You may have put on a few pounds over the winter and are not sure why. Or perhaps you’ve been working out diligently, but still can’t get rid of those pesky love handles. You may, in fact, need to start paying closer attention to your eating habits.
Many men overeat and don’t even realize it; in fact, eating is often tied into so many other activities that it’s hard to pinpoint when overeating takes place.
However, if you tend to absent-mindedly munch on chips while watching TV, gorge on buttered popcorn at the movies (even though you’ve already eaten dinner), or accept a second helping of mom’s meatloaf even though you’re stuffed, you may be consuming larger portions and eating more often than you need to.
To discover if you’re eating enough for a man three times your size, you need to examine your eating patterns to determine how often you really are eating, and more importantly, why you’re overeating. Overeating is most often a symptom of an underlying problem, not the cause.
Once you realize why you’re overeating, you can deal with the real issue behind your eating habits and be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.
What Is Overeating?
Before you can determine if you’re overeating, you need to make sure that your eating habits are not indicative of a more serious health issue. Compulsive overeating is an eating disorder, like anorexia (starving yourself) or bulimia (binge eating, then purging), and can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Compulsive overeating is often followed by feelings of guilt and depression, and compulsive overeaters often eat alone to avoid letting others know how much they binge on food.
Overeating is also not the same as eating more protein to gain muscle mass. Overeating simply involves eating too much, inhaling your food at warp speed, or eating when you’re not hungry. Often men typically have bigger appetites than women, overeating often goes unnoticed in men, and is not seen as a problem.
Although overeating in men is less severe than an eating disorder, it is still unhealthy and can be a symptom of a problem in another aspect of your life.
There are many different reasons why men overeat. To better understand if you are, in fact, overeating, you need to be aware of the different catalysts that may spark unhealthy and unnecessary food consumption.
1. Boredom (a.k.a.: “Couch Potato Syndrome”)
You may overeat because there’s nothing better to do. Think about it; all of your buddies are busy with their girlfriends and the only thing worth watching on TV is the Discovery Channel special on bats—and you’ve already seen it, twice. But hey, it’ll be a lot more interesting if you watch it while eating a bag of chips, right?
Many men also eat just for the sake of eating, even when the TV isn’t on. Eating is a visceral, sensory activity, and charges up the senses—which is why eating is often seen as a form of entertainment in and of itself. Sure, it might be fun, but it’s not the kind of hobby that will help your golf game or make you a more engaging conversationalist.
2. Stress and Anxiety
It doesn’t matter where the stress or emotional tension comes from (work, family, school, etc.), everyone needs to deal with daily frustrations in some way. So, you’re not a nail biter. And there’s no way you’re going to pull any hair out of your head after seeing uncle Joe go bald at twenty-two.
So what do you do when you’re stressed? Eat. Emotional eating may sound like a problem more often experienced by women, but some men deal with emotional upheaval by overeating as well. Whether it’s due to stress, courtesy of your unbelievably demanding boss, or anxiety over a breakup, when life becomes stressful, many men overeat to sublimate frustrations.
Eating gives people a feeling of control and power, and the sensory experience of taste and the comfort of a full stomach may act as distractions from the problems you want to avoid.
3. Quitting an Addiction
You’ve finally decided that lung or liver cancer isn’t for you. That’s great, except that you find yourself eating all the time, to curb the urge to grab a cancer stick or have a drink.
When trying to give up an oral addiction, many people feel the need to keep their hands busy, and eating seems like a harmless way to keep yourself away from the addictive substances. While overeating may seem like the lesser of the two evils, there are more productive (and healthier) ways to keep your hands busy.
4. Culture and Social Norms
Some cultures heavily emphasize eating large, drawn out, extravagant meals (ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding?), so for many men, having second, third, or even fourth helpings is the norm, and even a sign of respect for the cook.
In many cultures eating is also all tangled up in all kinds of social events in such a way that the event isn’t fully entertaining unless food is involved. It just seems natural to eat popcorn at the movies, or munch on pretzels and peanuts while having a beer after work, or graze on finger foods at parties.
