Coronavirus Chronicles — Boredom Is #1 Binge Eating Culprit

A while back, Dr. Pretlow wrote in his Conclusions that a study provided “preliminary evidence for the utility of behavioral addiction methods for treatment of obesity, specifically in young people.” But here is the part we are interested in at the moment:

Reported reasons for overeating, in order of prevalence, included: boredom, pleasure seeking, life stresses, conflict to eat or not eat a food, sadness, social pressure, trigger of food in sight, feelings of missing out, familiarity, and repetitive thoughts of food that they could not shake.

The environment that many families find themselves in right now is one of confinement, because of the COVID-19 threat. How many of those reasons for overeating might we suppose the average American is up against every day? If kids are old enough to remember last year, and have formed an expectation that Easter brings treats, this year came as a shock. Dr. Pretlow wrote,

Parents should be educated not to use food to soothe, comfort, or reward their children or as a way to buy love, or as a way to entertain their kids to prevent boredom.

Unfortunately, we happen to be in a situation where kids need a plenty of soothing and comforting, and a lot less boredom. In “Food Addiction in Children,” Dr. Pretlow also wrote:

One researcher has stated, “If a behavior eases pain or boredom for only 30 seconds, the behavior will be repeated.” [Foster, 2006]…

Eating to combat boredom was the most common reason the kids gave for their overeating… Boredom was extremely common among the kids who interacted on the site…

In chatroom transcripts the word “bored” occurs nearly as often as the word “weight.” One child in the chatroom even remarked, “[…] bored is one of the most spokin words in here.”

The Elephant in the ADHD Room, a book by Letitia Sweitzer, is a resource originally created for therapists and parents dealing with kids who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It could also prove useful for other purposes.The approaches that Sweitzer suggests are specifically tailored for toddlers, children, teenagers, or adults. A reviewer known as Sahar wrote,

She explores the relationship between boredom and the diagnostic criteria of ADHD, inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. In light of this relationship, she presents age-appropriate strategies to help those with ADHD beat boredom so that they can instead engage with tasks to achieve their goals. One of the unexpected benefits of this book is that many of the strategies can be applied by someone who does not have ADHD…

India is very different from the United States. The foods recommended by pediatricians and nutritionists to avoid obesity include rajma, green gram, and sprouts. Dietician VS Lekha says,

A potato can be dropped in sambar instead of being fried. Carrot or beetroot can be mixed with idli or dosa batter. Rotis and chappatis can be stuffed with veggies and served.

Another difference is that India contains much larger multitudes of starving people who live in stark poverty. But there is a privileged class, engaged by the same problems that American families currently face: the need to shelter in place, avoid the outdoors, somehow become educated despite school closures, and get along with very little physical activity. And just like American children, the kids watch too much TV, where they see advertisements that stimulate them to badger their parents for even more snacks and treats.

Something else is the same, as VS Lekha states:

Children don’t go out any more. So if parents don’t bring junk food home, they won’t eat it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Treatment of Obesity Using Behavioral Addiction Methods: a Pilot Study,”, March 2017
Source: “Book Review: ‘The Elephant in the ADHD Room’ by Letitia Sweitzer,”, 05/26/14
Source: “Are your kids binge-eating during lockdown?,”, 04/17/20
Image by Jennifer/CC BY-ND 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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.

Food & Health Resources