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Section 8
Emotional Eating: Boredom and Distress

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed three connections of anger to eating in clients who binge and purge.  These three connections of anger to eating included:  overt anger; suppressed anger; and illogical thinking.

In this section, we will present three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating. These three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating include:  providing occupation; providing companionship; and feelings of inadequacy

3 Concepts Related to Boredom & Loneliness

♦ Concept #1 - Providing Occupation
The first concept related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating is providing occupation.  The purpose of food in regards to boredom is a means to break the monotony.  As you may have noticed, clients who eat when bored tend to prefer snacks that need to be baked or cooked.  For instance, a client may pop popcorn or put in ready-made brownies. 

Just the mere activity itself is enough to relieve the boredom, but since the food has been made, many clients eat anyway to avoid waste.  Unlike anxiety or anger, which are characterized by strong physiological arousal, boredom is usually associated with little or no physiological arousal.  Since the body is not sending the client any signals, it may be difficult when he or she is bored.

Jamie, age 39, was a pharmaceutical firm representative. One part of her job was to fill out the report forms for each of the calls she made during the day. After eleven years at the company, she found this task tedious. Usually, she would come home and begin work on the forms.  If she came to a difficult point or she was struggling for a word, she would get up and rummage through her refrigerator and eat whatever she could find.  Then she would return to her work. 

Jamie stated, "I just can’t stand staring at those forms for hours!  I need a break and if I read the newspaper or turn on the TV, I may become too engrossed in what I’m doing and never get back to my work!"  To help occupy Jamie, I suggested she try changing her environment where she worked, doing small chores instead of going to the cupboard or refrigerator, and playing music to make the task feel less tedious.  Think of your Jamie.  Is he or she eating to provide some kind of occupation?

♦ Concept #2 - Providing Companionship
The second concept related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating is providing companionship. If a client is experiencing loneliness, he or she may try to compensate for this lack of company by eating. Feeling full provides binging clients with a means to feel comforted, even without the presence of an actual person. This substitute is only temporary, for the recognizable feelings of guilt soon arise and negate the original feelings of fullness and comfort the client had previously experienced.

Peter, age 32, had once been tall and slim when in adolescence. However, the dichotomy of his parents soon took its toll on him. While his father made repeated attempts to turn his son "into a man," Peter’s mother became overly protective and counteracted her husband’s attempts. As a result, Peter became an awkward and reclusive teenager.

When he became an adult, the only social interaction he had was casual conversations with his neighbor while they were both out doing yard work. Peter stated, "I feel really lonely in the evenings and on the weekends when there’s no work to be done. I have no one to chat to, so I appease myself by going to the fridge and emptying out the cookie jar!"  Think of your Peter.  Is he or she replacing companionship with food?

♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique:  Becoming Friendlier
To help clients like Peter become more socially oriented, I suggested he try the "Becoming Friendlier" CBT exercise. Because Peter worked in his family’s hardware shop, I believed that he had many opportunities every day to gain friends and have fulfilling conversations.  I gave Peter several Strategies to Become more open to Strangers.  These strategies included: 
-- 1. finding common ground;
-- 2. giving compliments;
-- 3. giving advice; and
-- 4. making small talk. 

Over the next few weeks, I asked Peter to try out these tactics.  After a few weeks had passed, he stated, "I find that giving advice works really well for me!  No one knows more about lawn care than me, so now that I’ve started to show it, people actually come to me for advice!  I think I’m going to try and get on the committee for the garden shows." 

Think of your Peter.  Could he or she benefit from the CBT technique "Becoming Friendlier"?

♦ Concept #3 - Feelings of Inadequacy
In addition to providing occupation and companionship, the third concept related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating is feelings of inadequacy.  When a client experiences loneliness, I have found that it is inevitable that he or she will begin to believe that something is inherently wrong with him or herself.  These beliefs can translate into feelings of worthlessness.  Resulting from these feelings is the need to eat in order to find some comfort.  However, the guilt arising from the binge then only confirms to the client that he or she is a failure. 

Jackie, age 39, believed that her weight kept her from finding a boyfriend.  She stated, "When I’m at bars, men avoid me like the plague, and who can blame them?  Look at me!  I’m a whale!  My thighs are like tree trunks!  At first, I thought I was having trouble with men because they felt threatened by my confidence.  Now I just think it’s because they can’t stand the sight of me." 

I asked Jackie if these feelings of loneliness ever drove her to binge eat.  Jackie stated, "Yea, all the time.  When a guy looks me over at a club for one of my friends, my thoughts immediately say, "That’s ok. I have a pint of ice cream at home that doesn’t judge me, pal." 

Although Jackie participated in accepted social atmospheres, her feelings of inadequacy caused her to also feel lonely and out of touch with society.  Think of your Jackie. Are his or her feelings of inadequacy a result of his or her loneliness?  Does this drive him or her to binge?

In this section, we discussed three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating.  These three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating included:  providing occupation; providing companionship; and feelings of inadequacy. 

In the next section, we will examine three techniques that can be helpful in restoring confidence in bulimic clients.  These three confidence boosting techniques include:  Beauty is the Beholder; Overcoming the Approval Trap; and Relabel Problems.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Fitzpatrick, S., MacDonald, D. E., McFarlane, T., & Trottier, K. (2019). An experimental comparison of emotion regulation strategies for reducing acute distress in individuals with eating disorders. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 51(2), 90–99. 

Gunstad, J., Sanborn, V., & Hawkins, M. (2020). Cognitive dysfunction is a risk factor for overeating and obesity. American Psychologist, 75(2), 219–234.

Luo, X., Nuttall, A. K., Locke, K. D., & Hopwood, C. J. (2018). Dynamic longitudinal relations between binge eating symptoms and severity and style of interpersonal problems. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(1), 30–42.

Koball, A. M., Meers, M. R., Storfer-Iser, A., Domoff, S. E., & Musher-Eizenman, D. R. (2012). Eating when bored: Revision of the Emotional Eating Scale with a focus on boredom. Health Psychology, 31(4), 521–524. 

van Strien, T. (2010). Predicting distress-induced eating with self-reports: Mission impossible or a piece of cake? Health Psychology, 29(4), 343. 

What are three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating? To select and enter your answer go to

Section 9
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