Eating habits can either be healthy and beneficial, or they can be destructive and compound psychological issues or trauma. I know that’s a lot to unpack all at once, but it’s the fact of the matter.
Boredom eating borderlines on having an underlying psychological issue and just being habitual. We’re here to talk about the fine lines, how to know if you’re boredom eating and if it really is as dangerous as people say it is.
At the end of the day, your body needs food because it needs fuel, and you should be providing it with timely meals that are rich in nutrients. Let’s talk about how you can start doing that and eat smarter every day.
Why Do We Eat When We Are Bored?
The number one reason is dopamine. That pesky little neurotransmitter in your brain that makes you feel pleasure or a level of reward when you do something.
Eating habits aren’t always born behaviors, the majority of them are learned behaviors or psychological ones.
There’s a reason that overeating often accompanies depression, anxiety, and other negative psychological conditions. This is because that rewarding feeling in the brain can calm us down, make us feel like everything’s okay, and ease our nerves.
Even if it’s not something conscious like “I’m enjoying this food so much I forgot about what happened that made me upset”, because it typically isn’t, it’s going on in the background processes of your brain.
But those are a host of psychological and emotional issues, so how does it all tie into boredom? It’s because your brain wants a certain level of dopamine to stay stimulated. If it has that, it feels better.
Is Boredom Eating Dangerous?
Yes. While we’re human and subject to pleasurable responses, which food can elicit, we should be eating for the sake of fueling our bodies and not solely for flavor or the sake of eating.
Boredom eaters are far more likely to eat bad-for-you food with high sugar content, synthetic ingredients, and those being devoid of nutrients.
Boredom eating can also be considered a psychological disorder or issue, known as an eating disorder.
If you notice your eating patterns are damaging, if you eat or desire to eat even when your stomach is full and hurts, or you’re not including healthy foods in your eating habits, you should track what you’re eating and when.
It’s not impossible to combat boredom eating, but oftentimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It becomes a background process and part of our daily lives.
This can especially happen after a stressful situation since pleasure helps offset the feelings of stress on the body. It doesn’t make it good, but it’s something that happens.
How to Know if I Have Real Hunger or Boredom Hunger?
If you’ve never heard the term psychological hunger before, now’s a good time to get associated with it. Psychological hunger doesn’t have a physical response.
Your stomach isn’t telling you that you’re hungry, your brain is telling you that you’re hungry.
We’ll go over the symptoms of that in a moment. Physical hunger is when your body craves nutrition, whether it’s to help replenish vitamins after a meal, to introduce sugar into your bloodstream for insulin purposes, or what have you.
It’s a physical response that you can feel.
There are some key differences between physical hunger and psychological hunger. Let’s get familiar with them.
Physical Pain or Signaling: We’ve all had times before where we realized that we haven’t eaten in a while, and our stomach growls or rumbles. When it does, you feel a very light pinch or twinge of pain in the top of your stomach, usually during or after a rumble. That’s your body telling you that it’s time to eat. The human body often uses pain to signal problems, such as a cut or a bruise. It’s doing the same thing with your stomach.
Physical Weakness: Does your body feel weak? Are you having trouble focusing, or do you feel foggy-headed? Does lifting your arms up feel like there’s a bunch of weights attached? Your body needs nutrition—that’s a signal that you actually do need to eat. It could be lethargy, or it could be a withdrawal if you’re cutting out sugar and chemical-ridden foods, but you should err on the side of caution and give your body something nutritious when you feel this instead of just eating for the sake of it.
Desire to Eat: If you feel the desire to eat after physical pain in your stomach (even just a pinch), then your brain is hearing the fact that it has to eat to fuel your body. If the desire to eat emerges out of nothing and has no physical marker, then it’s psychological. That sounds plain and simple, but our next point can show that your brain can send false flags.
Sugar Addiction: Do you want to eat because you have a pain in your stomach, because you feel weak, or just because you have a desire to eat something sweet? Something with carbs? Your brain wants to operate at full capacity, and sugar actually does help that happen, but your brain gets hooked on sugar and wants more and more of it (far more than it needs). When you learn how much sugar your body actually needs in a single day—and we mean natural sugar, not added sugar—it’s extremely startling.
Opportunity: Are you just eating because you saw a commercial, ad, window display, or your friend decided they wanted to get something to eat and you tagged along for the ride? Eating is also a social activity, but one of the best things you can do for yourself is stay true to your hunger. If you’re not actually hungry, don’t eat—it doesn’t have to be awkward, you can get a drink or something else (maybe a protein bar if there’s a nearby convenience store) to avoid eating bad-for-you food.
Tips on How to Stop Eating While Bored
Boredom eating can happen, but it shouldn’t. It’s habitual for some and it can be difficult to avoid, so let’s help you out with some tips to avoid boredom eating.
#1 Stick to Proteins
If you want to hit the nail on the head, eat protein-rich meals so that you can avoid boredom eating.
