- Eating when you’re not hungry could mean that you’re eating only because you’re bored or stressed.
- We talked to a registered dietitian about what signs to look out for.
- Keep a food journal and eat healthy snacks if you want to break the habit of eating out of stress.
We are all guilty of mindless eating on occasion, but if you find that you’re overeating more than you’d like, you may want to be extra mindful about eating out of something other than hunger, especially since emotional eating can be a problem for many.
To help you get a better look at what emotional eating may look like, we spoke to some dietitians and a psychotherapist about all the warning signs you’re eating out of boredom.
You reach for whatever is handy, and usually not very healthy
This usually is a good cue you’re eating out of boredom according to registered dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, as she explained you are not concerned about the nutrients you’re eating, and are simply eating for a psychological reason instead.
Planning out your meals and creating a shopping list around them can help. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you should feel guilty for occasionally going off plan, but a little more structure can go a long way.
You come back for more in an hour or two
“This is another classic sign that you’re an emotional eater,” Upton told INSIDER. People who are emotional eaters tend to graze all day long, never feeling satisfied as they are feeding emotions and not hunger, she said.
Again, this is where having a plan in place can help. Even if you’re eating because you’re bored, grazing could also be a sign that you don’t feel satisfied with your meals. Make sure you’re planning out well-rounded and satisfying meals. If you’re still going back for more, the answer may be some added protein or healthy fats.
“Make sure each meal is rich in protein and is well-balanced,” Alpert said. “Healthy snacks between meals will also help to maintain a healthy level of metabolism and energy levels,” he added.
You find yourself in front of the fridge looking for answers
“If your stomach isn’t leading the way to the fridge with a clear direction of knowing what and how much you want to eat, this is a huge clue that you might be eating when you are bored,” suggested registered dietitian Renee Little, RD.
Nattanee.P/ShutterstockYou should know ahead of time what you want to eat.
If you can’t remember how the food tasted, that is another sign
“Many people dissociate when they are eating out of boredom – their mind wanders, they lose track of what and how much they are eating (or even that they are eating!) until something jolts them back to reality,” said eating disorder dietitian Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD-S. “If you mentally check out while you’re eating, it’s hard to remember that you ate, much less if you enjoyed it or not,” she added.
Sitting at the table without electronics can help you savour and enjoy your food and be sure that you’re eating for fuel and satiety, not just out of habit.
To stop eating out of boredom it’s important to manage your stress levels
“Try to identify, understand, and manage your stress,” suggested psychotherapist and author Jonathan Alpert. Emotional eating can be a sign of letting stress get you. You can control it in healthier ways through exercise, talking to supportive friends, proper sleep, and a balanced diet.
You can also talk to a professional if stress or anxiety are taking a toll on your well-being.
Try to create a food journal to stop mindless eating
On a piece of paper, Alpert suggested making three columns with the following headers: “what type of food am I reaching for?” “what’s my emotional state?” “what’s going on in my life right now that’s leading to this emotion?” and “what’s an alternative behaviour to eating the junk food?” Doing so can help you pinpoint what exactly is fuelling your emotional eating, he explained.
Ask yourself if you are feeding your body or feeding your emotions
Alpert explained to INSIDER that it’s crucial to make a distinction between the two. “Eating to satiate hunger and provide nutrients is vastly different than eating to satiate boredom, stress, and anxiety,” he suggested.
Of course, if you’re truly hungry, it’s more than OK to eat, but if you find that you’re simply eating out of habit or stress, try doing something else to take your mind off of it for a bit and see how you feel.
Keep healthy foods on hand.
Instead of having foods that you know make you prone to overeating around, Alpert suggested keeping healthy alternatives such as fruit slices and vegetable sticks nearby. If you do have some of your favourite junk foods on hand, portioning them out or even pouring some in a bowl before you start eating can help you stop when you’re full.
Be kind to yourself and know that it’s a process
It can be easy to beat yourself up when it comes to your eating patterns, but that can lead to more self-sabotage. Be kind to yourself and try to work on changing self talk to be more positive.
“Self-talk can be your worst enemy or best friend,” Alpert said. “Thinking thoughts like ‘I’m such an emotional mess’ will probably keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns, while thoughts such as ‘I am going to take charge of my health and manage stress better’ will lead to better behaviours and a healthier lifestyle,” he added.
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