5 Signs You May Be Eating Out of Boredom—and How to Break the Habit
These habits could be silently sabotaging your health goals.
Sometimes it's absolutely necessary to curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn to watch a favorite movie. Or snack on some chips to get through a long afternoon. Or enjoy a doughnut at the office just because they're there. We eat different foods for so many reasons, but when mindlessly eating becomes a habit it may start to interfere with our health. Mindless eating (rather than mindful eating) has become more and more of a problem due to high-stress environments, poor sleep quality and the constant distractions in our busy lives.
Recent studies show that eating mindlessly can lead to weight gain, which can have a long-term impact on our health. One recent study found that nearly 25 percent of Americans are snacking on almost 1,300 extra calories per week while at the office simply due to being in close proximity to tasty but typically unhealthy snacks. Here are some signs you might be eating out of boredom-and how to break the habit:
1. You eat when you're not hungry
Do you ever find yourself staring into an open fridge or rummaging through your pantry to find something that looks good? If you do this when you're not actually hungry, this could be a sign of boredom eating.
Let's say you always find yourself reaching for a snack to avoid a deadline or to procrastinate responding to an email-you may be using your snack as a distraction from the task at hand. Just because you're bored, and food is there, doesn't make eating a logical activity to pass the time with. Instead of heading to the fridge, get some fresh air or call a friend to catch up. If the desire to snack was actually out of boredom and not hunger, those feelings of "hunger" should pass pretty quickly as soon as you find something else to do.
2. You're always eating in front of a screen
Weekdays can be especially busy, and it's tempting to eat breakfast while scrolling through emails, have lunch at your computer, and finally decompress with dinner in front of the TV. But these can all lead to mindless eating-causing us to eat in excess if we aren't paying attention. That's where the complete opposite of mindless eating comes in: mindful eating.
Mindful eating is the practice of sitting down without any distractions to enjoy a meal. You think about the ingredients composing your meal and the health benefits (or lack thereof) that come with it. You chew slowly, enjoying the different flavors and textures. You think about how the foods make you feel.
While it may take some getting used to, this now-trendy practice has been used for eating disorder interventions and to combat stress-eating during extra-busy seasons of life. It's meant to be a practice you implement for life, so start slowly. Try putting your phone away at dinner or waiting to watch TV until after you've eaten a meal, and you just may find you enjoy your food more and feel satisfied longer. This also sets a great example for the rest of your family.
3. You aren't sleeping enough
It's not quite boredom eating, but lack of sleep can cause us to grab more snacks, especially in the afternoon as sleep-deprived hunger kicks into high gear. Poor sleep quality may negatively affect our waistlines and our ability to choose healthy snacks-but there are a few other remedies to try along with getting those eight hours in.
Keeping a food journal of what you eat throughout the day, making room for a few treats in your week, and trying to relieve stress with Epsom baths or midday walks can all be remedies for other problems masquerading themselves as boredom. Utilizing snack prep or keeping more fresh and healthy options on hand can make it that much easier to reach for a nutritious snack during the day.
4. You're eating an hour or two after a meal
A healthy meal should keep you full for at least a couple of hours, and snacking between meals can often be a sign of boredom eating. Snacking right after a meal may also may mean that your meal wasn't big enough or didn't have enough satisfying foods, so if you're hungry go ahead and eat a snack. If you're
Tuning into a podcast, taking a walk or picking up a book can help keep your mind occupied. However, if you're feeling hungry, choosing a healthy snack that is high in fiber and protein will certainly help hold you over until your next meal. Prioritizing whole foods as the stars of your meals will also help keep you better satiated throughout the day. Protein and fiber are two nutrients that help keep you feeling full.
5. You're eating alone
While we can't always eat in community with one another, there are some serious benefits to dining with a loved one. Some countries, like Canada, even include the importance of social dining in their dietary guidelines. Eating with friends and family can help establish healthy habits. It's a great way to share stories and also learn from one another.
Eating alone is associated with a greater risk for metabolic syndrome. Eating alone more often impacts the quality of our diets. When you're only accountable to yourself, it's not as easy to enjoy your meal and you may end up relying more on less nutritious convenience foods than if you're dining with family and friends.
The bottom line
There is nothing wrong with snacking. Snacking is a way to keep from getting too hungry, snacks can help us fill nutrient gaps in our diets, and sometimes snacks just taste good and help us celebrate (think birthday cupcakes or trying the goodies at a legendary bakery). If you're snacking for a reason other than hunger, take a second to determine the motivation behind the craving. Reducing stress, moving more, fostering healthy relationships, taking the time to care for yourself and listening to your body's hunger cues are all valuable tools for not only snacking less, but also for achieving optimal health and well-being.