Fatherhood can cause men to binge on sugar, carbs, fat, and whatever else they can order on Seamless. Why? Overwhelmed with stress and emotions, men may not be able to engage their coping mechanisms in the wake of a child’s birth. Put differently, the too-muchness of children leads to eating way too much at least in part because healthy ways of self-regulating, such as hanging out with friends, going to the gym, or just vegging out now seem off limits. Expectations are high (rightfully so) and dad guilt is real, so super-engaged dads wind up being in a little bit fleshier than they once were.
“New fathers emotionally eat because they are stressed and they’re looking to comfort themselves,” therapist Katie Ziskind explains. “They have more financial obligations with a child in mind and they are feeling isolated and pushed aside because their wife is paying attention to a new baby. “
Emotional eating is considered more common in women than men in the data (and yeah, fat babies do it too), but many scientists suspect that this is because women are more likely to recognize and communicate their emotions more in general, and perhaps self-report more emotional eating as a result. Emotional eating has also been tied to emotional repression, which men are more prone to do, and sleep deprivation, which new parents are more likely to suffer, making new dads more vulnerable.
There’s some evidence that men are more likely to smoke and use alcohol than eat their feelings, compared to women. But when men have kids, cigarettes and booze become less palatable options.
“We’ve moved our unhealthy coping skills to something more socially acceptable during the post-pregnancy phase,” therapist Justin Baksh says. “It’s more socially acceptable than getting buzzed while trying to be present for a newborn baby and mom.”
This makes it easier for men to justify emotional eating as a healthier and more considerate alternative, but that’s a harmful fallacy to live by. Emotional eating leads to type-two diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and other physical and mental health problems that come from poor nutrition. Processed foods loaded with sugar and chemicals not only make emotions more difficult to manage, they’ve been found to be addictive. This is why emotional eating has a tendency to spiral out of control and why some parents wind up modeling unhealthy relationship with food for their kids.
“New fathers might not think about eating as a form of addiction, but it is,” Ziskind says.
The best thing new dads can do is to be more aware of what they’re eating, how much, and why. One simple way to do this is by tracking daily diets and seeing if any concerning patterns pop up. Another is by devoting more time to healthier forms of self-care, such as taking walks with the new baby. And while opportunities for “me-time” may be few and far between, both experts recommend new dads spend what little time they have on therapy. Even if they feel like they’re keeping their heads above water, they can make their lives much easier by talking to someone about the new pressures, anxieties, and fears in their lives. That will be much better for their families than secretly eating cheeseburgers in the car.