Stress eating and weight gain.
September 28, 2015 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Weight gain has impaired my ability to be confident. Vicious cycle. I want to break it and be healthy. Any advice?

Once upon a time, I came back from a hiking trip a year ago and was astounded that I lost almost 30 pounds! I felt pretty confident in myself and I worked hard to stay at that weight. THEN, I changed jobs. The new job was horrible. It stressed me out and it was a toxic work environment. I fell off the wagon and began stress eating. I do it mostly at night because I worry the most before I go to bed. I've gained almost 20 to 30 pounds in the past few months.

I got out of that job and started a new one. It's stressful but I feel I can handle and manage it. But every time I look at myself in the mirror, or feel that the pants that I used to wear are getting too tight - my confidence drops. I begin losing my self-worth. I get stressed and I beginning hating myself for what I let happen. I get more sad, I eat more. Now I'm at the heaviest that I've ever been (not morbidly obese) and I DON'T want to continue down this horrible downward spiral. I've been to my doctor and explained the weight gain and I did blood work. Everything is fine - besides cholesterol being higher.

The question is - how do I beat this mentality of self-hatred from this weight gain? I think I was brainwashed into thinking that the more weight I put on, the less I'm worth. I understand a good regime of diet and exercise but these thoughts still pop up and they sabotage my efforts.

What are some effective ways to stop this and get into the positive mentality of losing weight?
posted by morning_television to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lifting weights will lift your self-esteem, I promise. As I am sure you know, it also builds muscle and boosts metabolism.

Yoga will help you regain comfort with your body and feel less like it is an external problem working against you.
posted by jgirl at 8:06 AM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Have you considered therapy? CBT and other therapy techniques exist to deal with just these sorts of cycles of harmful thoughts and feelings. MeFi often recommends The Feeling Good Handbook whether or not you're down for finding a therapist.

With that in mind, losing thirty pounds on a long hiking trip is much different than the sort of diet and exercise people usually do. You're burning vastly more calories than we normally burn with exercise that fits into everyday life, and you're probably eating fewer calories since you have to carry and ration them. You might consider meeting with a nutritionist or a personal trainer to develop a plan that will fit better into your normal routine. Even if you understand the concepts well, a little help wouldn't hurt, especially in terms of making you feel like you can manage this and you've got people in your corner.

Finally, you're not worthless just because you gained some weight! The cultural, physiological, and psychological decks are stacked to make weight gain very, very easy. You're not any kind of a failure, and you deserve to be kind to yourself.
posted by hollyholly at 8:07 AM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


One thing that has helped me a lot is getting some clothes that fit well and look good at my current weight. They're more comfortable and flattering, so getting dressed and looking in the mirror isn't so fraught. If I lose weight and they stop fitting? Oh well. But it's really helpful for now.
posted by bibliotropic at 8:08 AM on September 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


I think I was brainwashed into thinking that the more weight I put on, the less I'm worth.

Yep, that's called living in society!

Therapy is where you go to be trained by a professional in managing unproductive thinking. There are ways to learn some of those techniques without engaging a professional, if you want to try those first - the aforementioned Feeling Good, I often recommend the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook for anxiety.

Just generally as a human nature thing, doing something is almost always better than nothing. Pick something you can do that's an easy "win" to start with - drinking more water instead of drinks with sugar or dairy, learning to use the pedometer function on your phone and tracking your steps.

And I have also found that treating your body as if it has worth, as a form of protest against the message that it doesn't, makes a difference in your attitude and willingness to do those little somethings. Don't "punish" your body, treat it kindly even if it isn't perfect, so that it will be worthy. If your pants don't fit, buy some more pants. It's magical thinking that being uncomfortable is what you deserve or that it's going to fool people - they're going to see that you're wearing ill-fitting pants.

As far as the stress-eating goes, identify ways to make it harder to do that. For me, we just don't keep much around that's very good for stress-eating, and I do a lot of meal prep to make sure that I'm eating good meals that are healthy and satisfying so I don't need to eat between them. And I make them easier than accessing junk food.

