Aug. 5. 2022
Mindful Eating
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

If you know that you’re boredom eating recurrently but can’t quite figure out how to stop, then this is for you.

You’re hanging out at home, not really doing much or thinking about much, and all of a sudden you find yourself rummaging through your refrigerator and pantry. Ever been there before? This is boredom eating at its finest!

Boredom eating is really common, it’s one of the most popular ailments clients come to us with when working to develop a more mindful, balanced relationship with food. It’s usually something that starts out happening only once in a while, but before you know it, it becomes a habit that you can’t quite kick. 

But with that said, all it takes is a little mindfulness and a bit of habit replacement to put boredom eating in your past. Keep reading to learn my top five tips to stop boredom eating.  

Why You’re Boredom Eating 

Before we discuss how to stop doing it, we need to determine what’s actually causing boredom eating. 

Boredom eating is a form of mindless eating. When we engage in it, we’re not really fully present or aware of what we’re doing or why. We’re slightly checked out, but we know that whatever we’re doing is somewhat enjoyable, so we don’t want to stop. 

Generally speaking, eating is a positive human experience. Food is closely tied to the reward center of the brain. More specifically, when we eat, dopamine gets released. Dopamine is what I like to call the “feel good” neurotransmitter. It’s interpreted as pleasure by the brain. 

So let’s think about this for a second. You’re bored, not really feeling much or thinking about much, so you decide to reach for food. All of a sudden you’re feeling the effects of dopamine; you’re experiencing enjoyment.

Are you necessarily hungry? Are you really tasting and thinking about the food you’re eating? Probably not. But what are we thinking about? That we’re no longer as bored, you’re experiencing pleasure. This is why you eat as a result of boredom, and how the habit gets developed. 

Why We Shouldn’t Eat out of Boredom Often

A little bit of boredom eating isn’t harmful. We’re human! No one is perfect. But when boredom eating becomes recurrent and perpetual, we can start to get into a little trouble. 

Because we’re eating to experience pleasure, and not experience satiety or fullness, boredom eating can lead to overeating or binge eating. It’s a mindless activity that provides comfort quickly, but the problem is, that we only feel said comfort while we’re actually eating. As soon as we stop eating, that comforting sensation subdues. This is what causes overeating and sometimes even binge eating to occur. 

Over time, it can also make it tricky for us to determine when we’re actually feeling hunger or satiety. When you’re often eating for reasons other than hunger, it can make the sensations of hunger and fullness a bit dulled. 

How To Stop Boredom Eating

In order to stop, we have to introduce a bit of mindfulness and work to break the existing habit. Here are my top five tips that you can use to get started! 

Check-in With Yourself Before Meals and Snacks 

Sounds pretty simple, right? But oftentimes, it’s a lot easier said than done. We eat a lot throughout the course of our lives. This can result in a slight “auto-pilot” feeling if you will, whenever we reach for food. 

If you know that you’re eating out of boredom often, try implementing intentional check-ins with yourself to pause and reflect on your reason for reaching for food. Are you physically hungry? Bored? Are you already full? 

Take your time with this and start small. Don’t feel as though you need to check in for every meal all day long, this can feel exhausting! Start by checking in at one particular mealtime or time of day when you find you struggle with boredom eating most, you can then work up from there. 

Remain Present While Eating

When you aren’t fully satiated and satisfied after your meals, you’re much more likely to reach for food as a result of boredom throughout the day. In order to feel both satiated and satisfied after eating, it’s really important to remain present.

What does it mean to remain present while eating? It means eating without distraction, scrolling on social media, or watching a tv show. Waiting to eat once you’ve stopped your car rather than trying to multitask on your way to or from work. The more present you can be, the less likely you are to eat when you’re bored.

Replace The Boredom Eating Habit

Once boredom eating becomes a habit, it’s difficult to just accept boredom and do nothing when we’re used to eating in response. The best way to facilitate the transition is to replace eating with another, more productive habit. 

Start by making a list of scenarios or situations when you find yourself eating out of boredom most often. Where are you? Why are you bored? 

Now, what are some activities you can engage in when you’re in those locations that don’t include eating? Maybe you have a favorite coloring book and set of markers, or a book of crossword puzzles and riddles. You could also try going for a walk or listening to your favorite podcast. Whatever sounds enjoyable to you! 

Maintain a Balanced Diet

Just as we mentioned above, one of the keys to avoiding boredom eating is ensuring you’re satiated and satisfied after meals. In order to ensure that, balanced meals are a must. Balanced meals contain all of the nutrients your body needs to feel energized and full. Plus, they actually taste good! You’re not simply eating nourishing foods just because you feel like you need to or should. 

When building meals, aim to mimic this Foundational Five formula: protein + starchy and sugary carbohydrates + non-starchy carbohydrates + fat + favor factor. By doing this, you’ll be able to listen to and trust your hunger and satiety cues throughout the day, which comes next.

Get to Know Your Hunger and Satiety Cues 

When eating as a result of boredom, you’re often (either intentionally or unintentionally) ignoring your hunger and satiety cues. These cues are the basis for when we should eat, as well as how much. When we’re not in tune with them, it’s so much easier to just eat out of boredom because what’s the difference anyway? 

To get started with this, begin to perform some periodic hunger and satiety check-ins throughout the day. Periodically pause and ask yourself, how do I feel about food right now? Am I very hungry? Slightly hungry? Content? Slightly Full? Or very full?

The more you pause and reflect, the easier it will become to identify and subsequently abide by your hunger and satiety cues.

The Bottom Line

Boredom eating happens all the time, we see it with so many of our Mindful Nutrition Method students and one-on-one Wellness Coaching clients! The five steps we just went through are a great place to start addressing your boredom eating habit. 

Don’t forget to take it slowly and be compassionate with yourself the whole way through, true behavior change takes time. 

Do You Want to Experience More Balance with your Food Choices?

Then find your balanced eating type!

Take this 45-second free quiz to find out which balanced eating archetype you are, and what your unique type needs to maintain balance with the way you nourish yourself. That way, you can finally be free from food and diet obsession, maintain a balanced weight, and cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body. 

Take The Free Quiz Now