Have you ever found yourself mindlessly stuffing chips into your mouth while watching TV? Not even thinking about it, just hand to mouth, hand to mouth till you’re at the bottom of the bag? Feeling stuffed and crappy at the end because you weren’t even hungry in the first place and the chips didn’t really nourish you? You’re not alone. Bored eating is very common. There are even studies that show that boredom leads to snacking.1
Essentially, bored eating is a habit and the trigger is boredom itself. People who study boredom explain it as a state associated with negative self-awareness and a sense that what you’re doing lacks purpose. Food is a coping mechanism we turn to when faced with those feelings. It provides an escape as “the excitement or stimulation certain foods offer may help to distract people’s attention from the bored self.”2
When it comes to habit change, you either want to change the trigger or the way you react to that trigger (your habit). Since avoiding boredom forever seems impossible, our best bet for overcoming bored eating seems like replacing the eating habit with something else.
But how exactly do we do that? We asked our resident nutritionist, Sarah Enouen, to share her advice. Watch her video below or scroll down for the transcript.[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRIJlt5T3b0&w=854&h=480]
Sarah’s Advice for Identifying & Overcoming Bored Eating With Mindfulness:
“Boredom eating is a really hard habit to kick because sometimes you don't notice that you've done it until it's already over.
How do you break that habit? One of the tools that I really like to give people surrounding eating, in general, is mindfulness. Becoming mindful when it's time to eat can actually let you start to connect with why you're reaching for the food at the time.
If you're feeling physical pains of hunger, your body's yelling at you. It's like, “Hey! Feed me! I need some food!” On the other hand, when we're bored, we're like, “Oh, I wonder what's in the fridge.”
Before you eat, take a moment and sit down and ask yourself what you’re feeling mentally and physically. Do a 10-second body scan where you close the eyes and scan from the top of your head down to your toes. Ask yourself these questions as you go: Am I feeling any tension in the head? Am I feeling any tension in the gut? Am I feeling tired? Am I feeling fatigued? Is my stomach growling?
Really get in tune with what's going on. Maybe you really are hungry – but maybe you’re just really bored and feel like eating.
If you’re hungry, FEED yourself!
If you’re bored, ask yourself what you can do instead of eating. You could, for example, walk around the house, color in a coloring book, read a paragraph of that book you’ve been meaning to read, walk to the end of the driveway and back, etc. It doesn’t really matter what you choose for your new habit as long as it helps you realize what’s going on and break the cycle.
The tool of mindfulness is going to help us in a lot of instances. Bored eating is just one of the many. It's just going to take some time, some practice, and patience.
If you have started bored eating and you didn't mean to, you can still stop. You could stop before you finish, and then you know what you did? You bored ate less than you would have, which is an improvement. Improvements are wins. Start taking all the wins that you can get. You're going to have a lot of them and remember that it's going to take a lot of small wins to get to your end goal. Don't get discouraged. Keep it going. Stay consistent and stay mindful.”
1- Moynihan AB, van Tilburg WA, Igou ER, Wisman A, Donnelly AE, Mulcaire JB. Eaten up by boredom: consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self. Front Psychol. 2015;6:369. Published 2015 Apr 1. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00369
2- Abramson E. E., Stinson S. G. (1977). Boredom and eating in obese and non-obese individuals. Addict. Behav. 2 181–185 10.1016/0306-4603(77)90015-6