How to Diet: Are You Hungry or Just Bored?

Does boredom make people eat because they want to do something pleasurable or because they’re trying to alleviate the tedium?

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Dutch researchers recruited 60 young men and women (4 out of 5 were women). On one day, they watched one hour of a documentary about the life of a Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist. On another day, they watched an 85-second scene from the same documentary played over and over again for an hour. (The volunteers had no access to cell phones, reading materials, or other distractions. They couldn’t even wear a watch to keep track of time.) On both days, half of the participants were allowed to eat as many M&M’s as they wanted. The other half were allowed to give themselves one-second electric shocks at intensities (which they controlled) that ranged from mild to painful.

Not surprisingly, the volunteers ate twice as many M&M’s while watching the boring, repetitive scene than during the documentary. However, they also gave themselves 10 times more shocks (and more intense shocks) while watching the boring scene, suggesting that people will go to great lengths to alleviate boredom. Yikes.

The bottom line, note the researchers, is that it’s not just “emotional eating” but unemotional boredom that can pack on extra pounds.

What to do: Got the munchies? See if an interesting activity curbs your hunger.

Other relevant links:

• You may eat less if you have to unwrap it first. See: Diet and Weight Loss: Trick Yourself into Eating Less with Wrapped Candies and Snacks

• Do serving and package sizes affect how much people eat? See: Why Do People Overeat?

• Fighting the Obesity Epidemic. See: Diet and Weight Loss: How Our Country Can Win the Battle

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