Protein is what helps out stomachs feel nice and full, so if you focus on protein on your meals (maybe even a little more than your RDA), you’ll be in a better position to listen to your gut—you know, literally—and not eat food just for the sake of it.
If you realize that you’re still prone to snacking and it’s just hard to break that habit, have protein-rich snacks nearby so you can at least fill your body with something healthy.
In the background, you’ll slowly lose your dependence on boredom eating by giving your body the nutrition it needs instead of convenience food.
#2 Eat Six Meals
Six small meals instead of three large meals can make a huge difference in your hunger. You’re eating every two to three hours, it’s just not a ton of food.
The whole point of this is that it’s planned and not spur of the moment and because you’re planning ahead, you can make sure you choose healthy, protein-rich meals to consume. It makes a huge difference.
This will shorten the windows in between meals so snacking won’t be as much of a temptation.
#3 Purge Bad Food
Bad food makes us want to snack more often. There are chemicals, coloring, sugar, and additives that make them addictive to anyone who eats them.
They’re extremely effective at getting us hooked on food, so you should absolutely purge the bad food from your home.
Either plan out how to slowly phase it out (eat some accompanied by your new nutrition meal plan), or donate it to a shelter that serves your local community. Either way, it’s gotta go, and you have to replace it with nutritious food.
#4 Fix Your Blood Sugar
Type 2 diabetes is very preventable. The most common reason that someone suffers from this is due to weight-related issues and poor diet, such as taking in excessive amounts of sugar.
It makes your pancreas work harder to provide insulin, and in some cases, it can cause you to develop insulin resistance.
Healthy foods with natural sugars respond differently in your body, so try having apple slices and peanut butter instead of something sweet but void of nutrients, or try replacing sugary snacks with fresh fruit.
It will immediately begin helping you and can fix dips in energy in a relatively short amount of time.
#5 Bring Food to Work
Instead of being subjected to work food (if you work in the food industry), bring your own meals. There are plenty of us that see a nearby fast food restaurant to where we work and say “Well, it’s faster if I go there,” but that’s not what’s important.
If you bring your own meals with you, that excuse goes out the window and you’re eating quality food. It means you won’t boredom eat or grab something on the way home.
#6 Stop Drinking
Inhibitions lower when you drink and you’re prone to overeating, and eating bad food (greasy, drive-thru levels of bad). It’s also believed that alcohol leads to increased appetites and a lack of understanding when you’re no longer hungry.
Alcohol can also make it harder to lose weight and diminishes the definition of muscles, so if you’re on this site because you’re also trying to tone yourself and gain muscle mass, alcohol is the biggest enemy to your mission.
#7 Say it Out Loud
If you’re prone to emotional eating, say it. Don’t deny it. Denial is a far worse problem than anything else related to your eating. Talk out loud, seek out help, discuss it with a friend, and don’t shy away from the topic.
You shouldn’t be embarrassed by emotional, psychological, or bored eating. Saying it out loud helps you keep yourself accountable.
#8 Get Active
Get outside, go on a bike ride, a run, or just walk somewhere scenic. It’s not about the exercise (although that’s obviously good) so much as it’s about two things: changing your surroundings, and introducing serotonin.
If you’re feeling happy, you’re less likely to emotionally eat. If you’re bored, literally changing the physical surroundings that you’re looking at can make a world of difference.
#9 Begin a Hobby
Ever get lost in a hobby? It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world, and it can completely combat boredom eating.
After all, it’s the result of being bored, so there’s no better way to fight that than with something that fills your time and keeps you entertained in the process.
It can be something simple like playing video games or becoming a movie buff, or you could try writing a book, making a YouTube channel, or discovering ways to make extra income on the side.
#10 Gamify Eating
Gamification is when you turn something into a game, plain and simple.
If you take eating for example, and you turn it into a scorecard where you have to hit X amount of protein, X amount of calories, etc., you can give yourself a reward track (which doesn’t have to be food-related) for hitting your goals.
Make those goals healthy, and the need to win can override the desire to eat.
Build Better Habits, Leave Boredom Eating in the Past
Boredom eating is bad for you, but it’s not an end-all: you can get out of the habits of boredom eating with focus, dedication, and setting proper eating habits to replace them.
It may be compulsory, it may be habitual, but you can break the mold and only give your body fuel when it actually needs it.
Use the tips we outlined here, bulk up on your water consumption, and be aware of every single time you eat.
Ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” before you take another bite, and before you know it you’ll be in complete control of your eating habits.
Justin Rodriguez has spent most of his adult life inspiring people to take their fitness more seriously. He is not new to the business of providing practical solutions for those looking to set and smash their fitness goals. From sharing professional tips and tricks to recommending awesome products, Justin Rodriguez helps just about anyone who wants to get the best out of their workout routines.Having gathered a lot of experience both in and outside the gym, Justin Rodriguez uses DSW Fitness as a medium to show you exactly how to get that great-looking body with toned muscles you’ve always wanted.