5 ways to avoid boredom eating

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Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
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25 March 2020

How to stop eating when you’re bored!

Managing weight can be challenging, especially if you spend a lot of time at home and find yourself mindlessly eating. Thankfully, there are many steps you can take to avoid this common issue, such as:

  1. Keeping a food diary
  2. Choosing high fibre foods
  3. Staying hydrated
  4. Pausing before you eat
  5. Banishing the boredom!

Read on to find out more about these strategies and get some tips on how to incorporate these into your daily routine.

1. Keep a food diary

If you are worried about mindlessly eating when bored, you could start to tackle the issue by writing down what you eat throughout the day. Keeping a diary of what you eat not only makes you more aware of what you are consuming, but it also allows you to identify any unhealthy behaviours.

If you take a note of what you are eating, why you are choosing that food, and how you are feeling whilst eating, this can help you identify any triggers, such as boredom, which may be causing you to eat.

As previously touched on, writing down what you eat makes you more aware of what you are doing and, therefore, you may be less likely to mindlessly eat. If you spend a lot of time at home watching the TV, it can be easy to get through lots of snacks and not even notice you're doing so! But, if you record your food choices throughout the day, you may be less inclined to do this.

A meta-analysis of 24 studies found that eating when you're distracted moderately increases the amount you eat at the time. However, when people thought about what they had eaten earlier on that day, it helped to reduce their food intake later on.1 Therefore, mindful eating not only helps to reduce excessive intake at the time, it also helps to reduce overall energy intake throughout the rest of the day.

It may also be beneficial to record how you are feeling emotionally when you eat. As well as boredom, there are many other emotions which can cause you to eat when you're not really hungry, such as feeling sad or anxious. Once you identify any unhealthy behaviours or feelings associated with food, you will be able to put steps in place to help cope with these.

2. Choose high fibre foods

If you are eating regular, satisfying meals that fill you up properly, this may lessen your desire to pick at things, especially when bored.

Choosing foods that are high in fibre and protein can help you to feel fuller for longer. For example, if you find you are prone to mindless late-night snacking in front of the TV, try adding more fibre-rich wholegrains to your evening meal, such as quinoa or brown rice, noodles, or pasta. Fresh vegetables such as broccoli and kale, or legumes like chickpeas and kidney beans are also good choices.

In addition, certain morning habits can lead to mindless eating throughout the rest of the day. For example, consuming breakfast foods and drinks with lots of added sugar, such as sugary cereals, sweet pastries, sweetened yoghurts and fruit juices are not the best options when it comes to feeling satisfied.

If you opt for breakfasts high in fibre and protein, however, this may help you to feel more satisfied for longer. There are many fibre-rich breakfast recipes on our website, such as our healthy French toast, and spiced porridge two ways, both of which are packed with fibre and other essential nutrients.

Sometimes the desire to snack throughout the day is your body telling you that you need to eat more nutritious foods. If you pack your meals with a variety of healthy fresh foods, you should get all the nutrients you need and this may reduce the likelihood of mindlessly snacking.

If you are new to cooking, the thought of rustling up healthy, nutritious meals may be daunting, so try out these simple recipes to get yourself started:

3. Stay hydrated

When we get dehydrated, our bodies can mistake this for hunger. This means that we may be tempted to graze on foods when what we really need is a glass of water!

A lot of us may be guilty of not drinking as much water as we should - the NHS suggests that we should be drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water per day (1.5 litres).

If you struggle to consume the recommended daily intake of water, try getting yourself a water bottle. I find it handy to have a water bottle with a built-in straw to sip on throughout the day. This way I get all the water I need but sometimes don't even realise I am doing it!

If you're not the biggest fan of plain water, try adding some fruit to give it more flavour, such as slices of lemon or lime, or berries such as strawberries and raspberries. Adding ice can also make the drink a lot more refreshing and desirable for some people; whilst others find it slips down more easily when warm or even hot.

Once you are sure that you have rehydrated yourself, you can re-evaluate whether you are still hungry or not.

4. Pause before you eat

Being aware of what you are doing is key when it comes to reducing boredom eating. When you feel like eating something, always pause in that moment and think about whether you are actually hungry, or if perhaps you are just bored, tired, stressed or anxious.

Set yourself a time limit. If, for example, you are still craving food half an hour after the initial urge to eat, prepare yourself a healthy snack. However, if after this time you no longer want to eat, it may mean that you were never actually hungry in the first place!

5. Banish the boredom!

If you get the urge to eat when bored, the best plan of action is to banish the boredom! Try doing something you enjoy or something that is productive to take your mind off of things.

Exercise can often be a beneficial way to curb boredom. Not only does it release endorphins which can help you to feel better, it can also relieve feelings of stress and tension which may cause you to overeat.

Regular exercise can also increase energy levels and allow you to sleep better – another two factors which can help you to snack less!

If you're not a huge exercise lover, try doing something a bit different such as yoga, weight lifting or boxing. Other activities you could try to ease boredom include doing some cleaning or clutter clearing, or taking a walk. If you're feeling motivated, try learning a new skill, such as teaching yourself how to play an instrument.


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References

1 Robinson E et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013; 97 (4): 728-42 

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