How to deal with boredom without eating

You’re at a loose end, stuck inside because of the freezing weather, and you keep having the urge to go to the kitchen and graze on something tasty.  You’re not hungry – you ate lunch only an hour ago – but your brain keeps switching to thoughts of food. There are lots of jobs around the home you could be doing but you don’t seem to be able to get on with any of them.  This is one of your eating habits that annoys you, because every time you eat just because you’re bored, you regret it afterwards.  The enjoyment of the grazing is always very fleeting and you end up wanting more snacks, so the day can go from bad to worse, with endless trips back to the kitchen.  You’d love to find a way of stopping this bored-grazing, and actually get more done at these times!
Situations where you are simultaneously bored and trapped happen not just when you’re snowed in at home.  You can get that feeling on long journeys, or when you’re looking after someone (young, old or unwell) and you aren’t free to just do what you want.
When you understand how boredom, and particularly this sort of boredom, where you are also somewhat trapped, affects you and why, you can develop a plan for dealing with the boredom without turning to food.  Not only does this mean that you’ll feel more in control of your eating and more relaxed around food, but it also means that by allowing yourself to get hungry by your next meal, you’ll enjoy it all the more.

Steps to ending trapped-and-bored eating

  1. Understand why you experience feelings of boredom

Boredom is our body’s way of telling us that we are under-stimulated.  People vary in how much stimulation they need to keep their nervous system operating at an optimal level. Introverts have an already-reactive nervous system and need relatively little additional stimulation from the outside world to feel comfortable. Indeed, introverts can get over-stimulated easily and need to retreat from further stimulation. Extraverts on the other hand have a less reactive nervous system and need much more external stimulation to keep sufficiently stimulated to feel comfortable. Whatever your personality type, you may have found that food gives you some stimulation when you feel under-stimulated, so is better than nothing. But you may well then keep eating because it isn’t enough, or the right sort of stimulation.

  1. Listen to what the bored feeling is telling you

Allow the possibility that the bored, restless feeling is trying to tell you something. Don’t try to squash or ignore it. Listen to it and start to notice what “part” of yourself is feeling bored. It is probably the part that needs stimulation and variety. You may have developed a pattern of feeding it with tasty food. That is fine if you are physically hungry at the time. If you aren’t physically hungry, eating tasty food will not do the trick and you will still feel restless.  Look for other sources of stimulation and try one when you next get that boredom-hunger feeling.  It could be a hobby or interest, a puzzle or surfing the internet. It could involve physical movement, or social contact. Or it could simply be your nervous system needing a change of pace, in which case you need to change what you’re doing to something else, and more or less anything else might do at those times.

  1. Work out what the best benefit will be of putting a stop to bored-eating

Imagine what you’ll most enjoy about being able to deal with boredom without eating. Will it be feeling more in control? Or enjoying your next meal more because you’ll be hungry and your taste buds will be at their most sensitive? Whatever it is, make a note of it for later.

  1. Create a timetable for the boring periods

If you’re prone to eating when you feel bored, you’ll benefit from planning how to spend periods of time when you know you’re likely to feel bored. Break the time up into chunks and have a list of different things ready to do. That list doesn’t have to be full of active, purposeful things, though it would be a good idea to include some, so that you’ve got a variety of possibilities. So include a couple of chores that you’ve been putting off. And include things that at least involve pottering about rather than sitting for long periods of time. But also you could include listening to a podcast, or watching a programme. And a couple of enjoyable or absorbing activities, or making a phone call or contacting friends through social media.
The important thing is to have a number of things, which are varied. Then, if you’re the sort of person who likes taking things as they come, just have the list to hand and as soon as you feel restless, choose to move on to something else on your list. If you love planning, draw up a schedule for what you’ll do when, probably in half hour chunks. And I’d suggest that in your plan, you include meals (and snacks if you need them) and cups of tea, so that your time is punctuated with food and drink in a planned way, instead of an always-on-your-mind sort of way.

  1. Work out a strategy for when the impulse to go to the fridge hits you

Even with a well-thought out plan, there may be moments when you find yourself opening the cupboard where you keep the biscuits. At these times, remember that this is exactly the moment when you are changing your boredom-eating habit, and you need to put a bit of extra energy into going down the not-eating route instead of the usual eating route. Just briefly you need to turbo-charge your focus to walking away and going and doing something different that’s distracting. Bringing to mind the best benefit you identified earlier will help here. Focus on that benefit, to remind you of why you’re putting this effort in now, and then turn your back and walk away from the food.

Your first step

You don’t have to wait until you’re getting bored and restless to take the first step. Right now, you can make that list of things you’ll do instead of eating. So that when you’re at a loose end or trapped looking after someone else with no option to do what you’d really rather be doing, you’re already prepared!

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