Life is not always thrilling and exhilarating—at times it can be mundane, and sometimes dull and monotonous…such is life. Some of us try to fill these voids in excitement by placing food in our mouths. This boredom eating is one of the more subtle types of emotional eating that often occurs without awareness and is capable of loading us with unnecessary calories that can lead to needless weight gain. Anytime we eat for a reason other than genuine hunger it is generally not a good thing. Boredom is the devil when it comes to eating.
The act of eating is an activity—something to do to keep us busy. We enjoy staying occupied and productive and find that when we have nothing on our “to do” list, eating can serve the purpose of keeping our hands occupied and our time utilized. Eating piques us with a barrage of sensory stimulation: creamy, crispy, grainy, hot, cold, crunchy, tingly, sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, aromatic, etc., which for a moment can relieve us of our ennui.
The truth of the matter is that had we been engaged and absorbed in another matter, the thought of eating would never have entered our minds. Human beings have an incredible need to productively pass time, and boredom-driven eating does not qualify for constructive time usage and should always be considered a self-destructive pastime. Many persons who I interviewed for my book reported that they do not even think about eating if busy and not bored. One 28- year-old stated the following: “I eat on weekends when I am home, when I am bored, inactive and have nothing to do, primarily to keep myself occupied during downtimes.” Another 27-year-old reported: “Boredom prompts me to eat. I was unemployed for 8 months and gained 10 lbs. When I have nothing to do, I eat—now that I am employed, it is less of an issue.”
Activity swapping is a constructive maneuver in which eating behavior that is driven by boredom is exchanged for an alternative behavior that will keep us away from unwanted calories. This substitute activity might be sleep, exercise, reading, phoning a friend, getting out of our home, taking a walk, taking a bath or shower, doing household work or errands, having sex—anything to relieve the boredom. Substitute endeavors may include participating in a hobby or interest that will be a less caloric activity than eating—gardening, woodworking, painting, knitting, whatever. A 54-year-old related: “I conquer boredom grazing with a substitute activity such as crocheting.” A 49-year-old told the following story: “I used to eat because of boredom. I would get home from work at 3PM, but my husband would not come home until 6PM, so I would have a cocktail with chips, nachos, cheese, and some cookies. I joined a gym, so now I exercise instead of drinking cocktails and eating food.”
Staying busy and productive is important on so many levels—aside from giving us a sense of value and worth, it also helps us maintain a trim figure by reducing our caloric intake and increasing our caloric expenditure. So many of us, when engaged and occupied, do not think about eating; in fact, when we are truly absorbed and immersed in the matter at hand, may forget to eat completely! Many of those I interviewed reported that their situation was well controlled during the day when busy and occupied at work, despite ample opportunity for temptation, but poorly controlled in the evening when home.
Mindful eating—being conscious and aware of precisely why we are eating—goes a long way forward in recognizing and arresting boredom eating.
Bottom line: The hollow in our lives cannot be filled with food. In behavioral terms, the best antidote to boredom eating is avoiding boredom by engaging in activities that keep us happy, occupied and productive, particularly those that occupy our hands and preclude eating. In cognitive terms, the best solution is to eat mindfully, always aware of the underlying reason as to why we are putting food in our mouths.
Andrew Siegel, M.D.
This is a taste of what you will find in Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food. The book website is: www.promiscuouseating.com.
It provides information, a trailer, excerpts, ordering instructions, as well as links to a wealth of excellent resources on healthy living. It is also available on Amazon as a paperback or e-book for Amazon Kindle.