A Boring and Emotional Discussion

Once upon a time I realized I was (still sometimes) overeating in the evenings out of boredom.  Or so I thought.  Then along came a fairy godmother who waved her wand and showed me a vision in her crystal ball.  (In other words, a great blog friend, Love2EatInPA, shared a post with me that she thought might explain my eating.)  This vision was like most fortunes, filled with a mix of words – some of which seemingly hit home while others seemed a bit more nebulous and questionable.

But the vision, the blog post, got me thinking.  And wondering.  You can find the post here on Christie’s blog, Honoring Health.

The basic premise is that 1) emotional eaters find a stigma attached to that behavior, view it as a weakness, and may therefore avoid admitting it to themselves, and 2) that any “eating outside of hunger is emotional.”  Including eating out of boredom.

I wonder what you think about these two ideas.

For me, I see no stigma attached to emotional eating.  Yes, I think it is a personal weakness.  But it is so commonly experienced and so clearly understood and empathized with that I find it very easy to admit to.  However, I honestly feel that I have made great strides in what I had always considered for myself to be emotional eating.  Like reaching for food when I was angry or stressed or frustrated.

But, the second point made in the post really got me thinking.  Is any eating when one is not hungry emotional eating?  I had always considered much of mine to be habit or boredom.  But the author clearly goes on to say that feeling bored is an emotion.  Which in and of itself, as a matter of semantics, is hard to argue with.  Still, I am not sure I consider it emotional eating.  So am I deluding myself?  And what happens when I take away all the circumstances and triggers (like TV watching) so I no longer overeat.  I am not really dealing with any emotions or emotional issues by doing that, rather simply practicing some form of avoidance.  So what does that mean for me?

This whole concept really makes me think.  If you have been reading for a while, you may remember that I have questioned why I sometimes still overeat.  Is it a simple reason like habit or is there some bigger reason behind it that I have yet to figure out.  Could it be that I am still an emotional eater but just not recognizing certain cues as emotions?  I don’t know.  But I am going to try to pay attention more to see what I think.

Meanwhile, I am very curious to hear your thoughts.  Any and all.

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57 Comments

Filed under cheating/overeating, emotions/emotional issues

57 responses to “A Boring and Emotional Discussion

  1. Thanks for linking to my post, I am glad you found it thought provoking.

    “For me, I see no stigma attached to emotional eating. Yes, I think it is a personal weakness.”

    Those two sentences contradict one another and has me wondering if you seeing it as a personal weakness is what is holding you back from the acceptance of what is really happening. I think you have to open your mind to the fact that all emotional eating is not weak nor is it bad. Eating because of boredom is really common but I’d ask you this:

    what is so terrible about feeling bored? have you ever just sat with bored and let yourself just feel it? Why the need to avoid it?

    • Karen

      Well, this is where words get tricky and so does the whole understanding myself part.

      To me, stigma implies shame, or something along those lines. I do think it is a weakness of mine if I turn to food in times of emotional stress, but I don’t feel any shame over it. Just an acknowledgment that it is not the best way to deal with things.

      But I do think you are right in that I don’t tend to view emotional eating as “good.”

      For the last part, I am not sure that feeling bored is terrible enough to drive me to eat because of the feeling. That is where I get hung up on the whole connection you make between bored and emotional eating. I think I eat when I am bored because it is something to do to alleviate being bored, rather than alleviate some feeling of discomfort. Does that make sense? Don’t most people look for something to fill their time when they are bored? (I know that there are better ways than eating, of course.)

      See why I wrote about this? So much to think about!

  2. Oh what great questions? I had to ask myself, when I was eating out of boredom, what emotion was I avoiding. Boredom, to me, is a mask for avoidance of something deeper. Think about it.. We eat out of boredom to fill something that is missing….Just my humble observation for myself….For me, the boredom usually covered feeling lonely!

    • Karen

      Now that is interesting because your response seems in line with Christie’s premise. I think I need to pay attention and ask myself what I am feeling – if I am avoiding something. I am curious, just not sure that is what is happening for me.

    • Me too… For me, boredom generally covers lonliness or self-disgust at being apathetic.

      • I am completely clear as to why I eat when I do. The problem is I don’t care.

