Boredom Eating: What it Is and Why it Happens

07 September, 2020
Boredom eating can be natural but it can also be very unhealthy. Let's explore the nature of this behavior.
 

The act of eating can be explained from different standpoints. The most known is usually the biological one. However, there are other explanations everyone should learn. In this article, we’ll be showing you other perspectives that explain boredom eating.

This is something a lot (if not all) people do or have done at least once. For some people, it’s become something chronic, since they do it every day and can’t stop. They may think there’s no way to change it but they’re wrong. In fact, it is possible to change this behavior.

Furthermore, it’s important to remain attentive to the number of times a day/week one carries out boredom eating. This is an unhealthy habit. Remember that overeating can be dangerous. 

Additionally, we’ll be delving into the tendency of boredom eating and why it occurs. Lastly, we’ll emphasize the strategies you can use to avoid it and when it becomes detrimental to one’s health.

What’s boredom eating about?

Eating keeps the body working appropriately. However, this isn’t the only important mechanism in the human body. As you probably know, in order to achieve well-being, individuals need emotional and social balance as well. Sometimes, all those mechanisms come together, and that’s when boredom eating comes to be.

Now, let’s see how the Merriam Webster dictionary defines both of these words. For one, the verb to eat is defined as “to take in through the mouth as food: ingest, chew, and swallow in turn”. Secondly, boredom is defined as “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest”.

 

Basically, boredom eating refers to ingesting food when your spirit is tired. This is related with the emotional realm. In fact, we speak of emotional hunger when we have issues we can’t seem to find a solution to and turn to food for comfort.

Why does it happen and is it ever healthy?

Eating is related to a person’s learning patterns. By analyzing various circumstances, it’s possible to determine what drives a person to eat food.

When an individual feels bored, they enter a vicious cycle where their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors intervene. Not knowing what to do can be overwhelming for anybody. As a result, the person tries to break that circle by looking for something to entertain themselves. In this case, it’s food.

Emotional eating and boredom

We all know how difficult it can be to deal with the mind. Thoughts, negativity, and worries racing through your head. In a situation like that, it’s pretty common to find a defense mechanism that can help cope with all that anguish. Thus, the main characteristic of boredom eating is its urgency. It has no limits and produces guilt and shame; whereas physiological hunger is gradual, it can wait, and it usually doesn’t produce negative emotions.

In fact, different pieces of research emphasize the relationship between overeating and emotions. For example, Cordoba, along with his colleagues, in their article published in the Journal of Health Psychology, show how people tend to overeat in the face of negative emotions.

 
A bored man eating pizza on the couch.

Furthermore, it’s vital to remember that eating is a learned behavior and that all individuals are conditioned to eat at certain times. It isn’t uncommon to unconsciously try to fill empty spaces with food. As a result, people begin to associate emotions with situations that they already experienced and where they turned to food to feel better.

This way, every time a similar situation comes around, that person instantly thinks about the one thing that comforted them at the time: food. This can become unhealthy if done excessively (when the individual makes a habit out of it).

Also, don’t forget that the act of eating causes the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. This, of course, may encourage someone to move forward with their boredom eating habit.

On the other hand, there are times, such as stressful situations, when not knowing how to react may instantly drive the person to eat out of boredom. This can be part of an adaptive and natural process as long as it’s circumstantial.

Some strategies to avoid boredom eating

Boredom eating is an act that doesn’t always occur consciously. Identifying it would for sure add to your well-being. Are there strategies to help you avoid doing it? Let’s see.

 
  • Switch up your activities. Instead of eating when you’re bored, you can carry out an activity that favors your well-being and helps you have a good time. For example, exercising increases endorphin levels, which will make you feel happy. Of course, this depends on each individual. It’s up to you to find the activity that suits you best.
  • Keep track of what you eat. Write down what you have for your meals every day. This way, you’ll be aware of what you’re putting into your body. This will also help you remember the places you tend to eat at. Defeating boredom eating becomes easier when you’re aware of the number of times you do it.
  • Avoid temptations. When you go grocery shopping, avoid buying the foods you tend to eat out of boredom. These are usually snacks and sweets.
  • Time. Don’t space out your meals too much. It’s better to eat small portions more often than a huge meal once or twice a day.
  • Satisfaction. If you eat foods that make you feel satisfied, it’ll be more difficult to end up boredom eating because you’ll feel full.
  • Control your emotions. Recognize your emotions, explore them, and don’t let them get the best of you. Remember that you’re in control. This way, you’ll avoid emotional eating. This also requires self-knowledge and will.
A woman staring at a plate full of food.
 

Now, you can seek help from a professional to carry this out. For example, you may turn to nutritionists, doctors, and psychologists. The important thing here is to find strategies that make your life as healthy as possible.

In short, boredom eating occurs for different reasons. Sometimes to fill a void, other times as a defense mechanism or learned behavior. For some people, this may be a way to break a vicious cycle. For others, it’s all about the satisfaction generated by the release of neurotransmitters. Whatever the case is, it’s important to identify whether it’s excessive or not. This way, you’ll be able to take measures and change this habit.

 

Córdoba, D.L., Cacho, A.E.K., & Morales, M.H.C. (2002). Relación entre el comer en exceso y el manejo de las emociones: una experiencia con estudiantes. Psicología y Salud 12(2), 261-268.