How to stop eating out of boredom: 4 practical strategies

How to stop eating out of boredom

Does it sound familiar to you? Every time you are bored or stressed, you can’t help but go to the kitchen for a snack. It can almost seem like a compulsive feeling. I have had many clients who get very frustrated with eating out of boredom, especially when they are not hungry, but they can’t seem to stop turning to food when boredom hits. If this is you, maybe you’ve tried everything, but you still can’t help but search for food when you have nothing else to do. If that’s the case, in this post, we’ll look at why you can’t stop opening the refrigerator when you’re bored. In addition, I will offer some tips to avoid eating out of boredom that are practical and actionable. Let’s jump right in.

Why do I eat out of boredom?

Eating out of boredom falls into the category of emotional hunger. I recommend that you check out this post on the different types of hunger if you want to understand emotional hunger more clearly.

Simply put, eating out of boredom and loneliness ( or anxiety ) is one of the many ways we may be using food to distract ourselves from difficult feelings. As I mentioned before, food can be very comforting and pleasurable, and it is normal to turn to it when we want to feel good. Like other forms of emotional eating, boredom eating isn’t inherently bad, it’s just probably not the most effective solution to what’s really going on.

The Boredom Eating Cycle

Now, diet culture tends to vilify emotional eating (or any type of eating, if we’re being honest. This is why we tend to feel shame and “weakness” for giving in to emotional eating. And also the reason why it’s so hard to learn to stop eating out of boredom, because it only makes things worse. Let’s look at the graph below to see how the only thing that feeds the cycle of emotional shame is itself.

As you may notice, emotional eating, such as eating out of boredom, will cause conditioned guilt and shame, which in turn will create a stress response in the body. This stressful state will feed the initial negative emotions that we were trying to get rid of in the first place, thus perpetuating the cycle of emotional eating. In the words of Alyssa Rumsey, an anti-dieting registered dietitian in her incredible book, Unapologetic Eating : “Wouldn’t it be better to accept emotional eating for what it is, a survival mechanism, and move on once it has served its purpose?”

What to do instead of eating when you’re bored

As we just saw, eating out of boredom is our way of finding something that gives us satisfaction or satisfies an emotional need, in this case, the need for stimulation or fun. In my professional experience, what seems to bother people the most when it comes to eating to deal with boredom is:

  • Lack of understanding why they do it
  • Unhelpful Diet Culture and Anti-Fat Bias Messages That Raise Food Guilt
  • Frustration from feeling like they can’t stop

Remember, eating out of boredom, like any other type of eating, is a valid reason to eat. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Think about it: if the messages telling you that eating chocolate when you’re upset is “wrong” didn’t exist, would you feel bad about yourself if you calmed down with a piece of cake after a terrible day at work? Probably not.

However, it is important to recognize that emotional hunger can become problematic if it is the only mechanism you use when you feel bored. It can also complicate your relationship with food if you constantly use it to try to solve your problems or numb your emotions. So what is the answer?

Tips to avoid eating out of boredom

As a dietician aligned with intuitive eating / Health at Every Size , I won’t give you the usual strategies like: chewing gum, drinking water, brushing your teeth, blah, blah, blah. Because? Because these are just superficial solutions, “band-aids”. They may work for a little bit, but eventually, the emotions underlying the eating behaviors will resurface and you will feel frustrated due to “lack of willpower” (which, as we saw, is not the problem at all). What will ultimately help you stop eating when you’re bored comes down to these 4 strategies:

  • Awareness
  • Tuning into hunger cues
  • Development of different coping skills
  • Self-pity

1. Cultivate conscious eating

Remember what I said earlier that people find boredom eating particularly annoying when they don’t know why they do it? Have you ever wondered: why did I eat all those cookies when you were already full? This is where being more aware of our eating habits can bring clarity. More specifically, we must be aware of the feelings that surround and ultimately drive our eating habits. In fact, this research talks about how a lack of emotional regulation is associated with eating out of boredom or anxiety. Here are some helpful guidelines, whether you want to learn how to stop anxiety or boredom eating, or simply how to better understand your emotional hunger:

  • Identify your emotions . It is normal that, given the negative situations we are experiencing, we may feel fear, loneliness, frustration, anguish and lack of control. Accepting what you feel is the first step.
  • Practice sitting with your emotions . Our natural response as human beings is to run away from pain as quickly as possible. However, running away from our emotions, through food or other distractions, will not make them go away, unfortunately. At the end of the day, emotions are just messages, and the more we practice listening to these messages, the less scary they will seem and the better we will be able to handle them. Check out this amazing article on ways to practice sitting with your emotions if you don’t know where to start.
  • Consider keeping a food and emotion journal . Eating out of boredom can be the result of a lack of knowledge of your eating habits. Keeping a food and emotion diary, even for a few days, will help you be much more aware of what, when and why you are eating. It is especially useful in helping you recognize what emotion is behind your habit of eating out of boredom. This, in turn, can lead you to address your particular emotional needs more effectively.

