Dealing with Emotional Eating, from a Man's Perspective

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Hi, my name is Jerome and I am an emotional eater. 

There, I said it.  

I mean, I’ve said it before out loud.

But I thought it was important that I write it down. 

I am a man who is an emotional eater. 

You know what emotional eating is, right?  Any time you feed a feeling and not a growling stomach you're emotionally eating.  Absolutely, we all emotionally eat now and then.  Sometimes we even feed a happy feeling.
Show of hands: how many of us have taken our kids out for a celebratory meal for good grades? Or a home team victory?
It is when this once-in-awhile occurrence becomes a daily necessity when the trouble begins.  When, we begin to tie food to our emotional stability, or rather instability, that we become emotional eaters. 

I know what you’re thinking, “Do men really have a problem with that?”  I’m here to tell you yes!  Men have issues with emotional eating just as women do, we just don’t want to admit it.  I recently read that men constitute about 10% of all emotional eaters.  I don’t believe that, at all!  This is one of those topics that men have our guard up about.  It is one of those topics that is off-limits to talk about.  Knowing that a man’s body burns fat easier than woman’s does, it can be easier for a man to stay thin while emotional eating.  However, as men get older and our metabolism slows, it can catch up with us very quickly.  I look at my own children now and wonder what they were seeing in me when I was always cramming food in my mouth. 

What sort of a of role model was I? 

What was I teaching them? 

Was I giving them "permission" to eat emotionally by following my lead?

It’s time to stop the cycle! I’m saying it’s time for men to start taking a look at their eating habits and be honest!  Seriously, I have learned that I would much rather talk about the issue at hand, rather than push it under the table and just keep killing myself.  That’s what I was doing for nearly a decade, emotional eating, not dealing with issues and forcing myself to the grave too early. 

Here are a few signals that you might be an emotional eater:
  • Emotional hunger is a very urgent feeling of hunger; physical hunger comes much more slowly
  • Eating to fill a void is typically filled with junk food, your favorite foods, your cravings, etc. 
  • Feeding the emotional need never seems to get full; you keep eating until the emotion is full.  At this point your body is beyond full.
  • Guilt.  Have you ever eaten, and eaten, and eaten, then felt really guilty about it?  You are probably feeding a feeling, not a physical need to fuel your body.
Now that we’ve talked about what emotional eating is, let’s take a look at how we can manage our habits. 
  • Recognize emotional eating in  yourself and what your triggers are
    • This seems like a simple step, however admitting to yourself, especially as a man that you are feeding a feeling isn’t easy.  It’s not manly to admit such a thing, I get that.  I speak from personal experience when I say I know how hard it can be to admit this to yourself or others.  I learned that I have a hard time controlling my emotional eating anytime there is stress or conflict.  This stress might be caused by a work situation, children fighting, or on a particularly sensitive day, the traffic.  You name it, and I’ve probably dealt with it.
  • Make a list of things to do instead of feeding that feeling
    • We’ve all heard the saying “if you fail to plan, plan to fail.” Well, I’m telling you that fits this situation perfectly.  We must have a plan to assist ourselves when we feel the need to emotionally eat.  For me personally, the number one thing I try to do rather than feed my emotions is talk it out with someone I trust.  That is person for me is my wife.  After discovering that I had a problem with emotional eating, she has been a partner in "recovery."  I call it "recovery" because that’s what it is.  I am still in recovery from emotional eating.  I still have bad days, but they are becoming few and far between. 

