What you'll learn from this episode:
- Why we boredom eat
- Why this isn’t only a COVID-19 issue
- How to put an end to boredom eating
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Today’s episode is all about boredom and boredom eating. It’s pretty ironic that I recorded this after a pretty busy weekend. In case anyone listens to this in the future, I am in Denver which is currently still under safer at home restrictions.
This past weekend was packed. I had a call with my high school friends (who are all in COVID epicenters). A baby shower for my cousin in law, which went better than expected for a 40 person zoom call. And a virtual bachelorette for one of my best friends since we were supposed to be in Scottsdale this weekend celebrating her.
But like I said this isn’t my typical weekend. I feel like that Tyga and Curtis Roach song “Bored in The House” is the 2020 anthem so far. Everyone seems bored with being stuck inside. And I’ve heard so many friends, family and clients talk about how they are struggling with boredom eating since they are working from home full time now.
Although I was already working in my business from home before Covid-19, I have a lot of memories of when I would work from home in my old career and eat way more than I did in the office. Although I ate a lot in the office too.
What I’ve been hearing from people struggling with boredom eating these days is there’s just more access to food. Not every office has a free stocked pantry and ping pong table. You know, like you hear about in startups lately and “cool” companies. But these days if you want food, all you have to do is walk a few feet to go grab some. It’s a very small barrier to getting food.
And your brain knows that the food will feel good. Much better than being bored.
Boredom Eating Before Covid-19
While a lot of people are dealing with boredom snacking these days, it’s definitely not a Corona-specific problem. I used to have a snack drawer at work and a snack bag in the office fridge. I’d always have it stocked with my favorites and all different types of tastes ranging from hummus and carrots in the fridge to dark chocolate and air popped truffle popcorn at my desk.
None of that sounds too unhealthy right? But I was still struggling with my weight because I would eat when I was bored (among other reasons). My body didn’t need food but I would eat anyway.
My old career was in Corporate Finance. It was never something I was particularly interested in. I worked in spreadsheets a lot. I was good at it, but again not interested. As a result, I would boredom eat a lot even when I was busy. Because I wasn’t being stimulated by my job. But eating never solved my problem of being uninterested in my job.
Just because you boredom eat, doesn’t necessarily mean that you hate your career. You just want to experience something more interesting that whatever you think is boring.
Maybe it’s a break during the day where you are waiting for someone to send you a report. And you think, hmm, I wonder what’s in the cabinets that I could snack on?
Maybe it’s a Saturday and it’s raining. You can’t go outside so you figure you’ll watch more reruns of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. But since you’ve already seen them, you start looking for more food to enhance the experience. Chips and salsa will be perfect!
Why We Boredom Eat
So, why do we boredom eat? You may be able to guess this, but it’s because we don’t want to be bored or restless. Feeling bored is uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good. As a result, we try to escape this experience with something that we know will feel good. Food.
Food especially foods that are high in salt, fat, flour or sugar give your brain a big dopamine hit (feel good hormone). And your brain is efficient for solving problems. Without even noticing, your brain realizes that your bored and that this is a problem. It knows from experience that food will feel better and solves this problem in the moment.
But this solution creates another problem, weight gain. Especially if you’re eating when you’re not hungry. And from what I’ve heard from many of my clients, being overweight and overeating is a more significant problem for them than being bored or restless.
I’ll walk you through how to stop. But before you can learn how, you must realize that boredom is simply an emotion like sadness or joy or frustration.
The Boredom Is Bad Myth
There’s this idea that we have that being bored or feeling restless is a bad thing. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with being bored. Like I said, it is simply an emotion.
Even if you see it as a negative emotion, that doesn’t mean that experiencing it is a bad thing. Sometimes we want to experience negative or uncomfortable emotions.
Imagine if your mom died. You probably wouldn’t want to feel happy and joyful about it right? You would probably want to feel sad so you can give yourself the space to grieve and process her death.
While this is an extreme example, you can apply it to being bored. So, I want to first challenge this idea that boredom is a bad thing.
We are constantly stimulated these days. All we have to do is open our phone and we can get entertainment and dopamine hits immediately. Even seeing a little red notification number over an app stimulates us. Tons of people don’t even go to the bathroom without their phones because pooping takes too long and they can’t go that long with nothing to do.
Since we are constantly stimulated, our brain never gets a break to just rest and process. You ever notice that you have lots of weird thoughts and ideas in the shower? Or seem to remember something on your to do list as soon as you lay down in bed trying to go to sleep? That’s because those times are pretty much the only times we give our brains a break.
And I’m not coming from this in a judgmental place. I just blow-dried and straightened my hair today and for the entire time I was listening to a podcast.
But if you feel a constant urge to avoid boredom and fill that urge with food, getting rid of the idea that boredom or restlessness is always bad will make it much easier to stop the boredom eating. I challenge you to question this belief and even embrace boredom sometimes as a good thing to give your mind a little break.
Awareness is going to be another huge help for stopping the boredom eating. If you don’t know when you’re boredom eating or don’t realize until after the fact, it’s a lot harder to stop.
Awareness is a skill that requires practice to master so if you don’t have full awareness in the moment about your boredom eating, there’s no need to beat yourself up. You just haven’t practiced this skill. But I’ll walk you through how to practice it so it becomes second nature. That way you can beat this restless eating for good.
Practice just noticing when a craving for food comes up. What this might look like is you’re sitting at your kitchen table working and you notice that you want some Pirate Booty cheese puffs. You get up and head for them but then you catch yourself. You notice you are having a food craving.
Even just stopping and calling out the food craving is a big step in food awareness. And the next step would be to ask yourself, why do I want this food? If you’re hungry, then it’s not boredom eating, no issue. Feed yourself. If you are bored or restless, then you just caught yourself before actually boredom eating.
What do you do when you catch yourself wanting to boredom eating? The key to stopping the boredom eating is super simple:
Allow yourself to be bored
What does that look like without making yourself miserable? I’ll explain.
In that moment right before you reach for the Booty (Pirate Booty you dirty minds), you notice that you are having a craving. Then after asking yourself, why am I having the craving? When you answer that question, you notice that it’s because you’re bored working and want a break and think that the pirate booty is going to taste really good.
You call out the boredom craving to yourself. Like okay, I’m having a craving to eat because I think what I’m working on is boring.
And then question the craving to yourself and embrace the boredom. Thinking, yes the food will taste good but I’m not hungry so my body doesn’t need it right now. And I know that boredom is just an emotion so experiencing. It won’t be as bad as continuing my boredom eating habit. I can handle being a little restless.
And that’s it. Eventually, after sitting with the boredom, the craving to eat will go away.
- Boredom is an uncomfortable emotion for many of us
- Since we are constantly stimulated these days, we don’t have much time to be bored because we don’t have to experience it with all the other options we have
- But our brain needs some downtime to process thoughts and take a break
- Boredom doesn’t have to be the enemy
- To beat the boredom eating, you must increase awareness around when you are having a craving for food so you can practice noticing whether it’s a craving because of boredom
- Then allow yourself to experience the boredom because it’s not as bad as our brain wants to make us think