Many people struggle with boredom eating, or eating to pass the time — even if they’re not truly hungry (
In fact, boredom eating and other forms of emotional eating may contribute to excess weight gain (
This article explains how to tell whether you’re hungry or bored, offers a guide to hunger triggers, and provides strategies to help stave off boredom eating and emotional eating.
Hunger can be difficult to define, as it involves a complex interplay of hormones, biochemical processes, and physical reactions. Generally speaking, there are two types of hunger — physical and psychological (
Physical hunger can be defined as your body’s drive to eat for survival, while psychological hunger is based more on cravings or external cues.
This type is true hunger, in which your body needs food so it can create more energy.
With this type of hunger, your stomach feels empty and may rumble. You may also have hunger pangs. If you don’t eat, you may experience low blood sugar levels and feel weak, unfocused, or fatigued.
Psychological hunger occurs when you have a desire to eat but feel no physical signs that your body needs food.
It may manifest as a craving for dessert despite feeling full from a meal, or a desire for a specific item or type of food.
Contrast this sensation with physical hunger, which can be satisfied by any food at all.
Physical hunger is true hunger, which is characterized by an empty feeling in your stomach and discomfort that can only be relieved by eating. Conversely, psychological hunger is associated with cravings, emotional eating, and boredom eating.
(Video) Am I HUNGRY or just BORED? Hunger vs Appetite explained
Whereas physical hunger is triggered by an empty stomach and driven by your body’s need to procure more energy, many factors play into psychological hunger.
Boredom eating may not only occur as a result of boredom but also various triggers outlined below. For example, stress, poor sleep, and easy access to junk foods may make you more likely to eat out of boredom.
Here are some of the most common psychological hunger triggers.
Boredom is one trigger for psychological hunger.
In fact, boredom eating may be even more common than other types of emotional eating, such as stress eating.
Additionally, people who are prone to boredom may be more likely to overeat or emotionally eat (
Chronic mental stress may alter your hunger hormones, triggering food cravings (
Such hormonal changes may cause people with excess weight to be more susceptible to stress-induced food cravings (
When people around you are eating or drinking, you may be more likely to do so — even if you’re not hungry.
One small study in 65 college students found that those seated with someone who got a second helping of food were 65% more likely to get seconds themselves than those seated with someone who didn’t get seconds (8).
If you’ve ever had a food craving triggered by a television commercial, you know that advertising can be a powerful trigger for psychological hunger.
In fact, some research suggests that advertisements depicting people eating are more likely to trigger cravings than other methods of showcasing food in ads (
Sleep may have a powerful effect on your eating habits.
Some studies show that adults who don’t get enough sleep eat more calories, snack more, and are more likely to gain weight (
Certain highly processed items like potato chips, candy, and fast food are considered hyperpalatable.
This means that they’re designed to taste delicious and immediately reward your brain. For this reason, many people struggle to regulate their intake of these foods — even when they’re not physically hungry (
Several factors may increase your susceptibility to psychological hunger, including stress, social pressure, advertising, poor sleep, hyperpalatable foods, and boredom.(Video) Drs. Rx: Determine if You Are Hungry or Just Bored
True hunger and thirst feel different than boredom.
Bear in mind that you need to fuel your body regularly to maintain your health and provide energy to get you through your day.
Some people skip meals when they’re trying to lose weight, which is often counterproductive, as waiting too long between meals may lead to overeating. As such, it’s important to eat when you’re hungry — not wait until you’re ravenous.
If you recently ate a balanced meal and are craving more food, the craving is likely psychological. However, if you haven’t eaten in several hours and are experiencing signs of physical hunger, you’re probably hungry and need to eat a meal or snack.
Hunger and thirst cues
The early signs of true hunger may include mild hunger pangs, a feeling of emptiness in your stomach, and stomach rumbling. However, these signs may differ from person to person.
Additionally, true physical thirst may often be accompanied by a dry mouth or slight itch in your throat, as well as a desire to drink any beverage — including plain water (
On the other hand, psychological thirst may manifest as a craving for a specific drink, such as soda.
Likewise, if you crave a particular food and won’t eat unless you can have it, you’re likely experiencing a psychological craving — not actual hunger. True physical hunger, especially if you reach a point of urgent hunger, is much less discriminating.
To determine whether you’re truly hungry, try the following techniques.
