July 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm #9152
I’ve never been underweight so I’m not sure I really fit this category but I do have a very long history of restrictive eating. I put on about ten pounds and have gone up a dress size since following Matt’s advice (I started this in October but the weight gain didn’t start until a month ago). I am really freaking out about it. I’ve gone up a dress size with each of my three children and now I’m at the size I was before I really went gung-ho with calorie restriction and over exercising. This size ten is a trigger for me. I don’t know how to be okay with this so that I can keep on eating the food. My default response to stress and hurt has been to restrict my food or try to purge (which, thankfully never really worked despite many, many attempts). I’ve been under tremendous stress this past year and eating isn’t intuitive. I really want to restrict and have spent considerable time reading raw food and paleo blogs. So far I’ve resisted that urge but with this weight gain I’m about to give this up. The ONLY thing keeping me at it is the fact that I have three daughters and I don’t want them growing up hearing their mother constantly go on and on about weight, dieting or purging in the bathroom like I did. So, how do I overcome this? I know if I keep at it I may gain even more weight and that terrifies me. I’m already a bit depressed and anxious over it.July 16, 2013 at 1:33 pm #9158j-loParticipant
I started starving myself when I was 11. I kept on doing that in various guises (raw food, fruititarianism, low carb, paleo, primal, low-this, low-that, etc.) for decades. I really understand the urge to restrict in the face of stress. I also know that for me it was never an effective strategy. I believe that eating the food is important AND so is discovering new ways to face stress. Eating and reducing stress creates a positive cycle of health and happiness. Without addressing stress then eating alone can be too much because it stirs up all sorts of stress that was previously avoided by restrictive eating.
More and more I’m seeing that stress is the biggest problem because it creates a self-reinforcing loop that worsens negative things. I’d venture (based on what you’ve written) that the weight gain isn’t the actual problem. It’s just what triggers the stress. So by learning a new response to stress the trigger won’t lead to a problem any longer. That’s my own experience. My approach for dealing with the stress is to disregard the obsessive thoughts and to focus entirely on relaxing my body, one muscle at a time, for as long as is necessary. There are other techniques such as tapping (EFT, etc.) that can be effective, but honestly, I believe that simply relaxing the body while stressful thoughts are occuring is the most direct and effective way to reprogram the stress response. This practice has transformed my life. The problem isn’t food or weight or clothes…it’s the habitual stress response. That’s what I found for myself.July 16, 2013 at 3:32 pm #9166
Yeah…I’m constantly tense. I have no idea how to relax my body. LOL. I certainly will try, though. How long did you have to purpose to do that before it became your natural response?
The weight itself isn’t so much an issue, I think. It’s more feeling like I have no control over what my body is doing and what assumptions others are making about me because of it.
Do you think stress causes weight gain?July 16, 2013 at 4:45 pm #9172j-loParticipant
I definitely understand the confusion about how to relax. It’s crazy what chronic stress can do to us! It makes us forget how to be in our natural state. The good news is that a relatively relaxed (tonic) state is the natural state, and so biology is on our side on this one. It just takes some commitment to reset. I like the analogy of dropping something held in a clenched fist – if we overanalyze it then it seems confusing, but actually, the clenched fist (tense, stressed) state is the state that requires effort whereas dropping it (relaxing) is actually the default state when no longer holding the tension. One way to learn how to consciously relax a way that many people find helpful is to first tense a muscle and then relax it. This should only be done for as long as it is necessary – like using training wheels. Eventually you can learn to simply relax a muscle. But to start tensing and then relaxing can be useful. So just scan your body and find where you notice tension. Then relax that area. If you have difficulty relaxing then try consciously tensing the area even more, holding for several seconds, and then release, and notice the sensations of relaxing that naturally occur when you are no longer holding the tension. This may not completely release all tension (though it might,) but it will start to allow you to tune in to how to relax.
