Eating when you’re bored, sad, or stressed is a natural response. It’s not just about comfort food – we also eat in these moments because it distracts us from what we’re feeling and helps take our minds off things. But that doesn’t mean that eating in these moments is healthy or helpful. If your emotions are related to an unhealthy relationship with food (such as bingeing), this habit can be dangerous for your emotional and physical health. Here are some suggestions for other ways you can deal with boredom, sadness, and stress without turning to food.
Are You Really Hungry? Get In Touch With Your Hunger Cues
It’s important to know whether you’re hungry or eating just for the sake of it. Years of yo-yo dieting might have gotten you out of touch with your hunger cues (8). So, before reaching for food, practice these five investigative steps:
Question Your Hunger
On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your hunger on a level of one being extremely hungry and ten being stuffed (13). For example, if you have had food or drink within the last two hours, or feel “stuffed” from the snacks at work, then there’s a good chance that you’re not actually hungry. If it’s been more than three hours since your last meal, ask yourself:
- Is my stomach growling?
- Am I thinking about what I’ll eat next?
- Do I feel light-headed or tired (low blood sugar)?
- Does my stomach feel empty (indicating muscle contractions)?
- Am I salivating over smells passing by (indicating that my body is secreting digestive juices)?
If you answered yes to any of the questions, then it’s likely that you are actually hungry. But if your answers were no, give yourself some more time before you eat.
Pause Before Acting On It
Don’t think about what food might satisfy your hunger right now- don’t even look at the kitchen! Instead, get distracted by something else, then take a few minutes away from the situation, and go for a quick walk around the block, play with your cat or dog, call up an old friend instead of just staring down at your phone. Trust that the feeling will pass once you’ve had time to relax and calm down.
So often, we eat when we’re not hungry because food is there. If you catch yourself reaching for a snack without hunger, stop and think about the trigger for this behavior. For example, maybe you got up to get some water but instead ended up opening the cabinet where cookies are stored. Or maybe, it’s the time of day when you always used to have a candy bar. By identifying your triggers through mindfulness practice, you can learn how to deal with them in healthy ways rather than reaching for food when these emotions arise (11).
Check For Cues
If you’re still experiencing hunger pangs, take a moment to examine your current state. Do you need food for fuel? Or are you looking for comfort? Maybe it’s time to reflect on how you feel physically- aren’t there other ways that might help you achieve the same feeling of relief or satisfaction?
Sometimes people mistake thirst for hunger. Drink some water instead (5)! Just drinking water can calm your mood down if it’s an emotional response that just needs hydration. Also, try herbal tea or hot chocolate (if you don’t have milk intolerance), but remember that if it’s hunger, these drinks won’t be filling.
20+ Things To Do When Bored Instead Of Eating
Here are some things you can do instead of eating when you’re depressed, sad, or bored:
Observe, Label, And Accept Your Emotions
It’s okay to feel emotional, but try not to turn to food as a way of numbing the pain. It might feel good for a short while, but it will ultimately make you more depressed or sad in the long term. If you’re experiencing a depression cycle (in which sadness turns into guilt and self-hatred), there’s a better solution than using food to avoid your uncomfortable feelings. Acknowledge that you’re not okay, experience those feelings, and then do something that will make you feel better.
Dance To Your Favorite Song
Is there any artist or song that can instantly put you in a better mood? Put on your favorite song and dance! It doesn’t matter who’s watching or if you look silly as it’s all about the way you feel after. And not to mention, dancing can help burn calories (so you’ll feel even better once the song is over) (9).
Reach Out To A Loved One
Sometimes boredom turns into loneliness or sadness over time, and if that’s the case, then speaking with someone can help change your mood. Call up an old friend, plan a hangout night of board games, watch videos on YouTube together. Spending time with people who care about you will make you feel better than eating junk food alone in your room.
