So, you read my super-simple solution to solve boredom in part one of this blog, which was “distract yourself with something that isn’t eating, which gives you a dopamine hit”. Simples!
Despite the simplicity of this advice, it does work some of the time. Sometimes you just need to ask yourself if you’re hungry or just bored. Environmental boredom often can be an easy fix. But not always. Yes, you may be able to distract yourself for half hour by opening a book or having a quick shag, but after the novelty of change has worn off the snacks are still calling to you… “Dominique, come eat us, our doughnut-goodness is exactly what will cure your agitation”. Noisy fucking baked goods.
If this sounds familiar, then read on to discover why simply changing your environment may not always work to stop your boredom eating. You’ll learn there are other reasons why white knuckling it and ignoring your cravings won’t work long-term.
The first thing you need to consider, is that you might not be overeating just because you’re bored. The issue might be a little deeper set than that.
In part one, I told you why food is an effective soothing tool for many people. It’s the first thing – apart from our Mother’s arms – that makes us feel safe and well cared for. Many people get soothed just as well throughout adulthood, just like hanging onto an old blankie or teddy bear. But it’s not just this initial attachment that creates this emotional attachment to food. Societies spend years cementing it in our psyche.
When you were a baby, you had this eating malarkey nailed. You ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full. You ate precisely the right number of calories for your energy and growing needs, without having to count a single one. But as you grew up you were systematically taught to ignore the chemical signals which control your eating habits. Your parents subconsciously taught you to connect food to other emotional needs not just your primal hunger ones. Hunger and fullness no longer became your only cue as to when to eat.
“If you’re good you can have a lollipop.”
“Oh honey, you scraped your knee, have some chocolate.”
“If you punch your brother one more time then there’s no dessert for you.”
“Finish all your vegetables and then you get to have jelly.”
Food was used to shut you up when you were sad, and as praise when you were good. We retain this strategy as adults. Food is still used for all kinds of celebrations like holidays, birthdays, celebratory meals, anniversaries. When you want to feel good, you ‘treat’ ourselves with food and you likely still commiserate by eating when life sucks monkey balls, although now the problems are more ‘adult’ than scraping your knee.
But it’s not just your happy and sad emotions that get tapped into with food. It’s all of them, and most of us have developed shitty strategies when it comes to dealing with our emotions. Your parents were probably like mine, and told you things like…
“Awe you fell over. Come on, it doesn’t hurt that much. Don’t cry.”
“I have no sympathy for you, I told you not to climb up on the cabinets.”
“Why are you scared? It’s only a spider.”
“You’re bored? Play a board game or do you want lunch?”
Oh yes, my friends, we are effectively encouraged to dull our ‘negative emotions’. But I don’t blame my parents, and neither should you. Parents do all they can to protect their kids and try to reduce their painful experiences. If you have kids, you probably do the same thing with them.
We tend to carry this behaviour into adulthood as well as our punishment and reward strategies. I was having a conversation recently with a friend who told me that she never lets her kids “see the cracks” in her. And I’m sure you have a constant stream of memes telling you “When you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine”. We are a generation of adults who try to positive our way through life.
But why? Dulling ‘bad’ emotions might make you feel better for a short time. But they’re vital to us. Our primal ancestors wouldn’t gave survived without them…
· Crying produces pain-killing chemicals and signals to the other humans that you need support and comfort.
· Anger allowed cavemen to protect their tribe and fight others.
· Fear activated our fight, flight or freeze triggers.
· Boredom meant that the creative bit of our brain got triggered so we were more likely to solve problems, or evolve our thinking, or discover something new.
So what if we are experiencing these emotions? If you’re bored you absolutely do have the choice to go and get food, or to do something else to stop this emotion in it’s tracks. You could turn on the TV or get a beer. But what would happen if you allowed yourself to be bored? What would happen if you allowed your boredom to tell you what it needs you to learn?
Did eating your way through boredom or anger or sadness work for you long-term, or is it time to change your strategy?
