Do you find yourself regularly grazing as you pass through the kitchen on your way to doing other things? Or mindlessly munching on snack foods on the couch while you watch tv? Or getting up to go to the vending machine at work just to make the time go by? Boredom eating could be getting in the way of you achieving your health and nutrition goals, especially if you’re striving to make more mindful food choices. Learn how to stop boredom eating with 3 easy tips you can practice starting today!
1. Plan for regular, filling meals and snacks throughout the day
First and foremost, if we’re talking about how to stop boredom eating we have to ensure you’re getting adequately nourished over the course of the day. Boredom eating can quickly manifest if you’ve skipped a meal or a snack or if what you ate last didn’t fill or satisfy you.
Try planning your day so that you’re never going longer than 4 hours without eating. If you’re unsure of whether or not your last meal or snack was adequate, use this general rule of thumb: Meals should fill and satisfy you for 3-4 hours, and snacks should fill and satisfy you for 1-2 hours.
To achieve fullness and satisfaction, you should also aim to include foods from all of the food groups, carbohydrates, protein, fats, and produce. Need more guidance on putting together balanced and satisfying meals? Check out our Gentle Nutrition resources here.
2. Check in with how you’re feeling
Once you’ve created consistency and reliability in your eating routine and can eliminate physical hunger as the reason why you continue to find yourself at the fridge, it’s time to practice emotional check in’s.
I call this taking a “time in,” or taking a dedicated amount of time (it can be short, two minutes or less) to assess how your brain and body are feeling. What you thought might just be boredom could be something more!
Emotional identification is important when learning how to stop boredom eating. Although food can provide many of us a sense of temporary comfort, purpose, or distraction, it isn’t always the most effective tool in our emotional coping skills toolbox.
REMINDER: It’s always ok to use food to cope with your emotions, however it’s important to have other skills that we also feel comfortable using.
Let’s talk through some common feelings and what coping skills you might try in addition to or instead of food:
Bored or under-stimulated
Boredom can arise when we are mentally unfulfilled or under-stimulated. Maybe you’re sitting on the couch watching reruns, or stuck in a meeting that could have been an email. You might reach for food because it just feels like something to do. Instead, you might enjoy activities that engage your brain like reading, solving puzzles, listening to a podcast, or finding time to explore a new building, park, or museum.
Distracted or avoidant
Sometimes we seek out food in moments when we crave a distraction or are actively avoiding doing something we need to do. In these moments it can be helpful to assess 1) what it is that you are avoiding, and 2) what you need to get it done. Do you need help? More time? More energy? Is this a task that has to get right now, or can you come back to it? Breaking down the activity or project that you’re avoiding into smaller steps might also help it feel more manageable.
Lonely or isolated
Loneliness can arise if you find yourself disconnected from your support systems, like after a move, a break up, or leaving a job. You might look to food as comfort or distraction. When you’re feeling this way, consider calling or Facetiming a loved one, planning a lunch date or a game night, joining a club or a support group, or adopting a pet.
Sad or grieving
Sadness is a complicated emotion. Sometimes we are “small sad,” like if we are disappointed that our plans got canceled, or if someone said they didn’t like our haircut. Sometimes we are “big sad,” like if we are grieving the death of a loved one, or lost a job we cared deeply about. You might reach for food because it reminds you of happy memories. When you’re feeling sad it’s ok to cry, journal, or talk about your feelings with a friend or therapist.
Angry or frustrated
Anger can range from mild frustration to full on rage. Appropriately expressing your anger is important so you don’t constantly feel like a bomb just waiting to go off. You may reach for food because it feels safer than expressing your anger openly. If you’re feeling angry, you might try screaming out loud (or into a pillow) or writing in a dump journal (where you tear the page out afterwards and throw it away).
Nervous or jittery
Anxious energy can feel very uncomfortable. Food might feel appealing as a distraction from your discomfort. Sometimes making a to-do list or writing in a planner can quell anxious thoughts. Other times it can be helpful to go for a walk, meditate, or dance it out to your favorite tunes.
Tired or sleepy
If you find yourself exclusively boredom eating late at night, you could actually just be tired. You may seek out food to keep yourself awake and occupied. In these cases you would be best served by simply going to bed instead of eating or engaging in another activity.
3. Create a mindful eating environment
Boredom eating is often distracted or mindless eating. Picture wandering back and forth from the kitchen, grabbing a little nibble each time, or sitting on the couch and mindlessly finishing a family size bag of chips while you scroll on your phone.
One way to prevent distracted eating is to create a more mindful eating environment. Start by clearing a dedicated space at a table where you can comfortably sit and enjoy a meal or a snack. Avoid eating at your desk, on the couch, or in bed.
I also recommend plating your food before you sit instead of grazing straight from the fridge or taking handfuls of food on your way through the kitchen.
Once seated with your plate, try a couple of these strategies to stay focused and present with your food:
- Avoid screens (tv’s, computers, phones, tablets) and focus instead on what you’re eating
- Take 3-5 deep breaths before taking your first bite of food
- Use each of your 5 senses to describe your food (ex: Cheetos are orange, feel rough, smell cheesy, taste salty, and sound crunchy)
- Use your non-dominant hand to eat, preventing that feeling of automatic eating
- Rate your hunger and fullness on a scale from 1-10 before, during, and after your meal
Learn more about how to stop boredom eating and eat more mindfully with this guided video tutorial!
Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kristin specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating, and is an advocate for weight-inclusive care for all her clients.