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The Overwhelming Emotion That’s Causing Us All to Overeat

March 4, 2021
Photo Credit: Lea Jones

It’s day number 467512 of quarantine, otherwise known as Wednesday, and where do I find myself yet again? In front of the fridge for the umpteenth time and it’s not even lunch yet. As I search for hidden snacks, a thought comes to mind, Are you even hungry? If you’re also wondering why the fridge is, all of a sudden, the most interesting thing in your house, the answer is simple: boredom. Unbridled, limitless boredom.

The Connection Between Boredom and Eating

As a nutrition professor, the connection between emotions and eating are central to my work with people aiming to make healthy eating changes. Stress can lead people to eat more than usual or lose their appetite altogether. Joy and happiness are often accompanied by a smorgasbord.

Boredom — defined as as state where you might feel a lack of ability to take action, restless or irritable, tired and unchallenged — is no exception. And it’s likely the reason why you and I may be overeating these days.

Related: I Lost 15 Pounds During Quarantine. Here Are the 5 Things I’m Doing Differently

Eating is an activity that breaks up the monotony and boredom of my seemingly similar days at home.The fridge, now always in our sights, is a reminder that food is available, a signal that a quick fix for boredom is accessible. That can be hard to resist. In fact, we are hard-wired to eat. The moment we start thinking about food, our mouths start to water and our digestive system starts preparing for food.

So, what can you do about it?

How to Reduce Boredom Eating

First off, give yourself some grace and space: In my opinion, it’s perfectly human to overeat right now. Beating yourself up won’t lead to better food choices, so just take a breath, acknowledge the moment and keep on living your life. If you’re noticing those moments of overeating followed by bouts of beating yourself up happening quite often, it may be time for a check-in with a food professional.

Second, know that reducing boredom eating is a learned behavior — a habit even. It takes time to build a new habit, but it can be done! Here’s how:

Tie a simple action to your fridge visit: Before you open it, ask yourself, Am I hungry? The answer might range from I could eat to I’m so hangry if I don’t eat I’m going to scream to I don’t know. For many of us, it has been a while since we really tuned in to true hunger or proper fullness. So give yourself some time to start recognizing that again.

Here are some helpful prompts:

  • Is my stomach silent, beginning to growl, full-on growling, or starting a hunger headache?
  • In the absence of any growling, what am I feeling right now?
  • Is this starting to become a pattern, connected actions that I repeat throughout the day or week?

Finally, do something else. Do a little dance, because what else do you do in your kitchen when no one’s watching and cabin fever is setting in? Pet the cat, go bother your significant other/best friend/work wife. Go for a walk.

And know that when this is all over, we will dine. Our boredom will be replaced with the joy of good company as we break bread together.

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