Boredom Eating: Midmorning. Midafternoon. Between dinner and bedtime.
In my experience, those are the times most people reach for a snack. It’s usually mindless eating. I’ve got some ideas on why this is, and they all boil down to boredom.
Let’s face it, there are a lucky few who have jobs they love, jobs that are fulfilling and engaging and keep us interested all day long. For the most part, we’ve got jobs that have their highlights and lowlights, and typically don’t excite us for a full 8 hours a day.
They get boring.
This can happen midmorning, for sure. And although some jobs encourage a walk around the block or a trip down to accounting to chat with Leslie, the more common professionally sanctioned end game of taking a break is to bop on down to the coffee area – where there are inevitably snacks.
And not hummus with zucchini slices – it’s donuts, cookies, leftover Halloween candy, that type of thing. And since they’re there, you eat them. Standing at the counter with a paper towel. This is one type of mindless eating. And why were you even in the room? You were bored and didn’t seem to have other options.
The midafternoon boredom snack is a personal favorite. For many people, energy just lags between 2pm and 4pm. If you had a big lunch, it’s likely that you’ve got a bit of that food coma.
More likely, you had a light lunch, so you’re legit hungry. Top all that with you’ve been working for hours and hours and the motivation you launched the day with has waned.
Further, thing have just gotten boring. The good news is it’s not unheard of to pop down to the coffee shop, which is a great way to stretch your legs and get some fresh air, but when you get there, it’s a latte and a scone, eaten while walking back to the office. Or you get to the office and eat it at your desk. Another mindless eating event.
After dinner before bedtime is a classic as well. The day is finally down, you’ve got the kids in bed and the dishes done and you plop down on the couch to scroll or stare at a screen. Truth told, it’s kind of boring. So you pop to the kitchen and grab a snack. Eaten right there at the counter or back on the couch, it’s mindless eating.
So what to do?
First, you have to recognize the pattern.
It’s worth going to the root of the problem, you were bored. You went for food. You needed a tool to fill the time, you looked in your toolbox (metaphorical), and there was food. Might be the only tool in the box, or it’s right on top.
The challenge is to find other things to do. Things to fill the time, cut the boredom, re-energize you.
I suggest experimenting this when the stakes are low – during a time when you’re not bored. Finding things that you like doing to fill up that tool box so when you get bored it’s an easy reach.
Your tool box is going to be unique to you.
You can be proactive, too.
Make sure you eat filling meals. If you skip breakfast, if you go light on lunch, if you skimp on dinner, you’re going to be hungry. Hunger is compelling, and can override your ability to think rationally to recognize boredom and reach for a tool that isn’t food.
But back to the tool box. What can be in there? What can you do instead of eat when it’s that boring time between things?
1. Take a walk (this one is good during the day ‘cause you were going to the coffee shop anyway. Just walk past it and go around the block).
2. Phone a friend. More engaging than scrolling or staring at a screen.
3. Go ahead and scroll – pick something you’re really interested in, maybe learn a little something.
4. Breathe. Experiment with energizing breathing techniques – you can find some great examples on YouTube. If you pray, take some time to check in with that. If you like poetry, read some really savor it.
5. Stretch. Up to the sky, down to your toes, side to side, twisty twisty. Get the blood out of your butt (from sitting for so long).
6. Listen to music. Surely you’ve got a portable device you can take some music with you. Some people like the smooth cool stuff, others enjoy something plucky, and you can’t go wrong with the classics.
The KEY to success in all these: get away from your desk. Be mindful about breaking the boredom.
Mindfulness means being present, and that’ll fill the boredom hole.
Are these easy? Absolutely. Will they come easily? Nope. It will take practice – and first a little faith that there’ll be a benefit.
It is unfortunate that eating is such a socially acceptable way to pass the time. And that it feels so compelling when you’re bored.
So ask yourself, what is boredom eating doing for me? Does it have value? If it does, stick with it. If it is, in truth, bringing you down, consider trying something else.
Drop a comment – what do you think about this? What tools can you practice?