Since I started the original Normal Eating Support Group in 2002, only a tiny fraction of members have been men – well under 1%. And those few men who joined have never stuck around. In contrast, many of our female members have been active participants for years. (I’m very grateful to those who have found recovery and stay to help newcomers.)
When I developed the Normal Eating logo with the silhouette of a woman, a member wrote to me and said I shouldn’t use that because it will make men feel less welcome. I considered her point, but men weren’t joining the forum anyway, so I just went with it.
Recently I did a Web search on emotional eating in men and it’s generally thought that men constitute just 10% of emotional eaters. But I’m not sure I believe this. I wonder if men are just less likely to admit it. I had an experience today that reinforced this idea.
The Normal Eating® approach is to figure out the reasons behind emotional eating, and then take steps towards fixing the real problem. So if you’re eating out of loneliness, you’d take steps towards enriching your social life.
The tricky part is figuring out the real problem. It’s not always obvious. For example, consider this question from a Normal Eating Support Group member:
What’s the solution for feeling a drab kind of emptiness at nighttime? Or feeling lonely? I do have lots of friends, and I see them regularly. But still I feel lonely when I come home at night.
I don’t think loneliness is the real problem here.
This video, from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, is 17 minutes long and very well worth watching. It talks about the true causes of obesity — genetics play a big role — and the awful prejudice against fat people in this culture. The narrator is a high school student.
Not all emotional eating comes from the expectation of future deprivation, but some of it does. How many people, for example, decide to start a diet on June 1, and then spend May 22 to May 31 overeating — getting while the getting is good? A lot!
Even if you’ve sworn off dieting, a sense of deprivation can keep you eating after your body has had enough. Your conscious thought may be, “This is so good — I’m full but I can’t stop.” But what’s driving the compulsion, under the surface, is the feeling that not eating it now would be a flat-out loss because there likely won’t be another chance.
Are you waiting for a “lightbulb moment” to catapult you out of emotional eating once and for all? This came up recently in the Normal Eating Support Group. It’s a very common attitude, but not one that gets you where you want to go. This is the same thinking that brings you, “I’ll start my diet on Monday” (or the first of the month or whenever) “and then everything will be different.”
It would be great if life problems could evaporate in one shining moment of insight and resolution. People long to suddenly “get it” and float on a cloud above all the mess. But this is not how people change, and waiting for it is a trap that can keep you stuck.
Are you worried about money? Be careful not to add weight gain to your list of problems. There’s a well-known correlation between low income and obesity. For one thing, high calorie foods are cheaper. For another, lack of money — or fear of lack of money — is very stressful. Feeling trapped in a bad situation is the #1 trigger for emotional eating, and a recession can make you feel very trapped.
So fight back! Innoculate yourself by taking action. The more you do, the better you’ll feel, even if you can’t completely fix the problem.
Don’t know what to do? Start in the kitchen. People are eating out less, and eating at home can mean healthier eating, but not necessarily.
International No Diet Day (INDD) was started in Britain in 1992 by Mary Evans Young. Outraged by a series of news stories, including the suicide of a teenager who couldn’t stand “being fat” (she was a size 12 U.S.), Young sent out a press release titled, “Fat Woman Bites Back”. This got some media attention. At the end of a prime time television interview she spontaneously said, “Don’t forget to celebrate No Diet Day!” And so International No Diet Day was born.
Young’s goals for INDD are to celebrate natural body diversity, promote positive body image, advocate healthy non-restrictive eating patterns, and end fatphobia and weight discrimination. She credits the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination for her Top 10 Reasons to Give Up Dieting:
I went into a Barnes & Noble recently and asked for their section on emotional eating. They didn’t have one! Books on emotional eating are scattered across at least three sections: Nutrition, Diet, Eating Disorders, and Self Improvement. What a vivid reflection of how eating and weight problems are misunderstood.
Emotional eating is the single most common reason that people are overweight. It doesn’t make sense to put books on emotional eating in the eating disorders section because not all emotional eaters have full-fledged eating disorders. Nor do the Nutrition or Diet sections make sense because emotional eating cannot be solved by improved nutrition or weight loss diets. That’s because what you put in your mouth is not the problem, it’s just a symptom of the problem. The Self Improvement section at least fits, but books on emotional eating get lost among other types of self-improvement books.
If you don’t understand what causes eating and weight problems, you can’t fix them. I’ve been thinking about how to convey the essential problem and solution in a clear and concise way. My book Normal Eating for Normal Weight describes it in detail, but sometimes details can obscure essential truths. So here are the key truths about this difficult problem and how to solve it.