Dining on Boredom

Judith Wurtman Health Guide
  •   "My son is staying with us until he can find a job," a friend told me.  " And he is gaining weight by the minute. When I asked him about it-I still am his mother, after all-he said that he is bored. So he spends his time eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."


    Boredom may be the most common cause of overeating.  We watch our portions at meals, fill up on salads, read food labels to avoid unnecessary calories and forego desserts. But then along comes an evening of filling out income tax forms, grading papers or updating the files. You are bored and feel the need to eat. In fact, you may convince yourself that you are actually hungry because dinner was meager and you exercised more than usual. So you wander into the kitchen, open the cupboards, stand in front of the open refrigerator door and finally poke around the freezer. Eventually you find something that you want to eat. And during the time you are looking for the food and then eating it, you stop being bored.

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    Were you really hungry for food? Probably not. But you were hungry for a distraction from whatever you were doing.  Eating when bored is not restricted to any age or even to humans. My dog, a long-haired dachshund, pokes me on the leg when he is bored. The poke is his way of telling me to go to the drawer where I keep his chewies and give him some.  Once I do, he settles down contentedly with his snack.


    Eating to push away boredom may start when we are very young. It seems that Cheerios were invented as a way of keeping toddlers busy while their parents are engaged in shopping, talking, cleaning, working, making meals and whatever activities take them away from entertaining their offspring. So young children learn that when they whine from boredom, they will be given a sandwich bag filled with crunchy circles that are difficult to pick up and put in the mouth. Hence, they are very entertaining.  And as we grow older we find other more interesting foods to distract us from whatever tedium is plaguing us.


    Eating out of boredom is a difficult habit to break, as it almost becomes a reflex. Munching on nuts, cookies, or chips, a way of entertaining ourselves, is a mindless activity. Often we are aware of how much is being eaten only after we notice that we are not losing weight or have gained some.


    Diets are only a temporary a cure for this type of overeating. Although focusing on a diet plan is in its own way a distraction from boredom, once the diet is over or begins to be boring itself, we will find ourselves right back in front of that open refrigerator door.  Finding a non-edible something to do is much more effective.


    One of my clients told me that she would be thin if there were a shoe sale she could go to every Sunday afternoon so she wouldn't sit home and nibble. My dog stops bothering me to get a chewie if we go for a walk and he can bark at the cat next door. But stepping away from the boring task is rarely possible: taxes have to done, papers have to be corrected, files have to be kept current. Thus it is important to have a handful of brief distractions as substitutes for eating. Here are ten suggestions:


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    1)    If you must put something in your mouth, then drink a non-caloric beverage with ice. Crunching ice cubes is somewhat distracting, especially when your tongue begins to freeze.

    2)    Floss and brush your teeth. You are less likely to eat after doing this.

    3)    Look at yourself in the mirror to see if you need a haircut, hair color or a wig.

    4)    Scan Craig"s List for something interesting. I have a friend who, when she is bored, looks for dogs that need to be adopted.

    5)    Check e-mail, Facebook, or news online.

    6)    Do your nails or at least remove chipped nail polish.

    7)    Listen to sports' scores.

    8)    Jump rope, do sit-ups, stomach crunches, or backstretching exercises for five minutes

    9)    Walk your dog or one that belongs to a neighbor.

        10) Call your mother. Afterwards you may be glad to get back to work.

Published On: April 02, 2009