If you eat when you’re bored, you’re not alone.
It’s not unusual to reach for a snack when there isn’t much else to do, even when you aren’t hungry.
Boredom eating from time to time can be completely normal and nothing to worry about. However, it may be frustrating for some people and have health implications, including weight gain.
Here are 13 simple tips to keep from eating when you’re bored.
A word of caution: If you’re concerned you could be experiencing symptoms of disordered eating, reach out to a trained professional for help.
1–4. Maintain a healthy diet
There are many reasons why you might be eating when you’re bored.
Often an external trigger, such as the sight or smell of food, makes us reach for a snack.
One way to prevent boredom eating is to maintain a healthy diet.
A diet that leaves you feeling full and satisfied over the day leaves less room for wondering about whether you should have a snack when you’re bored.
1. Eat regularly throughout the day
Try to spread out your calorie intake throughout a regular meal and snack schedule. This may keep you more full and less hungry than eating the same number of calories on a less regular meal schedule.
If you’re feeling content with your food choices for the day, you might be less likely to reach for a snack when you’re bored.
What’s more, knowing that you plan to eat a meal or snack in the next few hours could be motivation to hold back from eating until then.
The same meal schedule doesn’t work for everyone. Some people like to have three meals and a few snacks each day, while others may prefer to have more or less.
Finding a routine that works for you and sticking with it seems to matter more than exactly how many meals and snacks you have each day.
2. Don’t restrict your favorite foods
If you tend to crave or reach for certain foods when you’re bored, you might be tempted to completely stop eating those foods to remove the temptation.
However, for some people, research shows this approach might be counterproductive.
If you find you’re more susceptible to food cravings, depriving yourself of certain foods might make you crave them more in the short term.
Rather than eliminating the foods you crave, try eating them regularly but in moderation. This might help reduce your urge to snack on those foods when you’re bored.
3. Have nutritious, filling snacks
When you’ve just had a filling meal or snack, you may be less likely to associate feeling bored with wanting to eat.
Certain foods are more filling than others.
Some particularly filling foods include:
- Protein: eggs, fish, meat, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Fiber-rich foods: oatmeal, quinoa, whole grains, legumes, popcorn
- Foods high in water: fruits, vegetables, soups
4. Eat from a plate
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between hunger and boredom.
Ocassationally, there may still be times when you reach for a snack when you’re bored.
To avoid overeating and letting boredom get the best of your appetite in those moments, portion your snacks onto a plate or serving dish rather than eating them directly from the bag or container.
Visual cues, such as the plate size, container size, and even the type of dish you eat from, can all influence how much you eat.
Summary: Eating a healthy diet comprising regular meals, nutritious and filling snacks, and appropriate portion sizes may be more satisfying and thus make it less tempting to eat when you’re feeling bored.
5–8. Tune in to your emotions
Researchers know that your emotions and mood often influence when, what, and how much you eat.
Experts have also suggested that how well you regulate your emotions can influence boredom eating. Poor emotional regulation could potentially lead to an increase in eating when you’re feeling bored.
Suggested read: 11 proven ways to lose weight without diet or exercise
Practicing self-awareness and developing a better understanding of how your own emotions are influencing your appetite is a great starting place to combat boredom eating.
5. Eat mindfully
To be mindful means to be conscious, aware, and focused on the present moment.
To eat mindfully means to be aware of your mental and physical states related to food.
Some studies have found mindfulness is particularly helpful at helping people reduce eating in response to emotions like boredom.
Mindful eating is useful in differentiating between boredom and hunger, as it emphasizes paying close attention to your cravings and hunger and fullness cues.
6. Know your hunger signs
Being perceptive of your specific hunger and fullness signs may be one of the most effective ways to determine whether you’re hungry or bored.
When your body is physically hungry and in need of calories for energy, you may notice signs like your stomach growling, a headache, and feelings of weakness or fatigue.
On the other hand, when you’re experiencing boredom hunger — or another type of emotional hunger — you may crave a certain food without any of the traditional signs of physical hunger.
7. Embrace being bored
Throughout 2020 and into 2021, people reported feeling bored at higher rates than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In certain situations, being bored too often may have detrimental health effects, such as increased rates of depression and altered eating habits.
