Saturday, January 8, 2011

What do airplane nuts have in common with tissues? Bring on the emotional eating!

Every once in a while I catch a reflection of myself in the mirror, and I realize that I'm a guy who works for Weight Watchers.   Even more, I'm a mannish Lifetime Member who works for Weight Watchers.  Granted, I fancy myself a pretty modern and sensitive dude, I am still a guy.  One of my primary reasons for writing this blog in the first place was to use it as an opportunity to explore the endlessly rich topic of weight management from a man's perspective. 

The operating assumption is that when it comes to weight loss, men are from Mars (like the candy?) and women are from Venus.  In particular, there is a frequently cited belief that men are not emotional eaters.  We eat because we are hungry, not because we are sad.  Or do we?...

The past six weeks have been pretty crazy, and they have certainly not be devoid of stress.  New program launch, new marketing campaigns, annual budgets, etc. etc.  Rewarding and exciting, but more than a little intense.  Last week was particularly so.  Take the nuttiness of the first week of January when we get crazy busy and add on top a few unforeseen personal dramas, and I was a slightly over-wrought little puppy.  As I sit here on Saturday, I've already forgotten and/or put into perspective most of the things that were causing me stress.  What I do remember very clearly is how I channeled my emotions. 

For example, I was flying down to Dallas, and the nice flight attendant offered me a cup of warm nuts (and I love nuts).  I didn't need them, but dammit, I had a tough day.  I deserved this food that I didn't need.  I came home late from work another night, and I was a little wrecked and exhausted.  There was a nice piece of fudge in the fridge.  I wasn't really hungry, but dammit, I deserve a nice piece of fudge (don't we all). 

In the broad context, I had a pretty good week in most of my eating choices, but I found myself being fascinated by these little food salves that I was applying to my wounded soul.  Holy cow.  I was self-medicating with food!  Put on some Barry Manilow, throw in a box of tissues, and I could have let loose a pretty respectable cry.  This was no good!  I was at risk of being kicked out of the Little Rascals He-Man-Woman-Haters-Club (please don't shred me if you've never heard of this 1930 cultural reference). I am already bracing myself for the abuse I will likely get from some of my friends who read this blog.  [Then again, they are reading a weight loss blog, so who are they to judge?]

Yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that more men are emotional eaters than would like to admit.  "I had an awesome day working the stock market.  I deserve a steak!"  "I lost all my money on the stock market.  I deserve a steak."  "It's Friday, the work week is over and I deserve to eat an entire still-living bovine.  With a nice Bearnaise sauce."  "I'm bored.  I want to chew off my finger tips."  "I just got dumped.  I want some ice cream."  What?  You don't think men say the last one?  They may not say it, but it doesn't mean they don't do it. 

So!  Professor Plum in the Library with a Wrench! 
The Limbic System made me eat the cake!
As a guy, if I can't admit that I use food to deal with a mood, then I will be doomed to a harrowing and tragic life of unneeded airplane nuts.  Hyperbole, but you know what I mean.  With the application of a nice dose of rational hindsight, it seems kind of ridiculous to use food as a form of cheap anti-depressants.  Why?  For me, it's basically using food self-indulgence to justify emotional self-indulgence and self-pity.  It's bad enough when I'm bummed out or stressed.  Why make the feeling worse by compounding it the regret from a minor food binge? 

So what to do?  Cognitive behavioral therapy would seem to suggest that I find a way to recognize in the moment when I'm reaching for the food "medicine".  For the short term, I need to remind myself that what ever is polluting the Limbic system of my brain (the part of the gray matter that houses the weepies) is not best cured by the self-pitying food grab.   Proactively and thoughtfully analyzing the underlying problem and source of the emotion seems at least slightly more useful.  And it's certainly less caloric. 

Here endeth my self-applied therapy session.  Thanks for sitting in! 

For any of you other guys who want to come clean about emotional eating, this blog is a safe place devoid of harsh judgment.  Also, as I've now made the case that emotional eating is not a gender-specific issue,  all women inclined to share should freely do so too!   