Do a mental check-in
Trust yourself to know how your body feels when you’re truly hungry. If you want, ask yourself the following questions:
- What emotions are you feeling?
- Are you bored, anxious, or sad?
- When is the last time you ate a meal or snack?
- Are you experiencing signs of true hunger, even if they’re early signs?
While you should try to refrain from eating if you’re not truly hungry, you shouldn’t wait until you’re extremely hungry either.
Drink a glass of water
Sometimes, a thirst cue may feel like physical hunger.
Try drinking a glass of water if you’re second-guessing whether you’re truly hungry. If you still feel hungry afterward, go ahead and eat (
True hunger has physical manifestations, such as hunger pangs or a rumbling stomach. If you’re having trouble distinguishing physical and psychological hunger, try doing a mental check-in or drinking a glass of water.
On occasion, almost everyone eats when they’re not hungry.
This is normal — and nothing to be concerned about when it happens infrequently. In fact, periodic social eating or occasionally indulging in comfort foods may give your mental health a small boost (
Yet, habitual mindless eating or routinely eating due to boredom may lead to unwanted weight gain and other health issues.
Here are some tips to manage psychological hunger and stave off boredom eating.
Understand your eating triggers
People don’t usually crave healthy foods like fresh fruits or vegetables but rather sugary, high calorie, or highly processed items.
Foods that are easy to overeat, such as chips, ice cream, and candy, are commonplace items in many households. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these foods occasionally, keeping them out of your kitchen may help you cut back on snacking when you’re bored.
Instead, shop for snacks made from whole foods. If you eat fruit or veggies out of boredom, these foods are much better choices than junk food.
Practice mindful eating
Eat slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the taste and texture of your food, as well as savoring it. This practice gives your brain time to recognize when you’re full.
Map out your day
Some people may find that a schedule keeps them from getting bored.
Try planning out your day’s activities each morning. Make a set time for meals and snacks if that will help stave off boredom eating.
Have a plan for when you get bored
If boredom strikes, have a strategy in place.
Keep a list of household chores you need to complete, read a book, or go for a walk.
Wait 30 minutes
If you want to eat but don’t feel hungry, wait 30 minutes and see whether the urge passes. Try to keep yourself occupied during this time.
If you’re truly hungry, physical hunger sensations may set in after this pause.
Know when to seek help
It’s important to note that some people may need to work with a therapist or registered dietitian to control emotional eating.
What’s more, regular emotional eating may indicate a bigger problem.
Whereas emotional eating involves consuming food for comfort, binge eating disorder (BED) is a psychological condition that involves eating a lot in a short period.
If you feel out of control when eating and frequently binge on large amounts of food, even when you’re not hungry, seek guidance from your healthcare provider. BED is an eating disorder that requires professional treatment.
To stave off boredom eating and psychological hunger, try keeping trigger foods out of your home, practicing mindful eating, and planning out your day.
The opposite scenario — feeling physically hungry but being unable to eat — can be difficult as well.
For example, if you’re in a long work meeting during your lunch break or stuck in unexpected traffic at mealtime, hunger may set in quickly. This may lead you to overeat when you finally get the chance to have a meal or snack.
In fact, people tend to overeat after they go a while without eating when truly hungry. This compensatory overeating may lead to weight gain, especially if it happens regularly (
Here are some tips to help you manage physical hunger when you’re unable to eat:
- Plan ahead. If you know you won’t be able to eat for a while, give yourself time to make a filling meal with plenty of protein, healthy fat, and fiber. Try avocado toast with hard-boiled eggs or beans and rice (with or without meat) and a hefty side salad.
- Chew gum. Sometimes, the act of chewing gum is enough to alleviate hunger — though it’s just a temporary fix. If you’re truly hungry, chewing gum won’t satisfy you (
- Don’t overeat later. Once you’re able to eat, do so slowly and mindfully. Take careful note of when you feel full to avoid overeating.
If you’re unable to eat when you’re likely to become physically hungry, plan ahead by eating a satisfying meal beforehand. Additionally, try chewing gum. Be careful to avoid compensatory overeating.
It’s easy to eat even when you’re not feeling hungry, especially when you’re bored. Habitual boredom eating is dangerous, as it may lead to unwanted weight gain.
To prevent boredom eating, do a mental check-in before you eat to verify that you’re truly experiencing physical hunger.
Additionally, the strategies outlined above may help you manage psychological hunger and reduce boredom eating or other types of emotional eating.
