EEQ Class #2 Is In Session: You’re Bored and Want Candy!

Today’s class on “emotional eating quotient” is all about the thrill seeker, aka: The Boredom Eater. When the act of eating is more important than what you are eating (for g-d’s sake, you’ll open up a jar of canned chickpeas if that’s all you have in the house!). What you probably really want is a jolt of dopamine, says Susan Carnell, PH.D., research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital (my alma mater!).

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that drives excitement, pleasure and motivation- including the motivation to eat. It’s the reward center of the brain. “The dopamine system evolved with the very purpose of making adaptive things like eating feel rewarding so we wouldn’t forget to do them”, says Carnell. However, these days drugs, thrill seeking activities (shopping, gambling, cliff diving) and food cravings have hijacked the brain’s reward system, leading to addiction and overeating.

Studies show that ingesting sugary, fatty foods sparks dopamine production in the brain in much the same way drugs like heroin do, lighting up the neural reward center in imaging studies. “It’s just a matter of degree,” says Carnell. “Food gives a relatively mild high compared to skydiving and heroin. But it’s by far the easiest route to reward. “

Boredom eating is so prevalent it’s ranked as the number one reason people are emotionally overeating, more than fear, stress, anxiety or depression.

So, if at certain times of the day your life seems like one big yawn, there are some things you can do other than pounding the pantry.

  1. Seek Out A Thrill: Make a list of non-food activities that can fill in the boring blanks. To stimulate your dopamine, it has to be something that really turns you on and that you get excited about. You could watch a favorite TV series, read an amazing book, knit, browse Facebook (I recommend watching some of the Skinny Jeans Diet page videos J), take an online class, learn a new language. Anything that turns you on.
  2. Shake It Up: Don’t stay stuck in your usual world. Go out there, get curious and grow! And it doesn’t need to be big things. Get off the bus at a different stop and walk a new route to work, plan a different kind of vacation, take a new exercise class, try a new recipe, put yourself out there and extend an invitation to a person you would like to get to know better for lunch, read a new genre of book.
  3. Stay Out Of The Kitchen: Unstructured time is the enemy of boredom eaters, and “the devil finds work for idle hands”. Get your tushy out of your kitchen when boredom eating strikes so you don’t find your hands at the bottom of a box of Bare Naked Granola.
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