      Talking with my wife helps me in dealing with the conflict.  She knows how to "talk me off the ledge."  She now knows what to look for and can tell by my actions that something is bothering me.  Sometimes she has to drag stuff out of me and sometimes I just spill it.  The second thing I do is keep myself busy when I feel that emotional eating may come into play.  Some of my best workouts are when I’m frustrated or dealing with a tough situation.  Taking the emotions out on a workout is a great way to burn even more calories!  If you’re at work, get up and take a walk, even a short 5-7 minute walk with a bottle of water in your hand can make a huge difference.  Fitness is a MUST for so many reasons in my life!
  • Find a comfort food that’s healthy!
    • Thinking about a plan to help deal with an urge to eat emotionally.  I started taking my lunch to work every day.  I pack snacks with my lunch that varies from my favorite granola bars to carrots.  Doing this allows me to control what I’m eating.
  • Allow yourself some "wiggle room"
    • Let’s face it: We are going to have bad days. That is just how life works.  Over time, we have to learn how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way so they do not derail our journey.  Allow yourself that "wiggle room" and move on with your day.  This is when you have to recognize what you’ve done and act on your plan to deal with it. 
Discovering I am an emotional eater was huge for me.  This is something that took about a year into my journey for me to realize as I worked through all the facets of a life transformation.  I mean, that’s why we are all here, right, to transform our lives?  When my journey started, I set out to lose weight, I never dreamed of losing so much baggage as well.
I want to encourage you to be mindful of the journey. Every turn, every curve ball, every emotion, everything that comes your way will teach you something about yourself. Embrace those lessons and learn from them, you might find yourself facing the same issue one day down the road.  Share those lessons with others you talk to, you might say something that triggers that person into action.  That is the spirit of SparkPeople and what makes this community so special!

Do you think men are less likely to admit that they are struggling with emotional eating? Why or why not? What helps you deal with emotional eating?

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SANTABERKS 4/13/2021
Here-Here! I am One also! Thank You! Report
GEORGE815 1/20/2021
Thanks Report
Men run to comfort food also, we just don't want to admit it. Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Absolutely great Report
Good words. Rings true with my daily life. I am a man and I too, eat emotionally.

