictive here either. I love ice cream and I’m not going my whole not enjoying it. But I know if I have ice cream in the house it’s going to be my go-to for boredom snacking, so I buy it sparingly.
Know you’re triggers.
Only eat at the table
The easiest way to overeat while you are boredom snacking is to eat while you’re doing something else. If you are lounging on the couch with the TV on it’s easy to mindlessly eat, but if you have a designated eating area like the table, you’ll be much more focused on the food you’re eating. It turns eating into a separate task and will help you resist eating simply because you’re bored, and if you do find yourself eating, it will help to prevent you from eating too much.
Progress not perfection
You can’t expect to make a behavior change overnight, and if you struggle with boredom eating, don’t expect to never do it again! Mishaps and mistakes are a normal part of learning a new skill. As you adjust to your new behavior, look for things that you find meaningful to fill boring times and learn the foods and circumstances that trigger your boredom eating.
Overtime you will be able to recognize what triggers you and change the behaviors associated with them.
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