“Idle hands are the Devil’s playthings,” the cliche goes, after all…
It really is insidiously easy to mindlessly overeat when you’re bored, especially since we’re now inundated with food marketing on all fronts, tantalizing each of the five senses, ready to fill the vacuum of our thoughts at a moment’s notice.
I’ve previously confessed that, despite my modest size, I’m a big eater. 3000+ calories in a single sitting is not outlandish for me if I let all restraint fall to the wayside. Being a big eater presents its own unique set of challenges, so I wrote an article on how I learned to manage that.
Here I’ll confess that I’m also a “bored eater.” I totally get it – it’s it’s own unique quazi-hunger sensation which can be utterly fixating.
So I thought I’d write another rambling article on how to overcome and handle the urge to eat, excessively so at least, while bored. I’ve got some tips that I think can really help.
Firstly, Stop Being Bored?
I know, I know – thank you captain obvious – but it does deserve mention.
One thing you can do, specifically, is flip the negative penchant into a positive behavior. If you’re bored and your mind wanders to food, get up and take a walk around the block, or to the water cooler. Whatever.
With a modest flex of the willpower muscle, you can flip negative energy into fuel for positive behavior. That’s a good trade in my book because it’s double value: you avoid eating too much, and you burn off some extra energy.
Now that we’ve got the duh-obvious point out of the way, lets cover the not so obvious tips – the ones that might actually be very useful to you.
Tip #1: You Need Hard Set Dietary Rules
The mental vacuum of boredom is a festering ground for decision fatigue:
“I’m hungry. Or am I actually hungry? Look at the candy bowl on the receptionist’s desks. Kitkats are good, aren’t they? I can get away with one. Or can I?”
That agonizing mental back and forth, perpetually, day in and day out, will cause mental burn out on the regular, and you know it. The point where you inevitably say “f*!k it,” right?
The decision fatigue killer is an explicit system, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated to be effective. The most basic of this could be, for example, no snacking between the main three meals of the day.
Instead of mulling over whether you not you can “get away” with having a fun-size candy, you automatically reject it because it’s a pre-decided “violation” of the rules – a crystal clear yes or no, which means zero decision fatigue.
The importance of health and fitness systems – something which I feel is vastly underdiscussed – is a central theme of this blog and my book. Read my no calorie counting weight loss guide for a more in depth discussion of this idea.
Tip #2: Make it Easier on Yourself and Remove the Possibility to Eat the First Place
If it’s not in the house or otherwise accessible, you couldn’t eat it even if you wanted to, and that’s that.
The idea here is that discipline is actually a lot easier than willpower.
This is sort of intertwined with tip #1. Discipline, by definition, is following a set of rules, self-established or otherwise.
Tip #3: Gum or Tea Really Helps
Settle the mouth or settle the stomach. You may just have an oral fixation. Just don’t become the gum smacker at work…
Tip #4: Speaking of Which… Are You Sure You’re Not Just Thirsty?
Hunger and thirst signals are intermixed and easily confused with one another. The basic reason why is that we actually get quite a lot of our water from our food.
Drink a glass and wait five minutes. There’s a good chance the hunger pang will be long gone.
Tip #4: Meta Mental Game – Accept Your Human Nature
What I mean by that is to not be so hard on yourself. That is to say, from a physiological standpoint, your body sees boredom coupled with abundance as primetime to eat. You don’t have anything to do, and the calories are available – better take advantage of this seemingly rare opportunity now. If only our prehistoric ancestors could always be so lucky…
Point being, accept that what you’re experiencing is a perfectly natural and logical albeit antiquated urge. Intermittent feasting is fine, but the trouble comes in our ability to now do it literally all the time.
Sometimes you just have to accept the urge for what it is and simply ignore it (using common sense of course). That’s the trade off of getting to be alive in 2016, with heated houses, grocery stores, etc…
Tip #5: More Mental Game – Surf the Urge
What do we normally do when we experience negative, intrusive thoughts? We violently try to force them out of mind, perhaps with a bit of self flagellation. And then what inevitably happens? The thought just comes back harder, and is eventually irresistible.
So why not try doing the opposite? Instead of forcing thoughts out of mind, and perhaps chastising yourself for having had them, just accept them and simply let ’em be.
“Surfing the urge” is a concept I first learned about in The Willpower Instict, which is a layman’s manual on the science of how willpower works (great book by the way – read my review here). The idea behind it is that thoughts are generally fleeting – we all understand this – which means they can go away just as quickly as they come about.
Compare a fleeting thought to a fleeting wave: Ride it out until it naturally dissipates, then it’s simply gone – that’s “surfing” the urge. I think it works well, and per that book there’s a convincing scientific argument as to why. You’ll also realize two things:
- That many thoughts are fickle to the point of being arbitrary.
- That you are simply not your thoughts. Your *actions* don’t necessarily have to be any sort of function of them.
On a quick digression, you can take this further and apply it to the full scope of negative thinking. Speaking as someone who is anxiety/compulsive prone, simply letting those incessant thoughts ride themselves out – and not beating yourself up for involuntarily having them – can really help with calming the hell down and getting on with your damn day in peace.
Tip #6: Is Your Diet Reasonably on Point?
If your diet is reasonably healthy and balanced, and you’re getting enough physical activity, raging hunger shouldn’t be a chronic problem. I maybe get a little twinkle of hunger, here and there, in the hour or two leading up to meal time.
It’s what they say in preventative medicine: treat the problem, not necessarily the symptom. Point being, you might need to just make better decisions with what you’re eating in general.
Tip #7: You Might Not Actually Be Hungry, Per Say
One of the more interesting arguments that Brad Pilon makes in his book Eat Stop Eat is that hunger can be a learned behavior. You might not be hungry from a point of true physiological need, but rather as a result of learned sociocultural influences.
And you better believe Big Food exploits this. Why wouldn’t they?
Here’s what I do to manage bored eating syndrome, tying all these tips together:
- Remove chronic decision fatigue by setting explicit dietary ground rules.
- Stick to the rules, and that’s that. Thoughtless and automatic.
- Drink a glass of water, sip some tea, and chew some gum. You might forget that you were hungry in ten minutes.
- Surf the urge. Don’t beat yourself over having involuntary thoughts. They’re meaningless inasmuch as they don’t actually have to affect your *actions*.
- If you’re doubled over in raging hunger all the time, it’s almost certain your overall diet can be improved. Treat the problem if you can, rather than just the symptom.
- There’s a legitimate argument that hunger can be a learned behavior, which you thus may have to unlearn.
Hopefully my train of thought on the matter helps – I suppose it can and likely will be improved upon in the future. I update my old posts all the time when I think of ways to make them better.