Are You Hungry or Just Bored?


| LAST UPDATE 08/07/2022

By Lia Thomson
hunger bored healthy snacks
@fvlyacelik via Instagram

Who doesn't love a good snack - whether you're a savory gal who loves some guac and chips or you prefer a sweeter snack like strawberries and chocolate? While a little meal is always a yummy idea, sometimes our appetite signals can be confused: are we really hungry two hours after lunch, or are we just bored? Let's find out how to tell the difference.

Let's be honest, for most of us, the gems in our snack drawer are hyper-palatable food, a.k.a. things like chips and pretzels that contain ingredients that are meant to make the food more palatable and harder to stop eating! Yes, they're fun to eat, but these types of snacks have basically no nutritional value - instead, they just give our brain a small bump of dopamine. And our brain craves a boost of this neurotransmitter when we are bored. This explains why we reach for junk food when we have nothing else to do.

boredom hunger difference tips
@fvlyacelik via Instagram
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“Boredom eating starts out very benign - perhaps even undetectable,” Rachel Swanson, a dietician nutritionist, explained. “You might turn to food to soothe a particular emotion or to fill a void. It tastes good, so it makes you feel better. The next time a similar circumstance arises, the process repeats itself and eventually becomes a positively reinforced cycle.” This habit turns into a never-ending cycle that we enjoy because it helps us deal with our emotions. 

So how exactly can we know the difference between real hunger or boredom hunger? According to the nutritionist, who founded Diet Doctors, LLC., the different types of hunger would go away differently. "Physical hunger will resolve after eating a balanced, nutritious meal," Swanson said. "Psychological hunger is not resolved after eating a balanced, nutritious meal. In fact, it's common to seek out more food/snacks despite already eating." Basically, boredom hunger makes us reach for hyper-palatable food, but we continue to snack on it because this type of hunger is insatiable. Once again, the inevitable cycle continues. A good way to determine which type of hunger you have is by asking yourself if you would be happy eating a healthy (maybe boring) meal. But don't stress, it's a lot easier said than done to realize which one it is! "You can undoubtedly change your coping mechanisms with a little mental fortitude combined with the repetition of practicing new behaviors whenever you feel triggered... The urge becomes weaker to the point where you may notice it but will no longer have the desire to act on it."

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