Usually, the discussion starts off where the different men around the table start tentatively sharing their experience with being overweight. During the first ten minutes, there is a lot of predictable chest thumping and joking along with proclamations such as "I've got too much pillow in the middle, but it's OK because I'm just gonna start hitting the gym" and "What does it matter if I'm heavy? I'm married." or "I don't eat cuz I'm sad. That's for chicks."
Truth be told, men have a pretty humorous way of talking about weight, possibly because they are a little uncomfortable with the subject matter. Comedy is a great way to skirt around a touchy subject.
What was interesting about these focus groups is how the conversation would change over the course of 60 to 90 minutes. By the end of the sessions, there was pretty heavy discussion about underlying emotions about being overweight, and how the condition made them feel about themselves. These guys kept it together, and there was no weeping, but the conversation got pretty personal and very real.
The conventional wisdom is that men have a very different take on weight issues than women. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Men eat because they just like to eat while women eat because eating is connecting to a myriad of other issues. Is conventional wisdom true? Are men and women all that different? Can men be emotional eaters?
So ask me the question. Am I an emotional eater?
Before I answer that question, let me first provide an honest and important caveat. I've been working at Weight Watchers for the better part of a decade. You can't spend this much time at this company, spending this much time talking about weight issues, without developing estrogen deposits. I'm a much more sensitive dude than I used to be, and arguably, some of my inherent manness has been obscured by frilly drapes.
But go ahead and ask me the question anyway. Am I an emotional eater? Damned straight I am.
The word "emotion" covers a lot of ground: happy, sad, bored, stressed, relaxed, frenzied, etc. Do I create ritual acts of combining crying and ice cream eating? No (or at least I would never publicly admit to such a thing). Do I eat for a million reasons that have nothing to do with physical hunger. Most definitely. So what are my emotional trigger points for unnecessary digestion?:
- Boredom: This is a big one for me. I don't eat much when I'm in the midst of a flurry of activity, running from meeting to meeting or running errand after errand. However, put me in a place of stasis, and I get ravenous. This is almost always the trigger for a good grazing session.
- Stress: If I really analyze it, I would have to say Yes to this too. When I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and the fates are conspiring against me, I am not above a little bit of food-based self-medication. I deserve this bit of nasty food because life isn't being fair. Putting something gross into my system would surely make me feel better. BTW, it does make me feel better... for about 3-4 minutes.
- Reward: This is a BIG yes. I have done great things this week! I deserve a giant reward in the shape of a calorie bomb.
- I want to be happy: like most people, I've somehow convinced myself that the act of eating has the capacity to create a state of prolonged joy. At least for a few minutes.
- I want something to look forward to: I always look forward to my next meal. Somehow, it will be one of the highlights of the day. Even though the meal eating process may only last 15 minutes. Kind of sad.