Go Outside For A Walk
Fresh air can be invigorating, and when you’re feeling sluggish, it might help to get outside and give yourself some exercise. Even just stepping out to go for a quick walk around the block can boost your mood- once you experience sunlight and temperature changes, you’ll feel more energetic and positive. Sunlight exposure has a positive effect on mood (12).
Reorganize Your Living Space
Is the room messy? Is there clutter all over your desk or bedroom? Maybe it’s time to give yourself some space; an organized environment will make you feel calmer and happier. Put away clothes, toss out old papers or boxes, sort through your closet, and donate old items to a local thrift shop.
Learn A New Craft
When you’re feeling bored, it can be extremely therapeutic to take up a new hobby or skill, something that will improve your mood and give you a productive way of passing the time (1). If you have money, try buying art supplies or taking classes at a local community center or college. If you don’t have money, consider different gifts like picking up free books from the library and learning to play an instrument.
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Do A Crossword Puzzle
Some people use food as a distraction tactic: instead of thinking about work, school, or life problems, they focus on food. It’s the only thing they can really control. But if you don’t want to eat, try taking up a new activity that will ease your boredom without leaving you feeling like you’ve wasted time or energy. Whether it’s doing a crossword puzzle, playing Scrabble by yourself, knitting, or learning how to solve Rubik’s Cubes– anything that takes up your attention and keeps your hands occupied can be just as beneficial as eating.
Another way to distract yourself from feelings of boredom is to focus on movement, something that might seem odd when emotions are overwhelming, and you just want everything to stop. But yoga is a great sport for releasing tension in the body and focusing on sensations instead of thoughts- so if you’re feeling agitated or fidgety, consider getting outside and doing some stretches. You might feel more tired afterward, but it will help you de-stress and stay healthy (3).
Put On Your Favorite TV Show
Do you have a favorite show? Is it on Netflix? Then binge-watch the hell out of it! Watching your favorite characters is one of the best ways to pass the time- fill up some hours with episodes of your favorite comedy series, sit back with a tub of ice cream, laugh until your stomach hurts. It’s not the healthiest way to spend free time- but if that show can cheer you up, then it’s definitely worth watching for just a few episodes.
Join An Online Support Group
If you feel like there’s no one to turn to, don’t worry – because there are millions of people dealing with the same issues right now. Whether it’s having low self-esteem or struggling to get through each day feeling hopeless. Find an online support group that connects you to people who understand what you’re going through, or if that seems too embarrassing or uncomfortable, start researching coping skills and tips for handling certain conditions. You’ll learn a lot from other individuals in similar situations.
Journal Your Journey
Sometimes we eat when we’re feeling stressed because it’s an easy way to release emotions without having to talk about them. But journaling is a healthier option that allows you to get all of your thoughts out on paper, without having to rely on another person for emotional support. You can write down how you feel in short bursts, which will help ease the tension and stress rather than eating until you’re stuffed (6).
Plan Rewarding Activities For The Week
Even though eating can be a way of coping with boredom, it might also happen because you’re not doing anything fun or rewarding. So find ways to fill up your free time with activities that will keep you occupied and help ease the stress, whether it’s planning out an adventurous vacation, setting update nights for yourself and your partner, or finding new hiking trails in your area. Just make sure you give yourself time each week to enjoy the things you love!
Prioritize Items On Your To-Do List
Creating a to-do list can be helpful when you’re feeling bored and like nothing will ever get done. If your schedule is too packed, maybe there’s room for reorganizing things so that everything can get checked off calmly and in an organized way. A to-do list with all of the daily or weekly tasks broken down into categories might seem daunting, but it will keep you focused on finishing each task one at a time instead of giving up because it seems impossible to do everything.
Learn Mindfulness And Meditation
Sometimes it can help to sort through your thoughts and emotions, which is where meditation comes in. Meditation is great for getting rid of stress, anxiety, or unwanted thoughts that are keeping you up at night, so if you’re bored or stressed out but don’t feel like doing anything else then, focus on slowing your breathing and practicing mindfulness (10). You’ll get into a meditative state much more quickly than usual if you’re feeling negative emotions, and it will help center yourself when things get too overwhelming.
