One common factor that can contribute to obesity, in otherwise healthy individuals, is the phenomenon known as boredom eating. In the world of psychology, it is categorized as one specific type of larger group of emotional eating behavior. Such a behavior occurs when an individual responds to emotional triggers, whether negative or positive, by consuming food. In case of boredom eating, the emotional trigger is, unsurprisingly, boredom.
Does Eating Cure Boredom?
Some people develop the habit of heading to the kitchen for a snack whenever they are not immediately occupied by some other task. The act of eating serves to alleviate boredom by occupying the individual in deciding what to eat, performing the steps of getting the food ready, and sitting down to actually consume the food. During this process, boredom eaters may have an idea about how to further occupy their time when they have finished eating. Often, however, people who exhibit such a behavior, will not be able to occupy their minds for long and will soon return to the kitchen to repeat the process.
Listening to the Body's Signals
One of the most important ways to maintain a healthy weight is to listen to the body's signals regarding hunger. The physical symptoms of hunger serve to alert people when they need to eat. This rule, of course, has plenty of exceptions, such as in people with hypoglycemia, who often need to eat snacks when they are not hungry in order to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. However, in such cases the body sends different signals to indicate the need for food. In general, therefore, it's usually best to listen to the body when deciding about eating. This is where boredom eaters run into trouble. Rather than eating in response to their bodies' hunger symptoms, they eat in response to emotional cues.
Boredom Eating and Weight Gain
It goes without saying, that people who eat when they are not hungry, will tend to consume more calories than they burn, resulting in weight gain. Chronic boredom eaters may experience continual weight gain, if they do not engage in a level of physical activity appropriate to their diet. And it stands to reason in many cases, that if they were engaged in physical activity, they wouldn't be so bored. For many, however, boredom eating is a serious problem that is not nearly as straightforward as it seems at first glance.
Feelings of Inadequacy
Boredom can be a frustrating emotional state that can carry with it a whole complex of other psychological issues. For example, people who feel that they have nothing to do, may fill the space in their attention with anxious thoughts, having nothing to keep their more sinister worries at bay. These worries could include feelings of inadequacy and uselessness, which are only compounded by boredom itself: "If I weren't so worthless/lazy/untalented, I would be doing something useful right now." These emotional difficulties make boredom eating more dangerous. Eating can be a powerful mood elevator, and in addition to temporarily alleviating the boredom itself, food can assuage the negative self-image that the boredom has caused.
The Vicious Cycle
When boredom and its attendant emotions begin to trigger eating on a regular basis, boredom eating becomes a pattern behavior that can become worse over time, leading to unhealthy weight gain. So, how can boredom eaters break this dangerous cycle? In the most serious cases, of course, such a habit may require professional intervention in the form of psychiatric help or hospitalization. However, in most cases, understanding and positive lifestyle change can be the solution.
How to Cure It
As with any pattern behavior or addiction, one of the best ways to correct the behavior is to remove the emotional triggers to lead to the behavior. In this case of emotional eating, the trigger is boredom and the negative emotions that go along with it. The best way to beat this problem, then, is to find a way to be bored less frequently, and to find better strategies for coping with it, whenever necessary. Here are the two key suggestions for those struggling with chronic boredom eating:
- Find a few easy, fun activities to turn to, when you feel bored. These can include drawing or painting, reading a book or a magazine, writing in a journal, playing a card game on the computer, or any other healthy leisure activity. It's important to have several potential "boredom-busters" at hand, in case, some of them don't seem appealing at any given time. Even if you don't engage in these activities for long, turning to them instead of turning to food, will help to break the vicious cycle.
- Tell a close friend or relative about the problem behavior, and call them to chat, instead of eating, when the negative mood arises. This will help by distracting you from your boredom and possible feelings of inadequacy.
By understanding the patterns involved in boredom eating and coming up with ideas to change the problem behavior, boredom eaters can improve their own lives and help to stop the growing problem of obesity.