Boredom eating can make the difference in successfully losing weight or not.
No matter how nutritionally balanced your meals are, if you’re snacking too much in between your meals due to boredom (or procrastination or emotion), you’re most likely consuming more food than your body needs.
This can have an impact on your health, such as leading to excessive weight gain. Being overweight is a risk factor for various health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and can also impact a person’s quality of life.
A well-documented phenomenon in the field of nutrition research is the concept of under-reporting. When people report on what and how much they’ve eaten throughout the day, they under-report by up to 20–30 per cent. That’s a pretty big difference between what people think they eat and what they actually eat.
One of the reasons we under-report our food intake is because of a concept known as mindless eating. Many of us aren’t paying attention while we eat, particularly when we eat in between meals, and as a consequence, don’t remember that we did so.
Maybe you’re at work focusing on an important document and your colleague holds out a packet of chips. You grab a handful and much on them while you contemplate your next sentence.
Maybe you’ve just got home from picking the kids up from school and as you’re fixing them some afternoon tea you’re nibbling on cheese, crackers and fruit.
Boredom eating is a common behaviour in mindless eating and, for many people, is a frustrating habit to try and break. Here are 10 tips to help you manage it.
1. Don’t keep snack food in the house
This is a key step. There is interesting research around the importance of your food environment and how easy it is to access certain foods. People often eat things “because it’s there”. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.
2. Chew gum or brush your teeth
Peppermint is actually an appetite suppressant, and if you brush your teeth immediately after eating, it will help take away the desire to nibble on food in the hours after. Chewing gum has the same effect. Brushing teeth is also great for healthy teeth and gums.
3. Have an ongoing project
It’s the weekend. It’s raining. You’ve got nothing to do. Instead of wandering into the kitchen all day, why not get out a project that you love and focus on that all day? Keeping yourself busy and having some purpose is a great way to distract yourself from the munchies.
4. Keep a food diary
Sometimes boredom eating stems from poor awareness of your eating habits. Keeping a food dairy for a week will make you much more aware of what, when and why you’re eating. The first step to combating problem behaviour is an awareness of what the problem is in the first place.
5. Plan your meals
Meal planning is an essential part of good food awareness. If you ensure that all your meals and snacks are accounted for and planned into your day, this will help you stay in control of your food choices and your appetite. If you start to feel hungry or bored, it may be time for your next scheduled meal or snack, which means you can go ahead and eat. If it is not time for your next scheduled meal or snack, then you’ll know to wait and find something else to do.
6. Give your hands something to do
Find a ‘hands-on’ activity or hobby that you enjoy. When you keep your hands busy, you can only do one activity at a time – your hands will be too busy to be reaching for food. Activities such as surfing the web, watching TV or reading don’t keep your hands busy, and you may be more tempted to eat at the same time. Instead, do a cross-stitch, play an instrument, tinker in the garage, garden, paint, clean…
7. Go for a walk
If you are feeling bored and tempted to wander into the kitchen, one of the best things to do is leave the house and give yourself some physical activity. It will be good for your health in so many ways and help you kill some time.
8. Keep a drink bottle with you
If you really need to have some hand-to-mouth action, then carry a water bottle with you and sip on it regularly. It can really help satisfy the need to snack on food. It will also ensure you stay well hydrated, which can help keep you better in control of your appetite. Dehydration will make you hungrier and thirsty and more likely to eat or drink something high in energy even if you don’t need it.
9. Set yourself daily achievable tasks
Boredom eating can be a way of providing ourselves with personal fulfilment and satisfaction. Most of us like having satisfying things to do, and one thing that provides that satisfaction is food. If you can set yourself achievable tasks every day, you can satisfy your desire for fulfilment without the need for random snacking. At the start of your day, write out a “to do” list that can be completed within that day, and then go through that list and complete as many tasks as you can.
10. Make sure you’re eating properly
It may sound a little obvious, but many people struggle with excessive snacking and blame it on boredom eating when it’s really due to the fact that they’ve been too restrictive throughout the day and by the afternoon they’re actually really hungry. Combine that with boredom or mindlessness, and you’ve got a recipe for over-eating. Ensure your main meals are large enough and full of nutrient-rich, whole foods. It’s much easier to say ‘no’ to a sneaky afternoon chocolate when you’re full and satisfied on healthy foods.
About the author
The Healthy Eating Hub
This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.