How do you tell if you're actually hungry or just bored? ›
True hunger has physical manifestations, such as hunger pangs or a rumbling stomach. If you're having trouble distinguishing physical and psychological hunger, try doing a mental check-in or drinking a glass of water.Am I hungry because I'm bored? ›
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that's strongly tied with feelings of reward and pleasure. When we're bored, our brains aren't stimulated, and this causes our dopamine levels to drop. This triggers us to take an action that will bring it back up, such as eating.Am I hungry or just craving? ›
Hunger comes with specific physical symptoms — stomach growling, dizziness — your body is telling you, you need fuel. These symptoms disappear after eating. “A craving, on the other hand, is more directed towards a specific food, texture, or flavour. You would want to eat something sweet or salty.Should I eat if I'm hungry? ›
Eating when you're physically hungry—as opposed to for any other reason—is beneficial in various ways, says May. You'll consume less food because, rather than eating until the food is gone, your physical satiation cues will tell you when to stop.What is false hunger? ›
What false hunger basically means is that you are eating in response to a need that is emotional (for example, when bored or stressed out or to have fun) or in response to some stimuli (a great smell, appetizing dishes, etc.)Why do I feel fine but not hungry? ›
Mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and stress, can all have a negative effect on hunger levels. Other physical conditions, such as pregnancy, hypothyroidism, and more, can also cause a decrease in appetite.Is it OK to go to bed a little hungry? ›
Going to bed hungry can be safe as long as you're eating a well-balanced diet throughout the day. Avoiding late-night snacks or meals can actually help avoid weight gain and an increased BMI. If you're so hungry that you can't go to bed, you can eat foods that are easy to digest and promote sleep.Does hunger go away if you ignore it? ›
Because ghrelin is a “short-acting” hormone, it isn't affected by what you ate yesterday. And if you ignore hunger, ghrelin levels will continue to rise, leading to the primal hunger that can cause what feels like out-of-control eating.What can I do instead of eating? ›
- Call a friend.
- Go for a walk.
- Clean a drawer.
- Paint your nails.
- Get a coloring book.
- Pop in a mint.
- Play cards.
- Take a bath.
Hillman explains, “If you're actually hungry, you'll experience true hunger cues, such as stomach growling, low energy, shakiness, headaches and problems focusing.” It's just as important to recognize when you listen to those signals too, so you know what they feel like for the future.
Is hunger just in your head? ›
The science of hunger. Did you know hunger isn't just triggered by your stomach? It also involves your brain. There are specific parts of your brain that control hunger by sending signals to your body, telling it when to eat and when to stop.How do I stop eating boredom? ›
- Keep a food diary. Boredom eating stems from poor awareness of your eating habits. ...
- Plan your meals. ...
- Brush your teeth. ...
- Set yourself daily achievable tasks. ...
- Chew gum. ...
- Give your hands something to do. ...
- Carry a drink bottle with you. ...
- Go for a walk.
Yes, absolutely! Regular meals are critical to getting all of your body functions to work properly again. One of the reasons you may not be feeling adequate hunger could be delayed gastric emptying, which occurs when someone is undereating and food remains in the stomach far longer than it should.How many times should I eat a day? ›
The Theory: Nutrition experts tend to recommend eating 3 balanced meals (350 to 600 calories each) and 1 to 3 snacks per day (between 150 and 200 calories each).Will I gain weight if I eat when I'm hungry? ›
Don't wait until you're starving, though, or you'll need larger portions to satisfy your hunger — which, over the long term, will promote weight gain.What is invisible hunger? ›
Hunger is a state where the necessary calorie of food is not available for the individual. An individual needs requisite quantity of proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and salts. If these requirements are not fulfilled, it is called as 'Invisible Hunger'. Thus invisible hunger refers to Malnutrition.What are the 3 types of hunger? ›
- Stomach hunger (physical or medical necessity to eat)
- Mouth hunger (craving related to the senses)
- Heart hunger (emotional trigger or learned behavior)
- What Causes Hunger?
- Climate Change.
- Disasters & Emergencies.
Overview. Anorexia is a general loss of appetite or a loss of interest in food. When some people hear the word “anorexia,” they think of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.Why does eating feel like a chore? ›
The prospect of making a meal no longer fills us with dopamine, the neurotransmitter that she said is released when we anticipate how good a future event will make us feel, therefore motivating us to do it. “Before you had baked and cooked all those foods, there was excitement about doing it.
