Over the last few years I’ve seen a big increase in boredom eating with my online coaching clients and people reaching out for help in my DM’s. With the rise of work from home and the snack pantry being just steps away at all times, the urge to snack might feel higher than ever.
If you’re currently falling prey to boredom eating know that you’re not alone and this is a very common habit.
But if you’ve got fitness goals you’re trying to hit, eating when you’re bored might feel like a big hurdle you need to overcome. In this article I’m going to walk you through why you might be struggling with eating when you’re bored and share some actionable tips to help you stop.
Why are you eating when you’re bored?
Does this sound familiar:. You get a feeling of stress/boredom/anxiety and you head right to the pantry. Before you even realize what’s happening you’re halfway through a bag of chips.
If you answered yes, you’ve developed a habit around emotional eating. Your brain has a cue that when you experience an emotion like stress/boredom/anxiety, you go to the pantry and snack. In order to break this habit and stop boredom eating(I promise you can!) you need to disrupt the current behavior pattern and no longer head to the pantry after receiving the “cue” aka feeling the emotion.
Now let’s dive into how to actually do that and stop boredom eating.
Start being more mindful
Awareness is the first step to any sort of habit or behavior change. Before you can start to build a new habit around snacking, you need to be aware of when it’s happening.
The next time you get the urge to snack I want you to recognize it and think about what just happened. Did you just get some bad news and you’re feeling anxious? Did a meeting just end and you need a work break? Are you about to sit down in front of the TV and headed to the pantry without thinking?
Start becoming aware of when/why the urge to snack is popping up and what action or emotion might be fueling it.
It can be helpful to start a food journal. Begin writing down what you’re eating and what you feel before, during & after you eat it. This will continue to bring awareness to your snacking and help you notice trends. A physical journal can be helpful to stop eating when you’re bored because you’ll be able to start to identify when you’re snacking when you’re bored or feeling an emotion vs actually hungry.
Pause & Wait
Once you start to bring awareness to your boredom snacking you can start to change your habits around it. Next time you get the urge to snack, rather than heading to the pantry or fridge, I want you to pause and wait 20 minutes.
During those 20 minutes I want you to go and DO something. Make this something that’s more mentally stimulating than just watching TV or mindlessly scrolling on your phone. A few ideas might be going for a walk, doing a puzzle, calling a friend to catch up, or cleaning your house.
If after the 20 minutes are up you still want a snack, you can have one! But chances are you’ll find you no longer want the snack.
Remember earlier when I talked about boredom snacking being a habit and you need to break up your current pattern and do something different after your brain receives the initial “cue” to start snacking?
Pausing and doing an activity besides heading to the pantry will break up that cue. That 20 minute break is enough for your brain to get out of automatic habit mode and as a result, you’re able to use more self control and determine if you’re really hungry or not. This will help you stop eating when you're bored.
Don’t Restrict Your Favorite Foods
How many times has this happened to you:
You’re doing “GREAT” all day. You just have coffee for breakfast, a salad with chicken breast for lunch, a little bit of fish, brown rice & broccoli for dinner, absolutely no snacks throughout the day…but then after dinner you’re still famished and you raid the entire snack pantry.
This is a sign you might be being too restrictive during the day.
Rather than trying to eat as little as possible during the day I want you to eat 2-3 filling meals and 1-2 filling snacks if you need them.
Try to build your plates like this: half a plate of veggies, a palm sized portion of protein, a first size serving of carbs, and a thumb sized serving of fats. Your snacks should be protein, veggie or fruit and fit in the palm of your hand.
“Brooks are you forreal! I’m trying to eat less to lose fat, not eat more here!!!”
Ok but hear me out. Most of the time when I have my online coaching clients eat more during the day, they stop snacking at night. When they eat full meals throughout the day they no longer get that famished feeling at night that leads them to the snack pantry.
Eating real meals throughout the day instead of just random snacks is going to keep you much more full and you’ll end up eating less overall.
In addition, don’t avoid foods you really like!
Trying to restrict yourself from certain foods will just lead to you wanting them more and overeating them when you finally allow yourself to have them.
Make sure you’re allowing yourself to eat the foods you enjoy and not trying to grit through every craving. When these foods aren’t “off limits” you’re going to end up eating less of them overall and not raiding them in the snack panty every night.
Portion out your snacks
Portion control is really hard. You are not superwoman with some super human strength. It is TOUGH to put down a bag of pretzels after just a few handfuls when you’re eating when you’re bored. (Especially Dot’s Pretzels, those things are like crack.)
Make it easier on yourself.
When you snack, make sure you always portion what you plan to eat onto a bowl or plate. Single serving snack packs can also help with this.
If you’re someone who tends to always go back for seconds, get yourself out of the dang kitchen.
Portion out your snack and then take it somewhere else to eat. Don’t go back into the kitchen for the remainder of the night. This will make it much easier to not say “oh just a little bit more”.
It can also help to pick a snack that is protein based, a fruit or a veggie. It’s a heck of a lot harder to overeat hard boiled eggs than it is to over eat highly palatable foods like ice cream and chips.
Again, make it easier on yourself. Pick a nutrient dense food to snack on that will be harder to overeat.
Create If/Then Plans
Another way to stop boredom eating is to create If/Then Plans.
These are plans you create in advance in case a certain scenario arises. It can be very helpful once you are able to start identifying what those common snacking triggers are for you and can start creating If/Then Plans around them.
For example: You realize you always snack after you have a stressful meeting at work.
If/Then Plan: If I have a stressful meeting at work, then I will go for a 10 minute walk.
Be specific and be prepared! Know exactly how long and where you’ll walk so you don’t even have to think about it when that trigger hits. Just get up and do it.
It can be helpful to have these in place for your different snacking triggers. This will make you more likely to do one of these activities rather than heading to the pantry when the trigger hits.
Lastly, one of the biggest helpers when trying to stop eating when you’re bored is to get some accountability.
Building healthy habits is hard and there will be moments where you really just don’t feel like making the “better” choice. Knowing that someone is paying attention and holding you accountable will help in these tough moments.
Find an online community of people with similar goals, start your fitness journey with a friend or family member, or hire a coach.
Just make sure you have some accountability in place for those moments when you need it most.
At this point you should be feeling like you have some actionable next steps and new strategies to try to help you to stop eating when you’re bored.
If you have any questions on anything in this article, as always please feel free to shoot me an email and we can chat about it(email@example.com).
I appreciate you reading and supporting my content and I’m always an email or DM away!