Emotional Eating – Not Only A “Female Issue” and 8 Simple Tips To Stop It

I’ve been there. It starts with a handful of rice cakes, moves to a few pieces of cheese, and the next thing I know, I finished 2 cups of Ben & Jerry’s. I feel out of control and hate myself for it. Can you relate?

It’s called emotional eating and it happens to men too. SHOCKER! This article talks about the problem of emotional eating being seen as uniquely a “women’s issue”. We also provide 8 powerful tips to help you master your emotions and get emotional eating under control.


The Men’s Issue No One Talks About

Today’s society with its tedious gender norms attaches a stereotypical image to emotional eating. It associates emotional eating with a depressed woman sitting in front of a television with her elbow deep in a pint of ice cream. What doesn’t come to mind is a male binging in the dark, on his own, with four or five large pizzas by his side. You don’t have to be sad to be an emotional eater, and neither you have to be a woman. In reality, emotional eating does not discriminate and anyone can suffer irrespective of age, race, socio-economic background and indeed gender.

Emotional eating is reaching for food to quell feelings, rather than hunger. It is when you use food to escape an emotion. Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings and often feel their sense of self-diminish with each bite that they take.

Although eating problems are being more widely discussed than ever before, media coverage and portrayal of emotional eating is often entrenched in the stereotype of it being a uniquely or predominantly a female issue. Worse, such perception does not only exist with the general public but also among medical professors, who fail to provide gender-appropriate information and resources for men who seek help.

Sad man in a empty room

Being A Man And Struggling With Emotional Eating Is Not Uncommon And It Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

The public’s understanding of what constitutes emotional eating is so deeply-rooted in the female experience that men are being forgotten. Type in “emotional eating” into google images. How many pictures of males can you see?

Male emotional eating is little or not discussed thus their suffering is often in silence. The thought of emotional eating as strictly a female affliction, prevents men struggling with this problem from seeking help or even recognizing that they have a problem.

Our silly, collective gender logic tells us that men have agency and women do not. Our society thus views the male devouring four or five large pizzas as a behavioral choice rather than a health issue. There’s nothing wrong with a college guy eating a whole pizza by himself, but with women, they would be shocked. In the case of males, overeating and binging is seen as amusing and funny. The culturally-ingrained feelings of masculinity are another reason why a lot of men don’t admit to falling victim to emotional eating.

Help Men Step Out Of The Shadows

It is important for us to challenge these dangerous misconceptions and break the stigma attached to male emotional eating. Raising awareness and de-stigmatizing emotional eating will help males come forward and seek help when they feel they need it. Encouraging a culture which allows men to show their vulnerability is a key factor to open up this dialogue. We encourage men to share their stories to raise public understanding and help men step out of the shadows.

Say Goodbye To Emotional Eating with these 8 Tips

Whether you are a male or female, here is a list of powerful tips to help you control your cravings and put a stop to emotional eating. Following these steps take practice and a little bravery, but will help to get your emotional eating under control.

Tips to stop emotional eating infographic

1. Start a food diary

Keeping a food diary can help you recognize your emotional eating triggers. Write down the time of the day you feel hungry and how you feel emotionally. This process will help you differentiate between when you’re feeling physical or emotional hunger. Be consistent. Do it daily and you will begin to recognize patterns in your eating. For example, you may notice that every time you come home from work, you eat a whole jar of peanut butter. This could point that your emotional eating is triggered by stress in your workplace. Once you know your triggers, you can develop a plan to address it. Change your routine. Before going home from work, go for a 15-minute walk instead. This will help you clear your mind and improve your mood. In turn, you’ll be less like to over-eat.

2. Distract yourself

Give your brain something else to think about other than food. Invite a friend over, take the dog for a walk, listen to a podcast. Keep your mind occupied. Studies show that engaging your mind in a visual-spatial task is more effective in blocking cravings. Such tasks can include completing a puzzle or drawing a picture. I recommend getting a coloring book. They are not just for kids and can help combat stress too.

3. Relax first, eat second

Many of us eat in an attempt to lower anxiety. Instead of turning to food, devote 20 minutes to a relaxing activity you enjoy the most. We all have different ways of calming ourselves. This can involve gardening, taking a warm shower, listening to music or reading. Figure out what works best for you. You can also take a nap or go to bed early. Research has shown that people who are well-rested are less susceptible to anxiety and stress, and are better at resisting the urge to overeat. Deep breathing is a simple and effective way to help you de-stress. Adding oxygen to your brain helps you think clearer and make better decisions. Suddenly, you’re not so starving, are you?

deep breathing

4. Exercise

Instead of going to the kitchen, go for a run. Anything you do to get yourself moving will work. Exercise is a powerful method to improve your mood. Even doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise boosts the “feel-good” chemicals in your brain and so you’ll be less likely to eat emotionally.

5. Eat only at the table

It’s incredibly easy to eat an entire row of cookies when you’re mindlessly snacking while watching TV or typing away on your laptop. Your electronics keep you distracted, so you’re less likely to listen to your body’s fullness cues. There’s a whole body of research suggesting that when you eat on the couch, at your desk, or in the car, your brain doesn’t always register the fact that you had a meal. This can lead to feelings of deprivation and overeating later in the day.

Make a conscious effort to only eat meals in the kitchen and not on the couch or your bed. Eating in the same place makes emotional eating easier to control. Make sure there are no distractions. When your meal is your only focus, you are much less likely to eat past the point of fullness. Take time to put your food on a plate. Even if it is just a small snack, enjoy it from the plate and not out of the bag or box.

6. State your intentions

If the temptation is too strong and you decide to go for that large bowl of ice cream, say out loud, “I’m not hungry, but I’m going to eat this anyway”. Simply admitting that you’re eating when you’re not hungry can eventually wear down your desire for that treat. Brian Wansink, a food and diet researcher at Cornell University, has asked volunteers to try this method with great success. Taking time to think about what you’re about to do can work to discourage you from doing it.

7. Be Kind To Yourself

You’re going to slip up, it happens to everyone. We’re only human and sometimes it’s just too difficult not to give into temptation. But do not beat yourself up. Remember, a single slip-up won’t cause you to put on 10 pounds. And don’t let one lapse be an excuse to eat poorly all day. Punishing yourself will only make things worse. Thinking you’re weak makes you feel worse, which send you searching for more food. It is common for people to go into a super-restrictive mode after over-eating. This is the worst thing you can do. If you starve yourself after a binge, it will only cause your hunger to grow throughout the day and may even result in another binge. This can turn into a vicious cycle. Know that you can start afresh tomorrow. You’re strong and totally awesome, and you need to know that. Be kind to yourself!

8. Seek professional help
If you find yourself engaging in emotional eating as a standard response to life’s challenges and you feel it is beyond your control, seek professional help. Do not be ashamed, emotional eating is not uncommon and there is help. Talk to your doctor to find out what options are available to help you.

What behaviors or tools have helped you on your journey? Please feel welcomed to share in the comments below.

Also, read our article on how your body changes once you start eating healthy.

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Wiktoria Banda

Wiktoria is a content writer and illustrator at Shape.
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