Why can I go days without eating? ›
The many systems in your body work optimally with a varied diet and adequate water intake daily. But our bodies are also able to survive for days without water. We can go days or sometimes weeks without food because of adjustments to our metabolism and energy consumption.Does being hungry mean you're losing weight? ›
Although you may feel hungry when you are trying to lose weight, and restrict your energy intake, being hungry doesn't mean that you're burning fat, because you can shed pounds without always feeling hungry. The main factor that affects this is the means of how you are losing weight.Do you lose weight when you sweat? ›
Sweating itself doesn't burn a measurable amount of calories, but sweating out enough liquid will cause you to lose water weight. It's only a temporary loss, though. Once you rehydrate by drinking water or eating, you'll immediately regain any lost weight.Is it good to sleep with full stomach? ›
Nope, you should allow more time. Experts recommend waiting at least three hours after you've eaten to go to bed. This allows your body time to digest your food so you're not up at night with an upset stomach, indigestion, or acid reflux.What food is the most filling with least calories? ›
- Popcorn. ...
- Chia seeds. ...
- Fish. ...
- Cottage cheese. ...
- Potatoes. ...
- Lean meat. ...
- Legumes. ...
- Watermelon. Watermelon has a high water content to keep you hydrated and full while supplying a minimal number of calories.
Exercise is thought to reduce the activation of brain regions linked to food cravings, which can result in a lower motivation to eat high calorie foods and a higher motivation to eat low calorie foods ( 77 , 78 ). It also reduces hunger hormone levels while increasing feelings of fullness ( 79 , 80 , 81 , 82 ).How long after not eating do you stop feeling hungry? ›
Many people on longer fasts report that hunger typically disappears after day 2. Fasting can also suppress hormones inducing satiety, like lepti, but probably more so if calories are restricted during the eating window and when leading an unhealthy lifestyle or not sleeping well.What to eat when bored but not hungry? ›
- of 9. Seaweed Snacks. For a savory fix, look no further than our latest obsession. ...
- of 9. Chocolate Almond Milk. ...
- of 9. Cucumber or Jicama Slices. ...
- of 9. Air-Popped Popcorn. ...
- of 9. Freeze-Dried Apples. ...
- of 9. Pickles. ...
- of 9. Turkey Jerky. ...
- of 9. Kombucha.
8 Super Filling Foods You Should Be Eating If You're Always...
- Oatmeal. ...
- Beans. ...
- Non-starchy vegetables. ...
- Eggs. ...
- Avocado. ...
- Nuts. ...
- Greek yogurt. ...
- Brothy soup.
Food fatigue is when you're bored or overwhelmed at the thought of consuming food — even when your body is saying you're hungry. It is psychological and usually an involuntary reaction.
At what times should you eat? ›
- 6:00 to 9:45 a.m. This is the best time for breakfast. ...
- 10 a.m. Snacktime. ...
- 1 p.m. Lunch break. ...
- 6 p.m. Dinnertime.
How often you should feel hungry depends largely on what – and when – you last ate. In general, though, it's normal to feel hungry, or a little peckish, three to four hours after eating a meal.What does mild hunger feel like? ›
You may notice more gentle sensations such as starting to think about food, gurgling/rumbling in your stomach, lack of concentration, or low energy. This is a more appropriate time to eat where you can practice more mindful techniques.How do you trick your brain into thinking you are hungry? ›
Drink plenty of calorie-free fluids
Subtle thirst can trick your body into thinking you're hungry when all you need is liquid, says Hever. "Aim to drink half your body weight's pounds in ounces of water every day," says Hever.
The brain triggers the release of a hormone called ghrelin in response to an empty stomach or in anticipation of the next meal. Ghrelin signals the body to release stomach acids to digest food. If food is not consumed, the stomach acids begin to attack the lining of the stomach, causing hunger pains.
There are a class of glial brain cells in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which helps to control appetite, and they are activated by certain nutrients which tell us to stop eating.How to become more skinny? ›
- Chew Thoroughly and Slow Down. ...
- Use Smaller Plates for Unhealthy Foods. ...
- Eat Plenty of Protein. ...
- Store Unhealthy Foods out of Sight. ...
- Eat Fiber-Rich Foods. ...
- Drink Water Regularly. ...
- Serve Yourself Smaller Portions. ...
- Eat Without Electronic Distractions.
