Coronavirus Chronicles — The Power of the Invisible

When we think of emotions, often the more dramatic ones come first to mind. We might picture a toddler overcome by a tantrum, writhing on the floor; or two drivers cursing each other through closed windows; or the daughter of a COVID-19 victim sobbing over a coffin. When we think of emotions, we often envision drama. But one of the most destructive emotions is an absence of drama, the absence of anything, really — and that is boredom.

In all the years that Dr. Pretlow has worked with obese children, boredom has been a persistent theme. He quotes what they say about it, like admitting to eating junk whenever they are bored and not even hungry. Often, they pair their mentions of boredom with references to depression. He has mused,

Boredom, as described by these kids, actually may be mislabeled, less socially-acceptable emotions, such as depression.

Like ketchup and French fries, boredom and depression are often found together. Practitioners in various fields have their unique ideas about boredom, like Dr. Rick Sponaugle, who believes that both depression and obesity can be caused by neurotoxicity, particularly when caused by mold in the environment, and it all has to do with what happens in the brain region called the nucleus accumbens. This is how he sees it:

Neurotoxic patients suffer diminished release of dopamine and thus decreased D2 activity. This not only causes symptoms of depression, it causes a lack of “satiety,” so they eat something every hour and a half or so as an attempt to self-medicate. They often say, “I’m eating out of boredom” — boredom and lack of motivation are symptoms derived from an underactive reward-hunger center.

In discussing a number of factors that lead to unnecessary eating, Carolyn Williams names boredom. In her view, our chronically overstimulated lifestyle is to blame:

When we have nothing stimulating to think about or do, our minds start searching for something. If that leftover pizza in the fridge or slice of carrot cake pops in your head while the brain is unconsciously searching for stimulation, the pizza or cake can be almost impossible to forget.

Another writer warns,

Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem.

Dr. Michelle May, who founded a mindful eating program, teaches that figuring out why a person eats may involve a diligent exploration of triggers, “such as physical hunger, challenging situations, or visual cues, which often spring from stress, fatigue, or boredom.” Commenting on a Childhood Obesity News post, a pediatric dietician wrote,

I talk about boredom eating all the time with my clients, it’s probably number one, even before more fruits and vegetables. I’ve had to overcome the boredom eating cycle myself.

John Foreyt, Ph.D., who contributed the Foreword to Dr. Pretlow’s book Overweight: What Kids Say, recently expressed these thoughts in a letter to Dr. Pretlow:

From a behavioral point of view, displacement as a major cause of overeating and the treatment you describe makes good sense. To me, life events associated with stress, tension, anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear, anger, boredom need to be treated in ways such as you describe. Maybe if they are caught and treated effectively in children there would be a lot less obesity in adults.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mold, Toxins, and Chemicals: What Are They Doing to Us and What Can We Do About Them?,”, undated
Source: “9 Behaviors That Make You Eat More,”, 06/23/15
Source: “10 Principles of Intuitive Eating,”, undated
Source: “Mindful Eating — Studies Show This Concept Can Help Clients Lose Weight and Better Manage Chronic Disease,”, March 2013
Image source: Public Domain

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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