Avoid the Boredom Binge

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stop the snackingBoredom bingeing is mindless eating in an endless, robotic loop. A handful of cereal and then, in an hour or so, some baby carrots. And then maybe a piece of cinnamon toast to get you to lunch, and a handful of chocolate chips because the bag was open. And so on and so on. All day long. Your meals may be models of healthy choices, but constant nibbling that you often aren't even aware of adds a stream of calories in the course of the day that can add up to many extra pounds.

Boredom bingeing boils down to: time on your hands + something (anything) to feel anxious about + food in your kitchen. The combination of boredom (duh!), stress and solitude means mindless picking all day.

Eating while bored does not make boredom go away and it's only a temporary comfort. In the long run, it's a habit that will make you feel out of control. And it's a habit you can definitely break using the strategies below.

Embrace Structure

Boredom bingeing tempts those who are not in control of their time, so plan your day in advance. If you're home all day for whatever reason, get out of your PJs. Wake up, workout, shower, get dressed, eat a healthy breakfast. A late-afternoon activity like yoga or walking the dog or errands gives you something to look forward to and helps you structure your time. Think ahead when it comes to meals. Always have healthy options on hand and a stash of healthy frozen dinners that you can dip into when necessary. Be sure to stock some frozen veggies too. I love the type where you can just toss the whole bag in your microwave. 

Time Your Meals

Take the "embracing structure" philosophy to your meals too. If you aren't hungry at meal time, delaying your meals may work for you. Eating an early breakfast because you think you are "supposed" to could just lead to mindless snacking the rest of the morning. The later you push back breakfast, the later you can have lunch and then dinner (try not to have breakfast after 10:30am though). And don't let your meals be a marathon. You really don't want to be eating all day because this interferes with your ability to develop a healthy hunger in preparation for your next meal. Most meals should take no longer than sixty minutes max and most snacks should be eaten in about twenty minutes or less.

When it comes to afternoon snack time, set a time to enjoy it. For many people 4:00pm works well. Settle on that time and then put the snack out of your mind until then. Setting up these guidelines for yourself frees you from agonizing about food and allows you to concentrate on the things you'd rather be doing. Also, you'll notice that if you plan an afternoon snack it can really help you avoid that mindless binge that can occur just before dinner and spoil your appetite. 

Keep a Clean Kitchen

If you're like most of my clients, you can probably instantly identify any tempting goodies that are hiding at the back of your cupboard. Empty your kitchen of all tempting junky nibbling food. Be honest with yourself and get a great big garbage bag and toss all your temptations. Don't trick yourself into buying treats while you're feeling strong. We all have our powerful moments when we feel we could easily turn our backs on temptation, but remember that when you're feeling low or bored, you're a whole different animal. And by the way, never shop for groceries when you're hungry or feeling blue. If you need to buy treats for your kids, pick something that doesn't appeal to you. And be sure to avoid buying your "trigger foods" - those that set you off on a munching binge. It's easier to eliminate these foods from your kitchen than to be constantly struggling with temptation.

Become a Phase Eater 

Anything that makes you think - or obsess - about food throughout the day is counterproductive. Thinking about food makes you hungry, right? Phase eating is about picking one breakfast and one lunch that you know you love and satisfies you, and having it for a week or two or even three. That cuts out the thinking about "oh what do I want for lunch today?" and making yourself hungry hours before mealtime. You may want to vary your dinners, though. And of course if you get tired of your phase choices, it's time to move on to something else. 

Avoid the Poppable, Pickable, Dippable, Unstoppable

It's not always about calories! Sometimes it's about food that's just too easy to eat. Poppable foods are at the top of my must-avoid list. You know, the giant barrel of pretzels, boxes of cereal big enough to live in, the bag of Halloween candy you still have, popcorn, chips, stale nuts. But even foods that seem healthy can be too poppable to risk. Like cherry tomatoes, grapes, anything dipped into hummus. It's really best to free your kitchen of poppables.  

Quick Tips

  • Up your water intake. Go for a liter by lunch and get a second liter in before dinner. It will keep you full (among many other benefits).
  • Keep busy! Exercise, clean your closet, clear out the garage, run an errand, call a friend, write a letter (the old fashioned kind!). You never boredom binge when you're busy.
  • Employ a dental diversion - floss your teeth while watching TV or brush them a few times throughout the day. When you have that clean feeling in your mouth, you're less likely to want to eat. 
  • If all else fails and you really, truly must succumb to boredom, go for cut-up cucumbers, sliced peppers, celery, sliced turkey and cooked egg whites. Make sure these are on-hand and prepped so all you have to do is reach in the fridge. 

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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