How to stop boredom eating: 8 tips that work
Is eating when you’re bored interfering with your health goals?
Boredom eating is super common, and more than just a little annoying.
It can cause food guilt, create physical discomfort (can you say BLOAT?!), and make you question your willpower… And honestly, it’s one of those stubborn habits that sticks around long after you decide to leave it behind.
In this article, you’ll learn what boredom eating is, why it happens, and exactly how to overcome it. You’ll also understand how to eat when you’re bored on occasion without sabotaging your health.
New to the blog? Hi, I’m Miranda–Registered Dietitian and founder of Real Life Nutritionist. I’m here to help you better understand your body and habits so you can transform your relationship with food and achieve real health that lasts.
Keep reading to learn how to stop boredom eating with 8 dietitian tips that work.
What is boredom eating?
Boredom eating is a type of emotional eating (1).
If you’ve ever polished off a tub of ice cream after a break-up or drowned your sorrows in warm chocolate chip cookies after a chemistry exam (or is that just me?), then you know the feeling.
Anxiety, anger, or sadness are common triggers for emotional eating. But boredom is an emotion too! And because it’s an uncomfortable feeling, it can nudge many people toward food to cope (2).
Is boredom eating bad?
Boredom and emotional eating aren’t always a bad thing.
For one, not all emotional eating happens because of negative emotions.
It’s human nature to celebrate and bond over food–and there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying birthday cake or your aunt’s famous pecan pie at Thanksgiving.
But even when emotional eating happens because of a negative emotion like boredom or sadness, it’s just one coping tool.
Frequency, intensity, and how it leaves you feeling matters.
Occasionally turning to chips to feel better is human and OK. But doing it every single time you feel emotional discomfort might not be the healthiest response.
How can you know if your boredom or emotional eating is a problem? Ask yourself these questions:
- How often do I emotionally eat?
Frequency matters. Consider whether this is an everyday or every-week habit, or if it happens every couple of months.
- Am I in control of the experience?
Do you choose to emotionally eat, or does emotional eating choose you? It’s one thing to choose this as a coping tool, but it’s another to feel like it’s your only option.
- How does emotional eating leave me feeling?
Sometimes, an ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie does just the trick. But if emotional eating leaves you feeling worse instead of better, it might be time to reconsider.
What about health?
Remember–frequency, intensity, and impact matter.
Occasional emotional or boredom eating might have minimal impact on your physical health or emotional wellbeing. But if you’re doing it a lot, your health might suffer.
This is because people don’t usually turn to carrot sticks or broccoli when they want to emotionally eat. Research suggests that people tend to go for ‘hyperpalatable’ foods when they’re bored or feeling down (3).
You know, those delicious snack foods that are higher in sugar, fat and salt… Foods like pizza, chips and chocolate; the ones that are hard to put down even when you’re feeling full.
So if you eat out of boredom or negative emotions a lot, it’s likely you’re eating more than you might need. And… your diet might start to look a little higher in the fun stuff than us dietitians might like.
Potential health risks of boredom eating include:
- Weight gain
- Digestive discomfort
- Low energy and lethargy
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Disconnection from hunger and fullness signals
Why do we eat when bored?
To learn how to overcome boredom eating, we have to first understand why it happens.
Without solid nutrition, boredom and emotional eating becomes pretty dang hard to resist.
Think about: It’s 3 pm and you’re sitting at home with absolutely nothing to do. A freshly frosted chocolate cake is sitting on the counter. And you skipped lunch so you’re STARVING. Can you see yourself resisting?
Think about how different that scenario would play out if you had a full and satisfying sandwich and veggies just a few hours earlier. Sure, you might have a slice of cake if you felt like it… But the urgency and intensity you felt toward that treat wouldn’t even compare.
Humans tend to reach for the tools they’re used to.
If you learned to cope with emotions through food as a kid, you’re likely to keep up the same habit as an adult. This is especially true if you lack awareness over your emotional eating tendencies or tend to be a bit mindless with food overall.
Lack of coping skills
Boredom eating, like most forms of emotional eating, is a coping tool.
It’s a way to (at least try to) fulfil unmet emotional needs through food. And if you haven’t done the work to identify and practice other tools for emotional management, you might feel like you don’t have other options.
8 Dietitian tips to overcome boredom eating
It’s easy to feel stuck relying on boredom eating.
But with some new tools and patience, it’s 100% possible to stop eating when you’re bored and develop healthier tools and habits.
1. Eat regular, balanced meals
Step 1 to tackling boredom eating is mastering consistent, balanced meals.
Willpower is not the answer here. But if you keep arriving to moments of boredom feeling hungry and ravenous, eating when you’re bored is going to feel hard to resist.
Tip: Build filling meals that include all the macronutrients–protein, fat and carbohydrates. Start with three meals a day and add snacks if you feel hungry in between.
2. Start meal planning
Mastering consistent, balanced meals requires you to be prepared.
Stocking your fridge and cupboards with easy, nourishing ingredients means you’ll always have feel-good foods available. And making a meal plan means you’ll know exactly how to use them.