Make A Loved One A Gift
If you’re feeling bored, do something nice for someone else. You don’t have to spend much money or time, just make them one of your favorite meals, create them a handmade card/greeting, buy their current favorite book without any encouragement, leave them an anonymous thank-you note in their mailbox. The possibilities are endless – just remember that this person deserves your gratitude and love more than anyone else right now!
Get A Relaxing Massage
A massage can do wonders for your mind and body since it releases feel-good chemicals that help you de-stress and relax (7). Even if you’ve never had one before (or think they’re too expensive), consider trying it once or visiting a friend who offers them for cheaper prices. And try to make the experience as relaxing as possible; dim lights, play your favorite music, make sure there are no distractions in the room.
Spend Time On Personal Grooming
Sometimes all you need is a makeover! And the best part about it is that your new look can boost your confidence and make you feel like an entirely different person. Take the time to do things that make you feel good. Get a Mani/Pedi, buy some new clothes, pay for a facial or massage, treat yourself to something nice once in a while– and schedule it in advance, so you don’t forget.
Go To The Gym
A lot of people have the mindset that they need to “work off” their binge-eating or emotional eating by going to the gym or exercising until it makes them feel better. While this might work occasionally, most people benefit from working out because it releases endorphins and helps you focus on something else other than your emotions for an hour. Plus, exercise is just good for your body (4). You’ll sleep better, have more energy during the day, and enjoy being alive in general once you invest time in taking care of yourself. And who knows what great things will come along when you start investing time in yourself?
Do you remember what’s really important to you? Whether it’s your family, friends, or the beautiful world around you. Take some time away from feeling bored or stressed and focus on something that makes you feel lucky. Write down three things that happened today that made you smile – even if they’re small! Make it a habit since gratitude can help fight depression and improve your overall health.
Read Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations might sound silly or strange, but they can really help you feel better about yourself, your body image, and the world around you. Try reading them out loud to yourself each morning as soon as you wake up and before you go to bed at night – even if it sounds far-fetched that these statements are true! You’ll be surprised by how much positivity will fill your mind when it hears itself say kind things over and over again.
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Essential oils are great for helping you focus on the present instead of letting your mind wander or react to negative emotions (2). Look up different scents (or make your own blend) and experiment with different ways to use them, like putting some drops in a diffuser, creating a hand-sanitizer, spraying it around the room, or even making edible recipes. Some of the most relaxing scents are lavender, bergamot, vetiver, juniper berry, chamomile, and ylang-ylang.
The Bottom Line
A lot of people struggle with boredom, sadness, loneliness, or stress when there are so many other things they could be doing instead. Whether it’s focusing on an activity that brings joy at the moment or investing time in oneself for future happiness; everyone deserves a break from negative emotions. Try doing things directly related to these emotions to feel better. If you’re bored, try reading a book or talking to a friend; if you’re sad, listen to your favorite song or take an online quiz that can boost your mood; if you’re stressed, go for a walk or work out at the gym.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Association of Enjoyable Leisure Activities With Psychological and Physical Well-Being (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effects of Aromatherapy on the Anxiety, Vital Signs, and Sleep Quality of Percutaneous Coronary Intervention Patients in Intensive Care Units (2013, hindawi.com)
- Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Hunger and Thirst: Issues in measurement and prediction of eating and drinking (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Journaling for Mental Health (n.d., urmc.rochester.edu)
- Massage therapy research review (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physiological and Epigenetic Features of Yoyo Dieting and Weight Control (2019, frontiersin.org)
- The Effectiveness of Dance Interventions on Physical Health Outcomes Compared to Other Forms of Physical Activity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation (2015, nature.com)
- Triggers of Eating in Everyday Life (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Vitamin D and Depression: Where is all the Sunshine? (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- ‘Am I really hungry?’ A qualitative exploration of patients’ experience, adherence and behaviour change during hunger training: a pilot study (2019, bmjopen.bmj.com)