People eat for a lot of reasons. Hunger is the usual reason, and most people know how it feels. Then there are other scenarios, such as being home alone, watching Disney+, when all of a sudden, you feel a rumble in your stomach. You start searching for something, anything, to fill the space in your stomach. After two hours of munching on anything you can get your hands on, you realize that you’re still bored and still hungry.
Yes, I’m talking about bored eating, that insidious monster that lives inside your head telling you that you’re starving even when you’re not. What makes people eat out of boredom? How can you stop?
The good news is that you can control boredom eating once you figure out the reasons for your desire to snack. Let’s look at boredom eating in more depth, so you can start managing your hunger and making smarter choices.
Why People Eat When They’re Bored
Boredom eating begins with one thing: Boredom. Generally speaking, most people are going to get bored when spending time doing something idle or things that they don’t necessarily enjoy. Examples of this are when you are watching a television show or are commuting to and from work. Since these idle moments do not give you any positive or negative feedback, your brain decides to play a dirty trick on you.
The human mind is programmed to want things at a specific time. If you find yourself getting hungry at 11:00 am, it’s because that has been ingrained into you. If you want comfort food after a long stressful day, it’s because that need is a habit formed from childhood. These connections that people form with food are caused by dopamine, a neurotransmitter within the brain that influences your motivation for rewards.
In other words, dopamine is the chemical base of your desires to achieve something.
Certain foods are known to increase dopamine levels, including things frequently called junk food. Sugary, fatty, salty items are going to cause your dopamine and endorphin levels to skyrocket, which explains why you would rather nosh on cake instead of a bowl of roasted cauliflower.
Other foods are connected to memories of pleasurable moments. That is why you might reach for a tub of ice cream when you’re feeling down; you remember how good that ice cream tasted at childhood birthday parties and want to relive that happiness. Other emotions are tied to boredom eating, such as anger and sadness. The temporary joy you feel from snacking alleviates the negative emotions for a time, but as soon as the high diminishes, you feel “hungry” again.
You need to realize that this hunger isn’t real. It’s a fabricated desire to break the monotony or to soothe negative emotions. When you can’t stop fantasizing about sugary or fatty foods during moments of boredom, it’s not because your stomach is gurgling, it’s because you’re bored or upset.
How To Stop Boredom Eating
People all have their reasons for boredom or emotional hunger, but most will experience similar patterns. Use the tips below to help you identify the source of your boredom hunger and tackle the issue, not the hunger.
1. Look for triggers and cues
This one addresses a common problem that many people face. You need to learn to recognize what boredom feels like or why you are dissatisfied. Boredom can sometimes be confused with stress because no one likes to be bored. So if you find yourself feeling nervous or agitated or unable to focus, it could be boredom.
Hence the reason your brain kicks into pleasure-seeking mode.
Once you figure out the trigger, such as loneliness, anxiety, lack of stimulation, or anything else, your first step is to acknowledge it. Then, you tell yourself that no amount of food is going to make you feel calmer or less alone. Go outside, take a nap, talk to someone, or do something you enjoy. All of these are better than boredom eating.
2. Plan meals and snacks
If you are one of those people who are prone to overlooking food when you are in workaholic mode, you could be doing more harm than good. The longer you wait to eat, the less willpower you have. Instead, schedule your snacks and meals. Plan it out. Do some meal prep, so you always have something healthy on hand.
Make sure you are eating about every 3-5 hours, whether that is a snack or a light meal. Rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10, aiming to eat whenever it reaches 6-7, so you know when you need to eat a bigger meal.
3. Prioritize proper nutrition
You must be not only eating enough but also getting proper nutrition. Sometimes, cravings can be a signal from the body that something is lacking. Most people should be eating a range of 1800-2400 calories per day, depending on your activity level.
Furthermore, while some greasy snack foods can satisfy you for the moment, those are nutritionally devoid and will make the hunger come back stronger than ever. Choose foods that are high in protein and fat. Both of those macronutrients increase satiety. Think Greek yogurt or avocado slices or peanut butter instead of gummy snacks and candy.
4. Combat dehydration
If you are one of those types who confuse thirst for hunger, don’t worry. Countless people do. Symptoms of dehydration and hunger are hard to tell apart. If in doubt, always drink some water first. Then wait for around 10-15 minutes to see if the hunger abates. If it does, you were just dehydrated, not hungry.
5. Get plenty of exercise
Not only is exercise a way to burn off the calories you get from snacking, but it is a wonderful way to prevent you from diving into the trail mix too soon. By going for a brisk walk or jog or lifting some weights, you combat boredom—thanks to the endorphins—and also improve your mood and metabolism. Feeling lonely? Bring your pet or friend along for the workout.
Healthy Snacking Options
Now, if you really are hungry and need something to snack on, here are some healthy options:
- Hummus and crackers – protein, fat, and carbs
- Air-popped popcorn – avoid microwave popped varieties since they contain all kinds of synthetic ingredients
- Nut butter and fruit slices
- Nut butter and toast
- Homemade trail mix – combine roasted nuts, some wholesome granola, and pieces of dried fruit
- Cheese sticks
- Celery, carrots, and avocado
- Cucumber, tomato, and cheese slices
- Avocado on toast
- Hard-boiled egg and crackers or toast
- Greek yogurt topped with fruit slices or nuts and seeds
Or, you can use these above examples to make your own healthy snack. You will notice that all of these options have a healthy dose of protein and fat while mixing sweet and savory. Use this as a guide to help you make better snacking decisions. And remember, if you are hungry, eat!
Although boredom is bound to strike when you least expect it, snacking is only a momentary fix for something else. By figuring out what is causing your need for food, you will be able to combat that issue and avoid overeating. Be more aware of your hunger cues and replace moments of boredom with fun-filled, satisfying activities.
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