Fighting off bad thoughts is a muscle you have to exercise, it doesn't just happen. Come up with ways to make it easier and plans for when they happen and what you'll do to redirect them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:23 AM on September 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really recommend trying to introduce some evening yoga at times when you feel the need to stress eat. I do it every night before bed and I love it. If you're looking for a good beginner program, my wife really likes Yoga With Adriene, who has a 30 day yoga series of Youtube videos.

I also really recommend giving an SSRI antidepressant a shot if you haven't tried one before. Doing so has been life changing for me.
posted by raisindebt at 8:47 AM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lifting weights will lift your self-esteem, I promise. As I am sure you know, it also builds muscle and boosts metabolism. Yoga will help you regain comfort with your body and feel less like it is an external problem working against you.

Just to build off of this comment, I cannot lose weight by trying to lose weight first. What works for me is to start exercising first, because that tends to help with stress and anxiety. I don't even think about calories at all when I ramp the exercise back up. I make sure I'm getting protein and healthy stuff but if I want to eat a bunch of cookies too, I just don't worry about it until I'm in a little better shape. Once the exercise starts to kick in, improving my diet always seems a lot easier, because I can frame it in terms of "hey, if I stop drinking soda for a couple of months and lose a few pounds, running is going to be more fun".

Exercise can also help with the self-hatred part of the equation by giving you small, measurable successes over a shortish timespan. If you start working out with dumbbells, you'll probably struggle with fairly light weights at first, but you'll quickly get stronger! If you keep track of your progress, it'll give you something concrete to refer to when you're feeling down: "hey, I used to barely be able to do exercise X with 5 lb. dumbbells, but last week I cracked 25 lbs!"
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:03 AM on September 28, 2015 [12 favorites]


Just to build off of this comment, I cannot lose weight by trying to lose weight first. What works for me is to start exercising first, because that tends to help with stress and anxiety. I don't even think about calories at all when I ramp the exercise back up. I make sure I'm getting protein and healthy stuff but if I want to eat a bunch of cookies too, I just don't worry about it until I'm in a little better shape. Once the exercise starts to kick in, improving my diet always seems a lot easier, because I can frame it in terms of "hey, if I stop drinking soda for a couple of months and lose a few pounds, running is going to be more fun".
Yes, very much this! The other thing about exercise for me was that once I got the habit established, it also got easier to talk myself out of casually grazing junk food (I.E. "You just spent 40 minutes burning that many calories, is it really worth canceling out that effort?") But the other side of that coin is also nice: if there is a crappy day when you really need some kind of treat then exercise can also be used to justify it. ("I.E. You know what? I burned 300 calories on my run, I can damn well have a couple of cookies if I want.")

And you don't have to go full on exercise nut; Couch to 5K was great for me as a gradual way to get active. Just being a little proactive and mindful of fitness was really helpful to me in terms of overall mental health and sense of self, and that definitely helped me get into the habit of eating better food and less of it.
posted by usonian at 10:08 AM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Finding ways to self-soothe that don't involve eating can be a game changer. Instead of heading to food, list other things that help you worry less: taking a bath, exercising, yoga, aromatherapy, journaling, meditating - any and all answers that work for you.

Even more important for me is determining that even if I Do start eating (and we all eat sometimes, and I will always head for the ice cream when times get hard), I refuse to go into a shame spiral. It's ok to stress eat sometimes! It doesn't mean I will do so all the time! I will now do something nice for myself (or plan something nice for myself) to show that I am worthwhile and still an ok person.

I will not ever likely be thin again, but I am a lot happier, healthier, and thinner than I was when shame ruled.
posted by ldthomps at 10:33 AM on September 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


You coped with a really stressful, toxic situation. You got yourself out of that job and into a new one. Part of that process was eating. OK. You don't want to use that coping strategy anymore. But it was part of the process of taking care of yourself during a stressful period. Now you want to take care of yourself in a different way. Let it be morally neutral. (Because it is.) Something I've had to learn and re-learn I don't respond well to threats and shame, including from myself. I do a lot better starting with exercise I enjoy and then making food choices based on how I'll feel at the gym/on a hike/wherever after eating.

