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UL Study finds Link between Boredom and Unhealthy Eating

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University of LimerickUL Study finds Link between Boredom and Unhealthy Eating - Studies undertaken by a team of researchers at the University of Limerick, in conjunction with the University of Southampton and the University of Kent, have shown that the experience of boredom can lead to unhealthy eating, especially when people are aware of their own self. These studies have just been published in a top tier international open access journal, Frontiers in Psychology.

The series of studies indicate that boredom leads to unhealthy eating, as it helps to distract from the unpleasant boredom experience. The research project involved a diary study and two experiments to measure the correlation between boredom and unhealthy eating.  The week-long diary study showed that boredom predicted calorie, fat, sugar, and protein consumption. The experimental studies showed that boredom increased the desire to consume snacks as opposed to healthy foods, and that boredom increased the actual consumption of less healthy foods but also the consumption of healthy foods, if they were exciting (cherry tomatoes).

This research is part of a larger research programme on boredom experiences and their consequences. As Wijnand A. P. van Tilburg and Eric R. Igou have demonstrated in the past, boredom is s threat to people’s meaning system as it signals to them the meaninglessness of their activities and the current situation. People are then relatively creative to compensate for this negative experience, and the recent research on eating behavior reflects such a compensatory strategy.

In summary, these results show that maladaptive and adaptive eating behaviors are consequences of the need to distant the self from the experience of boredom. Further, healthy food seems to serve as alternative to maladaptive consumption following boredom, if the food is exciting enough.

Lead researcher, Andrew B. Moynihan, explains: “People eat these foods in order to escape the unpleasant boredom experience as it reminds them of the meaninglessness of the situation. Therefore, these boredom effects on eating are more pronounced for people who are highly aware of their experience. Luckily, there is hope. The unhealthy consequences of eating can be avoided if healthy, exciting food is available to people who feel bored.”

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