  1. Well Hallelujah! finally...a MAN who can be honest. I started following your blog a while ago and I have to say it's so nice to have a man's perspective! Also, it must kick-ass to be head of such a great company. I've been blessed with a boyfriend whom I love very much, but very often feels the need for a 'treat'. If you asked him straight about emotional eating, he would just laugh...yeah, let me tell you how fun that is to deal with! All kidding aside, I know it exists for men out there too. Why can't we all have a good cry and a bucket of ice-cream with it?..haha. Talk about self-medicating! Great post!

  2. First of all, Mr K, I think it's amazing to hear this male perspective because you're right - we tend to NOT think of men as emotional eaters. I love how open you are, and how human you are in your posts. I think it's also very important, and you illustrated it beautifully, to be *aware* of what we are doing, when we are doing it. It's the only way we can make progress. To know that you're comforting or self soothing with food certainly helps to deal with that behavior. I fully admit most of my weight was from emotional eating and wrote about how once I reached goal weight it was a very vulnerable moment to feel so exposed and finally have to deal with those emotions. Weight management is about so much more than 'losing weight', so much more than the number on the scale - There's so much more to the story. Bravo to you for recognizing all of that and being brave enough to admit it. I hope everything settles down for you soon.

  3. The steak references were hilarious and are SO my husband! I'll have to show it to him since I'm sure the doesn't think he's an emotional eater!! :) Thanks so much for your honesty in your blog. I love reading it!

  4. My points start over on Sunday (today) and yesterday after eating dinner I still had 18 weekly points left over. I usually try to eat dinner before 6 PM and if I get a little hungry later, I'll reach for some fruit because the plan allows it. I've been on the plan for 3 weeks now and haven't had any sweets or cake or anything like that. The way I eat is pretty healthy and I don't really crave that stuff all that much at all. I do like the occasional soda, so having one of those here and there is my weakness. So, last night it was around 11 PM and I had 18 Weekly points leftover, Instead of getting a piece of fruit, I decided to "reward" myself with some chocolate Zingers out of a vending machine. Ironically the stuff is called devil's food cake. Not only did it not satisfy my hunger, but about 2 hours later my stomach had pain in it. It didn't make me sick or nothing, but I just didn't feel good and it was slightly painful sitting in my system. Like my system was saying to me, "yuck! what am I supposed to do with this junk? I defy you."

  5. Dear David,
    Love your blog. It's like you're "walking a mile" in my shoes. Thank you for doing this! My "slips" this past week happened on the weekend (of course) ... chocolate & home fries. What was I thinking???'s good to know that I'm not alone. Wishing us both a "good" week!

  6. I've talked about emotional eating for many years and always got the same response from my husband -- "I don't understand that. I only eat because I'm hungry." About a year ago he had one of those light bulb moments after the death of his Mom when he realized that he was over eating during that time and not because he was actually hungry. Emotional creatures that we are, women easily understand the concept. It's much harder for men but not impossible.

  7. I agree that it is great to hear a man admit to "emotional eating" and I know that emotional eating discussed in WW meetings. But it is an issue that needs more time than the typical meeting setting provides.
    I wish WW could provide additional resources to deal with that part of the problem.

  8. The hard part with emotional eating is that it can be part of the process of stuffing away emotions into an easily -handled package, which would seem to be stereotypical process for a guy. I suspect that there are different types of emotional eating depending upon your personal style. Even though I'm a woman, I'm a stuffer, and I think that the logical approach can actually cause some of the problem. ("It only makes sense to do this," and avoiding the emotions causing the issue).

  9. I told my meeting the first day after the holidays (where I gained several pounds) that I was eating what I wanted but angrily for some reason. I got a lot of nodding heads and agreement. We had all lost before the holiday and then during the holidays it was like TAKE THAT diet. It was like we were Diet Wild Ones! "What cha eating against Johnny? Whaddya got?" Now I've got to reverse it - take that M&Ms I'm eating a grape.

  10. Fun to read! I joined WW Saturday and so far so good! Hey, I'll read your blog if you read mine. Deal?
    Blog name- "Laughing My Rear End Off. Literally"
    Lightseven (Mimi)
    Weight Watchers Online Blogs...

  11. Aww loved the honesty. I will tell all my male members to read this. Did you figure out what was eating you? I hope it blew over and that you are over calmer waters. Peace to you. Nazalee

  12. Craziness indeed. 73 members Thursday night, 92 Saturday morning, 50 SUNDAY morning...the list goes on and on...planning a wedding...and then there's my 9-5 day job to top it all off.