I first started playing around with this relaxing instead of obsessing idea about three years ago when I was really, really sick. To be completely honest, it was so effective that it scared me. I had most of a lifetime of being hyper-focused on obsessions, and this exercise was so effective that it was rather shocking. I was addicted to my obsessions, and I wasn’t ready to give up on that addiction yet. So I abandoned it for another year or two until I was really desperate. Then I remembered it and practiced it again. This time I was truly ready for change, and so I kept with it. And I noticed a huge shift right away…within a few days of being committed to it. I’m not suggesting that all my problems disappeared. But my anxiety levels dropped tremendously. I knew that I now have a choice – I don’t have to be a victim to the obsessions. So for me it quickly became more appealing to be relaxed. It’s still a process. I still notice that I’m tense a lot of the time. But it gets easier and easier to relax. I used to hold my body in a very contorted way, and I wasn’t even aware of it. It was tension and stress. My right shoulder was up near my ear and my belly was sucked in and up all the time. Now when something really stressful happens I notice that my shoulder starts creeping up, but I can relax it. This is a miracle. So it’s not the sort of thing where you practice it once or for a week or for a month and then everything is “perfect” forever. But what I’ve noticed is that it gets easier to relax and life becomes more pleasurable as a result. I used to have terrible, terrible anxiety about everything. I was one of those multiple chemical sensitiviy/environmental illness people – I was absolutely terrified of just about everything, constantly afraid that public places might have toxic things in them, etc. – and now I find that even when those thoughts occur (which is way less often) I can relax and even have a laugh at it. The reason is that I know without a doubt that the stress and tension that I used to put myself through caused more harm than mild pesticide exposure is likely to do. So I just don’t worry about it. I just relax. And I find that I feel good. I can eat anything I want and know that I don’t have to worry about stressing about it. I am a man with gynecomastia (breast development) that I have had since I was a boy – something that was a major stress for me for decades. Miraculously, I don’t worry about it anymore because I know that I can relax and enjoy my body and life. I have two young children, and the crying and refusal to take naps and the bedtime hijinks and all that used to provoke tremendous stress for me. But now I just relax. I find that when I relax I am able to come up with much more creative and effective solutions to my problems, and if I can’t find good solutions then I know that I will be alright. It’s hard to explain all of this, but I do believe it is possible to experience it first hand.
Stress can and does often cause weight gain. There is plenty of anecdotal and scientific support for this claim. But I’d suggest that the key to success with this is to aim to reduce stress for the sake of reducing stress and all the ways that it can help you to feel better and enjoy your life more rather than as a strategy for losing weight.July 17, 2013 at 10:23 am #9241
I am definitely going to put that into practice. My biggest issues, outside of my weight and obsession with diet, are messes. My anxiety really gets out of control when things are cluttered, dirty or unorganized. The only time I ever yell at my kids is when they’ve made a mess or not cleaned up to my standards. I feel like such a witch when that happens- over something so stupid but the anxiety gets so bad I need that release of tension. Next time I feel myself freaking out over a mess I’m going to lay on the floor and relax my body. My kids are going to think I’ve lost my mind. :)
Thanks for your reply and advice.
It gives me hope.July 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm #105060anaParticipant
Kim, did you think of eating the food, and seeing a psychotherapist for the stress and anxiety issues?August 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm #10687mighty mParticipant
@j-lo, I love what you wrote about your straightforward relaxation technique and the idea that relaxation is the natural state, and easier than tension. Often “de-stressing tips” sound like a lot of work, another chore to feel resentful/guilty about! But not this … it’s so simple, and it’s active unlike the “listen to your breath” type stuff which for me, sad to say, makes me very fidgety and impatient.
I really want to enter this state more often, for my physical health, for my social well-being and for my creativity.
[[ [Almost deleted this as too much about me, but maybe it will be relevant to someone else:] Grew up with a lot of tension with an abusive parent and in a financially insecure household. I had it pretty well together by the time I was 30, but economic conditions in my field changed, and I decided it would be smart to go to grad school, and in the process, move across the country and basically change careers. This was harder than I anticipated (gee, really?), and I’ve not been able to get back to my hard-won level of relative contentment in the last several years. Social disruption, a new climate, and most importantly a change in vocational identity (and feelings of competence and, oh yes, control) has been huge. All against the backdrop of, as someone put it in another thread, “socially-conditioned undereating,” and workaholic tendencies which led to, basically, I think, exhaustion. ]]
@Kim, I think you are doing something good for yourself and your kids by learning about feeding yourself well here. You really deserve it. It takes courage as well as, it seems, practice, but I think it’s worth it.
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