As a dietitian, one of the most common problems I see is boredom eating. Believe me, we’ve all been there, even me. If you are wondering how to stop boredom eating, luckily there are a few strategies you can implement to stop boredom eating for good.
Why do I eat out of boredom?
First, it’s important to consider why you are eating when you are bored. Finding out why you are prone to boredom eating is the first step in learning how to stop completely.
For many people, food is an effective way to cope with emotions. While we can all imagine the recently dumped, twenty something woman spooning her way through a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, emotional eating doesn’t always look like that.
Emotions like anxiety, loneliness, anger, fear, embarrassment, shame and even boredom can trigger emotional eating and binge eating. And this is simply because food is comforting and it almost always makes you feel better, even if just temporarily.
When some people may reach for drugs or alcohol, others might reach for food. We all have different ways of coping with emotions.
How do I stop the urge to eat when bored?
So now that we have an understanding of why you eat when you’re bored, let’s discuss how to stop the urge to eat when bored.
Many make the sense of just relying on “willpower”. While this may work for a few minutes or even hours, it’s not going to work long term. If your emotional needs aren’t being met, you will continue to seek out a source of comfort. And if food is the easiest form of comfort to obtain, it’s likely going to result in a binge.
In the end, the best way to stop boredom eating is finding a coping strategy that is just as effective as eating. Instead of using food as a way to cope with emotions, you will use a different coping mechanism. The comfort you desire is provided without you having to use food to get there.
Step 1: Brainstorm different strategies you can use to stop being bored.
The first step to avoiding boredom eating is thinking of additional strategies that can help you cope with your emotions (in this case, that emotion is boredom).
Brainstorm at least 4-5 ideas. You will want to choose activities that you enjoy, that are sufficiently distracting and make you feel better overall. The possibilities are endless here, but ideally choose activities that don’t pose any negative health risks.
Here are some examples of activities that could work well for you. But don’t be afraid to come up with a few yourself as well:
- Going for a walk outside
- Calling a friend or family member
- Going for a drive
- Creating art
- Taking a bubble bath or long shower
- Cleaning around the house
- Listening to a podcast or music
- Watching your favorite movie or show
Step 2: Play out each strategy in your head.
Next, I want you to play out each strategy in your head. What will happen when you try this activity? How effective will it be? Do you anticipate yourself being bored when completing the activity? How long will you be able to sustain the activity?
Be as realistic as possible. It may seem like a wonderful idea to go for a walk, but it may become a not so wonderful idea when you realize you don’t have a safe path or walk on or it’s below zero outside.
Don’t choose the activity that sounds the most effective, choose the activity that will actually be the most effective based on your individual circumstances.
Here are some examples of what this step might look like:
- Idea #1: Journaling. I think I could journal for a few minutes, but after that I would get bored and probably want to have a snack.
- Idea #2: Coloring in a coloring book. I just bought a new set of pens so I’m excited to use them. I think I could color for at least 30-45 minutes without getting bored.
- Idea #3: Baking a pie. This sounds fun but being around all the ingredients may be too hard. I think that would result in a binge.
- Idea #4: Cleaning around the house. I think this would be distracting, but I really hate cleaning.
Step 3: Choose the best or most effective strategy.
Once you have listed out a few coping strategies and picked the best one, now it’s time to choose one.
When looking at the examples laid out in step two, it’s clear that idea two is the best option. It seems like it is the most distracting and enjoyable out of all the four options, therefore it’s a good idea to try out coloring.
In some scenarios, there won’t be a clear best option. In this case, choose one of the best options and save the other good options as back ups in case the first option doesn’t work out.
Step 4: Implement the strategy.
Finally, the last step is actually implementing the strategy. Ideally you will want to complete the activity undistracted for about 30 minutes. Of course, everyone is different. Some people feel better in 10 minutes, others may need a full hour.
Complete the activity until your cravings dissipate and you feel like you are in a better place mentally. If you aren’t sure, continue on for 10 minutes longer and then check in with yourself.
It’s also important to mention that sometimes the strategy won’t work. And that’s ok. I want you to view everything as an experiment. If a strategy didn’t work, why didn’t it work? Did you not complete it for long enough? Was the activity itself not effective?
Always reflect and do better next time. There is always room for improvement and there is no such thing as failure.
When is it ok to eat when bored?
Finally, it’s important to note that sometimes, eating when bored is completely fine. If you are genuinely hungry, it’s ok to eat. If you aren’t too hungry but want some popcorn when you watch a movie, it’s ok to eat.
The problem occurs when boredom eating becomes frequent. If you eat when bored every once in a while, it’s not something to worry about. But, if you are eating when bored every night and it’s causing excessive weight gain or stress, it may be a good idea to implement the tips above.If you struggle with boredom eating and binge eating, I have a few helpful resources for you. Check out my online course and ebook to learn more about how to stop binge eating and start feeling in control around food again!