You’re Not Hungry, You’re Bored! Here is how to beat boredom eating.
About half of everything you do is out of habit. This means a large part of what you do is automatic behavior. This includes eating.
Same goes for boredom eating. Boredom eating is largely a product of habit. You do it mindlessly despite not actually being hungry. A set of cues triggers your boredom causing you to munch mindlessly. And unfortunately, boredom eating makes people fat.
Humans don’t snack on celery sticks out of boredom. They’re eating chips, pretzels, and some of that leftover pizza from last night’s party. You generally select high rewarding foods and high rewarding foods pack quite the caloric punch.
How Boredom Occurs
You see, in our instant gratification world, humans are getting worse and worse at delaying gratification. The world we live in is full of distractions that holler and cling for our attention. With the hyperstimulation all around us from our phones, social media, news, long work hours, social networks, and even the dang dog barking, your brain is used to stimulation.
This is why humans can’t stand boring movies, boring conversations, or boring people. We don’t like boring anything. This is an issue to our productivity and more importantly, your waistline.
You can’t realistically be stimulated all the time. Your dopamine receptors can’t be tickled 24/7. You have to adult through life which often comes with boredom. The mundane of taking the kids to school, working at a desk, and cleaning your kitchen isn’t stimulating your brain. Thus, your brain wants to break the monotony and reach for a recent stimulating memory.
This often comes in the form of food which isn’t great for our physique goals. Humans don’t realize what they’re doing until they wake up one day and their belly grows so big, they’re out of belt notches.
Fortunately, understanding the problem helps us conjure up solutions. But let’s get focused on what boredom eating really is. Boredom eating is essentially your brains way of stimulating it’s reward pathways when it’s reached task failure. Essentially, it’s sick of not being stimulated by your current task, so it resorts to thinking, “Yo, screw being an adult, let’s get chocolate wasted off that box of chocolate your friend gave you.”
Adjusting Your Environment
The first step to solving this dang boredom eating is to adjust your environment. The proximity effect is a real thing. The closer something is to you, the more you will gravitate to it. In fact, if you look at the science of cravings, humans only crave things accessible in proximity.
Ever have something super tasty while on vacation? No matter how good it tastes, once you return home, you generally don’t crave it anymore because it’s no longer accessible.
So you can leverage the proximity effect to your favor or Detriment. Have a jar of nuts on your desk? Those calories will end up around your waistline faster than if they were downstairs. Same goes for any other food.
For example, if you work from home, you’re extremely prone to boredom eating. Anything you buys is tugging at your brain subconsciously. That bag of chips downstairs is calling your name right now without you even knowing it.
To leverage the proximity effect towards your favor, you can prevent the temptation instead of resisting it because if it’s close enough, you can’t resist for long. I know your past eating behavior will confirm this.
This means buying only what you intend to eat and leaving more nutritious foods closer while distancing higher calorie foods. Keeping what you don’t intend to eat out of sight helps as well.
The nature of boredom eating to escape boredom even when you don’t need food. Some people eat the most calories from their mindless snacking than any one meal of the day,
In addition to modifying your environment, you need to bring structure and intentionality back into your eating behavior. The key way to do this is to set structured eating times. Set specific times that you’ll eat your desired meals at.
The times you select should be when you’re typically hungriest. I like to have my meals more spread out throughout the day with a later than average eating schedule because I’m naturally not super hungry in the morning.
Some research also finds that if you eat at roughly the same time each day, you’re more satiated and experience better health outcomes. This is because your circadian rhythm syncs with food. Your body digests foods with endless bodily processes. Doing so in a predictable manner supports your internal clock.
If you can’t eat at a consistent time daily due to your profession, that’s totally ok. Simply, plan out your meals at your most convenient times. It’s the planning and intentionality that matters. This way, your schedule is more structured and you know when your body will reward itself with food instead of snacking out of boredom frequently.
Setting Breaks to Prevent Mental Fatigue
With boredom eating, the danger in it is that it’s an automatic habit that deviates you from your goal. This means that the last component in beating boredom eating is to break the cue that starts the habit.
Earlier, I discussed how the cue of boredom is essentially task failure. You can only do the same task for so long until your brain perceives fatigue and looks for pleasure. So if you’re able to, try to set time blocks on tasks. Never work on any one thing for too long.
If you have a project, you’re chipping away at, work on it for 30 minutes and then work on something else for 30 minutes. After that, work on another task for 30 minutes or switch back to your first task if you really need to chip away at it.
If your workday is more mundane and the tasks are highly repetitive in nature, make sure you set breaks. Work for 30-60 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Going for a quick walk is an excellent idea here. Regardless if you sandwich your day with multiple tasks or breaks, you must switch before task boredom sets in.
This means ending your task even when you feel you’re in the “zone.” If you go past this, you’re risking task failure which leads to the brain getting bored and seeking pleasure.
Once you feel you need a break from the monotony, it’s too late. Willpower is drained and the brain is not as logical at this point. So outsmart your brain and don’t let it get bored.
No More Boredom Eating
So picture you now. You succumb to the same bag of Chex Mix each day between 2 and 3 o’ clock after a stressful work block. When that bag of Chex Mix depletes, you buy a new one. The habit keeps repeating because the cycle needs to be disrupted.
You need to set regular eating times to structure your day better. You need to stop buying Chex Mix and not leave any rewarding food near your environment. A good rule of thumb is if you don’t plan on eating it, don’t buy it, not even for company.
Lastly, you need to prevent your brain from perceiving boredom. Set timers to switch tasks and for the love of medium rare steaks, learn to take a break daily. Our culture has taught us to work nonstop 24/7 which only drains our willpower.
If you do the above, you’ll obliterate your habit of boredom eating so fast, you can write a book about it and sell millions. Ok, I’m joking about that last part, but seriously, you’ll stop boredom eating and that’s life changing in itself.