How To Stop Eating When You’re Bored

How To Stop Eating When You’re Bored

Potato Cantor

Potato Cantor

People often tell me they can’t resist eating when they are bored. This a common obstacle among people who are trying to lose weight. If this applies to you, it is an important challenge to work on so it stops disrupting your progress.

If you are someone who eats when bored, the reason is: you currently have no other choice. As of now, food and eating are the tools you have learned to use to cope with boredom. If you could reach for something else, you would. When you develop new coping skills and tools, you will reach for something else instead. As children, we learned to access whatever we had available to us in order to survive our emotions. For many, food was all that was available. As adults, we can all learn new skills, and give ourselves what we needed as children, but did not get. You can’t be expected to have other tools yet. They take time and hard work to develop. As long as you keep trying, the boredom-eating won’t always be such an obstacle.

In order to stop eating when you are bored, you have to understand what happens to you when you feel bored, how food helps you get through it, and how you can begin developing new tools to handle it.

What is boredom?
Boredom is an emotional state that is experienced as discomfort in our bodies as well as in our minds. It has nothing to do with laziness or will power. If boredom was not a deeply uncomfortable experience, people would just sit with it. They would not need to distract from it and to find tools to self-soothe.

Remember, an inability to manage what and when you eat, is a symptom of other difficulties. In this case, food helps you get through the physical and mental discomfort resulting from boredom. That means it is the discomfort that needs to be addressed, not solely the food or your eating habits.

Why don’t I feel the discomfort of boredom in my body?
You may be thinking that you don’t experience discomfort, especially in your body. You may be wondering what on earth I am talking about. If so, this is because the discomfort is too much for you right now. You’ve probably spent a long time (your entire life, perhaps) avoiding it. What happens, usually without you even knowing, is as soon as the discomfort sets in, you begin easing it with distracting thoughts about food. The thoughts are where the self-soothing begins, followed by the search for food, and culminating in the consumption of it.

It takes work to strengthen your mind-body connection so that you can get in touch with the discomfort I am describing Then, you can develop new ways to get through boredom (or another discomfort). It is a process that will improve little by little as you practice checking in with your body and strengthening new coping skills each time you do it. In time, you will be able to feel the discomfort and be in it without needing to get rid of it or ease it in an unhealthy way.

How can you stop eating out of boredom?
In order to stop eating when you are bored, you have to be able to experience the boredom without numbing yourself to it. To do this, start noticing when you feel bored and when you start thinking about food. Then, try the following exercises to begin slowing down, and strengthening your mind-body connection. (If you still want to eat afterward, go ahead because eventually you will be able to get through it without food):

1. Sit down, feet on the floor, eyes closed. Take a moment to feel the ground beneath you and the gravity around you. Start by seeing if you notice anything inside your body at all. Do you feel any sensations in your body? Tension? Numbness? Pressure? Heaviness? Are you jittery? Is anything hot? Cold? If the sensations aren’t clear to you, it may help to begin checking in with your toes, and making your way through the rest of your body. When you feel sensations in your body, try to invite them in rather than fighting them away. See how long you can be with your sensations. Make sure you are breathing the entire time that you are doing this. Often people forget to breathe, which makes discomfort much worse. The sensations you find may go away fairly quickly at first. Little by little you’ll be able to experience your feelings more easily and for longer periods of time. Be careful not to interpret what you feel. Try to get in touch with the actual sensations. For example, if you feel tension in your shoulders, name the tension. Don’t interpret it as anxiety.

2. If you can’t feel anything, (or you don’t know what I mean), or you want a second activity to try, another exercise is making use of your breath. Close your eyes and notice your breath without changing it. What do you notice about your breathing? Do you feel the air going in and out of your nose? Does it tickle? Is it cold? Warm? When you breathe in what does that feel like in your lungs or other areas? Are you breathing shallowly? Deeply? Play with this exercise. See if you can get used to experiencing your breath in your body. Once this becomes comfortable, you can try to explore other areas of your body, as described above.

With both of the above exercises, using your breath is key. In the first exercise, if you make sure you are breathing the entire time, you will be able to sit through your discomfort for longer and longer. Plus, you will learn that your breath is actually a powerful tool to use instead of easing your feelings with food. The idea is to trust your breath, and ultimately yourself, to get you through the most difficult times. Emotions cause disturbances in breath. If we can learn to use our breath, we can experience emotions without extreme discomfort.

An example of something I might do if I were finding myself bored and craving something is:

I would sit down, feet on the floor, eyes closed. I would take a moment to check in with my breath. I would notice whether I am breathing shallowly or deeply, and I would stay with whatever my breath cycle was in that moment. I would accept what my body is doing, without judging it, interpreting it or trying to change it. After a few breaths, I would check in with my chest, shoulders and stomach, because that is where I often feel the strongest sensations. I might notice that I feel a warm pressure that runs from my chest down to my stomach. I would try to be with those sensations. At the same time, I would make sure that I was still breathing. If I had stopped breathing, I would start again, and return to my body to check for the sensations. I would not interpret what I felt as, for example, anxiety or frustration, or any other label. The idea is to get to what the emotions actually feel like. Then, we can begin to develop tools to be with the sensations, and we can also figure out what could meet our needs (for comfort and self-soothing) in those moments, other than food.

Largely, these strengthening exercises are more about bringing yourself back to your body, back into the moment, being present for as long as you are able to, and accepting where you are in your process. It is less about being able to do this the “right way,” or judging yourself if you can’t do this at all. It is about learning not to give up, learning that you have everything you need within you to overcome your food and eating obstacles, and learning to accept your mind and body as they are, trusting that you will improve. These are life skills that apply to every aspect of our lives. If you work on these skills and beliefs, your life will improve.

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