Eat, Think, Do… How to manage boredom eating
We’ve all been there. Found ourselves in the kitchen reaching for another quick snack when we’re not actually hungry. Many of us are spending more time at home whether it’s due to working from home or doing more online activities such as shopping or socialising, so we are more frequently only a few steps away from the fridge and snacking a little bit more.
Eating when we’re bored is pretty common, but there is no clear evidence to explain why we do it. Some research suggests that when our brains are not being stimulated, our levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that’s associated with feelings of reward and pleasure, drop. We then look for ways to increase these levels through activities such as eating.
When we eat foods high in sugar, fat and salt, dopamine is released. Our brains get used to this feeling of reward and trains it to want to repeat this behaviour. This can make it really hard to break the cycle!
Eating may also be a way to reduce the monotony of a task, not having anything else to do, or putting off something we know we should be doing (like writing that dull report..!)
Snacking can lead to weight gain by eating calories we don’t actually need, and snacks high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars such as biscuits, crisps and cake can cause high blood sugar levels. This can also contribute to inflammation – when your body, especially your immune system, is in a constant state of stress, and is linked to an increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The good news is that snacking isn’t necessarily something that has to be avoided. Nutritious snacks can give us a boost of essential nutrients and health promoting foods. But the type, amount and frequency of your snacks is key, along with the reason behind you reaching for the biscuits.
A healthy eating routine of three meals a day, with a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack if needed is ideal. This keeps our body fuelled and energised, and gives us time to digest our food to give us the best nutritional value.
So what can help reduce mindless eating? Try some of these strategies to support your healthy snacking behaviours.
1. Eat enough calories at mealtimes to keep you satisfied and fuelled. Eat healthy, filling food to manage your blood sugar levels and avoid the lows which cause you to reach for high calorie foods.
2. Eat nutrient rich foods that are high in protein (lean meat, eggs, shellfish, cheese), fibre (fruit, veggies, beans, grains) and healthy fats (oily fish, avocado, nuts, seeds) to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
3. Plan ahead and prepare nutritious snacks to avoid panic eating when you are ravenous! Try oatcakes and cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, carrot or other veggie sticks with hummus or apple slices and peanut butter. For some more 'snack-spiration', download my free guide '10 simple and healthy snacks to boost your mood' here.
4. Eat mindfully. Can you pay more attention to your feelings of hunger and cravings and start recognising your hunger signs over cravings – a growling stomach, headache or fatigue. Are there certain times or situations when you crave a particular food? Take a moment to think about what has triggered this craving - writing it down will help you start to recognise them.
5. Can you avoid the trigger that has caused the urge to eat? Is it the sight or smell of food and can you put some strategies into place to reduce the trigger? Some people find it helpful to simply move snacks to a higher shelf in the cupboard, so they are not at eye level, or even not buying them at all.
6. Find non-food related ways to distract yourself. Listen to music, read a magazine or do something you enjoy.
7. Be kind to yourself. It’s normal to eat out of boredom, so see it as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. Think about how you could do things differently another time.
8. Change the situation – distract yourself by moving around, stretching, doing one minute of intense exercise like squats or star jumps, phoning a friend or taking a walk.
9. Get enough sleep – sleep deprivation can cause food cravings especially high calorie foods high in sugar and fats. Create a calming and cool sleep environment free of bright lights and electronic devices, and calm you mind with some relaxing activities at least 30 minutes before going to bed – read, listen to music or do some gentle yoga.
10. Take action! If some of these Eat, Think, Do strategies would help you to eat more mindfully, choose one or two to try this week. At the end of the week, spend a moment to reflect on how they worked for you.
If you feel you would benefit from some additional support in making healthy food choices and building healthier habits, get in touch with me here. I provide personalised nutrition and lifestyle analysis and recommendations to help you take control of your health. Why settle for average health when your best health is possible.