Have you ever grabbed a snack simply because there was nothing better to do? If you’ve ever experienced eating out of boredom then you are not alone. This is a common habit that many people find difficult to break. But why is it that we gravitate toward food when we are bored? And what can we do to stop/prevent it?
Why do we eat when we’re bored?
Believe it or not, but boredom eating can actually be attributed to the chemicals in our brain. When we are bored, our brain is not stimulated and we are not creating dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that results in feelings of reward, happiness, and pleasure (source). When we are not creating dopamine, typically our first instinct is to take action to bring the levels back up quickly. Eating is an easy way to increase dopamine levels quickly, which is why we are inclined to do so. Similarly, eating when we are bored on a regular basis can result in relying on food to cure boredom, making the habit more difficult to break (source). Bored eating can also be attributed to stress or anxiety. Many people use food to cope when feeling overwhelmed. In short, food makes us feel good, which is why we typically depend on it when feeling bored, sad, stressed, etc. So what can we do instead when we are feeling this way? Let’s talk about other mechanisms and strategies you can do to prevent overeating when you are bored.
What to do instead
Many of us eat when we are bored and we aren’t even physically hungry. It is important to be able to recognize the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Ask yourself, am I eating because I feel physically hungry (empty stomach, etc), or am I eating because I am feeling emotional? Now, we don’t want you to feel that you can never eat simply for satisfaction. Eating our favorite foods can bring so much happiness. We simply want to provide tips so that you don’t rely on food to cure boredom, and instead listen to your body.
Many times bored eating occurs at night. Because of this, sometimes bored eating can be attributed to not eating enough throughout the day. Make sure you are consistently eating during the day to prevent the combination of physical and emotional hunger, which often leads to overeating. When feeling the urge to eat when you’re bored, we suggest finding other ways to channel your emotion or find activities that you enjoy. We like to exercise or stretch, read, journal, or turn on our favorite tv show or movie. We also think it can be beneficial to lean into boredom, as allowing your mind to wander can increase creativity and be good for your mental health. Ultimately, the more comfortable you are with being bored, the less reliant you will be on food to cure your boredom.
If you need support with bored and/or emotional eating, Alli can help! Schedule a call with her here.
This article was written by Emma Bulan, nutrition intern. Fact checked by Allison Tallman RD.