        That’s what I’m working on. I know I’m eating this because work is building up and cookies are the solution. I know that’s wrong as I’m getting change, walking up the stairs, walking towards the machine, putting the money in it, and as I’m eating it.

        I don’t eat when I’m bored. It usually because of stress. I’m trying to go a week without stress eating.

        • Karen

          I had a major stress-eating attack the other day. I knew it, I ate, but only healthy food. Not that it makes it any better… but I at least didn’t go too far overboard. But this was clearly connected – family stress… eat. I have not had something like that happen in a long time.

  3. I am coming back later BUT I really liked this post.

    I love me some Jules BUT I disagree that boredom is a mask for something else. Sometimes I just am bored & food comes to mind.. old habits… even when I am not stressed or upset about anything.

    I do think we can eat just because without the emotional thing there but I do think emotional eating is the larger part of the equation.. at least 95%.

    That Oprah show this week.. one lady says what about people that just like food & like to eat & have no underlying probs. They tried to say that is not so but me, I am not sure. I think there may be a small % that just like eating & that is all there is to it… nothing else sinister.

    Just my thoughts & I am sure others will disagree.

    • Karen

      That is what I had thought! Habits, conditioned response: I turn on the TV and I think about going to the pantry. I open a book and I think about a snack. If I get off my butt and head to the computer and type away instead, I don’t think about eating. Boredom for me feels… well… boring. Not emotion filled.

      But Christie’s post intrigued me with the possibility I am wrong and that is why I am still doing it!

      This to me is one of the best things about blogging – when others share their opinions and they are all different and each one really makes me think more. Someday maybe it will all click for me!

      BTW – I read a book recently that supports the boredom/habit thing. I may post on that next week.

      • What is under the habit, Karen. When did the habit become a habit and what was under it then?

        Actually I ask this question and at the same time I sometimes wonder if we really need to know. Maybe I’ll try to formulate my thoughts about this and write a post soon.

    • We all “just like to eat” but we don’t abuse the things we like, our bodies included. The problem is making some sort of connection that emotional eating is bad. If it wasn’t food, it would be something else.

      • Interesting.. with me I never got to the abuse or even obese part…. I was heavy as a kid but not obese. Now, I just know my limits & I don’t abuse food meaning I don’t go for 5-10 cookies, I have one, maybe two.

        Maybe this discussion is more in terms of people that are extremely overweight.. I don’t know….

        • Karen

          I have never been obese either. Just “overweight.” But the fact that I have lost and gained and lost and gained surely tells me that food and I are not seeing eye to eye. I remember bits and pieces of a book I read that talked about how “thin” people act and think. I suspect that you are one of those people, a person who eats to fuel her body, and I am not. Yet. But I am working on it!!

          Hum-so-ever… I am willing to consider the idea of boredom and emotion, but still thinking about boredom as something else too. (Habit or whatever.) I may have to report back on this if/when I ever figure it out for myself!

          Thanks for joining the conversation.

  4. Hmmm…I’m not sure what I think about it all right now. I, too, have questioned why I still overeat. If I had to think on the spot, I would have to say because my focus is detoured by my current emotions. You know? It’s capturing each thought and emotional response that really helps me. I’ll tell ya though; being self aware all of the time can be VERY exhausting. You know. I do believe this is another reason why I overeat. It’s brainless :/

    • Karen

      I can tell from your blog that you are a very introspective person. Always examining. Yes, overeating is brainless for me too.

  5. Interesting.

    In reading your first comment exchange with Christie, you were saying that you said you didn’t think emotional eating had a stigma for you, because you felt no shame.

    Yet, you also said that you consider it a weakness. For me, a weakness is something I should change, I am wrong about, and am ashamed of even if I freely admit it.

    However, I think that emotional eating CAN be divided into acceptable and unacceptable categories. I find eating ‘culturally’ within reason to be helpful. This means I accept food as love as long as it is VERY limited. However, I view eating out of boredom/ as a substitute for diverting myself as unacceptable. I am ashamed of THAT.

    So, like I said, it’s interesting.

