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Dear Dietitian – How can I stop eating out of boredom?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

I have recently lost twenty pounds, and I’ve been exercising to keep the weight off. My problem is I sometimes eat at night out of boredom.  I know I need to break this bad habit, but I keep doing it over and over again. Help!

- Julie

Dear Julie,

Eating out of boredom can lead to unnecessary calories and of course, eventual weight gain. The goal is to be healthy, and if our bodies are well-nourished, we will be less tempted to eat when we are not hungry.  The best defense is a good offense, so know what works for you. Some people eat three meals a day with nothing in between; others plan snacks throughout the day.  

Plan meals ahead of time and take time to make a thorough grocery list.  A nutritious diet includes lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, mostly unsaturated fats as opposed to saturated, and whole grains. Plan meals 4-5 hours apart.

If healthy snacks are a part of your routine, take them with you when you leave the house.  A nutritious snack includes a carbohydrate and a protein. For example, try an apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, a Greek yogurt, a piece of fresh fruit with 1 ounce of cheese, or half a sandwich. You may even plan an evening snack if that is when you have trouble.  A Greek yogurt is satisfying, and the protein helps you feel full. Try to avoid junk food snacks and foods high in sugar.

Pay attention to your body and know the physical signs of hunger.  It is important to tend to our bodies’ signals. That’s why Mother Nature gave them to us. If you ignore hunger signals, your brain will send them less frequently, which disrupts your body’s rhythm. This may result in overeating because you’re not in tune with the signal that tells you when you are full. 

Eat when you are hungry. First, a hunger pang will strike when blood sugar levels drop.  Is it time for a snack?  If we continue without eating, our stomachs will growl. This is the sound of air moving around in the stomach and intestines. The growling sound is louder when you are hungry because there is no food in the stomach to muffle the roar. It’s time to eat. 

If you have followed these suggestions and still hear the cupboards calling when you are bored, try the following distractions:

  • Clean out a closet and gives clothes away if you are not using them. You’re helping somebody, so feel good about it.
  • Read a good book.
  • Contact an old friend.
  • Shop online, but don’t buy anything.  I love to look at purses and shoes online, but I avoid impulse purchases (most of the time).  
  • Play a video game.
  • Drink water.
  • Balance your checkbook.

Finally, ask yourself if you have food compulsion.  This is when there is a strong urge to eat a certain food, and you may not be able to stop eating it after you start. If this is the case, you may be better off to avoid that food entirely. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Good health to you!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri.  Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition.  Do you have a nutrition question?  Email her at