As a dietitian who has worked with thousands of clients, I’ve seen many of them struggle with eating when bored or stressed. And that’s where I come in.
Reaching for unhealthy snacks, or eating too much of a nutritious choice can lead to you feeling out of control with your eating. And let me tell you a secret – willpower isn’t the solution.
Often the root of this issue lies in emotional triggers rather than genuine hunger. So I’m here to help you explore the reasons behind these behaviors and provide practical solutions for how to stop snacking and eating when bored.
Client Success Story
Let’s first start with a story I love from one of my clients who lost 180 pounds while working with me. One day, he messaged me on my coaching platform and said that he was going to go get some donuts. I told him to do what was best for him. Later that day, he responded back and said that he gave the donuts to the doorman because he knew he wouldn’t have had self-control.
While not every scenario will have accountability like this, remember that there is a time and place for everything! You know what is best for you.
Assessing the Cause
A well-balanced and protein-rich lunch should keep you satiated for hours. However, moments of boredom, stress, or emotional turmoil can awaken the appetite, leading to the urge to snack mindlessly. If you find yourself craving snacks after consuming a nutritious meal, take a closer look at that meal. Did it have lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats?
Once you identify that it’s not genuine physical hunger causing you to eat, is it stress, emotions, or other psychological factors? Identifying what caused the behavior or desire is the first step toward breaking the cycle of mindless and bored eating.
Food Triggers Lead to Bored Eating
Instead of an imbalance in meals earlier in the day, maybe you saw or read something that triggered your desire to eat. Appetite is merely a symptom and can be triggered by various emotions or stressors.
For example, certain snacks, such as chips, often contain the perfect combination of salt, fat, and sugar that the brain finds irresistible. When consumed in the right proportions, these foods can create an addictive response, making it challenging to stop eating once you start.
The key is to keep these types of foods out of your home, then be intentional about when you enjoy them.
5 Solutions to Stop Snacking or Eating When Bored
1. Eat Your Main Meals
Physiological hunger increases as you delay meals. If you skip breakfast or lunch, and now you’re home 5 hours after, you will likely end up eating 2 meals. This makes it even more difficult to stay on track and feel in control of your eating.
So, make sure to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I tell my clients to eat every 3-4 hours, which will help manage hunger and blood sugar levels to prevent spikes or overeating.
2. Eliminate Trigger Foods in Your House
If certain foods consistently trigger your cravings, avoid keeping them in your home. Opt for healthier alternatives instead such as dark chocolate or dried fruit. You can indulge in small treats occasionally, but be mindful of portion sizes. Remember, it’s not that you’re saying no forever. You’re just organizing your choices.
How I Do This as a Dietitian
For example, I stopped buying cookies to keep at home because I knew I would eat them all. So instead, I enjoy a sweet treat each night of some dark chocolate. Then, I plan out a time to enjoy and indulge in my favorite 600-calorie cookie.
Yes, it’s HUGE! I sit down, and you bet I enjoy every bite. And the key is that I don’t feel guilty, because I do this every so often, and it is something I look forward to rather than feel like I’m restricting myself from and giving in to.
3. Shift Your Focus Away from Willpower
Relying solely on willpower to resist snacking doesn’t work. It’s like an elastic band. Eventually, it will break. Don’t depend on your willpower. Instead, create an environment that supports your goals by removing temptation and making healthier choices easily accessible.
With drinking, you can get drunk from too much alcohol. You can overdose on drugs. But with food, there is no plateau. The result is just added weight.
4. Practice Mindful Eating
Adopt a mindful eating approach by questioning your hunger before reaching for snacks. Take ten deep breaths and ask yourself if you genuinely want to eat that particular snack or if something else is driving your desire. Then reassess what to do next.
5. Have a System
Last, and probably most important is to have a system in place. No one is perfect, and there will be times your actions don’t match your intentions. But the key is how you respond to that. What will you do if you overeat from snacking when bored? Will you throw away that trigger food? Will you text a friend to hold yourself accountable?
The system is what changes the actions. And remember, things are always changing, so you may have to continue to look for new coping mechanisms like meditation, exercise, or engaging in hobbies to help break the emotional eating cycle.
Final Thoughts on Eating When Bored or Stressed
Snacking and emotional eating can hinder your efforts to maintain a healthy diet and body weight. By understanding the triggers behind these behaviors and implementing mindful eating practices, you can regain control over your eating habits.
Remember that the occasional treat is acceptable, but moderation and self-awareness are vital to achieving a healthier relationship with food and overall well-being. So, take charge of your choices and embrace mindful eating to embark on a path toward a happier and healthier you.