Eating habits can be driven by many factors, including stress, boredom, and real hunger. Snacking outside of your true hunger cues can cause you to take in extra calories, and will likely have you reaching for “comfort foods” with little nutritional value. Here’s what you can do to adopt more mindful eating habits.
The Cause of Boredom-Based Eating
Eating during periods of boredom is actually a type of emotional eating. While physical hunger drives a need for sustenance, emotional eating prompts a specific craving. Moreover, with emotional eating, it can take longer to feel satisfied (sometimes, up to 20 minutes). Physical hunger, on the other hand, can typically be quelled quickly. While physical hunger may begin with a rumbling in your stomach, emotional hunger is triggered by the brain.
You might also find yourself eating while stressed. Like eating while bored, eating while stressed acts as a distraction. Cravings are driven by dopamine, the feel-good hormones which are released when you eat something delicious. Boredom or stress can prompt us to go looking for a pick-me-up, or dopamine release, and oftentimes, snacking is the quickest fix.
How to Stop Eating While Bored
Fortunately, there are ways to stop using emotional eating as a coping mechanism for stress, boredom, or other challenges. First, you must start by identifying whether you are indeed an emotional eater. Consider creating a food diary to track your eating habits. Don’t just write down what you ate and when, however. Also write down how you felt: On a scale of 1-10, how physically hungry did you feel at the time? How long had it been since your last meal or snack? Were you experiencing listlessness or any type of stress? Perhaps you had just had an argument with a loved one — keep track of all this information to look for patterns in your eating habits.
If you suspect that you are an emotional eater, the next step is to start practicing mindful eating. This is simply the process of recognizing your emotions and physical state. By bringing awareness to these factors, you can begin asking yourself whether you’re really hungry, or if you’re experiencing boredom or emotional turmoil instead. If you are indeed hungry, pause and observe your body’s natural cues. Legitimate hunger can be satisfied with healthy choices, and especially protein-rich foods such as eggs, nut butter, beans, and lean protein. Round out your meal or snack with a healthy carbohydrate, like whole grain toast, apple slices, or wheat pasta.
As you’re eating, try to take it slowly, savoring every bite. Limit distractions; for instance, try to avoid eating while watching TV or scrolling through social media. Eat until your hunger is satisfied and you feel full.
In addition, you can get out of the habit of eating while bored by planning your meals out in advance. Have ingredients for healthy dishes on hand and prep food early enough so that you’re not feeling famished by the time your next meal is ready. You can also prepare nutritious breakfasts and lunches in advance, such as smoothies, overnight oats, and delicious salads.
Also, make sure you’re staying hydrated. Sometimes, thirst can be confused for hunger. Dehydration can produce signals similar to those of hunger, so drink a glass of water if you’re feeling hungry despite having eaten fairly recently.
Finally, you can also try going for a walk, doing a quick yoga routine, or finding another healthy distraction if you’re really struggling to stay away from the fridge. While these tactics may just seem like other distractions from boredom or stress, they can also help to clear your mind in a healthy way. Learning to practice mindful eating isn’t something that happens overnight. Yet, with patience and reflection, you can become more in tune with your body and its true needs.
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