    Without my online tracker, I'd be a mess, haphazardly stuffing my face with anything and everything I could get my hands on.

    But as soon as I tke a moment to open my e-tools tracker and enter whatever garbage I just ate - it makes me STOP eating it. At least for that night.

    Thanks for the post. Your story is our story and its comforting to know that even though we are from different planets, we are more alike than we are different.

  13. I too, was self bite at a time right into my own grave!! Thank God for Weight Watchers and for your informative and insightful blog.

  14. I always enjoy your blog because it's nice to know that there are "real people" who have actually struggled with their weight running WW.

    Thanks for having the guts to confess that you (and other men) are emotional eaters, too. 2010 was a really rough year personally, professionally, financially....and the thing that I'm proudest of is that I continued to make progress toward goal (10 lbs to go!) AND that I did NOT return to my old patterns of emotional eating - thanks to WW.

    Good luck with all of your stressors!

  15. Beautifully intelligent article about emotional eating, but I have to point out one thing:"Proactively and thoughtfully analyzing the underlying problem and source of the emotion seems at least slightly more useful. And it's certainly less caloric." The point is, that analysis takes more time than the fudge, and sometimes what we need is that quick, emotional fix. Not the whole box, but savored in little bites. THEN do the analysis part lol! And NEVER beat yourself up over the minor digressions. After recently retiring, I no longer pictured my toxic boss's face when punching during a gym workout. Then someone suggested punching the pounds I hadn't lost that week!

  16. I just love reading your blog! I can't wait to show it to my hubby....I'm sure he can relate. Love your honesty.

  17. Mr. CEO,
    I have questions? Why do you not make your online people follow the program? They don't even know it, when you call to ask a question, they are oblivious? Also. . . . Have you ever thought that changing up the program as many times as it has been changed might not be a "good thing". People like stability in thier lives and I for one believe in if it works "Don't fix it" All of the programs that WW has had pts, pts plus, some of the older programs, can't place what they were called but they were in large orange and white books, and back in the early 80' the little yellow book , all dealt with the Healthy food guidlines,
    The thing that has changed is the way to count it, I have been around long enough to know that is a Marketing Tool, but for me its really hard to make those changes, and therefore I haven't done well on these pts programs either one. I am depressed as I have been a member again now for about 2 months and have lost up to 5lbs and regained 4 of them because this program is not explained properly in the new book. Also the pts do not match the pocket guide to the etools so I am not sure what is wrong. I am about to go back to the old program if I have too because this new one is making me Crazy and very unsucessful.
    Can you shed some light on this please?
    Jill Lummus
    Texarkana TX Member

  18. I think I need to post this on my wall at work. Thanks for the perspective that we can ALL relate to!

  19. I do appreciate the "Man's Perspective" and I have shared your blog - with male WW members and my hubby.....

    When I was a WW member, back in 2002 - (still needing to lose 50ish pounds of the 65 I ultimately lost with WW" my leader suggested in a meeting that "people stop self-medicating with food". I remember specifically thinking...."well that is a harsh assessment!" "Whoa, she is REALLY "hard-core" I felt bristled.....lo and behold days later - I figured out what she meant. As a WW leader (started in 2003) one of the first meetings I did - I passed out a paper handout to my members that said "Stop....the answer is NOT in here!" (meant to hang on the fridge, pantry or freezer, office drawer). Members really had some aha moments - when it was pointed out! Who knew?

  20. I have blogged about this topic several times. (In fact, once every 4 weeks, but being a man and all, I won't assume you endure that part! lol) But here's the thing- each time I go through a cycle of emotional eating, I learn a little more about why I do it and what my triggers are. It is not the responsibility of WW to tell me why I eat the way I do. It is my job to be SELF AWARE. If we think we are going to blindly walk through a diet without learning about "why we are who we are," then we are missing the part of the journey that allows us to change it into a lifestyle.
    I am thankful you fessed up to this- no matter if we are an XX or an XY- everyone has feelings. And we all eat. Of course boys emotional eat! It's amazing we think that boys don't struggle like women do.
    Now, if you can fix the issue of men losing weight FASTER than women... ;)
    (that wasn't rhetorical. Fix it please! LOL)