Having said that, this article was written 8 years ago. I am curious as to how the author is doing and if he has stayed the course. Report
Unfortunately I need my husband to be that person for me. I don't always feel like it's okay to talk to my husband because then his shields go up and ... well.... then we both "solve" the problem by eating... we're both enablers... Report
Hey Jerome,
I too am an emotional eater who is a man AND a Registered Dietitian! It seems to be harder for a man to talk about this (especially with other men). When I am really taking care of myself with food I end up having to deal with a lot of my emotions. I am doing a 120 day hiking and eating well challenge that I am videotaping and writing about. I have noticed a lot of fear coming up in the last week that I normally would have dealt with by overeating. The question is "How do I deal with this fear in a way that is helpful to me and not harmful. Thanks for writing about this! Bill Bradley, R.D. Confessions of an Overweight Dietitian. Report
Jerome, I'm literally in tears after reading your blog. Just this past week I experienced an emotional eating meltdown from an upsetting encounter at school that left me feeling powerless. There is so much shame and guilt that surrounds this type of eating, which is really a stuffing of emotions as there is nothing nutritionally sounds about it. Thank you for sharing your experience, and bringing to light that this is not just a "woman's problem." God bless~ *hugs* BB~ Report
In answer to the question at the bottom , YES,
My response, which I started years ago is one of your points
"Find a comfort food that’s healthy!
I have always taken my lunch to work, so that was covered, just changed the contents
(removed bread from the scenario and just eat chicken that I grilled myself)
and then changed the contents of my cupboards at home.
Peanut Butter isn't the healthiest, but has more nutrition than chocolate chip cookies Report
Food dominates my life. I get such enjoyment out of eating so binging and gorging is a common occurrence. Emotions are certainly a part of it:; positive i.e. happy or otherwise - worried, anxious, lonely, bored, etc. Thanks for the ideas everyone. I am working on a lifestyle change and every idea helps. I am looking for a person or people I can discuss with in person but the blogs work too. Report
I am an emotional eater. First I thought it was only me, then I thought it was only women. One day my son came home from school, and he was hyped up. He was literally shoving food in his mouth, and I got a sobering look at how I must seem when I am in an eating frenzy, even if it is carrots or celery. I commend you for writing your truth. Now that it's out there, it is much easier to realize there is an issue and to try to eat more mindfully. Report
Great blog. Thanks! Report
Jerome, you definitely know what you're talking about here! I'm an emotional eater, too. You describe it to a "T." Report
Yes, I'm one too. I need to keep my guard up for eating when stressed and eating when bored (and in the kitchen).
Great article Jerome! Wonderful tips and insight. Keep it up! Report
Great writing Jerome. You really covered all the bases. I can totally relate!...Jane Report
I swear you are writting this to me.. this was so good. thank you Report
You always manage to surprise me Jerome. Thanks for this great blog.
Great blog! Thanks for your honesty and candidness :-) Report
Great blog! My fiance won't admit to having emotions, never mind being an emotional eater! lol Definitely harder for men to admit , but hard for us ladies to recognize and admit to as well. As I get closer to my goal weight, I can look back over past years and see the patterns of emotional eating. And YES, I still give in to it occasionally, but it's good to know that I can recognize it now! Love how you plan for it! Good luck on your journey! Report
I am battling emotional eating, too. In time, this too shall pass for the both of us. Report
Funny, I've often thought of only women as emotional eaters for some reason. Thanks for sharing and bringing me outside "the box"! What great insight! Report
The suggestion to make a list of alternative activities can really help. I put strips with an option written on them in a ziplock bag and put it on the refrigerator door. Before opening the door, I can pull out a strip and take that action. (A container on the counter would work as well.) Report
I was surprised that a man would admit to emotional eating. I think that was a courageous statement. By admiting the truth he was able to move forward and loss the weight. Good Job Report
Ironically, I was talking about this to a few friends! Not only emotionally eating, but STRESS can cause our bodies to KEEP what I call "WARRIOR WEIGHT!" Holding on to weight to get us through the turmoil, or problems we may face, or NEED to face! Report
Another wonderful blog Jerome!!! I think this will help men recognize that emotional eating is not a "women's issue"..even if they won't admit to it, they will KNOW and can benefit from the insight you have provided to us all! Report
Amazing! Thank you for posting this. I definitely agree & think that men are less likely to admit they are struggling with emotional eating, simply because it could be something that isn't viewed as a problem for guys (they are not seen as very emotional to begin with so why would they have emotional eating problems?). You've got great signals & tips to help others out. Report
I realized this some time ago and am trying hard to establish a new pattern in my children's lives. We early celebrate with food anymore. Report
AWESOME blog thank you so much for sharing, Stay strong. Report
Thank you for being so open to this situation. You have helped more people than you think. It's nice to know we are not alone in our additions! Stay Strong! Report
I really, REALLY wish I had read this on Friday instead of today. I was stressing out about a social engagement that evening and instead of dealing with it constructively, I ate about 800 calories in half an hour, then cancelled the engagement after all, and went to the gym for a 50 minute run on the treadmill. Next time, I'm going to use some of your advice. Thank you for being so honest. Report
This is interesting, because this week was the first time in my life I have told myself I am sometimes an emotional eater. When I am eating emotionally, chocolate is my drug of choice--and crunchy carbs like corn chips. It was an interesting recognition, but I partly because it isn't a constant in my life, and partly because it is a pretty new recognition that I do it at all, I haven't really beaten myself up about it. I'm really glad I read this article today, because I loved your list of ways to deal with it. I think working out is a good idea. Fortunately, I have someone I do talk to when I am getting emotional already. I am experimenting with other soothers too. (This was from learning to deal with my emotional energy before I tied it to eating). One thing I am finding helpful is music. I have always had a complex emotional relationship with housework, and I have been finding that putting on some good music to listen to while I fold clothes makes the task so much easier and less emotionally charged. Some of my ways of dealing with emotions are healthier than others. I would have to say that I am an emotional internet-surfer. This is mainly a problem when I am spending too much time surfing at the expense of neglecting responsibilities, or trying to fill the void I am feeling with something that just can't really satisfy it and leaves me feeling more empty. Learning to manage our emotions is really about learning to find balance, right? Report
I know for a fact I'm an emotional eater. And my problem has been that when I emotionally eat, it would be something unhealthy; usually cookies, muffins, etc. SparkPeople has made me aware of what I eat and I believe the recording of food is an eye opener. Thanks for sharing. Report
I honestly think my husband does this with alcohol! Not a healthy way either. He doesn't understand my EE with food though. I too can eat apples like they are going out of fashion but not really emotionally.

Good luck, and thanks for sharing. Donna x Report
I am a Emotional eater. I try to keep it healthy though with oranges and apples and banana's. Sometime other fruits in season. Report