from the world's big
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.
Eating due to boredom explained by science<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE3MDUwOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODI3MjA5Nn0._tSlh1W4KySS4z8gi4yGgL_yYFjw6wS0mF02sw4bibw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="da46e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5462e0940d43082d8064b993d6129986" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="bored woman looking in fridge at night concept of hunger boredom" />
Escaping self-awareness and a surge of dopamine are two main reasons people eat when they are bored.
Photo by Andrey_Popov on Shutterstock<p>There are many reasons why you may find yourself illuminated by the refrigerator light every time you're feeling a bit restless.</p><p><strong>A 2015 study suggests that we eat to escape our self-awareness. </strong></p><p>"Being bored affectively marks an appraised lack of meaning in the present situation and in life," according to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4381486/" target="_blank">researchers of this study.</a> "Boredom increases eating in an attempt to distract from this experience, especially among people high in self-awareness." </p><p>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.</p><p>This suggests the act of selecting or cooking healthy recipes may play a factor in decreasing boredom.<br></p><p><strong>The neuroscience of eating and boredom...is dopamine to blame?</strong></p><p>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. </p><p><a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/bad-appetite/201112/do-you-eat-out-boredom" target="_blank">According to Carnell</a>, 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. </p><p>"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. </p><p>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.</p><p>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. </p>
5 easy ways to beat the boredom-hunger paradigm<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE3MDUwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwODA5NjAxN30.S62I39w33vlEcqOmBjhN54wsf5qsAIx3idxCGw9v_1o/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C64%2C0%2C65&height=700" id="aae8a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9cf422dc41ecd65de3878cc89392fa15" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man holding burnt toast with sad face concept of emotional eating" />
How can I stop eating when I'm bored?
Photo by Brian A Jackson on Shutterstock<p><strong>Occupy yourself by doing something fun.</strong></p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p><strong>Drink water. </strong></p><p>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.</p><p><strong>Keep your mouth busy.</strong></p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p><strong>Do something physical. </strong></p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p><strong>Wait out the boredom to see if you're really hungry. </strong></p><p>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. </p>
Once again, sugar-rich processed foods are shown to increase the likelihood of anxiety.
- Ten percent of the global population currently suffers from an anxiety disorder.
- A Canadian-based team discovered a link between anxiety and high-sugar, processed foods.
- Subjects whose diets were high in fruits and vegetables were less likely to suffer from such a disorder.
A vegetable stalls at the Oranjezicht City Farm, a farmers-style market for local farmers and artisanal food producers in Cape Town, held every Saturday and Sunday at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images<p>For this study, the team focused on four major questions: Does immigrant status affect the prevalence of anxiety disorder? Does the association between immigrants and natural born citizens take into consideration socio-demographic, health, and nutritional correlates? What specific dietary intakes are associated with anxiety? What other factors matter when controlling for immigrant status?</p><p>Overall, they found that immigrants are less likely to suffer from anxiety than Canadian-born citizens: one in 15 compared to one in 10. Still, the team believes equal measures should be taken to protect the entire society against the prevalence of anxiety. They also suggest further research be done to measure the fiber, calcium, and vitamin D intake of all Canadians. </p><p>One thing remains clear: high-sugar, highly processed diets lead to more anxiety. Whether correlation or causation, those that exhibit a higher intake of fruits and vegetables fare better. It's not the only factor, but it's an important one that we don't seem to pay enough attention to.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>. His next book is "</em><em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em> </p>
A new research article states that the obesity epidemic is affecting more than just waistlines.
- While the cost of food waste is high, the environmental impact of obesity is even higher.
- According to researchers in Italy, obesity results in an extra 140 billion tons of food consumption every year.
- Obesity costs Americans $1.72 trillion in healthcare costs and is now the leading cause of death.
Metabolic food waste by region compared with two measures of excess body fat: percentage overweight (OW) and percentage obese (OB).
