Put an end to mindless eating: 35 things to do instead of eating when you're bored or stressed.
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Ever found yourself standing in the bright lights of your open fridge, scanning the shelves for something to munch on, and not entirely sure how you got there?
Me too, I’ve been there. I didn’t go to the fridge because I was hungry. It was just an automatic response to feeling bored, tired, stressed or whatever other emotion I was feeling at the time.
The problem with this sort of “snaccident” is that emotional and mindless eating can lead us to overeat and it doesn’t even deal with the uncomfortable feeling that has led us to the kitchen in the first place.
Even if you do get a momentary sense of relief, you finish your last mouthful and the pleasant distraction has gone. You may even be left feeling worse if you’re remorseful about what you ate.
If this story sounds familiar to you, here are a few tips you may find helpful to help break the habit of your mindless munching and find more productive ways to give you what it is you really need.
1. When you get a sudden urge to find something to eat, check in with yourself to see whether you are really hungry.
Often a sudden urge or craving is not hunger – true hunger tends to increase gradually over the hours after eating. If you are really hungry, you may feel tired or weak, accompanied by an empty or gnawing feeling in your stomach. On the other hand, cravings and emotional urges to eat may come on suddenly and the discomfort you feel might be quite different to the usual signs of hunger.
2. If you are hungry, pay attention to how hungry you are. Consider where you are on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is absolutely ravenous, and 10 is completely stuffed and overfull. If you are on the hungry side - let’s say a 3 or a 4 - have a think about what will really quell that hunger. Is it a small snack or is it time for a meal? You may not want to let yourself get to a 1 if it leads you to make impulsive food choices you might feel bad about later. I know I can’t think straight and definitely don’t make my best decisions when I’m hangry.
3. If it’s not physical hunger you’re experiencing, take a moment to consider what that feeling really is. Are you just bored and looking for a distraction? Or has Janet in Accounting made a nasty comment to you? Maybe you just need five minutes to yourself, to take a break from your work, study or a hectic family life.
4. Think of simple solutions that will help address what it is you really need. This one might be best done in advance, so you have some go-to strategies up your sleeve when a snack attack comes over you and demands immediate attention.
Take a moment to consider what quick and easy things you could do that might make you feel better without reaching absentmindedly for the cookie jar.
I’ve listed a few ideas below to get you going. They may not solve all the world’s problems, but they might just make you feel that little bit better… without the remorse of overeating!
Instead of eating out of boredom…
Play a game or do a puzzle or crossword
Look up healthy recipes to save for future
Go to bed early (or on time if you have a habit of staying up too late!)
Get onto that DIY project you’ve been meaning to get around to
Get some chores out of the way to free up your weekend
Read a book
Get moving e.g. yoga, go for a walk, follow a YouTube exercise video or dance around your living room
Plan your next holiday or ‘staycation’
Write a handwritten letter (or even just send a quick text) to let someone know you’re thinking of them
Clear out your cupboards – get rid of or donate anything you no longer use
Plan your healthy behaviours for the week ahead
Explore a new hobby, skill or opportunity to volunteer
Get ready for the following day – prep your lunch, sort clothes for work
Create a routine to prepare for a great sleep – dim the lights, step away from your phone, tablet and TV for 60 minutes before bed. Do things you find relaxing e.g. reading or relaxation techniques.
Instead of eating due to emotional reasons or stress…
Call a family member or friend
Do a quick guided meditation. There are loads available on YouTube, like this one.
Take a moment to reflect on your goals or visualise reaching your goals
Do a breathing exercise or body scan
Have a relaxing bath or take some time to pamper yourself e.g. a relaxing facial or manicure
Take a moment to hug your partner, kids or pets
Practice mindfulness. If you’ve not done it before, read here to learn how.
Write in a reflection journal or app – celebrate your successes and acknowledge things you’re grateful for
Play some music you love – either on your phone or music player, or on an instrument
Get out your colouring book
Instead of eating because you need a break…
Take a quiet moment to enjoy green tea or glass of water
Go outside for a bit of fresh air
Take a 2-minute walk around the office or go up and down a few flights of stairs
Step away from your work for 10 minutes to read a magazine or chat to a colleague
Do some simple stretches to relieve muscles that have become tight from sitting for most of the day – click here for a few ideas
Clear out your cupboards, desk, or files and folders
Offer to do a coffee run for your colleagues
Walk your dog or play with a pet
Watch a TED Talk on a topic of interest
Potter around your garden or water your plants
Listen to a favourite podcast or audiobook for 10 minutes while relaxing somewhere quiet
This blog is intended for information purposes only. Speak to a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian for nutrition advice tailored for your specific needs.
Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M (2017) A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews; 30, 272-283. doi:10.1017/S0954422417000154