    • Karen

      This is getting really deep and I love how it is making me think! Before now, I never gave much thought to how I felt about my weaknesses, and I can say there are many. But I honestly think that some weaknesses I accept. If that makes sense. I know they are there, I acknowledge them, I can see how things might be better if I changed in some way, but I am not ‘ashamed’ of them. For example, I am not patient. This manifests in many ways in many aspects of my life. (But not all.) I can see it as a weakness, but I am don’t see any stigma attached to it, for me. Does that make sense?

      Now that said, maybe I do actually see more stigma with overeating than I originally thought because while I openly and honestly admit to it here on my blog, I do not share that part of my life outside of the blog. Hmm.

      I can almost smell the smoke coming out of my ears with all this heavy thinking I am doing today!!!

      Thanks for voicing your opinion on this.

  6. Weakness to me is human. We all have our weaknesses. Mine include stubborness and procrastination. Sometimes our weaknesses can be our strength! I’m an emotional eater. I think EVERYONE from the thinnest and fittest to the overweight and unhealthy are emotional eaters. I think it’s just how frequently you do it. I think it’s about establishing new habits and being satified with a single scoop and not the whole pint. Even when you wait until you are hungry to eat (til you feel those pangs) you are then eating emotionally because you feel satifaction with the nourishment. Great post. My brain is awake now!

    • Karen

      This is such a coincidence coming off my response above to JBS. Because years ago I worked in Human Resources and as part of my job I learned how someone’s strengths can indeed be overused and thus become a weakness. For me, being action oriented is a strength but it leads to my lack of patience. But until your comment I had not thought of the reverse also being true.

      Frequency is a good measuring stick – thanks for pointing that out. And I need to work on the habits part, for sure.

  7. All humans eat in response to emotions. Why do we have “feasts” to celebrate happy times? Why do we serve food at wakes?

    Some of us (including me) overeat to shut down emotions – good as well as bad emotions. Overeat to the extent that it has harmed my body, my health, and my ability to deal with my emotional life at times. THAT is emotional eating. The stigma attached is the inability to control my response to my emotions, whether I choose to overeat or do other harmful behaviors to myself or others (which thankfully I don’t).

    Boredom is not an emotion but a state – think about for you what that really feels like. Maybe there is an emotional cue about feeling bored, maybe not and eating is just a response to fill in the gap of not doing anything. But why the need “to do” and why not go do something else?

    /therapist mode off 😉

    • Karen

      I always love hearing your therapist voice! You are so rational with your comments yet so thoughtful. Is it the medical background or just who you are?

      I have always been aware of that whole societal thing with food. Food to celebrate, food to comfort, etc. But had not thought about the emotional piece too. What would a wedding be without the delicious cake?

      I had always thought that indeed, it was “a response to fill in the gap of not doing anything,” so to speak. I also wonder about the habit component, the conditioned response. Turn on the TV, eat. Pick up a book, eat. Me and Pavlov’s dog.

  8. This is a very thought provoking post.

    I am an emotional eater and I think anytime I am feeding myself outside of hunger it is an emotional response rather than a need.

    In Women Food and God Geneen Roth says “Women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they can’t name: a connection to what is beyond the concerns of daily life. When you eat when you are not hungry, you are using food as a drug, grappling with boredom or illness or grief or emptiness or loneliness or rejection. Food is only the middleman, the means to the end. Of altering your emotions. Of making yourself numb.”

    This makes so much sense to me and I know it is what I have done time and time again over the years.

    Have you read Geneen Roth’s book? It opened my eyes to a whole new set of beliefs about my relationship with food.

    • Karen

      I actually reserved it from the library when I first heard about it and thanks to the popularity of Oprah there is quite a long wait. But I am getting close. I still need to watch the episode with her back on this week. The part you quote is something for me to explore. But she did lose me a bit (per her last Oprah appearance) with the God part.

      • You know I didn’t connect with all of her thoughts about God and her idea of God either.

        But that is okay as I did connect with what she had to say about compulsive behavior regarding food and how I have used it to try and fill a place in my soul, to numb my feelings and to avoid engaging in my life.

    • oh okay – I guess my comment was too late 🙂 I should have read all the comments BEFORE writing my comment.

