Do You Eat Because You’re Bored? Here’s How to Break the Habit
It’s 2:30 p.m., and lunch is but a distant memory. You’re fidgety in your chair, and it’s almost impossible to focus on the computer screen in front of you. This is the stage at which we are most vulnerable to boredom eating.
Boredom eating is linked to dopamine, a neurotransmitter in charge of inducing feelings of pleasure, motivation, and drive. Dopamine evolved as a survival mechanism; the brain rewards us with a satisfied feeling when we do things — eat, sleep, have sex — that sustain our bodies and prevent us from dying.
But with a steady amount of food available, the purpose of dopamine as a stimulant to encourage us to eat is largely unnecessary. When in a place of discomfort, uneasiness, or boredom, dopamine levels are down, and the body naturally wants them to rise back up. Boredom eating is, therefore, a bizarre survival tactic that is used to immediately engage our brain’s pleasure sensors.
But it’s possible to break free from this physiological hold that boredom eating has on us. Here are five ways to break the habit.
Take a Pause
Taking a pause or deep breath before any situation is always wise, but taking that extra second is an especially effective technique to limit boredom eating. Before unwrapping that granola bar, pause and think to yourself, “Am I really hungry?” The answer will usually be no, and you’ll feel a lot better about yourself after proving you can side-step those hunger urges. Besides boredom, these afternoon hunger pangs are usually related to feelings of stress or anxiety.
Learn Your Triggers
It might be a memory, a smell, or a certain food-related television show (hey there, Iron Chef America), but any external stimuli can trigger the desire to eat. Learn what cues set off your appetite and do your best to avoid them.
Control Your Portions
Plopping on the couch with a box of cookies, bag of chips, or pint of ice cream sets you up for a dietary disaster. The worst junk food (which you can find here) is high in salt, fat, and sugar, and contains “vanishing calories,” which the brain doesn’t register. The “vanishing calorie” effect contributes to boredom eating because it makes it almost impossible to be fully satisfied from junk food. To curb unchecked eating, measure out portions of snack foods before you take them to the couch or office desk.
Drink a Glass of Water
It’s common to mistake dehydration for hunger, and this misperception can result in some unnecessary snacking. Drinking a glass of water can help stave off those initial hunger pangs. People who drink a glass of water before a meal have been found to consume fewer calories, as well as feel more satiated.
Those sour cream and onion potato chips are tempting, but after chewing on a stick of spearmint gum you won’t even want to look at the bag. A study showed that participants who chewed gum for 15 minutes each hour after lunch ate 10 percent less than those who didn’t chew gum. Chewing gum is a helpful weight loss tool, but you’d be surprised to know that it’s actually banned in some countries around the world.