Anyone else sitting around on the weekends with not much to do, craving stimulation but not quite sure how to get it besides having another cookie? Good news is: you’re not alone.
A lot of us wander down into the kitchen whenever we’re at a loss for what to do with ourselves, and it doesn’t have to be a source of shame! To understand why we basically have a magnetic pull toward the Cheez-It box when we’re bored, though, we must first figure out what “boredom” is to begin with.
I mean, you can probably define it for yourself, right? It’s when you have nothing to do. But more than a thing, boredom is an emotion, and an uncomfortable one at that. A research team out of Canada defined boredom in the September 2012 issue of “Perspectives on Psychological Science” as, “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity” and said that the feeling originates from one of the brain’s attention networks going on the fritz. In other words, science considers boredom an advanced level of frustration with yourself from not being able to focus on one thing. It’s a discomfort that you’re desperate to alleviate, since there’s nothing to take it out on and no real source to blame it on. You want some kind of mental stimulation, but you have no idea what to do about it -- talk about an internal struggle.
Boredom comes from a variety of factors: arousal levels (if you’re full of energy but there’s nothing going on, you get bored); trouble focusing (when you can’t focus on one thing even if there’s a lot happening around you, you get bored); awareness of your lack of focus (when you try to force yourself to be distracted, you get bored); and control (when you don’t have the ability to change your situation, you get bored).
A lot of boredom feels unpleasant, which is what leads to bored eating.
Since boredom is a cry for stimuli, food becomes the most obvious choice; Stephan Guyenet, a neuroscientist and the author of “The Hungry Brain,” told Vice that eating is one of the most powerful forms of stimulus for us. Plus, a lot of foods release dopamine (responsible for things like motivation and drive) in our brains, which just makes us crave it more -- and that’s before we’re bored. Sensory factors, too (crunch, taste, texture), trick our brain into thinking we’re being emotionally stimulated, and relieves the boredom.
Dopamine is a powerful chemical; even if we don’t find something particularly engaging, having the type of ambition that it produces in our brains certainly isn’t boring! So, by gorging on things that release tons of dopamine in our brains (lookin’ at you, brownies), we’re likely to associate the food with the stimulation.
It’s not even necessarily our fault! Our bodies have evolved to make eating rewarding so that we don’t forget to do it and, like, starve. Of course we’ll treat it like it’s solving our boredom!
TL;DR: Be healthy, but don’t beat yourself up over bored eating. There truly is little else to do right now.
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