Do you ever find that when you’re bored at home, your mind immediately wanders off into the great wonders of your kitchen cabinets, refrigerator and pantry? And after you polish off your third snack in a half hour, you’re still left feeling unsatisfied? Yup, me too.

As someone who just finished their first year of college and is waiting for their summer job to begin, I am slowly working toward my PhD in snacking. #prestigious, yo. Being cooped up at home with an immense amount of downtime means tending to the bottomless pit called my stomach.

…Or is this constant “hunger” all in my head? Late night thoughts, man.

In between every Netflix episode I watch and social media newsfeed I mindlessly scroll through, I take to my kitchen, searching for a new snack to devour. While food is all that is good in this world, eating when not hungry is not truly fulfilling. Wondering why my apparent boredom leads me to the great abyss that is my kitchen, I did what any inquisitive (or bored?) person would do. I turned to the internet.

Why You Can’t Stop Snacking

It is important to note that eating is a learned behavior. People are conditioned to eat at certain moments in time. You know that 4 o’clock snack you chow down on after a long day at school or work? Well, you may have it ingrained in your mind that you’re always supposed to eat at 4 o’clock. Perhaps a parent takes their child out for ice cream when they’re upset about something. While I have yet to discover something ice cream can't fix, this could teach the child that eating alleviates emotional pain, resulting in them turning to food whenever they’re in distress.

Eating food affects an individual’s levels of dopamine—a neurotransmitter in the brain that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. To put it simply, dopamine is the brain's “desire” chemical associated with the feeling you get when achieving a goal. And, don’t we all want to feel accomplished?

It has been found that specific foods contribute to an increase in dopamine levels. These foods are generally categorized as “junk food—those high in sugar, fat and sodium content. And, foods like this cause the body to release endorphins aka “feel good” hormones. If I had to assume, when you’re bored, you aren’t reaching for that plate of Brussels sprouts. But, what do I know? Not judging or anything…

The University of Limerick conducted a series of studies that indicate that “boredom leads to unhealthy eating, as it helps to distract from the unpleasant boredom experience.”

Certain foods are associated with feelings of enjoyment and celebration. I mean, there’s a reason we eat buttery popcorn at the movies and sugar-loaded cake and ice cream at birthday parties. By eating these “junk foods,” we’re attempting to evoke a feeling of reward that maximizes pleasure—something that is commonly associated with emotional eating.

In addition to being tied to emotions, like sadness and anger, emotional eating is correlated to boredom, as well. This is because eating when bored serves as a coping mechanism. Snacking breaks up the monotony of our boredom, raising our levels of dopamine. In other words, we will continuously snack because it makes us temporarily excited again and again.

Unlike physical hunger that surfaces gradually and can be satisfied by just about anything edible, emotional hunger comes on suddenly and creates a craving for specific foods. Do you notice that after not eating for several hours, almost anything sounds appetizing, but when you’re bored, you can’t stop thinking about those chocolate chip cookies chillin' in the jar? Or that foodporn-esque slice of pizza that comes across your Twitter newsfeed? That, my friends, is emotional hunger.

How to Combat Boredom Eating

1. Identify Your Cues

It is crucial to take note of the situations when you eat out of boredom. This will allow you to be more aware of when you’re unnecessarily eating, and help you find healthy alternatives to snacking.

Feeling ravenous during a four-hour Netflix binge late-afternoon? Pause your TV show and go for a walk. Then, make it a habit to get exercise during this time of day more frequently to replace the time you would normally be snacking out of boredom. Feeling antsy to munch on something after dinner as you look through Instagram for the third time in 10 minutes?

Set your phone aside and organize a room. Clean out a desk drawer. Color code your closet. Alphabetize your pantry items...oh wait, now we're back in the kitchen. Never mind.

2. Plan Your Meals (and Snacks)

Skipping meals causes you to feel overly hungry, resulting in overeating, or in this case, constant snacking. By eating in regular intervals, you will promote a healthier eating cycle, minimizing additional snack consumption. As someone who never took the “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” spiel very seriously, I suppose I should give it more props.

3. Make Sure You're Eating Enough Protein and Fat

While potato chips may satisfy you momentarily, you’re going to be hungry in an hour. By eating foods with healthy protein and fat, you will stay full longer and your attention will not be fixed on what your next snack will be. This means eating foods like nuts, yogurt, granola, and my (and every other shameless millennial’s) personal favorite: avocados.

4. Drink (More) Water

Countless people tend to confuse thirst for hunger. Symptoms of dehydration resemble signs of hunger, and the same part of the brain interprets both hunger and thirst signals. Talk about getting mixed signals, amirite? Shout out to the hypothalamus.

Before you pick through your snack drawer, try drinking a glass of water and waiting 15 minutes. If the feeling of supposed “hunger” subsides, then you were just thirsty. If not, you're probably hungry. Permission to snack: granted.

5. Brush Your Teeth

This one is a sure-fire way to stop yourself from eating when you’re bored. For me, brushing my teeth triggers a sense of “I’m going to bed soon” or “I’m leaving my house in a few minutes.” #oralhygiene, kids.

I feel less compelled to eat another snack if I have something to do that stops the continuation of my eating. Plus, food and drink just don’t taste as enjoyable after brushing your teeth. Ever drink orange juice immediately after a teeth cleaning? Just no.

Although eating snacks when you’re bored may give you momentary pleasure, that empty calorie-filled satisfaction can only last for so long. And, as much as I would like to say that after conducting research on this topic, my habit of unnecessary snacking will completely dissipate, I don’t think that will be the case.

For those who can relate to this, all you can do is try to be more aware of your “hunger cues,” focus on eating healthy, and replace boredom eating with activities that have more long-lasting, fulfilling effects.

For example, this article was written as a result of my boredom, and in attempt to prevent myself from eating my fifth snack in an hour. ;)