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Eating from Boredom

Recently a question came up on the message boards I advise on ( and about eating from boredom. Boredom is an interesting emotion because it can stand alone but also may mask other uncomfortable feelings such as loneliness, sadness, anxiety and depression.

There are two types of boredom: acute and chronic. You may feel acute boredom when your friend cancels plans for Saturday night at the last minute and leaves you with nothing to do or when you accompany a partner to a lecture that doesn’t interest you all that much. Chronic boredom is a regular occurrence—you frequently feel you have nothing to do or are unengaged emotionally, you lack energy to get up and go yet are antsy, you feel stuck in old routines, in your same old skin.

Some boredom is inevitable. We can’t be in the thick of things 24/7. We need time to relax, reflect, and recharge our batteries. So if you’re bored occasionally and eat or obsess about food, you’ve developed a bad habit. Instead of focusing on food, you need, simply, to find compelling activities to occupy your time. It doesn’t matter what as long as the activity is healthy and not food-related. It will take considerable effort to change your behavior especially during critical times—in the late afternoon, at night, during long stretches of being alone, or when you’re tired or blue.

Chronic boredom is due to lacking meaning and/or pleasure in life. If you suffer from it, you need to take a long, hard look at your commitments and passions to figure out how to add more zing and zest to your days. Maybe you’re tired from an unchallenging job, stuck in a relationship that’s draining you, or are drowning in routine and others’ expectations of you. If so, boredom has meaning—it’s telling you to make some changes. Chronic boredom is not a natural state and can indicate depression, so if you habitually have little or no energy or motivation to do things, you may be depressed. Feeling habitually anxious can also lead you to believe you’re bored--when you have nothing to do, you get in touch with your anxiety.

Boredom may also be a cover for loneliness. Although the former is about doing something and the latter is about people connections, you may be confusing the two. If so, it may be that you need more people in your life or to deepen the attachments you already have. Whatever you need, remember it’s not food unless you’re hungry.