Eating when you’re bored is a type of compulsive eating that can be addressed by using your psychology. You don’t need to lock away the snacks! Environmental design (like keeping snacks out of sight) pales in comparison to mastering the mindset of boredom eating. After all, when we lock away the food, we always manage to find the key anyways — especially when we’re bored!
Boredom eating is different from other types of overeating, however. Most overeating is an attempt to numb our emotions. Boredom eating, however, usually starts with numb feelings. And the more we eat, the more we maintain this static feeling of disconnectedness.
This is where Psycho-Spiritual Wellness (aka, my approach to stopping compulsive eating) really shines! It helps you dig into the root cause for reaching for food when you aren’t hungry, including when you’re bored.
How to Overcome the Psychology of Boredom Eating
Before we dive into the psychology of boredom eating, here’s a friendly reminder of what doesn’t work: restricting your diet, distracting yourself with other unnecessary activities, and locking food away. None of this addresses the psychology of boredom eating. So, what does?
Here’s a video where I explain the psychology behind boredom eating and how to stop:
As you will learn (both in the video and in the tips down below) boredom eating isn’t really about feeling bored. It’s about allll the emotions underneath that we often have no idea is even there.
This is why I like to “categorize” boredom eating as a type of compulsive eating. It’s just one of many others, like hedonic eating, that sit under the big umbrella of emotional eating.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to break the pattern of boredom eating!
Let’s dig into 9 more steps to stop eating when you’re bored.
1. Look for “the primary emotion” that drives boredom eating
The root cause of boredom eating is an unwanted primary emotion. In other words, if you struggle with eating when you’re bored, there’s likely another emotion stirring beneath the surface. You might know it, or you might have no idea.
Boredom eating is difficult to stop until the primary emotion gets the attention it needs. But what is the primary emotion? This is where you need to do a little detective work. But before we get there, it helps to know the difference between plain boredom and “edgy boredom.”
2. Know the difference between plain boredom and “edgy boredom”
If we’re all honest with ourselves, we would probably agree that boredom isn’t the worst emotion in the world. There are many other emotions that are “worse,” like perhaps depression and loneliness. But….
When we feel drawn towards food when we’re bored, it’s often because there’s another “worse” emotion stirring underneath that we don’t want to feel. And sometimes those emotions are, in fact, depression and loneliness. This is what makes boredom feel like something we hate and why we feel drawn towards boredom eating.
For example, if you feel like eating when you’re bored, and you ask yourself why you really hate feeling bored, maybe you’d realize that you’re afraid of missing out. This fear of missing out (aka, FOMO) and loneliness can turn plain ol’ boredom into edgy boredom, and edgy boredom makes us want to overeat.
3. Embrace these unwanted feelings by making space for them (not by trying to make them go away)
When you feel bored, what else do you feel? It can be hard to say, because boredom is a numb emotion. When we feel bored, it’s like we feel listless and don’t know what to do with ourselves. We’re scattered on the surface.
Boredom is a numb feeling because, in my opinion, it acts as a “stuffer.” When we feel bored, it “stuffs” all the other unwanted emotions down. After all, which would you prefer: to feel bored, or to feel like you’re missing out? Most of us would prefer the former.
And this concept illustrates the heart of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness. Whenever we have the desire to eat when we aren’t hungry — like with boredom eating — it’s because there’s a negative emotion that we don’t want to feel. And therein lies the cure.
When we stop resisting negative emotion and give our feelings space and permission to exist, it takes the edge off the compulsion. It takes the edge out of edgy boredom.
When this happens, we can access our free will and decide not to eat when we aren’t hungry. This is a philosophical explanation, so let’s look at a specific example with boredom eating.
4. Become a primary emotion detective
Let’s say that it’s 9pm and you’re getting cozy in bed for the night. You’ve already watched the latest season of The Great British Bake Off (a very binge-worthy show, if you ask me!) and you’ve already spent too many hours on your phone. Now you don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re listless and bored, and now you feel like eating when you’re bored. Dun dun dun…
So, you get up and wander into the kitchen (without really wanting to be in the kitchen) and you reach for the chocolate chip cookies at the top of the pantry (without really wanting cookies). You go back to bed, and eat your snacks out of boredom…. or so it feels.
