Do you find yourself mindlessly snacking while watching TV or wandering to the fridge every half hour while working from home? A lot of us tend to snack, not because we are hungry but because we have nothing better to do. Boredom eating is real and the World Health Organisation suspect it may be a contributor to the current obesity epidemic. If you want to know why we eat when bored and how to do it less often then read below.
Why Do We Do It?
Hunger is not a purely physical emotion. There are many things that can trigger us to want food. For example, have you ever watched Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and found yourself craving sweet treats? Our mental states and emotions heavily influence our food choices. One of many mental states that precludes maladaptive eating habits is the state of being bored.
Boredom has been defined by some researchers as a state of low arousal and satisfaction. It is one of many mental states that can make us want to munch away on tasty foods. Our brain releases a feel good chemical called dopamine when we eat something yummy. This is why we often feel peckish when bored. It is not that we are physically in need of food but rather we want some stimulation or a distraction from our current mental state.
Sometimes we eat because we want to put off doing certain tasks. Rates of procrastin-eating would have skyrocketed during lockdowns when many were required to work from home. Again, the reason we feel compelled to check the fridge when working at home is likely because we are not doing a task that fully engages our brain. Seeking comfort through food is common when we are doing things we’d rather not be. This can be an issue if we are in an environment where snack foods are plentiful and the fridge is full of options.
Is It A Problem?
Eating for reasons other than physical hunger is not detrimental if not done often. However if you are finding this to be a daily issue then it may be worth addressing. Research tells us that those who eat while doing other tasks are 17% heavier than those who don’t. This is because we don’t pay attention to our fullness cues when we are eating for hedonic reasons and therefore consume more calories than our body actually needs.
How To Stop
The best way to stop eating when bored will depend on you as an individual. Since boredom represents a lack of meaning in your present situation, one of the best tactics is to begin doing an enjoyable task. Other measures worth taking include changing your environment or monitoring food intake with a diary. The first step is acknowledging the problem. Once you admit your boredom eating is an issue, you can work on implementing effective solutions.
Find A Brain Engaging Task
One option is to find an alternative task that fully engages your brain. No one mindlessly munches on food when they are doing things that require 100% concentration. Doing something with your hands is a tried and true method to stop boredom eating. Some suggestions would be to paint your nails, have a shower, vacuum, do a crossword or rearrange your closet. Pick an activity that you find enjoyable and the urge to snack will disappear.
Change Your Environment
Another way you can break your boredom eating habit is by setting your environment up for success. They say if a flower doesn’t bloom, you change the soil it is in rather than blame the flower. The same is true for you. Ask yourself whether it is a lack of self control or if it is your environment that is nudging you to overeat. Your brain will struggle to resist tempting foods if they are in close proximity or visible. Make life easier on yourself by not keeping any rewarding foods in the house.
Invite A Friend Over
It may not surprise you that our friends and family influence our food choices. You are probably not going to stand by the fridge demolishing every snack in sight if you have company. Studies show that humans behave better when they know they are being watched. This is likely why you boredom snack more at home compared to when you’re in a social setting like the office. This reiterates the point that your environment heavily influences your food decisions.
Keep A Food Diary
Have you ever heard the phrase “what gets measured gets managed”? Keeping track of your food intake using an app or a diary is a great way to mitigate boredom eating. Study participants who keep a food journal lose twice as much weight compared to those who wing it. Focusing on what you are eating can reduce the amount you snack later on and can really help with appetite control. If a written food diary is too old school for you, apps like MyFitnessPal make the job easier and can show you whether you’re getting enough daily protein. Keeping a journal of what you eat everyday will help you identify patterns and reveal things about your food habits that you never knew before.
Eating when bored might be pleasurable in the moment but the short term gratification isn’t worth the ill-effects on our long term health. Not to mention it is also expensive to devour everything in your fridge on the daily. Save your money, do something productive and get in touch with your hunger cues by eliminating boredom eating. You, your bank balance and your waistline will be better for it.