Still, a little boredom is OK and normal to experience from time to time.
What’s more, research has linked boredom to certain benefits. For example, it may help motivate creativity.
Trying to prevent boredom or override the feeling by eating and finding other distractions doesn’t always work. You might find meaning in the downtime by trying to embrace boredom instead.
8. Take it easy on yourself
Remember, it’s normal to reach for a snack out of boredom on occasion.
When it happens, don’t take it as a failure.
Rather, use it as a learning experience and opportunity to treat yourself with kindness and compassion.
Summary: Your mood and emotions play a significant role in psychologically induced hunger like boredom eating. Learning to be aware of your emotions, hunger triggers, and fullness cues can help prevent you from eating because you’re bored.
9–11. Understand your environment
Much of what you eat is influenced by your environment, and the same goes for when and how much you eat.
Here are a few specific ways you can tailor your environment to discourage yourself from boredom eating when the urge strikes.
9. Know your triggers
Especially when it comes to psychological types of hunger like boredom eating, external factors often trigger the urge to eat.
Identifying the triggers in your life that tend to cause the urge to eat when you’re bored is key to breaking the habit.
Some common triggers to be aware of are stress, food availability, and pictures of food.
Make notes in a food journal about what you’re doing and your environment when you feel the urge to eat. This might help identify — and stop — boredom eating patterns.
10. Avoid the urge to eat in front of a screen
Eating in front of a screen while you’re bored can influence you to overeat when you aren’t even hungry.
Many people turn to screen-based activities like watching TV or scrolling on their phones when they’re feeling bored.
Some studies have found that people tend to eat more than they otherwise would when they’re distracted or in front of a screen, such as a TV or a computer.
Break associations you might have between eating and screen time by making a point of eating meals at a table — not in front of the TV — and putting your phone away while you’re dining.
Consider replacing mindless eating during screen time with another activity, such as knitting, doodling, or playing with a toy or piece of jewelry, to keep your hands busy while you watch TV.
11. Change your scenery
Sometimes all it takes to get your mind off food when you’re feeling bored is a little change of scenery.
When you’re bored and fighting the urge to snack, standing up and moving to a new location — even if it’s just from one room to another — may be enough to distract your mind from food until the boredom passes.
Summary: External factors often trigger urges to eat when you’re not physically hungry. Identifying the factors in your environment that trigger boredom eating is key to breaking those habits.
12–13. Mix things up
To be bored means that you’re feeling uninterested in your current activity. The feeling often occurs when the day has been monotonous or repetitive.
The same goes for boredom eating.
You may eat simply as a way to escape the regular routines of the day.
Adding variety to your day keeps things feeling fresh and exciting, and it might fend off boredom eating.
12. Take a walk
When you’re feeling bored, taking a walk not only provides a distraction from any urges to snack but also physically removes you from food temptations.
Sometimes a quick 10–20-minute walk is all it takes to recenter yourself and forget about the urge to snack out of boredom.
If you’re not able to take a walk, you might find it helpful to take a few minutes to stretch or do breathing exercises.
13. Make new habits
One of the upsides of being bored is that it can drive you to try new things.
Next time you feel bored, take a few minutes to think about how you’d like to be spending that time.
Is there a new hobby you’d like to try or an old book that you never got around to reading?
Try to look at boredom as a space for meaningful stimulation in your day.
Summary: To prevent boredom eating from becoming a habit, try to keep your days from becoming too tedious or repetitive. Activities like talking a few short walks or periodic stretch breaks during the day provide a mental and physical break from usual routines.
Particularly between 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people reported increased feelings of boredom and altered eating habits, as well as side effects like weight gain.
Suggested read: 15 helpful tips to overcome binge eating
Boredom eating in unique situations like this may be nothing to worry about. It’s normal to feel an urge to eat when you’re bored, even regularly.
Yet, if boredom eating is affecting your mental or physical health with side effects like weight gain and anxiety, you may be looking for a way to stop.
In that case, some of these tips to address boredom eating could work for you.
Try out a few to see which ones work best for your circumstances.
Start a food journal and list the triggers that influence you to eat out of boredom. In other words, what external factors make it more likely you’ll eat while you’re bored? Once you identify these, you can find ways to avoid them or deal with them when they happen.