How to tackle boredom eating for athletes

Posted on May 5, 2020 by

Now more than ever you may be finding yourself aimlessly peeking into the fridge, freezer or pantry, without even knowing how you got there.

You aren’t always hungry, but it seems like a good way to pass time, or procrastinate from work, study or training.


Sound familiar? You are not alone

Several athletes across multiple sports have reported some degree of difficulty in managing their eating habits while at home and in new lifestyle routines.

Identifying your hunger response is more familiar to athletes when training loads increase and appetite increases to meet this demand. It’s easier to understand the connection. In a time where routine has changed, and training is in a different format or intensity it is a challenge to compare intake and understand just what your body needs.

If you’re unsure and uncertain about how to eat, while in close proximity to the kitchen, a common response is to head to the fridge.


There’s no magic formula

Rarely does telling yourself “I should not be eating this” or “have a glass of water” make a difference.

While we wish we had a magical formula to stop boredom eating it comes down to you and the choices you make.

But feeling guilt or shame because you have eaten something you wish you didn’t doesn’t solve any problems.

We can merely use this response to reflect and learn and get stronger next time we head to the kitchen.


Try using a hunger scale

Bring some awareness to your eating habits and hunger levels through using a hunger scale. This will assist your understanding of the difference between eating to nourish our body & meet energy needs, and eating to mask issues such as boredom, procrastination or stress/emotional management.

To help you understand where you sit in terms of your physical hunger you can use a hunger scale rated from 1- 10.

This can help you to make decisions around when to eat and how much to eat in conjunction with sports nutrition education and general logic.

It may be that it can help you decide whether you are actually physically hungry or just emotionally hungry, bored and mindlessly snacking.

Checking in with the hunger scale can be a useful tool to understand if you NEED to eat or you WANT to eat. 

Neither one or ten on the scale are healthy places to be. Ten can leave us feeling sub-optimal both mentally and physically, while one can leave us vulnerable to eating too quickly or making the wrong food choices.

If we don’t acknowledge how hungry we are we can end up at ten before our gut is able to acknowledge fullness (take at least 20 minutes to eat to allow for this).

Ideally, the sweet spot to eat is between three and six.


Increase your awareness

Checking in with the scale before and after meals/snacks can increase awareness around your hunger and fullness cues and ultimately give you more confidence in making food choices.

You might also use this to reflect how you feel after modifying portion sizes if they are smaller or larger than usual. This will help you understand when you have had enough to eat, instead of comparing to what you usually might eat to know if you have had enough.


Start understanding your hunger & fullness cues now

Now is a good time to master this skill as when you are back at full training there are a few performance nutrition rules which override this like eating directly after training.

Sometimes athletes have no appetite after really hard sessions but thats the most important time to eat to kick start recovery.

Just like your sport, understanding your hunger and fullness cues is a skill that requires practice to master. Give it a go and become a master at understanding you body.

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1 Comment

Gary franklin

Useful reminder, and I am 78 and exercising well but eating too fast and too much. Always proud of nswis,

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