The hunger-boredom paradigm explained by scientists
Johns Hopkins University professor Susan Carnell explains the neuroscience behind eating out of boredom (and how to stop).
- True hunger builds gradually and can be satisfied by any source of food, while emotional eating (which includes eating out of boredom) is insatiable and generally leads to feelings of guilt or shame.
- One 2015 study suggests we eat to escape the self-awareness that comes in moments of boredom or inactivity, while Johns Hopkins University professor Susan Carnell explains there may be a neuroscientific reason we eat to escape boredom.
- Drinking water, occupying your brain with a hobby or craft, exercising or striking up a fun conversation with someone are all ways you can beat the boredom-hunger paradigm.
We all know the feeling of being insatiably hungry, but have you ever stopped to consider what kind of hunger you're really feeling and what that means?
True hunger builds gradually, and any type of food you find will satisfy your appetite. Once you've eaten enough, you stop. There are usually no lingering feelings of shame because you're providing your body with the energy it needs, even if the meal wasn't so healthy.
Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is an unhealthy response to stress that causes cravings for various types of food. This kind of hunger isn't as easy to stop and leads to over-eating, which usually makes you feel guilty.
Boredom hunger, where you aren't hungry but snack out of boredom (most of us do this while we watch Netflix), sometimes falls under the category of "emotional eating." Even if we aren't overly emotional at the time, stress and boredom mix well together when you're avoiding a task you find difficult or some other problem you don't want to address.
Eating due to boredom explained by science
Escaping self-awareness and a surge of dopamine are two main reasons people eat when they are bored.
Photo by Andrey_Popov on Shutterstock
There are many reasons why you may find yourself illuminated by the refrigerator light every time you're feeling a bit restless.
A 2015 study suggests that we eat to escape our self-awareness.
"Being bored affectively marks an appraised lack of meaning in the present situation and in life," according to the researchers of this study. "Boredom increases eating in an attempt to distract from this experience, especially among people high in self-awareness."
Three studies were conducted to see how eating habits were affected by boredom. In the first study, boredom positively predicted calorie, fat, carb, and protein intake for the participants. In the second, a high (compared to low) boredom task increased the desire to snack compared to eating something healthy. In the third study, people who had high (compared to low) self-awareness consumed the most food during their peak times of boredom. Something important to note about the final study is that the subjects with increased self-awareness liked to eat exciting healthy food as well as exciting unhealthy food.
This suggests the act of selecting or cooking healthy recipes may play a factor in decreasing boredom.
The neuroscience of eating and boredom...is dopamine to blame?
Susan Carnell, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, believes there is another reason we may be searching out food to satisfy our bored minds.
According to Carnell, dopamine likely plays a role in the boredom-hunger paradigm. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is crucial to our motivation levels. Dopamine is present during sex, when we fall in love, and when we're satisfying an addiction — it's a pleasure-reward reaction that drives our motivations to do things that give us even more dopamine.
"The release of dopamine in the brain can be so stimulating and motivating that rats will lever-press for it to the exclusion of other crucially important activities like sleeping and eating," Carnell explained.
People who have naturally lower levels of dopamine are more likely to seek out and become addicted to dopamine-producing substances or activities like alcohol, drugs, and gambling.
Tracing this back to eating out of boredom, Carnell added that it's very likely that when we are bored or unhappy, our dopamine neurons are inactive. When we eat due to boredom, this can be a way of "waking up" our dopamine neurons so we can feel excited again.
5 easy ways to beat the boredom-hunger paradigm
How can I stop eating when I'm bored?
Photo by Brian A Jackson on Shutterstock
Occupy yourself by doing something fun.
Whether it's checking something off your to-do list, starting a craft like scrap-booking, or going for a nice walk, one of the best things you can do when you're feeling hungry due to boredom is to cure the boredom.
Doing something to occupy your time, even just temporarily, will likely get your mind out of the fridge and focused on something else until the hunger passes.
Dehydration and thirst are very commonly mistaken for hunger. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips next time you're feeling hungry, have a large glass of water first. You can even add a splash of lemon or lime to the water to trick your mind into thinking this is a little treat.
Keep your mouth busy.
Sometimes pretending as though you're eating is enough to fill the need to eat, especially when you're not hungry. Chewing gum is a great replacement for eating food you don't need to be eating.
Another idea to keep your mouth occupied is to call a friend you haven't heard from in a while or start a fun conversation with your spouse or kids. Conversations are a great way to distract your mind from eating when you're not really hungry.
Do something physical.
If Dr. Carnell is right, what you need is a big surge of dopamine, so why not get physical? Exercise sends a rush of dopamine throughout your system (the same as snacking on some popcorn might), and it's way more healthy.
You can slide on your running shoes and go for a jog or you can lay on the carpet and do some ab exercises while you watch Netflix. Either one will accomplish the same goal.
Wait out the boredom to see if you're really hungry.
Give yourself 30-60 minutes to determine whether what you're feeling is hunger due to boredom, or hunger due to really being hungry. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. True hunger will build and remain consistent, but emotional hunger (or boredom hunger) will fade as your mind becomes occupied with other things.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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