How many calories should I eat a day? Adult females need anywhere from 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day and adult males need anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 calories a day, according to the USDA's latest “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” report released in 2020.Which meal is best to skip? ›
Skipping breakfast and other meals is one behavior studied as a factor influencing weight outcomes and dietary quality. Based on evidence that skipping breakfast reduces total daily caloric intake, some weight-loss recommendations include skipping breakfast (i.e., intermediate fasting) as one strategy to use.Can your body get weak from not eating? ›
Summary: Eating too few calories can lead to fatigue due to insufficient energy to exercise or perform movement beyond basic functions.
What are the symptoms of not eating enough? ›
- Anxiety and depression. ...
- Being underweight. ...
- Constipation. ...
- Difficulty losing weight. ...
- Fatigue. ...
- Feeling cold. ...
- Frequently feeling hungry. ...
- Hair loss.
Eating one meal a day can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol. This occurred in a group of healthy adults who switched to one meal a day to participate in a study. If you already have concerns in either area, eating just once a day might not be safe. Eating one meal late can cause your blood sugar to spike.Can I eat just one meal a day? ›
Eating one meal a day is unlikely to give you the calories and nutrients your body needs to thrive unless carefully planned. Choosing to eat within a longer time period may help you increase your nutrient intake. If you do choose to try out eating one meal a day, you probably shouldn't do it 7 days a week.What time should you stop eating? ›
There's no set time you should stop eating before bed, but as a guide, you should aim to have your last meal two to three hours before going to sleep. Avoid late-night meals, late-night snacking, and nighttime eating as much as possible.Why am I not losing weight on 1,000 calories a day? ›
The diet doesn't have enough calories
Eating too little — say, 1,000 calories a day — can prevent you from losing weight, too. "When you don't eat enough, your body is starving and it's not going to lose any extra weight" because it needs those energy stores to keep you alive, Fakhoury said.
Some researchers categorize low calorie diets as dietary patterns that deliver between 800–1,200 calories per day, while very low calorie diets are categorized as diets that deliver fewer than 800 calories per day ( 2 , 3 ).Why am I getting fat when I don't eat much? ›
Your Slow Metabolism:
When you have a slow metabolism, your body doesn't convert food into energy in sufficient quantities. So most of the food you eat is stored in the form of fats. This is the main reason why some people get fat even though they don't eat much.
The symptoms are unspecific: fatigue, loss of appetite, exhaustion, susceptibility to infections or skin diseases. As a result, many people do not recognise the deficiency, but suffer their whole life from the consequences.What happens if you ignore your hunger? ›
But if you ignore your body's early hunger cues — perhaps because you're busy, or simply don't trust that you need to eat — or if those cues have gone silent from years of denying them, you may become dizzy, lightheaded, headachy, irritable or unable to focus or concentrate.At what point does hunger go away? ›
However, ghrelin usually peaks at day 1-2 and then steadily falls. This aligns with what is seen clinically, where hunger is the worst problem at onset. Many people on longer fasts report that hunger typically disappears after day 2.
What should I eat when constantly hungry? ›
8 Super Filling Foods You Should Be Eating If You're Always...
- Oatmeal. ...
- Beans. ...
- Non-starchy vegetables. ...
- Eggs. ...
- Avocado. ...
- Nuts. ...
- Greek yogurt. ...
- Brothy soup.
“If you are hungry, you should eat something, regardless of the time of day,” says Aimee Takamura, registered dietitian and director of wellness and sustainability at Restaurant Associates. “The act of eating late at night does not affect metabolism or lead to many of the adverse effects you may have heard of.How often should I eat? ›
So how often should you be eating? The Theory: Nutrition experts tend to recommend eating 3 balanced meals (350 to 600 calories each) and 1 to 3 snacks per day (between 150 and 200 calories each).How do I train myself to ignore hunger? ›
- Eat more protein and healthful fats. ...
- Drink water before every meal. ...
- Eat more high-fiber foods. ...
- Exercise before a meal. ...
- Drink Yerba Maté tea. ...
- Switch to dark chocolate. ...
- Eat some ginger. ...
- Eat bulky, low-calorie foods.
If you have the condition, you eat when you are not hungry or for emotional reasons, such as being sad, angry, lonely, or bored. During a binge, you might feel that you can't stop eating, eat very quickly, or eat so much that you feel painfully full. After binging, you might feel upset, guilty, or depressed.