Picture of young child sitting at table looking puzzled

Are You Really Hungry or Just Bored or Stressed?

Before mindlessly eating potato chips or chocolate chips straight out of the bag, ask yourself, “Am I really hungry or is this stress or boredom?”

Yes, I’m hungry

If you are hungry, the best thing to do is eat – but do it mindfully. Give the food your full attention.  “When we eat mindlessly it’s as if we are feeding someone else”, says Pat Salzer, RD, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

“It takes more food and calories to feel satisfied if you aren’t focused,” she explains. “Eating mindfully means to pause before eating. Make eating a singular activity versus doing it while watching TV, working on the computer, driving, or reading the paper.”

No, it’s not hunger

If you answer the question with no, I am not truly hungry, you may be eating for other reasons. It may be stress or boredom. Often our mindless eating is for these very reasons. The word stressed spelled backwards is desserts – not cauliflower, kale or rutabaga, Salzer jokes.

“It may help to have a ‘joy list’ or ‘menu of comfort’ that doesn’t involve food to refer to when you need some soothing,” she suggests.

Try substituting some non-food activities to fill the void that you thought was hunger at first.

Add These Items to Your “Joy List”

  • Light a candle
  • Enjoy a cup of tea or glass of water
  • Write a letter
  • Call (yes, call) a friend
  • Meditate, journal, breathe, day dream
  • Take a bath/shower
  • Brush your teeth
  • Play a game
  • Clean out a drawer (probably not one in the kitchen)
  • Get moving: run upstairs, go down the hall, walk around your house
  • Put on some music.
  • Get outside and take a walk
  • Read a non-work-related, entertaining magazine for 20 minutes
  • Take seven slow deep breaths
  • Play with your pets or children

Breakfast and a routine can help

A solid routine that starts in the morning can also help with mindless eating. Eat balanced meals and snacks when hungry. Salzer offers some helpful tips for healthy breakfast here.

Creating a routine can help ensure that you’re making time to care for yourself, adds Amanda Shanahan, RD, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.  “I don’t recommend eating based strictly on the clock, but I would suggest building time into your schedule throughout the day to check in with yourself, ask ‘how am I feeling (stressed, bored, worried)?’ ‘am I hungry?’ ‘what do I feel like eating?” she said.

Have meal options (and snacks) planned out so that you can eat healthy when you are hungry. This can minimize eating your way through the kitchen. Shanahan suggests mixing and matching your meal based on these basics:

Half of Your Plate
• Fruits and veggies – a variety of fresh, canned (low sodium and without added sugar), and frozen (without butter or sauce)

¼ of Your Plate
• Protein – choose from beans, legumes, tofu, nuts & seeds or lean meats and poultry and seafood.

¼ of Your Plate
• Whole grains – have brown rice or quinoa precooked in the fridge or whole grain bread and pasta ready to prepare.

Visit our nourish tips and short mindful eating video for more helpful information.

Erika Gruszewski

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