Next time you find yourself craving food in response to emotion, not just boredom, but any emotion, just pause. Ask yourself what problem food is solving for you then and there. The answer might be as simple as “My husband was being a dick last week and I didn’t tell him how much he pissed me off… I really should tell him that what he did annoyed me”.
Sometimes the answer might be deeper or more hidden. There may not be a quick solution to resolve it. Deeper and more intensive techniques to overcome these emotions might be needed, and I go into them in my Anti-Fitness Project courses. But for now, just being mindful when you reach for food instead of feeling the feels is helpful. When you bring something to your conscious mind it opens up the possibility of moving through it. Ignoring it and pushing it down with food will only leave it ready for you to deal with another day. Often taking time to be still – which many of us don’t do – is enough to allow your brain to create solutions.
Coping with and learning from your emotions is a long-term practice. Sometimes you are going to smash it, and other times Maltesers or vodka is going to be a preferable option. And that’s fine. Just make sure that each decision you make is a mindful choice.
If, having said all of that you’re like “Oi! I feel every single emotion and am excellent at working through them, but I’m still bored as hell and need to eat all of the food.” Then maybe you need to work through our final type of boredom. Chronic boredom.
Have you ever felt like an observer to life? Like life is happening to you rather than you actively engaging and taking control of it. You have a passive expectant hope that your external world will come up trumps and make your life more satisfying. Maybe your life isn’t rollercoaster-crazy enough for you at the moment. Or maybe it’s the opposite and you have too much to lose if you fucked it up, so you stay playing small and safe.
If this is you, then newsflash… food isn’t going to satisfy you because it’s not food that you want. The problem is you don’t know what you want. And because you have had so many failed efforts to solve your boredom, you feel permanently blocked, constrained and agitated but not able to articulate why. If you don’t know what you really want then you will reach for anything that you know will satisfy you, even in the short term. And that normally means instant gratification tools such as food, alcohol and drugs.
Eckhart Tolle said it best when he said “Being in touch with the body helps greatly because the body knows what it needs. Overeating happens because it is part of the ego’s [primal mind’s] unconsciousness, which seeks to substitute for the sense of aliveness”.
It is possible to live with this type of boredom. Maybe you do. Maybe you work at a job that bores you, a relationship which doesn’t quite match what you hoped for, quite probably everything is just OK. If this is you and you are fine with being OK, then awesome. I hope it all works out well. But maybe your soul wants something more, and that’s why you can’t shake the niggling boredom. Maybe the deathbed version of you would regret not having lived something more? Something more than just OK?
The good news is, if you want more, you can start working on fixing it.
I recently read a quote which really resonated with me and I reckon it belongs here: “Your body isn’t a masterpiece, your life is”. Why not spend your time trying to understand what masterpiece your present boredom is trying to subtly push you to create? Spend time working out what it is that would make your soul sing. Only you know what this might be, but I can help ease you in the right direction and teach you how to discover what your soul is begging you to do if you need a less subtle prod.
You can start this process by looking at your life as it is and seeing what parts of it make you happy. What aspects of your life annoy you or bring you sadness, anger or regret? Do you even know what your core values are?
Most of us feel at odds with ourselves when we are doing life in a way which doesn’t match our core values – relationships are never harmonious enough, jobs never satisfying enough, and friendships and hobbies never quite entertain us enough. You can start this process today by considering what your values are, for example mine are fun, learning and ambition. I have included a list of common core values at the end of this blog. Take a look and highlight your top three. Once you’ve done that, see how you can honour them more in your life. For example, I make sure that I read non-fiction educational books every day, I also make sure that I do something which makes me laugh.
Changing your life and permanently end chronic boredom takes time and effort. I should know, I’ve done it a few times in my life as my identity has evolved. But make a start today and see what changes happen in your life. Because when you can start to take control of the root cause of your boredom rather than papering over the cracks, you’ll find you’ll have less need to indulge in behaviours such as overeating to ‘fix’ your problems.
You’ve got this, you beautiful weirdo. And don’t forget, I’ve got you and I’m here to help if you need it.
(The Anti-Fitness Trainer)
P.S. Here’s the list of core values:
· Inner Harmony
· Meaningful Work