Toti, Di Mattia, and Serafini, 2019<p>Specifically, MFW is the amount of food being produced that leads to extra body weight <em>and</em> the impact those calories have on the environment in terms of carbon, water, and land footprints. By his measure, Europe (EU) is the leading culprit, followed by North America (NAO; this region includes Oceania). The other regions are listed in the chart above. </p><p>The team writes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We provide evidence of the enormous amount of food lost through obesity and its ecological impact. Reducing metabolic food waste associated with obesity will contribute in reducing the ecological impact of unbalanced dietary patterns through an improvement of human health."</p><p>As I <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/obesity-leading-cause-death-america-shame" target="_self">reported last week</a>, obesity in America costs the national healthcare system $1.72 trillion. Two billion obese adults now walk around the planet, along with 41 million children under age five. If you're beginning life overweight, there are many obstacles ahead, many of which might prove insurmountable. </p><p>The team notes that this is in part due to the "push effect" — increased food availability and marketing. Marketing is never honest as to the chemistry involved in producing their foodstuffs. For example, while writing this article, my social media feed is being bombarded with articles on KFC's <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/17/us/kfc-donut-chicken-sandwich-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">new sandwich</a>: fried chicken wedged between two glazed donuts. Every new iteration of old products seems to be unhealthier than the last. </p>
How The U.S. Is Exporting Obesity | AJ+<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478608096f9be615095a00d0cf0f94df"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fJGPM94iKKQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The largest contributors to MFW in the EU and NAO turn out to be dairy products (including milk and eggs), followed by alcohol and cereals in the EU and meat and alcohol in the NAO. Remember, this not only pertains to consumption, but also agricultural, production, and transportation costs. Though the methodology is debatable — even Serafini recommends further research, as does the publication — the ecological costs of obesity turn out to be very high.</p><p>The team does not offer specific fixes to the problem beyond public health campaigns that teach consumers the dangers of obesity. People already know this, however. In fact, after my article on obesity last week, a number of readers reached out to inform me that other people's weight is "none of my business."</p><p>The problem is, it is. If Serafini's hypothesis is correct — and it's undeniable that obesity is resource-intensive — then this is everyone's problem. We're all paying for the soaring costs of healthcare. Water, carbon, and land costs of overeating are astronomical, serving as yet another driver of climate change. You can't claim that the planet isn't anyone else's business. We're all invested in its health. Right now, we're collectively failing to ensure the survival of our species. </p><p>Perhaps this is what happens whenever you give an animal too many options. Alpha predators are known to destroy ecosystems when their power is left unchecked. Throughout history, our power was kept in balance. For eons, our forebears had to scrape together enough food to live. Yet in the time of excess that we now live in, we indulge. The costs are known. Whether or not we have the courage to do anything about them is another story.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em> </p>
Unhealthy diets cause the part of your brain responsible for appetite to become inflamed, encouraging further eating and obesity.
- Anyone who has tried to change their diet can tell you it's not as simple as simply waking up and deciding to eat differently.
- New research sheds light on a possible explanation for this; high-fat diets can cause inflammation in the hypothalamus, which regulates hunger.
- Mice fed high-fat diets tended to eat more and become obese due to this inflammation.
A burger and a side of fries for mice<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMTExMzM3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODk3MDQ2NX0.V1Hebhscaqb41DAZXYeHD0_6iUx9DIvTim3wJSzkP2M/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1261%2C0%2C1408&height=700" id="8cf81" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5bc60a7cb50e6f425828f3412d418a5d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Chicken Nuggets" />
An out-of-date adaptation<p>When human beings did not have reliable access to food, this kind of behavioral change would have been beneficial. If an ancient human stumbled across a high-fat, calorically dense meal, it would make sense for that individual to eat as much as they could, not knowing where it's next meal would come from.</p><p>But there were no Burger Kings during the Pleistocene. We have been extraordinarily successful in changing our environment, but our genome has yet to catch up. The wide availability of food, and especially high-fat foods, means that this adaptation is no longer a benefit for us. </p><p>If anything, research such as this underscores how difficult it is to really change bad habits. A poor diet isn't a moral failing — it's a behavioral demand. Fortunately, the same big brains that gave us this abundance of food can also exert control over our behavior, even if those brains seem to be working against us.</p>
Bill Maher called for fat shaming last week. His argument makes sense.
- As the NY Times reports, obesity is the leading cause of death in America, costing the health care system $1.72 trillion.
- Bill Maher called for fat shaming as a means of transforming the lethargic mindset about obesity.
- When implemented properly, shame can be an important and powerful tool, writes NYU professor Jennifer Jacquet.
