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Boredom and Eatertainment

June 23, 2010

Priscilla-Ann showing you the refrigerator

Did you know there’s an official category called EDNOS? That means “eating disorder not otherwise specified.” It’s a catchall term for any kind of pathological relationship with food that is neither anorexia nor bulimia. This is currently a hot topic among the psychiatrists and physicians who are revising the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, for its next edition, due in 2013.

About half of all eating disorder patients fall into the amorphous EDNOS category, and the need for more distinctions is explored by Rachael Rettner in a very comprehensive article titled “Eating Disorders Go Untreated as Experts Debate Definitions” at LiveScience. Rettner is a staff writer there, putting to good use her multiple degrees in journalism, biology, and molecular biology.

This group is so vast, and the cases within it so diverse, that many in the field believe it creates more problems than it does solutions in terms of treating patients and understanding the syndromes. Patients lumped into this unspecified group can also have misperceptions about their condition, thinking it is not as serious as anorexia or bulimia.

There is a strong conviction in some quarters that neither patients nor health care providers are likely to give as much attention to a condition that clearly needs psychiatric intervention, yet doesn’t have its own name. On the contrary, all eating disorders are serious, because they threaten not only the current quality of a person’s life, but the potential sum of years she or he can expect that life to continue.

The experts who are reshaping the criteria might not create a separate category for boredom eating, but is real. Just ask the real experts: the children for whom recreational eating has somehow become a major part of their lives. In Dr. Pretlow’s book, Overweight: What Kids Say, there are an astonishing 152 occurrences of the letter string b-o-r-e. Here’s a typical message from a 12-year-old girl:

[I] only eat when i am bored or depressed which is all the time lol…

LOL, not. It’s no laughing matter. In fact, it’s so prevalent and harmful that an entire chapter is devoted to this aspect of childhood obesity. Boredom is the basis for one of several typical “vicious cycles” identified by Dr. Pretlow:

Kids emotionally detach from life to escape from painful problems, stress, or sadness. Detachment may be described by the child or teen as, ‘I’m bored,’ as he/she has no interest in anything… Kids say they use food to cope with boredom. They may thus become more overweight, which renders their life more painful, more detachment to escape, more boredom, more overeating, and so on.

“Eatertainment” is a new-ish word that applies to theme restaurants, dinner theaters, combination play and junk food venues for children, and so on. It’s also a good descriptive word for what kids do when they can’t think of anything else to do — head for the fridge or the snack drawer and rummage around for something to put in their mouths. Boredom all too often leads to the pursuit of eatertainment. We’ve mentioned this before, in the context of how victims of childhood obesity have been trained from infancy to seek more from food than nutrition. And we’ll be talking about it again.

Meanwhile, please tell us your thoughts about how boredom eating can be circumvented.

Source: “Eating Disorders Go Untreated as Experts Debate Definitions,” LiveScience, 05/23/10
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image by yasmapaz & ace_heart, used under its Creative Commons license.

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