      Tami, has the book helped you? I feel like I’ve read so many books, articles and blogs and I have the knowledge but haven’t been able to put it into action. That’s the only reason I haven’t read the book yet – because I don’t want to read it and just go on living my life as usual, knowing if I thought a different way it would help but not actually doing it!

      • Karen

        I think you should read it. Maybe something will click. Maybe not. But my thought is nothing ventured, nothing gained. (Oh I could so make a pun there but won’t.) If you find something that makes sense you can incorporate that into your next goals for yourself:)

  9. (I have to be honest — I did not go to the other blogs you referenced. So I am just going from your post.)

    Anytime anyone eats when they are not hungry — it is for emotional reasons.

    In the case of boredum — the emotion is unfulfillment. (not saying a person is unfulfilled in their whole life but in that moment of boredum.) A feeling of disconnect, of non-engagement.

    I am a weight loss life coach that works around our thoughts, feelings and actions around food and exercise. My main focus is about the emotions — because weight loss is not about the string cheese — as I like to say.

    We have so many judgments about emotions — which are good ones – which are bad ones — which do we want to avoid etc. But if we aren’t feeling what we feel — then we don’t allow ourselves to be a full-spectrum human being and we just stuff it down instead of working through it.

    I love that you are being reflective and asking the question.

    • Karen

      Okay, first I have to share that I am chuckling because I just ate a piece of string cheese:)

      Second, thank you for drawing that connection: boredom – unfulfillment. That is a new way of thinking about it.

      Here’s the thing – since I have been a yo-yo dieter and I intend not to do that ANYMORE, I have had to start asking some questions. Because clearly just changing how I eat did not keep the weight off in the past. The blog world has been so great for this – I read things that make me think and question and I get feedback from others. No easy answers. But such is life.

  10. I watched an Oprah episode about a month or two ago about the book “Women, Food, & God” Ever since I’ve been trying to figure out what drives me to the kitchen every hour of the day.

    The book describes God, not as a Christian or religious God, but instead the forces that be. That includes your own emotions and how you deal with everyday life. Every time we eat when we’re not hungry there’s some imbalance in our life. Maybe we don’t know what emotion is making us eat, because we’re not letting that emotion just play out as it wants.

    I haven’t read the book, so I can’t personally approve it, but you know – Oprah loves it, and even cried over it! The women on her show that day shared stories about how they had never been able to lose weight until reading the book.

    And by the way, I’m very disappointed I can’t blame boredom for my munchies. Over the last couple months when I ate something when I wasn’t hungry I tried to search my soul to figure out what was causing me to eat, and I couldn’t do it. I have NO idea, no idea!!

    • Karen

      I suspect that if I try to search my soul I will also have no idea. Roth sort of lost me with the God part, even though she did clarify with Oprah’s help that it did not need to be the supreme being that many think of as God. I certainly have wondered if Oprah is right and I am really missing something in life that I am trying to replace with food. Or stuff down with food. Or is that just true for Oprah because she had such a horrible childhood?

  11. I really enjoyed this post, and the comments below.

  12. Genie@dietof51

    I do think that it can all be tossed into a big cookie jar and called “emotional eating”. Boredom counts. I don’t like being bored, it makes me feel restless, so that’s me hanging on the pantry door, feeling bored and restless.

  13. I honestly don’t know whether or not I think boredom is an emotion per se. I suppose in a technical sense it may be. I ate when I was bored, and still have that tendency if I’m not careful to keep my hands occupied with other things. For me it came down to not so much worrying about why I ate, but rather how to deal with the consequences of overeating. Does that make sense?

    • Karen

      Well I can say that I don’t like the consequences, the gain, the way it makes me feel physically and emotionally. I have eaten something all the while thinking “you are so going to regret this.” Sigh. But tonight I did not eat the home-baked dessert that sat within arms reach:)

  14. I’ll keep my thoughts on emotional eating and blanket statements to myself, but on the issue of boredom and over-eating, I found that keeping a list of things I’d like to do “if only I had the time” to be really helpful. When I get that restless, “there’s still some pecans in the fridge”, mood comes over me, I do one of the things on the list. My only guideline is that I can’t eat AND do any of those things. (Bummer.) It’s amazing how easily that habit developed, once I got the hang of it.