Men also tend to eat while watching sports in many cultures. Unfortunately, the kinds of foods that accompany sporting events usually aren’t of the celery and carrot stick variety, and tend to promote weight gain.
North American cultures in particular emphasize snack foods and eating between meals, and most often these snacks are high in fat and sodium, and provide very little nutritional value.
Finally, some cultures emphasize the ideal man as big and strong, and don’t put pressure on men to stay slim and watch what they eat. As a result, many men are less concerned than women with what, or how much they eat.
5. To Please Women
For many men, this starts off as trying to please their mom, and show her that they enjoy her cooking. Guys are often urged to take a second helping, and many do, just to avoid insulting the chef.
When it comes to their own relationships, many men want to please the women who cook for them by eating very heartily, so the women in question won’t feel that their efforts have gone unappreciated. And this is why so many newly married men quickly put on the pounds. Believe me, she’d rather just hear that the meal’s good.
If You Want to Stop Stuffing Your Face, Here’s How:
Now that you’re aware of when you’re overeating and why, you can change your behavior and move toward a healthier lifestyle. Cutting back on your eating habits will lower your risk of weight gain and heart disease, not to mention help you fit better into your old clothes.
Get Off the Couch
To avoid overeating when you’re bored, turn off ESPN and find activities that replace eating, especially ones that require a lot of attention and focus. Eating can seem like a hobby, but it wouldn’t look good listed as one on your resume.
Learn how to rock climb, start playing golf, take up guitar lessons, even concentrate on a jigsaw or crossword puzzle for an hour—as long as your newfound hobby doesn’t involve a bag of chips and a remote control, you’re on the right track.
Find a Shoulder to Cry On
If you’re overeating to divert your mind and body away from dealing with stress or emotional problems, you need to focus on the issue that you’re eating to avoid. Start talking to friends and family, and address the problem directly. It will help you deal with the issue much faster than if you just relied on that very uncooperative and antisocial cake.
Keep Your Hands Busy
If you’re trying to quit smoking or another oral addiction, keep your hands busy. Toss a football around, try to figure out that darn Rubik’s Cube once and for all, or squeeze a stress ball and pretend it’s your boss. If you need to curb the oral fixation, chew gum, or eat some crunchy fruit or veggies.
Structure Your Meals
Take a closer look at the ways you structure your meals and eating patterns. If the food is overflowing on your plate, you may want to downsize your portions. Check out what a typical serving size should be—serving sizes are almost always smaller than people think. A quick check on the side of your pasta or rice packages will tell you if you’ve been making too much.
It’s also a good idea to develop a scheduled eating pattern, especially to avoid excessive snacking between meals. A good guideline to follow is eating several smaller meals in one day, rather than three larger ones—try eating six small meals a day.
Go to the Gym
Start an exercise program, since many men don’t overeat as much as they under-exercise. As you age, you may eat the same oversized portions as you did when you were younger but don’t engage in as much physical activity as you used to. To make matters worse, your metabolism slows as you age, which means that not only are you eating more, but your body is also burning calories at a slower rate.
Starting a cardio routine will help shed excess pounds and increase your energy levels, while doing some strength training will build lean muscle mass and boost your metabolism.
Appreciate What You Eat
Learning how to prepare and cook nutritious foods can altogether change your perspective on eating. If you slow down and try to focus on the taste and texture of your food, you are less likely to quickly inhale more than you need to eat. Eating slowly also gives your brain time to process what’s going on, and help you realize when you’re full.
Put the Chocolate Down
To avoid overeating, you need to actively examine your lifestyle to see if you’re making unhealthy eating choices. This is not to say that all-you-can-eat buffets are totally off limits, but realize that you may eat when you don’t need or really want to.
Your body knows when it’s hungry and when it’s had enough, and once you take a deeper look into why you’re overeating, you’ll be better able to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
Aside from lowering the risk of heart disease and diabetes, curbing excessive eating habits can help you tone up your body, broaden your interests, and may actually turn eating into a more enjoyable experience.
Originally published on AskMen