Emotional eating knows no gender

You can always count on Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Albertus Magnus or Saint Thomas Aquinas to have the perfect misogynistic quote that clearly depicts how little they knew of women (and that conveniently provides the perfect segue for this blog post):

“Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore, she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil… Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.” (my emphasis) – Saint Albertus Magnus

To put it nicely, we’re supposedly high-strung creatures, and our inability to control our emotions leads us to do awful, awful things. This leads me to our post this week, and to the following question:

Which gender is more likely to engage in emotional eating? Pray tell, what is your view Thomas, Albertus, and Augustine?

Thomas Aquinas:  That beith woman! For she be weak and unable to control her wild emotions!

Albertus & Augustine: Here, here!

Me: Thou art wrong! According to mine data, it beith woman AND man.

Thomas: Prithee, show us thine data!

(I have no idea why they would talk like pirates. That’s how they sound in my head.).

The answer is that both men and women can fall victim to emotional eating. Emotional eating evidently has an underlying cause, and that’s where men and women differ. As the data we collected for the Emotional Eating Test reveals, male and female emotional eaters are both motivated to binge on comfort food, but for different reasons:

homer-simpson-eatingwomen 1

Male Emotional Eaters

Emotional-eating trigger #1: The desire to be carefree

Tell a person that they can’t have something, and they’ll only want it more. That seems to be one of the emotional eating triggers for the men in our sample: They don’t like the feeling of restriction and limitation, especially when it comes to food.

  • 54% of male emotional eaters don’t think it’s fair to have to limit the type of foods they eat, and believe that they should be able to eat whatever they want.
  • 23% believe that life is too short to worry about their weight or how they look.

Emotional-eating trigger #2: Self-sabotaging beliefs

When we go into a situation with a defeatist attitude, we increase our chances of disappointment and failure. This seems to be the case for our emotional-eating males. While they recognize that emotional eating is not healthy, they sabotage their chances of curbing this habit by adopting the following beliefs:

  • 93% believe that they simply don’t have the discipline needed to control their eating.
  • 81% believe that they will never be good enough for anyone, so it’s pointless to look after themselves by eating healthy.
  • 37% believe that they are too old to change their lifestyle.

Female Emotional Eaters

Emotional-eating trigger #1: An external locus of control

Individuals with an external locus of control believe that they don’t have the ability to change their life. They feel like a victim of fate, society, or their circumstances; their life is controlled by factors outside their control. Female emotional eaters are more likely to have an external locus of control as it relates to their health.

  • 19% don’t believe that they can live longer by changing their lifestyle.
  • 29% believe that it’s their genes that will ultimately determine how healthy they will be – and there’s nothing they can do to change that fact.

Emotional-eating trigger #2: Feelings of shame

Let’s see: Eve was a temptress who ate the forbidden apple and suckered Adam into following suit. Pandora released unspeakable horrors into the world. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute who needed to be forgiven and saved. Lady Macbeth convinced her husband (didn’t take much) to murder his king. Looks like years of pushing the message that women should be ashamed of themselves has finally sunk in – deep – and acts as an emotional-eating trigger for our female sample:

  • 73% still feel guilty about something they did in their past.
  • 87% feel guilty after overeating. These feelings of guilt and shame lead to more emotional eating, creating a vicious cycle.
  • 91% tend to take failure very hard (like not being to stick to a diet).
  • 92% are ashamed of their body.

Mental health issues, including emotional eating, do not discriminate. As a former emotional eater (OK, that’s not entirely true – I’m more of a “periodic emotional eater”) I offer the following tips to both men and women:

  • Write down what you are feeling. The most effective way to uncover emotional eating triggers is to keep track of your feelings before, during, and after an emotional eating session. You will probably see a pattern emerge. Armed with this insight, you will be able to take note of negative emotions, identify them in an objective way (“Ah yes, I am worried about that presentation tomorrow”), accept your feelings, and then find a different way to cope other than with food – like talking through your feelings with a friend. Remember, your emotions are in a constant state of flux. Desire, emotional suffering, and fear will pass if you don’t allow them to take over your life.
  • Learn to identify when you are really hungry. One critical component to ending the cycle of emotional eating is re-learning to recognize your body’s signals for hunger and satiety. This innate response has been lost on most emotional eaters. We no longer have the ability to recognize the difference between the biological need for food and the emotional need. Here are some tips for recapturing your appetite:
    • Rate your hunger on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being “Not hungry at all,” 10 being “Absolutely famished”). Eat when your hunger level reaches 7 or 8. If you wait until you’re starving – like when your stomach is growling like a bear coming out of hibernation – chances are you’ll eat too much, too fast.
    • Feelings of guilt are more likely to be triggered when you overeat. To avoid this, eat until your 70% full and then wait. Why? Because satiety signals take about 15 minutes to reach your brain.
    • Moderate caffeine intake. Caffeine inhibits your sensation of hunger.
    • Don’t let time dictate your hunger. Just because lunch at work is scheduled at noon, that doesn’t mean you have to eat. Follow your body’s signals, not the clock.
  • Stock up on healthy food. According to a study by London researchers, the only difference between emotional eaters and non-emotional eaters isn’t the quantity of food they eat: it’s the quality. Emotional eaters are more likely to reach for comfort food, like fast food. If you feel a hunger urge coming on, reach for a healthy alternative instead. You’ll cut the calories and the guilt.
  • Don’t be afraid to get professional help. If you really feel that you can’t deal with the emotions that lead to your emotional eating (particularly in relation to past physical/emotional/sexual abuse), seek out the help of a counselor or psychologist. Rest assured that despite what some people may believe, asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it actually takes a lot of courage. Besides, research has shown that simply talking about difficult emotions can help you feel better.
  • Be kind to yourself if you do trip up. Remember, it takes time to recover from the habit of emotional eating. If you do overeat on the weekend, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes, people who “fall off the wagon” give up entirely in the face of one setback. Instead, just pick yourself up and vow to overeat less and less frequently.

Insightfully yours,

Queen D