You don’t feel stressed or particularly emotional but you’re still finding yourself later in the evening in front of the cupboard looking for something to eat.
That digestive biscuit ends up in your hand before you’ve even had time to think about things.
Frustration and guilt starts to kick in. Either you’ve got ironing and a 100 other more productive things to be doing right now OR you’re just chilling, knowing you’re not going to do anything productive but at a bit of a loss with what else to do with yourself.
Say hello to boredom eating. The thing that you just ‘do’ sometimes and you don’t fully understand why.
When you think of stress vs. boredom eating you’re essentially looking at times when you have too much to do vs. times when you don’t have enough exciting things to do.
Kinda feels like you can’t win right?
My big boredom eating
I’m sure most can relate to some form of boredom eating at times but for anyone working at home or in an office, I know it can be a serious issue.
The number of times, even when I was low sugar, that I found myself in my kitchen for ‘breaks’ was ridiculous. For me it was compounded with a lack of community and connection at home too.
Likewise when I was in an office, my breaks from the daily grind of work were usually the cafeteria, or a vending machine or the tea corner (well stocked with sweet goodies of course).
I wasn’t particularly stressed many of these times or more than usual emotional. I was just a bit bored of that spreadsheet task that I’d been doing for 2 hours and I needed a well earned break. Tea and a ‘treat’ was all I knew.
However, there was difference I remember between boredom and stress eating. With boredom eating I’d eat anything – I just wanted the activity and the break. Emotional eating i.e. feeling down or upset – I’d want the foods that comforted me – the indulgent nut butter, the dark chocolate etc.
Interesting to note the slight distinction right? Either way, the amount of unnecessary overeating when I blatantly wasn’t hungry escalated as these actions started to become pretty entrenched habits. Didn’t feel so great about myself.
Maybe you can relate?
Why are we as humans so prone to this?
Unfortunately studying boredom eating is pretty hard. Until clever brain scanners can track every kitchen move in terms of what’s going on with our brain activity, we are somewhat in the dark.
However, many make a logical assumption of responsibility towards dopamine – the hormone that get’s fired up when you’re in love or when you’re occupied intensely by Candy Crush (two very different things I know!)
The common link between being obsessed with someone and zapping pieces of fruit to open up some fancy new level is that both keep us excited and away from food thoughts.
So a theory on boredom eating is that we’re trying to quickly fire up that excitement to get a dopamine hit. We go for food (especially sugar) because it does this very well and it’s accessible, quick and easy.
So what can we do to combat boredom eating sugar?
Here’s 7 things for you to try and consider based on some things that I have found from my coaching work, my studies and what worked for me:
1. Brainstorm other FUN activities to do instead
It’s the most obvious and you probably knew I was going to say it.
Sit down with a pen and paper right now and write a list. Think of anything and everything. Things that might need preparation and things that don’t. Things you can do in 2 mins, 30mins and a few variations in between.
Consider ideas for every setting and situation – home, the office or out and about.
Consider what is really FUN for you. Going for a walk might work wonders for someone but it might bore you so much that you eat even more when you get back.
For me, and this is embarrassing – I discovered You Tube supermarket selfie comedians who would sing a rendition of Take That in front of some unsuspecting bystander (I know, random!
The thing was, I laughed at these. A lot. I forgot about food and wanted to watch another. Now I know this isn’t the most productive use of my time but I’m telling you it really worked in diverting my kitchen cupboard habits at home because it was a quick and easy dopamine fix.
I also tried meditation, messaging friends and squats. Meditation and friend messaging worked well for me but squats just weren’t fun enough.
2. Make a boring activity fun
Often the boredom eating comes because we know the next thing we need to do is boring and we are procrastinating from doing it by eating food.
Ever avoided ironing with a cup of tea and biscuit? Yep, that’s it.
It’s an absolute killer for overeating because we know when stop eating, we have to do the boring task.
So what to do?
Add something to the task to spice it up.
I seek to find exactly the right tunes when I have to churn through e-mails and if I strike gold with the playlist, I really feel great and forget about a food wander break.
Maybe you could buy yourself a new audio book whilst you clean the house or do the ironing? Paint your nails whilst listening to a study lecture?
Have a think and consider what can spice up your boring tasks to get that dopamine fired up again.
3. Don’t keep certain sugary foods around in boring situations (if you know you’re prone)
Try to avoid working or being somewhere where your sugary boredom snacks of choice are to hand.
So if you’re tackling a tedious presentation, go sit yourself in a meeting room away from the cabinet cakes.
Likewise at home, remove sugary items from your cupboards so they don’t look you straight in the face when you open the door.
When there’s simply nothing to hand, your boredom eating urge is forced into an alternative and it might be the case that by creative problem solving endeavours you find something that is fun instead.
4. Postpone for a few minutes
If you can consciously catch yourself and be fully present with the fact you’re eating because you have nothing better to do or that you are engaging in blatant procrastination then you’re in quite a good place awareness wise.
Why not see if you can win yourself over with ‘ok in a few more minutes’ before I snack there.
So give yourself a full unrestricted guilt free pass to boredom eat whatever you want with the condition that it’s at least 5 mins on from that moment.
You will have to do something for 5 minutes and there’s a very chance you get into the flow with that and forget about your free pass. Maybe you won’t on some occasions but it’s worth a good try and it does work.
If it was a weekend and I was on the cusp of boredom eating I would ring someone for 5 minutes. The conversation most of the time would completely distract me and eating urge passed. If it didn’t, I had my free pass and let any guilt go.
5. Distinguish between stress and boredom eating
This is quite tough but like I did earlier when I could identify the different foods I wanted in each situation, when you really start to distinguish and get clear on the trigger of your behaviour, you can better deal with it.
If you observe the majority of your sugar snacking is through boredom, is there anything wider at hand you can do to avert the trigger. Can you change up your routine a bit? Or manage your mental energy in a different way e.g. do boring tasks at a certain time?
Usually there is a logical non food solution to reduce the amount of time when you feel bored. I know I like to batch in person meetings early afternoon rather than do writing at this time because the people element keeps me super engaged at a prime slump time. Little things like this can make a difference when you tune into them.
6. Accept it happening but watch the habits
At the end of the day, accept that boredom eating will happen from time to time. Seeking to eradicate it 100% of the time is unrealistic and can lead to you heavily judging yourself which can lead to another round of emotional eating to soothe the guilt.
Know I still do it now from time to time but try to use these instances to learn about my routine and my energy levels. What I really try to do is be super conscious of habits developing.
When you do something more than three times in a row and especially if it’s at the same time, it’s the early formation of a habit. Just breaking the pattern either with a different food, an activity or a change of routine can work.
7. Boredom eat minimal fructose
Up until now, this article could apply to boredom eating any food, but I’m assuming munchies of the sweet nature are your preference here.
If boredom eating is happening frequently as it was for me, it’s best to make it as lower fructose as possible to help you keep strong sugar cravings from also factoring into things.
Ok you’re still boredom eating which isn’t great but you don’t have to think all or nothing here – sometimes a ‘better’ healthy option can do and you can feel happy with that.
Give things a go
I hope as a result of this article you have MORE FUN! Because that’s in a nutshell what this is about.
Fill your time with projects and activities that engage you, get creative in jazzing up the mundane and try out that 5 minute guilt free distraction pass.
Finally accept this happens to the best of us. I don’t have a full proof guarantee of what will work for you but you can change your habits here and choose better options from this moment.