Saturday, July 5, 2008

Eating While Bored?

While taking one of my favorite nature walks, I got to thinking today (always dangerous) about boredom and how it fits into emotional eating. It seems that a lot of folks complain about eating because they are bored. I'm still not entirely sure that it's an emotion. It doesn't really fit in with the biggies like anger, fear, or joy. It really seems to be more the lack of something, and specifically something interesting to look at, or do, or think about. As of late, I am very rarely bored. There's too much out there that piques my curiosity - books to read, things to write about, walks to take, birds to watch. Filling your stomach instead of filling your mind seems a poor substitute, and yet it sure does seem to be commonplace.

I've been doing a little web searching to find what other folks have said about boredom, and have found it interesting. (Thank God, because you wouldn't want it to be boring!) There seems to be a distinction between the type of boredom that is experienced during a long meeting, driving or a performing a repetitive task and the more long-term sort where you can't find something to do that you enjoy doing. Being stuck in the latter implies a more deep-seated dissatisfaction with your life, maybe a lack of meaning.

A couple of interesting quotes that shed additional light: "Opinion seems divided on whether boredom is an emotion. It is often seen as a feeling of anxiety stimulated by a lack of engagement in what one is doing. Boredom is not passive surrender or indifference. It is an active feeling of irritability and restlessness. This unpleasant feeling is related to anxiety and it usually leads to doing something to relieve the boredom. We look for meaning, to that which interests us."

And "The silence which occurs when no thinking takes place is alarming to the ego. This ego’s fear can be manifest as boredom, a signal that the ego is no longer being entertained. A need to eliminate the boredom then sets in and we resume our hunt for distraction. The distraction may be television, food, emotional outburst, negative behavior, obsessive involvement with a hobby, excessive running, being a couch potato or walking around announcing that we are bored as if the universe really was going to do something about our internal state of affairs, or as if someone other than we ourselves are responsible for what we feel... Boredom is closely associated with depression."

So, what to do about it overeating triggered by boredom? First and foremost - figure out if you are actually hungry. Is your stomach growling, and it's been awhile since you last ate? If so, eat! If not, dig in to the feeling - is it the temporary type of boredom? Are you stuck doing that repetitive task - add some music, find ways to "improve your task performance", indulge in active daydreaming. Pull out some old "dieters tricks" if you must put something in your mouth by making yourself herb tea, chewing gum, crunching on celery sticks. This boredom will be over with soon. If you find yourself experiencing the deep dissatisfaction of not having anything you love to do, you've got more work to do. Here is where I think we need to cultivate curiosity - what have you been interested in that you haven't had the time to investigate. Here you are, bored with nothing to do - now's as good a time as any.

Also, getting off our butts and out of the house into the great outdoors is a great way to counteract boredom. Take a walk, count how many different kinds of birds you can see (or dog breeds or pick your interest). Once you're back, if you're actually hungry for food, eat!
Last, this seems like another opportunity for looking within and examining our inner world and working out what we really want that will be satisfying. Oh yes, easier said than done, but so rewarding! It's just like figuring out what we want to eat - how hungry am I right now? What will satisfy that hunger?

(P.S. Turn off your TV! Better yet, give it away or have it die an early, unnatural death.)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nature Walk - Some Peripheral Comments about Food

Sometimes I just gotta talk about the fun stuff. I take great pleasure in getting my butt outside to see the "real" world and breathe some clean air and see non-human critters. Turning 50 (at least) has also caused me to become a bird watcher even though my eyesight isn't always up to the task. So here I give you a divertissement from the usual earnest how to fix your diet and your life stuff with a trip report on our visit to the Kern River in California. OK, I do mention food, but I love eating and can't help it. As info, I'm working on writing about Counteracting Boredom Eating, so that will be coming soon.

Tuesday morning, we headed south to a small highway that snakes east into the Sequoia National Forest up and into the Sierra Mountains. I got stuck with the driving chore, and it was a lot harder driving parts of that road than I was truly comfortable with. Parts of it were a 14% grade heading down with twisty roads and steep cliff-type things off the side. But obviously, everything turned out fine and we arrived in Kernville in one piece. After we got settled into our little lodge room (motifs of fishing, pine cones and moose) we decided to take a short walk by the Kern River before we went out to look for some supper.

We spent a good amount of time watching some Western Kingbirds, which are a species of the tyrant flycatcher family. There was one that was perched in the top of a tall pine snag watching the activity. I characterized him as the daddy, because there was a sort of patriarchal mien to him, but I could be totally wrong as birds don't give a diddly about that stuff, as far as I know. And there was a mama bird who was very very busy catching bugs and bring them back to the two juveniles who were waiting patiently for her in another pine.

After our walk we went into town and found three possibilities for dining: pizza, Mexican and Italian. We went with Italian, and I pretty much threw all caution to the wind: salad with blue cheese dressing, which I hadn't had in I can't remember how long, penne arrabiatta and oh yikes, garlic bread. And wine. And then since it was too damn late to worry about it also went with a cherry tart. (Note: this is a Very Bad Attitude probably. I'm throwing it in there as some sort of proof that sometimes eating has to be fun and just plain sinful.) We took a short walk around the town, it had to be short because there's not much town there, and stood on the bridge watching the Kern flow underneath and a bajillion bats fly above us.

Wednesday morning we got up at a reasonably not-early, not-late hour and had our breakfast in our room. We just brought along Bill's oatmeal and I brought my Kashi and we had fruit and used the motel coffee maker. Very convenient and cheap.

I had hoped to visit a fish hatchery just up the road, but it turned out that it's only open Thursday through Sunday, so darn it. When I was a girl, my parents took us to a fish hatchery a few times and it was always fascinating so I had good memories.

We did find the Audubon Kern River Preserve open. The south fork area of the Kern River is an amazing place to see birds, and has been designated as one of ten U.S. Globally Important Bird Areas. We certainly had some good luck. We were able to identify three new species for both of us, including a Tricolored Blackbird which although not endangered is considered a species of concern as its numbers have been declining. We also saw several other species that we weren't able to figure out at all, which was a little frustrating but points out directions we need to deepen our study. We both need to sharpen up on our knowledge of flycatchers. There are several species that are very difficult to distinguish, and we definitely failed. And there was at least one species that I had not a clue where to even start. We spent about five hours there tromping around, surrounded by floating cottonwood fluff.

And in the whole five hours we didn't see a single other human being until we made it back to the visitor's center. But we did see where a beaver had cut down trees and we also saw some bear tracks!

When we finally got back to the truck I was famished and ripped into some bread and almond butter along with a plum and a nectarine. At that point we'd had enough sun and fun and headed back, stopping off for some fresh veggies at the grocery store.

A quote from Merle Haggard's song about the Kern River:

And there's a place called Mount Whitney,
From where the mighty Kern River comes down.
Now, it's not deep nor wide,
But it's a mean piece of water, my friend.
And I may cross on the highway,
But I'll never swim Kern River again.

Gratitude of the Day: I am grateful for the Kern River and the Audubon Society who have made it possible for the Preserve to remain a wondrous sanctuary for birds and many other creatures.