What is Boredom Eating?
Much like eating when we feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, boredom eating is a form of emotional eating that helps distract us from feeling too acutely what we’re actually feeling. Because food tends to make us happier and is comforting, eating when we’re bored is a way of making ourselves feel better.
Eating is also a way of boosting low dopamine levels, which can occur when our brains aren’t stimulated enough. When that happens our dopamine levels (a hormone which are responsible for making us feel pleasure and reward) decrease; food, aka something that brings us pleasure or that we traditionally use as a reward, helps to trigger the production of more dopamine. The problem really starts when this behaviour becomes a regular habit because our brain then becomes re-wired to believe that eating is what will give us our fast pleasure fix.
Why is boredom eating a bad habit?
Snacking healthily throughout the day is less of a problem (unless it’s in excess) but most boredom eating involves poor dietary choices with low nutritional value.
Excess snacking means we’re getting more calories than we actually need, messing up our appetite for our next proper meal and leading to us consuming more calories than is necessary.
How to avoid boredom eating
Notice when it’s happening. Becoming more attuned to how you react in certain situations such as when you’re feeling bored, can help you break the cycle. Keep a diary of particular times of the day or night when you commonly experience the desire to eat out of boredom and notice if there are any triggers that propel you into that state. Next make a list of other possible alternatives to eating when boredom takes over. Hobbies are a great distraction, as is getting out of your immediate environment, likely to be indoors and within easy reach of your cupboards. Exercise is another way to get the same dopamine hit so it can work to factor that into your daily routine as an alternative.
Planning your meals ahead and keeping your cupboards only stocked with healthy snack and meal choices can be a big help. Not only does it help give your eating more of a purpose, but it can also help you avoid making unhealthy choices.
Eat more mindfully. When you eat, make sure you try to be as fully present in the moment as you can. This will help your brain associate with eating with pleasure but in a more measured way and in the context of regular proper mealtimes. Slowing down to appreciate and experience how your food tastes and smells and looks also helps send signals to the brain that help trigger satiety.