I spent a long weekend camping in Cornwall recently with my family and friends. While I was watching my 8-year-old daughter having fun taking part in all kinds of outdoor activities with her friends, I had a revelation or something very close to it at least!
School holidays are sometimes challenging for the whole family. Parents are doing their best to keep their kids engaged and occupied, but many aren’t lucky enough to be able to take time off work, so often the little ones just need to entertain themselves. That’s when things can get boring for them.
I noticed that my daughter keeps asking for all kinds of food or snacks when she has ‘nothing to do” or is not enjoying herself. I was amused by the fact that while we were out on the fields and were spending time with cows and other farm animals, she didn’t think about food once. We had to remind her to eat.
That’s when it all clicked. Us adults tend to do the same thing, potentially because we have picked up the habit when we were kids. The experience inspired me to do some research, see what science says about it all and what the best way is to overcome comfort eating.
People think boredom is when they have nothing to do or don’t enjoy a repetitive task. But if that were true, why would some people love the monotony of food prepping and food logging week by week while others would have no interest in it?
Psychology says that boredom is a result of feeling a lack of meaningfulness, in other words not seeing a point in doing or not doing something. That’s why two people doing the exact same job can feel the opposite about it, or some students attending a class enjoy it very much, while others in the same class struggle to stay awake.
There are two types of boredom. One can be temporary when we feel an acute lack of excitement or enjoyment. The other is more like a chronic state, where people’s sensitivity to enjoyable experiences is reduced. The first one can easily be solved by engaging in social or other activities we like; however, it can turn into “anhedonia” if not addressed, according to experts.
People suffering from chronic boredom will seek activities or substances that make them feel excited and that’s when it can become dangerous. Some will reach out to alcohol or drugs, engage often in adrenalin activities, like bungee jumping and potentially become addicted to anything they feel they can enjoy.
Why do we comfort eat when we are bored?
Emotional or comfort eating is a very easily accessible and relatively cheap solution to trigger the brain’s reward system which makes it the perfect band-aid and distraction from your boring activities. Unfortunately, the foods high in saturated fat and sugars are the most popular choices for comfort eating.
Don’t get me wrong, occasionally having some biscuits with your tea, a slice of cake or a glass of wine after dinner won’t cause problems, but if these “treats” become regular, you will likely have a problem.
On another note, sadly in many families offering food to comfort a crying child or a treat for achievements is very common. While the intention of the parents and grandparents is to provide the best for the kids, the more often they use this technique, the more likely it will become an engrained habit by adulthood. Here are 7 tips to help you tackle the urge to eat when you are bored.
Tip #1. Cut the crap
Avoid eating junk food, especially when you feel bored or emotionally exhausted. You can make this happen by clearing out your cupboards at home and in the office.
Tip #2. Employ multiple sources of joy
Aim to have a few hobbies, explore new activities regularly to build a list of things that trigger your sense of pleasure and make sure you schedule in “play time” for yourself regularly.
Tip #3. Break out of the routine
Activities like getting to work, eating, brushing our teeth are repetitive and can add to our “boredom” factor. Choose a different route or commute to work, eat your dinner in a different room, choose different brands or experiment with new recipes every now and then. You can even change the flavour of your tooth paste.
Tip #4. Some distractions are good
Everybody has a “to-do” list that is ever growing, and you feel you will never have time. In moments of boredom, look at that list and aim to complete at least one task. It won’t only help you distract yourself, but you will also feel a sense of achievement by ticking that box.
Tip #5. Learn to enjoy your own company
All too often we don’t want to do “nothing” because we fear our minds would wander to areas and thoughts we don’t want to entertain. Coming to terms with your “self” is an essential step towards a better quality of life and can have an impact on your daily sense of purpose.
Tip #6. Choose a healthier band-aid
If your boredom is related to your office job, try fidgeting with a desk toy, solving puzzles or listening to music. These activities will keep your brain occupied and listening to your favourite music can have the same reward effect as treats.
Tip #7. Be forgiving
Nobody is perfect and with the best intention our willpower sometimes will just not be there. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you give into temptation, instead, dust it off and get back to balanced eating straight away.
We can’t always fight Chemistry, nor do we have to if these habits are kept at bay and they don’t turn into health risks.
If you feel bored every now and then and use eating as a band-aid, you are just like any other human with challenges in life. But if you feel that same boredom every day and nothing but some unhealthy food can distract you from it, you probably need to look at a lifestyle overhaul.