Do you find yourself nosing through your pantry or fridge multiple times a day for yummy snacks? Have your snacking habits crossed the line of actual hunger, and you often eat out of boredom? We're revealing our best tricks and tips to stop eating when bored right at the source.
You don't have to be a Mensa genius to discover that in American culture, and most other ones, we love our food. It's naturally-programmed into our genetics - animals like us eat as much food as we can right now because we don't know when the next meal will come around.
Except that we do. Our next meal is at our fingertips and the one after that too.
We're still not eating only when hungry. Food scarcity is a non-issue for most of us, yet still, our brains go through a process that reminds us that we still have a few caveman tendencies.
The default for many of us when we're feeling bored and restless is to eat an appealing snack. It's fun and satisfying, but a few extra snacks quickly add up to excess body fat.
It's okay if you're frustrated. Eating because of boredom can feel uncontrollable, but it's not impossible to change - there are ways to stop eating when not hungry. We'll uncover the most common reasons for eating out of boredom and a few simple-to-use boredom eating solutions.
Why do we eat when we are bored?
There is one reason that eating out of boredom appeals to us so much - science!
- When we're bored, we grab ourselves a snack to cope with the monotony of the current moment. It’s a task to occupy ourselves for a bit of time. But why does eating while bored appeal to us more than, say, cleaning the house?
- Our brain chemistry makes boredom eating more appealing than other boredom busters.
- Eating a snack, especially a rich snack we'd classify as "junk food," causes the reward center in our brain to release chemicals that make us feel extra happy, like the feel-good hormone dopamine.
- Our bodies become physically addicted to food and use snacks as a shortcut for feeling good.
The best and worst part of our bodies is their incredible ability to adapt quickly.
Over time, our brain gets accustomed to the snacks, and our dopamine receptors build up a tolerance, releasing less of it each time.
We need more snacks to have the same feeling, so we eat more and more… and more.
8 tips to avoid boredom eating
Our adaptive bodies made us prone to snacking more in the first place. Now, we're going to use them to cut back to a more natural and healthy place.
If you're cutting down on snacking after years of overeating, you’ll likely feel some withdrawals. Prepare for these unpleasant feelings and meet them with confidence - slay the snacking dragon and re-balance your brain chemistry!
Every time you consider eating a snack, ask yourself this question first.
Am I just eating because I'm bored? Am I hungry or bored?
If you're physically hungry, grab a healthy snack of moderate proportion. Snacking isn't inherently wrong. The goal is to rid ourselves of boredom eating behaviours, not stop eating altogether.
If you're snacking because you're bored and wondering what to do instead of eating, stay up to date with wellness and health tips.
#1: Keep a running to-do list
You might already have one of these floating around, filled with tasks, errands, or chores you need to get done.
Keep an updated to-do list on hand for those weak moments when you find yourself bored and craving a snack. While some of these tasks aren't exactly appealing, don't give yourself the option to duck out on them.
By the time you finish one of the tasks, you'll have busted your boredom and feel so good that you might be motivated to keep checking things off your list!
#2: Go to sleep
One of our favourite things to do instead of eating is to sleep.
We don't necessarily mean a nap, although a short afternoon nap can quell your cravings and reduce bored-eating - it's pretty tricky to snack while you're unconscious.
If you're a night owl, try heading to bed a little earlier than usual. Chronic under-sleeping messes with our hormones, specifically leptin, the fullness hormone, and ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
When these hormones aren't well balanced, we're more likely to experience more hunger than usual and feel less satiated throughout the day.
Going to sleep a little earlier can also cut out one of the most challenging times of the day to stop snacking - the late-night hours!
#3: Close your eyes
If you find that you can't stop eating when you're bored, try a short meditation practice whenever a snack-y mood strikes.
Meditation is a simple way to get back in touch with our minds and our bodies. By staying present and noticing bodily sensations, we can help our brains to register that our bodies are not hungry.
The act of meditation feeds the mind and soul and increases dopamine production so that you don't need a snack to experience those good feelings.
#4: Eat more fiber
Fiber-rich foods make us feel more satisfied and full for a more extended amount of time. Why? Fiber takes a while to digest in our stomachs, which keeps our brains from releasing hunger hormones too early.
You're much less likely to reach for a snack if you're still full from your last meal.
As an extra benefit, your digestion will likely be a whole lot better, and fiber-dense foods tend to be full of other nutrients that keep our bodies in prime condition.
#5: Get your body moving
A quick way to avoid an unnecessary snack binge is to start moving your body.
Our modern world is too head focused - we stare at screens at work, then come home to stare at them all evening. Sometimes we're not bored; we're just restless from too much inactivity.
Get up and go for a fresh, relaxing walk, hike, or do some simple stretching. Get outside or as far away from the kitchen as you can so your mind is undistracted.
If you're still hungry after finishing your exercise of choice, you might be motivated to make a healthier snack choice to refuel.
#6: Brush those pearly whites
One quick way to make a snack seem unappealing is to brush your teeth.
Overall, toothpaste strengthens our teeth, but toothpaste ingredients leave our enamel slightly weaker for around an hour after we brush.
This gives us a decently big window of time in which we know we shouldn't snack, or risk damaging our teeth, so we'll find non-food ways to entertain ourselves instead.
You'll break up your day, and your pearly-whites will be more sparkly than ever.
#7: Drink water all day long
Sometimes our bodily cues for hunger and thirst feel pretty similar. Drink ample water throughout your day to stay hydrated and keep your mouth occupied, and in turn, fight off some boredom.
If a snack-y mood has arisen for you, try drinking a tall glass of water and waiting 15 minutes. If you still feel like having a snack after that, go for it, but more often than not, you'll find the craving has disappeared.
#8: Dust off your books
If you're feeling bored and want a snack, try entertaining yourself the old-fashioned way, with the printed word - read a book.
Reading revives our imagination in a big way in which television and film just can't compare. By building and exciting our minds, our boredom will be a distant memory of the past.
There are so many different book genres. It's almost impossible for anyone to dislike every book on earth - there is something different for everyone.
Final notes: How to not eat when bored
Although we're animals, we don't need to be slaves to our monkey brains.
While boredom eating releases dopamine and makes us feel happy temporarily, you can retrain your brain and body to find other ways to release this feel-good chemical.
To recap, here are the best ways to bust your boredom-eating habits:
- Check items off your to-do list;
- Take an afternoon nap or head to the sack a little earlier;
- Meditate to regain your focus;
- Eat a good dose of fiber at every meal;
- Move your body daily;
- Brush your teeth when the snacking mood arises;
- Drink a tall glass of water before snacks;
- And open a book to distract yourself.
The secret to any behavioural change always lies in commitment - stay committed through failures, successes, and keep it moving to cut boredom eating out of your life for good.