10 ways to combat boredom eating

Health and Fitness
Boredom eating can be the difference between successfully losing weight and your body fat not budging at all.

Why? Because no matter how nutritionally balanced your meals are, if you’re snacking too much in between your meals, due to boredom (or procrastination or emotion), you’re most likely consuming more food than your body needs.

A well-documented phenomenon in the field of nutrition research is the concept of under-reporting. We know for a fact that when people report on what and how much they’ve eaten throughout the day, they under-report by up to 20-30%! That’s a pretty big difference between what people think they eat and what they actually eat!

One of the reasons why we under-report our food intake is because of a concept known as mindless eating. Many of us aren’t paying attention while we eat, particularly when we eat in between meals and as a consequence don’t remember that we did so.

Maybe you’re at work, plodding away on an important document and your colleague holds out a large packet of chips. You grab a handful and much on them while you contemplate your next sentence.

Maybe you’ve just got home from picking the kids up from school and as you’re fixing them some afternoon tea you’re nibbling on cheese, crackers and fruit.

Perhaps it’s the end of a long week. You’re snuggled up on the couch in front of your favourite Netflix series with a block of chocolate by your side. You nibble on it throughout the evening, shocked to find half of it gone when the TV viewing is done.

American research indicates that people who eat while they’re doing other things are 17% heavier than people who don’t. 

Isn’t that an interesting statistic? Boredom eating is a common behavior in mindless eating and for many people is a frustrating habit to try and break.

Here are 10 tips to help you manage it:

 

  1. 1. Don’t keep snack food in the house

This is such an important one. There is very interesting research around the importance of your food environment and how easy it is to access certain foods. My clients often report to me that they eat things “because it’s there”. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.

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  2. 2. Chew gum or brush your teeth
  3. Peppermint is actually an appetite suppressant and if you brush your teeth immediately after eating, it will help take the desire away to nibble on food in the hours after. Chewing gum has the same effect. Brushing teeth is also great for healthy teeth and gums!
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  5. 3. Have an on-going project
  6. It’s the weekend. It’s raining. You’ve got nothing to do. Instead of wandering into the kitchen all day, why not get out that project that you love and potter on that all day? Keeping yourself busy and having some purpose is a great way to distract yourself from the munchies.
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  8. 4. Keep a food diary
  9. Sometimes boredom eating stems from poor awareness of your eating habits. Keeping a food dairy for a week will make you much more aware of what, when and why you’re eating. The first step to combating problem behaviour is an awareness of what the problem is in the first place.
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  11. 5. Plan your meals 
  12. Meal planning is an essential part of good food awareness. If you ensure that all your meals and snacks are accounted for and planned into your day, this will help you stay in control of your food choices and your appetite. If you start to feel hungry or bored it may be time for your next scheduled meal or snack, which means you can go ahead and eat! If it is not time for your next scheduled meal or snack, then you’ll know to wait and find something else to do.
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6. Give your hands something to do.

Find a ‘hands-on’ activity or hobby that you enjoy. When you keep your hands busy you can only do one activity at a time. This means that your hands are too busy to eat! Activities such as surfing the web, watching TV or reading don’t keep your hands busy and you are more tempted to eat at the same time. Do a cross-stitch, play an instrument, sew, draw, paint, clean…

7. Go for a walk

If you are feeling bored and tempted to wander into the kitchen one of the best things to do is leave the house and give yourself some physical activity. It will be good for your health in so many ways and help you kill some time.

8. Keep a drink bottle on your person

If you really need to have some hand-to-mouth action then carry a water bottle with you and sip on it regularly. It can really help satisfy the need to snack on food. It will also ensure you stay well hydrated which can help keep you better in control of your appetite. Dehydration will make you hungrier and thirsty and more likely to eat or drink something high in energy even if you don’t need it.

9. Set yourself daily achievable tasks

Boredom eating can be a way of providing ourselves with personal fulfilment and satisfaction. Most of us like having satisfying things to do and one thing that provides that satisfaction is food. If you can set yourself achievable tasks every day, you can satisfy your desire for fulfilment without the need for random snacking. At the start of your day, write out a “to do” list that can be completed within that day and then go through that list and complete as many of them as you can.

10. Make sure you’re eating properly

It may sound a little obvious but many of my clients struggle with excessive snacking and blame it on boredom eating when it’s really due to the fact that they’ve been too restrictive throughout the day and by the afternoon they’re actually really hungry. Combine that with boredom or mindlessness and you’ve got a recipe for over-eating. Ensure your main meals are large enough and full of nutrient rich, whole foods. It’s much easier to say ‘no’ to the afternoon fundraiser chocolates when you’re full and satisfied on healthy foods.

KATE FREEMAN
Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist. She is a Registered Nutritionist from Canberra, Australia and the creator and managing director of Canberra's largest private nutrition practice in Canberra, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate Freeman consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry.
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