2. Tune into hunger cues

As you become more aware of why you turn to food when you’re bored (feelings, environment, triggers), you may also consider learning to get in touch with your hunger cues. Chronic dieting or relying on external eating rules can definitely disconnect us from our true hunger cues.

Knowing your hunger and satiety signals is key to learning to determine when you are eating out of boredom. Here’s a handy hunger scale to help you determine your hunger cues. For each meal, try to see what number you would rate your hunger at.

This rating scale ranges from 1 to 10, where 1 is extremely painful hunger and 10 is extremely painful fullness. By regularly practicing connecting with your hunger, this method will help you listen to and become more in tune with your hunger and fullness signals.

Simply try writing in each box which number feels most “right” during each meal. An easy way is to notice what physical sensations are associated with each number. This way, you have a clear way to “visualize” your hunger signals. Try it for a day or two to see what you learn about yourself!

Eating slowly and mindfully will also help you become more in tune with your hunger and fullness signals, and over time it will be easier to “read” them.

3. Develop different coping skills

As you may have realized, eating to deal with boredom is not the most useful or realistic long-term solution. There is also no standalone coping strategy that works for every difficult feeling you go through, so it is more helpful to develop different coping skills that you may have in your self-care toolbox . It may take some time and work to figure out what works best for you, but it’s worth the effort if you want to learn how to stop eating out of boredom or other emotional eating behaviors.

Here are some self-care strategies, based on underlying emotional needs and inspired by the book Unapologetic Eating :

  • Connection: These strategies are aimed at satisfying the need to connect with yourself and/or with others. Try calling a friend, going for a walk with a loved one or pet, visiting a bookstore, museum, or cafe, or finding a support group.
  • Relaxation: For when you could use a little peace in your day. Meditation, a warm bath, breathing exercises , a hot cup of tea, reading, coloring, and progressive muscle relaxation can be especially helpful.
  • Pleasure: Stimulate your senses! Consider listening to music you enjoy, watching a fun movie, lying under a weighted blanket (I personally love those!), lighting a pleasant-smelling candle, or mindfully savoring something delicious.
  • Movement: Literally moving, out of your head and into your body, can be a huge boredom buster. From more relaxing forms of movement (yoga, tai chi or gentle stretching), to much more vigorous types (jogging, brisk walking or dancing), any type of physical activity is valid. Personally, I find that cleaning and organizing my house helps me get out of the spiral of negative feelings.
  • Release: Repressed emotions end up bubbling up. So go ahead, cry, hit a pillow, scream, or write freely. Believe me, you will feel much better afterwards.

You can make your own list of coping strategies that work best and have it on hand for when you feel boredom or any other uncomfortable emotion take over. Try any of them for a moment and then reaffirm your desire to eat. If you still want to eat, eat! With time and practice, you will be better equipped to meet your emotional needs much more adequately.

4. Practice self-compassion

In my professional opinion, one of the best things to eat when it comes to boredom eating is a big, full plate of…. self-pity. Sometimes emotions are too complex, or we may not have developed the tools to manage them properly, and controlling certain impulses can be too difficult. We are humans, after all! The more love and compassion we give to ourselves and our struggles, the more at peace we can be with ourselves.

It can feel almost like a knee-jerk reaction to scold yourself for eating out of boredom. As you’ve probably already experienced, this can lead to another episode of emotional eating behaviors. So why not try something different instead? Can you recognize that underneath all this, you are just trying to take care of yourself? Which maybe is the only way you know how to do it? Can you sit for a while with the feelings that are prompting you to go to the kitchen and see what they are trying to tell you? What can you start to learn about yourself from the way you eat?

By approaching these questions without judgment (I know, easier said than done!), you begin to understand yourself a little better, and your eating behaviors will begin to make more sense to you. Practicing self-compassion as you work through this teaches you to honor, respect, and care for yourself and your body—as is your right.

Conclusion

As we just learned, boredom eating is not something you have to “overcome,” “control,” or “eliminate.” You just need a little understanding about what’s underneath and what would best serve that particular need. Whether it’s a need for connection, calming down, or just eating, listening to and meeting your needs is the best way to build self-confidence.

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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