New Rule: The Fudge Report | Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="295d2641a8328684cb491cb5accf3d61"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Dm4TAdiEFn0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Jacquet writes that, according to anthropological studies, two-thirds of human conversation is gossip about other people—a stunning number, but given our fascination with <a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/how-our-obsession-with-self-esteem-created-the-selfie-generation" target="_self">selfies</a> and social media, one easy to comprehend. We are influenced and inspired by others. We might obsess over what we don't have too often, but when it matters, we can also change our habits. Shame is one means for accomplishing this. </p><p>This is how many documented tribal cultures work. Their justice system is a circle, the accused in the center. Shame is an evolutionary tool that helps create better behavior when performed with the intention of transformation. It can establish and enforce new norms. </p><p>Of course, we don't live in tribal cultures befitting of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar's_number" target="_blank">Dunbar's number</a>. Though we mostly remain close to a limited number of people (also per Dunbar), our "tribe" is global. Circles are too wide to implement. We need better recourse for shame. For better or worse, that relies on governmental intervention (as we'll discuss below). </p><p>There are seven habits of effective shaming according to Jacquet.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The transgression should (1) concern the audience, (2) deviate widely from desired behavior, and (3) not be expected to be formally punished. The transgressor should (4) be part of the group doing the shaming. And the shaming should (5) come from a respected source, (6) be directed where possible benefits are highest, and (7) be implemented conscientiously." </p><p>Obesity fits the bill of transgression. Every American is implicated in skyrocketing healthcare costs, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy; the premiums of the fit increase due to costs of avoidable treatments for obesity. Obesity deviates wildly from natural biological behavior; the photo from fifties Maher points to is evidence of how quickly Americans have grown. Of course, there should be no formal punishment, yet that doesn't imply that we remain silent.</p><p>As for respected sources, the <em>Times</em> article notes that the simple act of implementing medically tailored meals for the sickest Americans could save each patient $9,000 a year. There are other actions, many of which require the government: taxing sugary beverages; subsidizing healthy food over the added income that corn, soybean, and beef manufacturers receive; lowering sugar and trans fat standards on foods; improving school meals and better educating children on nutrition; and expanding school garden programs. I would also add reducing the amount of processed foods being sold as that is the biggest source of our malnutrition.</p>
Large oversized women competitors in action at the wall climb obstacle during the Reebok Spartan Race. Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA. 28th June 2014. Shaming might help inspire people to lose weight through better diet and exercise—such a mindset should be supported.
Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images<p>Reality is far from idealism, however. Michelle Obama was derided by conservatives for planting a garden at the White House, while one of the first actions taken by the Trump administration was destroying it. The very agricultural feat that allowed the proliferation of our species is now seen as an "agenda." We're killing ourselves by what goes in <em>and</em> what comes out of our mouths.</p><p>Americans, as the <em>Times</em> states, are sick; more adults are obese than not. Over 100 million American adults are pre-diabetic or diabetic, nearly half of the nation's adult population. Add to that the 122 million people suffering from cardiovascular disease. </p><p>We're simply unwilling to discuss this public health crisis in any serious manner. We'll ogle at statistics yet never point to the responsibility citizens need to take in reversing those numbers. Even more tragically, we're unlikely to hear any Democratic hopeful frame the healthcare crisis in this context even as the data stare us straight in the face. </p><p>Obesity is affecting the bodies and minds of younger generations as well. In 2016, the <a href="https://d2wirczt3b6wjm.cloudfront.net/News/Statistics/2016/plastic-surgery-statistics-full-report-2016.pdf" target="_blank">largest increase</a> in any cosmetic surgery was teenage male breast reduction. I remember the stigmatization I felt at that age—it sucks. But every cosmetic surgery is a response to a neurosis we maintain about ourselves, one that is often the result of a society setting unrealistic beauty standards. </p><p>As Maher stated, though, this is not about beauty. It's about health, and we're failing by that measure. As mentioned, bullying is not the right response, but I did feel shame about my weight as well. That sensation led me to invest in my health. I've taught group fitness for 15 years and maintain an optimal weight. At 44, I'm stronger, more mobile, and more flexible than I've ever been. That shame was fuel for focusing on good health, energy that keeps me in the gym five to six days a week. </p><p>It must also be pointed out that not everyone is in the same position. Food deserts are real. Processed foods infiltrate neighborhoods as plentifully as opioids, yet not nearly as discussed. And some people are physically incapable of regular exercise, though at times this is due to injuries or other health problems—some caused by being overweight, pointing to the vicious circle that obesity creates. </p><p>Sometimes, though, we simply make excuses because we languish in our bad habits. We focus more on what we don't think we can do than what we actually can accomplish. This is where shame can be utilized most powerfully as a tool for change. </p><p>Is shame necessary? Sometimes it is. The data are evident yet we seem incapable of having a mature conversation about them. Until we do, the problem is only getting to get worse, and we simply can't afford to let that happen.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a>.</em> </p>