Are you SURE you need that snack? Expert reveals why we boredom eat

Are you SURE you need that snack? Expert reveals why we boredom eat – and the best tricks to stop it for good

  • Simple test that takes a few seconds can tell you if you’re REALLY hungry 
  • Often we’re not hungry for food but we eat because of boredom, stress or emotions
  • Emotional eating can disrupt hunger signals 
  • Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll offers practical tricks to stop emotional eating

Only between two and five percent of people manage to keep weight off after a diet. 

A major reason for this is that diets don’t help us deal with the underlying emotional, psychological and habitual triggers for overeating.

Most of us can stick with a diet for a few weeks, or to get into that dress or pair of skinny jeans for an important event – but after that, research shows that we not only gain the weight back, but pile on more.

Calorie restricting diets can feel like punishment, so as soon as the goal weight is achieved, we slip back into old habits. 

Without really figuring out why we overeat, it’s impossible to make changes to eating habits that will last.

Here, psychologist and well-being expert for Healthspan and author of The Shrinkology Solution Dr Meg Arroll reveals a quick trick to tell if you’re hungry and the easy tips you need to shed the pounds – and keep them off for good.

Often we’re not hungry for food but we eat because of boredom, stress or emotions

Are you REALLY hungry?

Most people don’t even know what true physiological hunger is any more. 

We are all born with the need to eat but over time our hunger signals can become mixed-up and no longer be a sign that we need food.

Due to constant grazing, often triggered by the 24/7 food adverts and messages that bombard us every day, many people don’t know what it feels like to be hungry.

Instead the desire to eat comes from associations we have between food and love – for example sweet treats given to us as children to soothe a scratched knee, trip to the doctors or hurt feelings. 

Then later in life we feel the need for comfort, our brains trick us into thinking that a cake or ice cream is what we require.

We also commonly eat as a distraction from boredom or in response to stress. Next time you feel hungry try this quick mental exercise, The Broccoli Test. 


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Why do we crave foods that make us overweight? 

There’s a very good reason why foods high in calories (usually fat and sugar) are so attractive to us. 

In evolutionary terms, our ancestors would have sought energy dense foods out in order to survive. 


When your mind starts to wander and nudges you to grab that packet of biscuits in the cupboard, try this quick and simple mind hack. 

Imagine the biscuits are a plate of broccoli. 

Now, do you still feel the urge to munch? 

If so, you may well be physiologically hungry. 

If the image of a pile of broccoli stops you in your tracks, check-in with yourself to see if you’re a bit stressed, bored or trying to escaping another emotion (e.g. frustration, sadness, longing or even positive emotions such as excitement). 

Food wasn’t always plentiful like it is now, by hunting and consuming animal fat it was possible to see out a time of slim pickings.

The problem is that our bodies haven’t really changed that much since these hunter-gatherer times, so we are wired to find high calorie foods rather delicious. 

These foods hit the reward centres in our brain, which makes them almost addictive.

Clever food companies have taken this a step further and created foods that reach a ‘bliss point’. 

This is the perfect combination of fat, sugar and salt that makes some foods irresistible – think donuts, crisps, basically most things by the check-out!

This is also why many savoury foods have added sugar. 

With the combination of an emotional link to comfort and evolutionary drive to eat high fat and sugar foods, it’s not surprising that so many of us find it hard to keep off the pounds.

Why do we eat food that we know are bad for us?

It’s not just that certain foods are associated with comfort and highly desirable – we also form eating habits early in life. 

These can be tough to be break as we have literally hundreds of eating decisions to make each day. 

If we had to consciously think about all these choices every day, we’d have very little time for anything else.

This means we’re often on autopilot, simply doing what we’ve done before and reaching for the same old foods.

The influence of family, friends and social group is also strong – if you’re surrounding by people eating ultra-processed, energy dense foods than the chances are you will too. 

It will seem normal, even though these foods may bear very little resemblance to what comes out of the ground.

Breaking out of this autopilot is possible but take a conscious effort at first. 

Think about when you started to learn to drive – at first you had to think of each individual movement, but over time it becomes automatic.

Setting a new eating habit is the same – choose healthy foods regularly when you are actually physiologically hungry and soon your hunger signals will start to work in reaction to the need for food, not the need for comfort or as an escape from stress or boredom.

What can we do about it?

1. When you start to feel hungry, do the Broccoli Test.

2. If you find you’re not really hungry, but the craving is driving you mad, distract yourself by reading a paragraph of text backwards. This will occupy your mind and soon the craving will pass.

3. If you’re out and about, try wearing an elastic band on your wrist and ping this when a craving strikes – the mild pain will shock your senses and refocus your mind.

4. Tell your family and friends that you’re starting a new, healthier lifestyle. Social support is key to a lasting lifestyle change so get them on board.

5. Stick with it, a new habit takes on average 66 days to form.

6. Eat foods from the ground, and move your body around! 

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