This is when you can ask yourself, what’s really going on? What other emotions are lurking beneath the surface?
An excellent tool for this is the Stop, Drop, & Feel. If you’re new to Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, this is the best place to start!
5. Give the “Stop, Drop, & Feel” a Try
The Stop, Drop, & Feel is my #1 tool to stop compulsive eating. It works by stopping yourself before a binge (or in this case, boredom eating), dropping into your body, and feeling your feelings.
Although this sounds simple in writing, it can be quite difficult — but also highly effective. It can be a hard sell, though. After all, why would we want to embrace our FOMO? Why would we choose to feel uncomfortable?
The answer is simple: because it helps us stop eating when we’re bored. It helps us eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full, and truly honor our bodies. This is the beautiful goal that we all want, and I firmly believe that Psycho-Spiritual Wellness can get you there!
6. Make room for discomfort
Here’s how the Stop, Drop, & Feel would play out when I first started using it on boredom eating:
At first, I would assume I was just bored, but when I stopped and looked within, I would stumble upon loneliness, sadness, or both — and it sucked. But here’s the beauty (yes, beauty) of this situation:
When I let myself feel the sharp edges of these emotions — and when I truly surrendered and made space for my loneliness to coexist with me (and remember: I thought it was just boredom only 60 seconds ago!) — they lose their power.
Then, by the time I’ve given these emotions plenty of time and space to simply exist, I don’t want the cookies anymore. I don’t feel like eating when I’m bored. I also don’t feel particularly great (given that I was feeling many unpleasant emotions) but suddenly I can honor my body and skip the unnecessary snacks. This is the magic of the Stop, Drop, & Feel.
7. Become a detective of “stuffer” emotions that drive boredom eating
As you can see from the example, boredom is the “stuffer” emotion because it sits on top of the emotions that we don’t want to feel, like loneliness, rejection, and depression. No one wants to feel these feelings. After all, we stuff them down for a reason!
But when we avoid our emotions, we end up feeling compulsive around food because our emotions really need attention. The more we deny them, the stronger they get, and the more food we need to keep stuffing the feelings down.
When we slow down and make space for our unwanted feelings to be here, that’s when the compulsion loses its edge. We may still want the cookies (because they are delicious and somehow taste even better when we’re bored!) but we can make the choice to not eat them because we have given our discomfort the attention that it needs.
8. Do a little self-inquiry on the desire to eat when you’re bored
I’d like to end this post with a highly actionable step to stop boredom eating:
Grab a pen and paper, and write down your answer to the following question: Why does boredom have to be a bad thing? What would you prefer to be doing?
Based on your answer, hunt for the primary/stuffer emotion. Let’s use this answer as an example: “I would prefer to be doing something productive, but I just don’t know what that thing is!” The primary emotion behind the boredom could be the fear of missing out, the fear of falling behind, the fear of giving yourself permission to be idle… the list goes on and on.
Then, make room for those fears and emotions to exist. The more we resist them, the stronger the feeling of edgy boredom gets. But when we slow down and do the Stop, Drop, & Feel, these emotions stop driving us to eat when we’re bored. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
9. Continue to dive into self-inquiry to discover more and more about yourself.
Want to dive even deeper? Self-inquiry, like the example above, gives us access to the subconscious reasons behind why we reach for food when we’re not hungry. And this is what my workbook on self-sabotage, Why We Do the Things We Do, is all about.
It contains powerful prompts to help you dig at the reasons for feeling stuck with overeating. You know, that “stuck” feeling when you know in your brain what to do but you can’t get yourself to actually do it. That is why the workbook is all about.
If you find the exercise from the previous step helpful, then I know the workbook will rock your world.
How to Stop Eating When You’re Bored via Psychology
Now you’re a skilled detective for hunting down the real reason behind boredom eating: it’s not just boredom! There’s another emotion underneath that needs your attention.
When you give these emotions space to exist — by using tools like the Stop, Drop, & Feel — you’ll transform edgy boredom into plain ol’ boredom. And when this happens, you’ll be able to stop snacking when you’re bored.
When you can summon the courage to walk bravely into your boredom and explore what else lies below the surface… that’s when you break free from compulsive eating. Please give this tool a try and let me know in the comments below how it goes!