Why do we eat when bored?
According to social media, eating out of boredom is happening a lot right now. In fact there's even a meme about using a face mask at home not to protect you from COVID-19, but to protect you from your fridge!
So why do we eat when bored? With the stresses of COVID-19, many of us turn to food for distraction and comfort. Eating affects a person's levels of dopamine - the brain's "desire" chemical. You get this feeling when you've achieved a goal. Foods high in sugar, fat and sodium, aka "junk food" causes the body to release endorphins, making us feel good.
At least temporarily.
So eating when bored serves as a coping mechanism, and snacking breaks up the monotony, raising our levels of dopamine.
Keep in mind that true physical hunger surfaces gradually and can be satisfied by just about anything edible, but emotional hunger comes on suddenly and results in a craving for specific foods like cookies or chocolate or ice cream or cake or.....you get the idea.
How to Combat Boredom Eating:
- Check for hunger cues. Place your fist over your stomach and check for signs of true hunger such as pangs, growling, feelings of emptiness. If no signs, you know you can wait a bit longer to eat.
- Get up and move around to change your thought pattern. Do some gentle stretching, yoga, dance or go for a walk. Physical movement can help reset your mind.
- Brew yourself a cup of hot tea. Or drink water - warm or cold. The liquid will help keep you hydrated and may distract you from snacking. Mild hydration can manifest as hunger.
- Clean! Organise your cupboards, drawers, etc - it gets you moving and distracts your mind.
- Brush your teeth. And floss. The minty clean taste in your mouth will usually dissuade you from eating.
- Eat a small healthy snack such as a handful of trail mix with nuts and dried fruit. This can help you from overeating. (just a handful).
- Put on some tunes. Some people find music or singing acts as a distraction. And while you're at it - dance if the beat moves you.
- Plan your meals and snacks. Skipping meals can cause you to feel overly hungry and result in overeating. Eating at regular intervals will promote a healthier eating cycle, minimising the temptation for over-snacking.
- Include protein and fat. Potato chips only go so far in satisfying your hunger. By eating foods with healthy protein and fat, you stay fuller for longer. Foods such as nuts, yogurt, granola and avocados provide healthy fat and protein.
- Consider keeping a food diary to help you identify the situations that cause you to eat out of boredom or some other emotional reason. Write down everything you eat, what you were doing and how you felt at the time. By analysing your food diary over time, you can pick up on cues that cause you to eat for emotional reasons and times where you tend to overeat. Then you can work on changing your eating habits.