During a trip to San Francisco last summer, a female driver asked me why she had gained so much weight after she was in a horrible car accident. “I was depressed but I tried really hard to eat better,” she said. “It’s been hard getting the weight off.” Isn’t that fascinating? I thought to myself. I don’t think many of us realize that our most traumatic life events and our happiest moments can cause us to gain weight. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our weight is directly correlated to the foods we eat but we forget about other factors such as genetics, physical environment and even our emotions. They too influence our health as much as food.
How Do Our Bodies Gain Weight During Stressful Times?
Cortisol. You’ve probably seen/heard of this word before. It’s a hormone that is released from your adrenal glands when your body is under stress. This is a time when your body is in high-alert mode and it encourages you to stock up on extra calories so it can convert those calories into needed energy. You have cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods because your body knows that these types of foods are the most calorie-dense, even if they are not the most nutrient-dense. Also, your metabolism slows down because your body is holding onto its fat stores. It’s making sure that during this stressful time you will not wither away in case you do not have access to food. Again, these pathways happen because they are your body’s way of keeping you alive.
Believe it or not, a bit of stress is normal. But, constantly running on empty can be exhausting. You are probably unaware to the many situations that can create negative and positive stress and unfamiliar with how they impact your physical health.
Here are 20 ways you could gain weight over time:
- Falling in love.
- Falling out of love.
- Graduating from school.
- Dropping out of school.
- Your monthly menstrual cycle or growing a child in your womb.
- Raising a child/children.
- Losing a loved one to death.
- Breaking away from once-close friends.
- Less calorie restriction and more intuitive eating.
- Lifting heavy weights or using your own bodyweight.
- Growing into your adult body (and out of your childhood body).
- A shift in mental health (depression, anxiety, etc.).
- Moving to a new home.
- Being promoted to a higher position.
- Being demoted to a lower position.
- Being fired.
- Studying for final exams.
- Staying up late.
- Parties, parties and more parties.
- Netflix & chilling a lot.
Now, I don’t want you to read some points on this list and think that you are lazy, dumb, weak or broken. You are not any of those things. You’re a human and shit happens. We tend to beat ourselves up for not being in control but, we can’t control much of what happens in our lives. Weight gain is a sign that something is changing but change is natural. Sometimes, change is good for us and sometimes it hurts. Either way, we can grow.
Now, What Can You Do About It?
- Remind yourself that fluctuations in your weight are NORMAL. Let go of any disparaging thoughts you have about your body. You were not made to look or be perfect, you are here to survive and thrive.
- Write down reasons why you may have gained weight. What changes are happening in your life right now? How has your mood been in the past couple of days, weeks, months or even the past year? Journal for a few minutes and read your words back to yourself out loud.
- Now ask yourself, how would you like to move forward? What do you value in life? Values like love, respect, courage, play, education, can mean different things to all of us but what do they mean to you?
- Deflect any comments from others who criticize your body’s changes. Tell them, “I’ve been going through a lot recently,” or just ignore them and talk about something boring like the weather. You don’t owe anyone an explanation unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary.
- Feel your emotions and keep moving forward. Think again about what you value in your life and if your current behaviors are not helping you in those departments, try something new. Heartbroken? Look for other forms of love. Binge-watching? Binge-read. Stiff muscles? Incorporate more stretching into your workouts and give your body rest days.
I never actually told you how I answered that woman’s question back in San Fran. I said, “It’s normal for our bodies to gain weight when they’re under stress.” Understandably, she didn’t seem very satisfied with my answer. I think she wanted me to say, “You need to try a little harder,” but I couldn’t blame her for anything. I kind of wish I had told her, “It’s pretty wonderful that you were able to walk away from that car accident alive.” Isn’t that more important than gaining extra pounds of body fat? It’s going to take a while for weight gain to be normalized in our society but the sooner it is, the less people will blame themselves for having beautifully, imperfect bodies.