What is it about being alone or not busy that drives disregulated eaters to eat? I don’t have the exact answer to that question, but I have some ideas about it. If this has been a problem for you, it’s time to figure out what’s going on and make some changes.

It’s common for me to have several clients a week who lament their ability to stay away from food when they’re home with nothing to do. Part of what’s going on for them is an uncomfortable transition from being busy to not busy. Perhaps some people are simply more sensitive to pace of living, while others are hyper aware of changes in temperature or are deeply affected by attractive or ugly surroundings. So, maybe you have a heightened sensitivity to fluctuations in the pacing of your life.

Another issue is what it was like for you to be alone as a child. Was aloneness forced upon you or did you choose it? If you were stuck home alone when you were young because your parents were working, you might have been frightened, bored, or felt neglected. If you were worried about your parents—say, if Mom and Dad were out drinking or partying and left you home unattended before you were ready to be by yourself—you might associate being alone with abandonment and fending for yourself.

Being either alone or with people are value-neutral circumstances. One is not inherently better than the other. Whether you’re comfortable with or without companionship has more to do with your associations to these states. If you view going from busy to not busy as a natural transition, like the tide going in or out, might you be more relaxed?

Emptiness is a term clients use a great deal to describe how they feel when they’re simply being and not doing. Do you feel empty in your head or your heart? Again, empty is a natural state, as is full, so where did you get the idea that empty is distressing? What do you truly want when you feel empty emotionally? When your stomach is empty, food is the right thing, but what about when you feel as if you have a hole in your heart? How can you fill that? Consider what being alone means to you: freedom, relief, being unloved, having too much to think about, having nothing to do, enjoying time to yourself.

If you have negative feelings about aloneness, they may be doing you in when you’re by yourself and causing you to engage in non-hunger eating. Remember that you no longer need to be ruled by the meanings you made of anything as a child. Make a new meaning of being by yourself and I bet you’ll no longer feel so driven to eat.