Ever had a day when you just cannot stop eating, even if you’re not actually hungry?
Chocolate, crisps, and other huge portions of food can be devoured in the space of minutes, and afterwards you’re often left with feelings of guilt and confusion.
You know you didn’t *need to eat it all, you maybe didn’t even really fancy it, and yet, still you smashed that packed of biscuits like it was the last day you’d ever get to taste them ever again.
I know, I know… it sounds like a diet industry made up thing, but it’s real, and it can affect any person, at any time.
For those of us making a conscious effort to eat well for health, aesthetics, or performance, it can spell disaster.
So, let's look at the reasons for this common gripe, and what we can do to curb it for good…
Some boredom hunger facts
Whilst it's well known that humans and other creatures do eat for pleasure, the fact remains that the primary purpose of food is sustenance. How does it come about that our mood, location and sensory influences can stimulate the urge to stuff our faces with the things we crave? Rather than being satisfied to eat to quell hunger?
During periods of boredom, or other emotional stress, our bodies can convince us that we need to eat, regardless of if we do or not. This nutritional phenomenon is the result of mock hunger signals from our bodies as a response to specific emotional or physical cues.
Of course, a range of factors play a part in why and how we convince ourselves that we're hungry, like feelings of boredom or sadness, learned eating habits or patterns, and physical triggers like locations. These can be categorised into three groups: physical, physiological, and emotional triggers.
- Specific locations associated with food and eating
- People, their actions, and social influences
- Events such as a trip to the cinema or night in with friends
- Bright packaging
- Seeing or smelling food
- Eating habits and rituals
- Hormones related to stress or monthly cycles
- The body's hunger responses and reactions to undereating or overeating
- "Emotional hunger is a desire for food that results from an emotion. Most people associate emotional hunger with negative emotions, like stress, sadness, or anger, and certainly emotional hunger often stems from a desire to soothe, numb, or distract from these feelings." (Rachel Hartley, 2022)
So what do we do about it?
Studies show that recognising and understanding triggers are key elements in breaking unwanted boredom hunger eating habits. In 2009, Adriaanse et al conducted a study into relevant reasons for unhealthy eating.
Essentially, they found that when making dietary changes for the better, rather than focussing on the "what’s” and "where’s” causing people to eat unhealthily, it was more effective to implement changes with a focus on "why" people snacked and binged when experiencing emotional cues:
"Results showed that implementation intentions specifying motivational cues decreased unhealthy snack consumption whereas the classic specification of where and when did not. Extending previous research, for complex behavior change “why” seems more important than “where and when."
Listen to your body and eat intuitively!
When the mood strikes, rather than mindlessly running to the fridge or nearest shop, pause for a moment, and ask:
Am I physically, or emotionally hungry?
Physical hunger is accompanied by an empty or rumbling feeling in the stomach, or even hunger pangs. Emotional eating is not.
Why do I feel like I need to eat?
Think back - have you seen or heard something that triggered these thoughts? Is it simply a habit that you don't consciously question?
Am I procrastinating, or masking negative emotions?
You'll have to face up to these things and deal with them at some point. Only once you've done this will you feel better.
Is there something more fulfilling that I can be doing?
Remind yourself of the benefits of a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.
Remember that any imagined need for impulsive eating is temporary, but a diet that makes your body happy will have massive impact on your mood, hormones and overall health.
Of course, if you do end up giving in to the boredom – don’t beat yourself up – the fact the fact that you've stopped to ask yourself these questions is a step in the right direction.
Set up for success
Plan to succeed, but keep it flexi! Overly strict diets and lifestyles can be tough to stick to, and often don't match our bodies' needs. Here are some top tips to give you the best chance of maintaining a healthy, happy life and kick that boredom hunger to the curb…