Tip: Make a plan for breakfasts, lunches and dinners you’ll prepare for the week ahead. And use this plan to make a grocery list and shop. Don’t be afraid to plan for easy options and use leftovers to make preparing meals extra doable.
3. Make movement a routine
Movement is so important for physical and mental health.
Exercise not only helps fill your time–you know, so you feel less bored–it can also help you better regulate your appetite and manage stress. So when it comes to overcoming boredom eating, regular physical activity is key.
Tip: Write down 2-3 types of movement you actually enjoy–walking, dancing, roller skating, you name it. The more enjoyable you find movement, the more likely you’ll be to keep it up.
4. Understand your triggers
Take a second to reflect on why YOU boredom eat. Because honestly, everyone is different.
A lot of factors can contribute to eating when you’re bored. Ask yourself whether nutrition, habits or poor emotional coping is relevant for you… or maybe it’s a combo of all three. Once you understand your why, you can make a better plan to tackle it.
Tip: Set a timer for 5 minutes and answer the following journal prompt: what factors contribute to my boredom and emotional eating the most, and why?
5. Brainstorm a plan B
To conquer boredom eating, you’re probably going to need other tools to manage and cope.
After all, there’s a reason you turned to food for so long. And it’s probably because it (at least sometimes) made you feel better when you were feeling down!
Tip: Open a note in your phone and brainstorm ideas of what you can do instead of eat when you’re bored–we’ll call this your emotional eating toolkit. Think of other activities or tools you’ll actually want to try.
Examples of things to do instead of boredom eating:
- Call a friend
- Knit or crochet
- Paint by numbers
- Play with your pet
- Read a book
- Try a dance workout
- Plan your next trip
- Catch-up on TV
- Walk outside
- Browse recipes for your meal plan
6. Make your plan B easy
Hear me out–you’re used to reaching for food and you probably like turning to food… even if you can recognize it’s not serving you.
So when given the choice between chips and journaling, you’ll probably choose the latter.
You can combat this by building your emotional coping toolkit with options that are genuinely appealing.
But also… making sure those options are EASY and ready to be used.
For example, if you’ve decided you want to try crocheting instead of boredom eating, leave the needles and yarn in eyesight. The goal is to reduce any possible barriers so you’re likely to actually try that new behaviour.
Tip: Keep your emotional coping toolkit as a pinned note in your phone. Set your space up to make at least two of those options ready to go.
7. Identify the emotion in your body
Emotions are usually accompanied by a physical sensation–tightness in your chest, strain in your eyes, or maybe a sore jaw.
And the act of identifying what boredom feels like in your body can be just enough to pull you away from your usually automatic response… eating.
Remember, the goal here is mindfulness, not judgement. Notice the sensation, don’t try to immediately reject it.
Tip: Next time you want to eat when bored, ask yourself–where is this emotion (boredom) manifesting in my body? What sensation am I feeling?
8. Change your environment
Never underestimate the power of a change in scenery.
Behaviours like boredom eating can be tied to triggers like a certain room, TV show or person. So breaking away from your usual environment can help.
Tip: If you’re fighting the urge to eat when bored, take a breath and change your surroundings. Sitting in another room–or even better, leaving your house–can work wonders.
What if you want to eat when bored?
Well, that’s okay! Sometimes you may choose to eat when you’re bored.
But the key to boredom eating without ending the experience feeling worse is to make the experience intentional and mindful.
Here’s what I recommend if you want to eat when you’re bored:
- Check-in with yourself first.
Ask yourself what emotion you’re feeling and what tool or activity might help. When you’re bored, you’re allowed to choose food! But remember there are other tools available to you if you want to use them.
- Be present.
If you choose to eat when you’re bored, avoid mindlessly disconnecting. Sit down with your food and allow it to do the job you assigned it–helping you feel better.
- Honour your cues.
Don’t eat until you’re feeling overly full and uncomfortable. It’s okay to choose to eat when you’re bored, but you also deserve to stop when you’re full, especially when you’re working on understanding your body and honouring its cues.
- Choose foods that align with your goals.
If you’re eating when you’re not hungry, consider picking a nutritious food that supports your health in other ways. Crunchy seaweed snacks, fresh baby carrots, or sweet and juicy fruit can satisfy without leaving you feeling lethargic.
After you finish boredom eating, make sure to reflect on the experience. Did food help? Do you wish you’d tried another tool? How can you better support your physical and emotional health in the future?
Boredom eating is a type of emotional eating.
Eating when you’re bored isn’t *bad* and you’re not a bad person if you do it. But if it’s becoming your only tool for dealing with boredom or it’s impacting your health, it’s worth trying to stop.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to stop eating when you’re bored, start with the strategies in this post.
And remember, tackling boredom eating and nutrition is a long-term game.
If you’re trying to change your habits, have patience and give yourself grace. It’s way healthier to make small changes that last than trying to do everything fast.
If you want help overcoming boredom and emotional eating without giving up the foods you love, download my FREE guide. You’ll learn the exact steps I take with clients to achieve real health without feeling deprived and overwhelmed.