By: Calvin Huynh
You Are Not Actually Hungry, Just Bored.
There is a common saying “you’re not actually hungry, you’re just bored.” While it may sound like a cliche, there is much truth to that. With mindless boredom, one innocent chip can easily turn into a family sized binge.
Unless you are staying stimulated and busy, human nature defaults to eating in order to fulfill a desire for incentive or to escape monotony. Either way, boredom is essentially a recipe for binging (1).
If It Is Next To You, You Will Eat It.
Where your food is located can also make this more or less likely, especially if you are stuck working from home all day. The closer a food is, the more likely you are to eat it. Vice versa as well, the further a food is, the less likely you are to eat it.
This is called the proximity effect and is why keeping a jar of nuts by your desk is never a good idea.
Proximity even impacts you outside of your home. For example, simply living closer to more fast food joints and restaurants is associated with a worse body composition (2).
Without even knowing it, your environment is altering your behavior based on relative distance. This can quickly intensify the ease of consumption, and drive you to overeat.
Boredom + Bad Food Environment = Overconsumption
Research shows this can affect people regardless of an individual’s level of self-control. In other words, people with more willpower might be able to resist better than people with less, but it is still a struggle (3).
This applies to everything from food, alcohol, and drugs, but in this case, we’ll be talking about food (4).
Boredom can predict not only how much someone will eat, but that they’re more likely to choose unhealthy options while neglecting healthy ones. So combating all this, comes down to 2 things. Modifying our environment and preventing boredom (5).
How To Modify Your Food Environment
Although your environment can negatively impact your eating habits, you can use the proximity effect to your advantage with a few simple changes.
So here are a few approaches to rid your house of temptation:
- Remove or distance anything from your counter, pantry, and fridge that causes frequent overconsumption.
- Replace any high calorie snacks with more filling snacks like protein supplements, deli meats, beef jerky, veggies, and fruit.
- Stock your fridge up with high protein and fiber dense foods.
- Have plenty of zero or low-calorie beverages readily available in your fridge.
How to Combat Boredom
In addition, when healthy food is perceived as newer or exciting, you can mitigate boredom eating (6). So starting a new eating style, cooking an exciting recipe, or buying some fun low calorie ice cream is not a bad idea.
With that being said, here are more ways you can prevent your brain from going into a state of, “Welp, life is pretty bland, let’s eat a box of cookies.”
- Have a routine. This means for work, exercise, hobbies, and meals.
- Fill up your time with hobbies, passions, challenges, or a chance to learn a new skill.
- Go for a walk or clean the house when you get cravings.
- Cook and prepare healthy recipes. The longer they take, the better.
- Challenge yourself with something difficult daily.
- Talk to a friend everyday. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.
- Start reading all the books you own.
Increasing task frequency by breaking them up into smaller chunks can help keep things fresh as well. For example, instead of working for 6 hours straight, do two 3-hour blocks of work with a walk and a texting conversation with an old friend in between.
Get creative, otherwise your subconscious will justify every reason to check the fridge for the 8th time for another snack.
The goal is to fill up your day with enough tasks to occupy the brain. This provides sufficient stimulation as you creep closer to bedtime and once you hit your head on the pillow without boredom eating, you have made it through another successful day.
Thus, always keep in the back of your mind that your hunger or cravings are often a result of boredom and once you’re bored, your environment makes consumption inevitable. So modify your environment and keep yourself occupied. It could be the absolute key to keeping you lean.