Overeating because you’re bored? Dietitian Melissa Meier shares her practical tips on how to stop boredom eating in its tracks.
Have you been eating more lately? I’m sure you’re not alone. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic, and it’s putting *a lot* of stress on *a lot* of different people – so it’s no surprise you’re turning to food for comfort.
Let’s get one thing straight: a one-off bout of emotional eating isn’t really a big deal. A singular bag of chips, a row (or five) of chocolate or a few too many spoonfuls of ice cream isn’t going to derail your health or your waistline, so cut yourself some slack.
If you’re turning to these foods on the reg as a coping mechanism, however, you might need a gentle nudge towards some helpful strategies that don’t involve food.
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True vs. emotional hunger
Assessing your hunger before you eat is the first step in dealing with non-hungry eating. You see, there are two types of hunger: true hunger and emotional hunger. True hunger is the type of hunger you feel when you’ve got a grumbling tummy, hunger pangs and an empty feeling in your stomach. You’re actually hungry, and eating satisfies this feeling.
Then there’s emotional eating. This is where you turn to food to help deal with uncomfortable feelings. Think: stress, sadness, anger, heartache or boredom, the latter of which is obviously extremely relevant given the situation we’re all currently facing. As explained in a 2015 paper in Frontiers in Psychology, food acts a distraction – so boredom eating is a real worry given how much longer we could be stuck in isolation. To help stop boredom eating in its tracks, here’s my top five tips.
1. Rate your hunger
Before you eat, rate your hunger on a scale. Minus five is absolutely ravenous, zero is neither hungry nor full, and plus five is Christmas day stuffed. This simple trick will help you to identify true vs. emotional hunger. If you’ve rated yourself between minus two and minus five, you’re truly hungry, so go for it. If not, cue point two…
2. Develop a non-food strategy
When you’re feeling like eating, but you’re not actually hungry, it’ll pay to have some strategies up your sleeve to help you turn away from food. Do some experimenting and find what works for you – it might be a quick walk around the block, some time out to listen to a podcast or a call to a friend.
3. Ensure your main meals are well balanced
Cravings for sugary, fatty foods can set in when your main meals aren’t well balanced. So, include a source of quality carbs, lean protein and fibre in your breakfast, lunch and dinner and you’ll feel super satisfied, rather than unnecessarily peckish between meals.
4. Have a cuppa
A warm cup of tea can bring a lot of comfort – and the best part is, it’ll help to keep you hydrated and it offers a tonne of health benefits. Plus, it doesn’t provide any added sugar, fat or sodium like many go-to snack foods do, so it’s a win-win when only food (or drinks) will do.
5. Keep high-fibre snacks on hand
A high-fibre snack is ultra-satisfying, so opting for these foods when you’re actually hungry will keep cravings for other snacks at bay. Fruit, veggie sticks and dip or roasted legumes are some of my favourite high-fibre snacks to recommend.
Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.