Food and emotion.

Food has become emotion for me. When I have it I’m happy and when I don’t I am sad, anxious and angry.  I am not the only one who feels this way and that is deeply saddening. But what concerns me more is that there are many other men who have an emotional attachment to food but ignore its significance. As blokes we don’t talk about emotion and from reading all contemporary diet advice for men I seldom see information on controlling your emotions when you diet.

Men’s diet advice tends to be very disciplinary, militaristic and machoistic. Mantras like ‘EAT CLEAN: TRAIN DIRTY’ and ‘EAT FOR THE BODY YOU WANT – NOT FOR THE BODY YOU HAVE’ are typical of male diet advice. Blokes are attracted to these because they are the embodiment of what the ideal man is; hardworking, disciplined, tough and chiselled. Obese men are never seen as that. We are often stereotyped as lazy, undisciplined, soft, ugly and out-of-shape. In desperation to be viewed as a ‘real man’ we tend to pursue those types of diet over more manageable and less regimented ones. As a result most fail and the men go back to their old ways. Why these diets fail for most obese men is that they don’t address the core deep-seated emotional issues that are influencing eating habits. This is perplexing as most weight-loss testimonies often comment about the various emotional states, you often read; ‘I was so sad. I didn’t want to go out. I hated myself. I cried in front of the mirror but now I feel so much more lighter and happier. It’s great!’. Yet despite these testimonies emotions are still overlooked in the male-diet advice world.

When I go on a diet it’s not just dealing with the stresses of the gym and eating healthily, I have to cope with losing the emotional state I know as me. Joe as I knew him is changing and my old friends (in food) are leaving me. It is very challenging and I miss the old comfortable emotional state.

But all these challenges beg the question as why do we not have more counselling solely for weight loss? Or more support groups like Overeaters Anonymous? Why does the male diet industry ignore emotion in eating? And why is there not more literature available on this? My view is that emotion is overlooked as an influence and that it is very hard to make a profit out of the ‘emotional diet’. Although obesity is affected by various factors, some more potent than others, I believe at the root of obesity is often some deep seated emotional pain or trauma. This trauma only gets more significant as obese people get older and bigger and society takes more notice of their issues and begins to criticize and scrutinize every aspect of their lives.  It is a vicious cycle.

But all hope is not lost and things will improve here on out, but we all need to chip in. Here are some of my thoughts.

On the site we must be more open to talking about emotional states and treat others with respect and compassion when they do.

We must be honest with ourselves and accept who we are. Remember that there is no rule book that says men cannot talk about their emotions and feelings.

We must be willing to ask for help and graciously accept it. This is not a sign of weakness: on the contrary it is a sign of strength.

We must not be pushed in to dieting when we are not emotionally ready. If you are like me and have a lot of weight to lose, time is of course of the essence – but we have to be emotionally ready and determined to do this.

We must not view failure in dieting and a negative – we can learn from it. In the words of Ricky Gervais’ character Dereck:

I’m not a failure because I didn’t succeed, I’m a failure because I didn’t try.”

We have to accept the past emotional trauma that we have suffered  and be willing to let it go.  We only make ourselves suffer more if we don’t.

Others must not ridicule or view obese men as ‘jolly’ and always ‘happy’. That stereotyping is exactly the reason why obese men fail to deal with their issues.

Others must be aware of not only the physical toll of being obese but also the emotional one that obese men go through.

Others must treat obese people with respect – and remember that weight based discrimination is a real thing and further fuels the obesity epidemic.

Others must remember that fat-shaming and criticizing based on the notion of ‘being a concerned friend’ is just bullying and there is no excuse for it.

To the guys who have lost weight, thank you and congratulations. Your success influences others – but do not forget that your weight loss seems unobtainable for millions. Often your comments are filled with happiness and joy at losing weight and that is excellent. However this often only serves to reinforce the negative emotional state of people who are struggling to lose weight.

As for me I am dealing with the emotional issues and the reason behind my overeating. I am proud to say that I have already lost just under 3 kilos. This has been successful for me. I may relapse but if it does happen I will look for the reason why and aim to make sure that I can avoid this ‘trigger’ – I will not let that relapse make me think I am a failure. I also find my mood has improved with drinking more water and eating certain fruits (which is shocking for me as in general I hate fruit).

Ultimately for all the advice I give and that you will hear; it is down to you. I wrote this article to highlight the issue of emotional eating and share some of my insight. I am not qualified in anyway, and I did not intend to be preachy. There is enough of that from do-gooders.

One final thing to those lifetime dieters, do not view yourself as weak willed. You have tried dieting constantly and had varying levels of success. You have fallen off of the bandwagon and got back on to your feet again. Many others would have quit but you didn’t – and that is something to be truly proud of. You haven’t achieved your goal yet, but you will – it is only because you have not found the right diet for you yet.

I would really like to hear your thoughts and advice on this issue.