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The Full Mind Weigh™ to Lifelong Weight Management, a program of the Institute for Lifelong Weight Management – teaching you the skills you need to keep the weight off forever!

Boredom – A Challenge for Weight Loss Maintenance

Boredom is a state of tedium. When we’re bored, we feel stuck in our same old routine. We feel unchallenged, not excited. Things seem overly predictable. We lack a sense of purpose or meaning. Nothing interests, engages or satisfies us.

Enter what Barbara Berkeley, M.D., author of Refuse to Regain, calls the “food flood” in which we live, “an entire culture devoted to encouraging you to eat.…Food Assault is occurring continually. Be aware of the pressures to eat that come from TV ads, radio jingles, checkout line food displays, food at the office, food at the gas station, offers of food from friends…” Trying out new foods, restaurants and recipes, and watching Food TV shows, has become a national pastime, a form of entertainment. We venerate celebrity chefs as much as we do top athletes or movie stars. Everywhere we turn, food (and reminders of food) beckons us. Dr Berkeley continues, “Just as secondhand smoke weakens the resolve of a recovered smoker, secondhand food forces maintainers into unwanted contact with a substance they are trying to avoid” – or at least manage or gain control over.

Eating out of boredom rarely coincides with an actual physiological need for food. Psychology Today recently published an article by Susan Carnell, Ph.D., who believes that boredom eating is related to low dopamine levels in the brain. The neurotransmitter dopamine, she states, is crucial to the experience of motivation and drive. “Falling head-over-heels in love and longing to be in the presence of your object of affection? Developing a crack cocaine addiction and craving your next hit? About to prove your Iphone gaming supremacy by breaking through to the fifteenth level of Angry Birds? Whatever your latest obsession may be, you can bet that your dopamine neurons are firing like billy-o, compelling you to take concerted, directed action to achieve whatever it is that you’re after. And while this isn’t always a whole lot of fun (ever wanted something or someone so much that it was almost physically painful?) there’s one thing it definitely isn’t—and that’s ‘boring’”.

The release of dopamine in the brain, she goes on to report, is so stimulating and motivating that rats will lever-press for it to the exclusion of other crucially important activities like sleeping and eating, and people who have naturally lower levels of dopamine activity are more likely to seek out and become addicted to dopamine-producing stimuli like alcohol or drugs. When we’re feeling bored, says Dr Carnell, it’s likely that our dopamine neurons are not firing, When we eat as a result of boredom, she says, we are likely trying to wake up our dopamine receptors so that we can once again experience a sense of excitement.

Dr Carnell suggests that we find ways to trick our dopamine into flowing. We can find something else that is fun or interesting to do. Or, we might be able to find a “dopaminergic ruse” to help us get going on a task we’ve been avoiding. For example, she suggests, we can put on some favorite music while struggling with a report that we’ve been avoiding, or listen to an audio book while addressing the pile of laundry that we’ve been ignoring – “instead of looking for dopamine fixes in the fridge”. Alternatively, she suggests, we can avoid the “dopamine trap” by seeking calm instead of pleasure, for example by engaging in a practice of meditation, deep abdominal breathing, or visualization.

Sometimes, a client will tell me that he or she is bored and does not know how to relieve their boredom – they simply can’t think of anything that would be fun or interesting to do. There are countless potential pursuits and hobbies that we could try out. Search the Internet for ideas. Like practically anything, there’s no way to know if you’ll enjoy it until you try it out. And most things can be tried out without investing a great deal of time or money. It’s good for our minds to try something new.

Let me know about the new pursuits or hobbies that you’ve tried out to reduce the likelihood of you engaging in boredom eating, by commenting on this post.

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Ellen Parr

“When people are bored, it is primarily with their own selves that they are bored.” – Eric Hoffer

 “Boredom is the conviction that you can’t change…the shriek of unused capacities.” – Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

“’I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless, it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.’” – Louis C.K.


With your continued health in mind,

Doreen Lerner, Ph.D.

Director, The Institute for Lifelong Weight Management

Creator, The Full Mind Weigh™ to Lifelong Weight Management

The Institute for Lifelong Weight Management provides education and training. The Full Mind Weigh™ is strictly an educational program and is not a substitute for medical or psychological evaluation or treatment. If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, please consult with a qualified mental health professional who is trained to evaluate and treat eating disorders.