Also, you get to choose what you believe about your weight's relationship to your worth. I know it's easier said than done, and there are some powerful social pressures to believe they're totally intertwined, but you get to choose. I'd recommend not joining the chorus of jerks telling you you're less than worthy because you're carrying more weight on your body than you were a few months ago. Choose to look for things you like about your appearance, and accentuate them with clothes that fit well, a great haircut, etc.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:35 AM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Knowing that your worth does not correspond to the number on the scale somehow makes that number easier to deal with, oddly enough. Shedding these toxic thoughts is as important as (more important than?) shedding the weight.

One way to train yourself out of this harmful thought process is to catch yourself thinking these mean and untrue thoughts about yourself-- and interrupt them every single time, by asking yourself if you would apply them to a loved one. Your sister who just had a baby, your aging parent who doesn't exercise as much as they used to, your best friend who quit smoking a month ago, your significant other who binge eats when depressed-- are they worth less for gaining weight?

Of course not, and neither are you for having gained while coping with a toxic situation. Treat yourself with the level of respect and care you'd use with a loved one.
posted by kapers at 1:50 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hit a wall with overeating and weight gain about a year and a half ago. It had been a decades-long struggle for me.

What happened? I got on the scale one day, didn't like the number, didn't like the way my pants fit, and something changed, mentally and spiritually, for me. I had been covering a lot of resentment and unmet needs with overeating, I think. (Those have emerged since. THERAPY.)

I went to a well-known support group for overeating for a few sessions, and I think it's a lifesaver for many people, but I found I didn't need it. What I DIDN'T do: go on a diet. I cut way back on sugar, potato chips, Doritoes, etc. I did NOT cut those foods out of my life, but I stopped listening to the urges to continue to eat after I'd had a couple of cookies, for example. I continued to eat as healthily as I could. My exercise habits were OK already and those stayed about the same.

The weight started to come off (~20 lbs) and it's stayed off, pretty much. I try not to overeat now because I don't like the way it makes me feel. Occasionally I go on sugar binges but I get back on the horse the next day without self-recrimination. My digestive system goes into revolt, too, so there's another incentive not to overeat.

So... in my experience, it is possible to be done with overeating without hating yourself at the higher weight, and being "done" doesn't necessarily mean you have to give up snack foods entirely. It also doesn't mean that the urge to overeat won't hit you. It just means you may not have to listen to it.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:34 PM on September 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


One little measure I found handy, if you're continuing to see your physician for regular checkups, is to try out one of the diets that involves eliminating most or all carbs but which can involve eating more meat and fat and conventionally unhealthy things. Just for long enough to see some weight loss by that route and know it's effective.

I've moved on to more exercise and more conventionally healthy eating since I did that, but I feel as though proving to myself that a fallback method of weight loss is available that doesn't require Otto-von-Bismarck bathing-in-ice-water iron discipline made everything seem less hopeless, and has given me a better foundation for moving on to lifestyle-change regular exercise and probably let me set more reasonable goals. Going through the process of eliminating carbs also resulted in more awareness of where the carbs are in which foods.

In my case, amazingly enough all of the numbers from my blood work were slightly improved after half a year of eating mostly pork roasts and omelettes and cheese and French onion soup topped with more cheese and low-carb ice cream topped with peanut butter while not exercising at all (I actually wasn't following any specific diet, just eliminating carbs, but better to discuss it with your doctor I'm sure), but I assume that might not be the case for all people on all diets.

(Also, I should note that I'm on all kinds of medications for a variety of different conditions, so it's possible that the weight loss was more pronounced due to side effects from one or more of them. But there does seem to be scientific evidence correlating at least some low-carb diets with weight loss.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:00 PM on September 28, 2015


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