    This I know for sure: you WILL figure out how to handle this. Sometimes it takes a while to determine what *doesn’t* help before you find the key to what does.

    • Karen

      I have seen others talk about similar lists so clearly there are many who find success with that. For me, going to the computer helps:) BUT, I would love to be able to sit in front of the TV or read a book now and then and just get past the mindless eating. I think I will too:)

      • Now that does sound like habit and nothing more.

        Actually it sounds like my life back a gazillion years ago when I smoked 3 packs a day. When I quit, there were certain activities I simply could not do at all because of how strong the urge to smoke was.

        A friend’s mom taught me the trick of something else in my mouth. You don’t want to know how many pencils I chewed before the old habit died its ugly death! Maybe there’s something else, a substitute you could try… maybe not even in your mouth… maybe a tallisman in your pocket that you could rub and fondle?

        • Karen

          I used to chew the ends of pens back in my school days, decades ago. I suspect Dr. Freud would have an interesting theory about me being orally fixated in general. I remember you post about eh talisman and I should try that.

  15. To me overeating was never about emotions. I ate for a few basic reasons. First there was always a diet starting the next day or soon or in January or something, and I had to eat everything in the house in preparation for the deprivation soon to come.

    Then there was the reason of the diet that underperformed. I had to eat because of all the stuff I missed when I had been dieting (and not losing! What a waste of time!) and so then, when everything was evened up again, I could start again.

    The last thing was the worst one. A food thought would just get in my head and I couldn’t get it out. Maybe I suddenly thought of something in the pantry or the fridge or the freezer. It was only a matter of time between the thought planting itself in my head and the time I would finally stand up from the couch and go get that food, or go drive and get that food.

    So, unfortunately, I’d say I was never an emotional eater, more like a cyclical dieter with a brain problem!

  16. hi darlin! I’m back!

    Yes, boredom is an emotion, and it’s been a tough one for me to overcome. I use sugarfree gum alot to combat it. 🙂

  17. I think it’s rediculous to say that any time we eat when we’re not hungry it’s from emotional eating. Old habits are VERY hard to break and the human body is hard wired to want to eat whenever food is around (which is all the time in our case). In addition, certain foods make it close to impossible to stop eating them, such as crackers, cookies, bars, etc. They are made for us to have difficulty stopping eating them, so that we will continue to buy them.

    • Karen

      I just read a book that talks about how the food manufacturers do that. Maybe I will post about it next week. It is a totally different take than this post and emotion.

  18. Obviously this post struck a cord in many of us. Thanks, Karen…

    I want to return when I’m not so tired and read more of the comments and your replies. I admire that you are so willing to seek your truth!

    • Karen

      Thanks PB. I am sort of thinking out loud with this stuff and the blog and love that I have such thoughtful responses from you and others.

  19. Ali

    I dotn believe boredom to be an emotion. Yes you can feel bored (I get that), but I think it is more that we are not really conscious (spelling???) of what we are consuming. Ever been watching TV (even your favourite show that is not boring) and found yourself with an emoty packet of chips or a block of chocolate (minus the chocolate) at the end and you are left thinking who ate that? Totally different to emotional eating in my opinion.

    • Karen

      That is what I had once thought. Verdict is still out for me now. But I am going to pay more attention to see what I am feeling when I am doing my whole “eating out of boredom” thing.

      • Some of this is emotional eating. People think it has to be a bad emotion.

        Think of all the occasions in which food is used to celebrate. How many of those people continue to associate happiness with food and now eat when happy.

        I rarely get bored but when I do I read but I think that’s because mom told me to read a book when I was a kid when I told her I was bored.

        I think more of this is about habits.

  20. sunnydaze

    This one is/was hard for me, too. Since reading The Solution by Laurel Melin, I’ve come to realize that any kind of eating other than for hunger is emotional eating. Christie is in line with the books way of thinking and I’ve come to agree.

    • Karen

      I admit that I tried that book and it did not strike a chord with me but I cannot now remember why not. So many theories, I keep thinking one might give me the aha moment.

  21. Pingback: Waisting Time , Archive » The End of Overeating?

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