A recent study by Queendom.com and PsychTests.com indicates that both men and women can fall victim to emotional eating. The only difference lies in why they do it.
French physician and gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin understood the impact of emotions on food choices when he uttered, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Using food to cope with stress or sadness has often been attributed to women, but research by Queendom.com indicates otherwise. Data collected from their Emotional Eating Test reveals that both genders fall victim to emotional eating, but for different reasons.
Collecting data from 521 emotional eaters, researchers at Queendom attempted to uncover the emotional triggers that lead people to binge on comfort food. While both the men and women in Queendom’s sample have a tendency to eat according to their emotions, where they differ is on the “why”:
Male Emotional Eaters
Emotional eating triggers:
The desire to be carefree ~ When people are told that they can’t have something, it often makes them want it even more, and this seems to be the case for male emotional eaters. They dislike the feeling of restriction, 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, even if it’s not good for their health.
- 23% believe that life is too short to worry about their weight or how they look.
Self-sabotaging beliefs ~ Going into a situation with a defeatist attitude increases a person’s chances for disappointment and failure. While male emotional eaters 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 body by making smarter food choices.
- 37% believe that they are too old to change their lifestyle.
Female Emotional Eaters
Emotional eating triggers:
An external locus of control ~ People 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, heredity, society, or their circumstances; their life is determined 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 ultimately determine how healthy they will be.
Feelings of shame ~ Female emotional eaters are more likely to have difficulty letting go of guilt. Their belief that they should be ashamed of themselves, for whatever reason, acts as an emotional eating trigger:
- 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.
- 92% are ashamed of their body.
“Comfort food can be a form of nostalgia, like remembering grandma’s apple pie, or it can be an escape from difficult and unpleasant emotions,” explains Dr. Jerabek, president of PsychTests, the company that runs Queendom.com. “We often see images on TV shows of girls who, after being dumped, drown their miseries in a container of Rocky Road ice cream. This may very well be the case for some, but it would be incorrect to assume that only women fall victim to emotional eating. Men also use food as a coping mechanism, albeit an unhealthy one.”
“What people also fail to realize is that emotional eating triggers are not always the result of negative feelings or experiences. Essentially, emotional eaters don’t turn to comfort food only when they’re sad, anxious, or feeling guilty. Boredom can also be an emotional-eating trigger as well as happiness – after all, how often have you celebrated a milestone or a promotion by going out for a lavish dinner? The act of eating food one loves extends the feelings of joy. The bottom line is when you consume food for reasons other than hunger, you are engaging in emotional eating. Unless you find healthier ways to cope with stress, maintaining a healthy weight will remain an elusive goal,” concludes Dr. Jerabek.
Mental health issues, including emotional eating, do not discriminate. Researchers at Queendom offer the following tips to both men and women:
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 taming 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. Waiting until you’re starving – like when your stomach is growling like a bear coming out of hibernation – will make you eat too much, too fast.
- Feelings of guilt are more likely to be triggered when you overeat. To avoid this, eat slowly, take smaller bites and chew properly. 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. The same goes for cigarettes.
- Don’t let time dictate your eating habits. 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.
- Eliminate mindless eating. When you are eating, take the time to enjoy it. Don’t eat while watching TV, playing video games or reading. Mindless eating can pack on enormous amounts of calories without giving you any pleasure.
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, such as fast food, calorie-heavy snacks and sweets. 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” lose hope and give up entirely in the face of one setback. Instead, just pick yourself up and vow to overeat less and less frequently.
Want to determine your emotional eating triggers? Go to http://www.queendom.com/tests/take_test.php?idRegTest=1565
Professional users of this assessment (therapists, life coaches and counselors) can request a free demo of the Emotional Eating Test or any other tests from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery: http://hrtests.archprofile.com/testdrive_gen_1
To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook: http://hrtests.archprofile.com/personality-tests-in-hr
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