The year my mother fell and broke her hip, I put on 15 pounds.
It was a stressful year for both of us, as well as for our extended family. And it was to be my mother’s last year. I made six emergency, cross-country trips to help my mother settle into a lengthy rehab period, followed by an attempt to set her back up at home in her apartment, and finally, her last move to a nursing home after a second pelvic fracture left her wheelchair-bound.
As a nutritionist, I understood how the constant stress was affecting my body. Countless days began with an obscenely early call from the East coast informing me that today’s caregiver had a family emergency or that shifts needed to be rescheduled. Trying to manage my mother’s caregivers, doctor’s appointments and the various daily necessities of living was exhausting. And I did not feel particularly successful at making things any better for my mother.
I knew, too, that the elevated cortisol resulting from the chronic stress essentially put my body in fat-storing mode. Without overeating, 15 pounds quietly took up residence in my body.
Months later, relieved that my mother’s painful decline had ceased, I expected the unwanted pounds to disappear as quietly as they arrived. But they persisted. I found this particularly humbling. My weight has fluctuated a bit over the course of my adult life, but now in my second career as a nutritionist, my inability to lose weight took on a different meaning. I felt as a healthcare provider I needed to look like I was walking my own talk! After all, who has faith in the dentist with rotting teeth?
Enter COVID and the resulting pandemic. And more stress.
Those first few months were fraught with fear of the unknown. It seems hard to fathom now, but early on, we weren’t sure if it was safe to open the mail and we wiped down the groceries after our weekly trip to the store. Fortunately, science was able to relatively quickly allay these fears.
My daily walks with the dogs became longer as I now worked exclusively from home and, honestly, there were fewer clients coming my way during the early months of the pandemic. And the exercise class that I used to attend in-person was now available online and on-demand. I found it more convenient to squeeze in an extra workout or two per week at home than arranging my daily routine to coincide with the studio’s schedule. While my physical activity increased, the unwanted pounds persisted.
For decades, the weight loss mantra has been, “Eat less and exercise more.” This can be an effective strategy. It was earlier in my life when I sought to lose weight. But I know that weight loss can be much more complicated. And I was experiencing that now.
With help from another healthcare provider, I made some modifications to my diet and adopted a more anti-inflammatory approach. I avoided beef, pork, butter, dairy, all forms of sugar and most grains. And somewhere along the way, I remembered an important detail that I learned in graduate school – weight gain is also associated with inflammation in the body. How could I have forgotten?
I am amused by how frequently I find that I need to re-remember important facts, patterns or truths in my life. My initial reaction is often to deride myself for forgetting something essential in the first place. However, with patient reflection, I feel there is a deeper, layering effect to these themes with each pass – greater understanding and wisdom about the universe in general or perhaps something specific to me.
A final area where I made improvements was in supporting my thyroid, which has been a tad sluggish for more than a decade. Hormones can be a bit tricky. And several of them can influence weight gain and/or inhibit weight loss. These include thyroid, cortisol, insulin, leptin and androgens. Identifying imbalances in hormones can go a long way in helping resolve weight struggles.
With these subtle changes made, the stubborn weight slowly disappeared.
So, my takeaways from this experience with my own weight loss struggles are:
- Yes, too many calories and not enough exercise will pack on the pounds.
- However, simply eating less and exercising more may not result in weight loss.
- Never underestimate the disruptive effects of chronic stress. If you can do something to reduce your stress, make the effort. Sometimes we can’t and we just need to do the best we can until a situation changes. It’s helpful to know the difference.
- Reduce inflammation in your body. Again, here’s that chronic stress component rearing its ugly head. And perhaps evaluate WHAT you are eating in addition to HOW MUCH you’re eating.
- Evaluate your hormones if you are having difficulty losing weight. Imbalanced hormones can undermine your best dietary efforts!
All this – and – it’s often useful to re-remember the truths and patterns that support us in our unique journeys.
Eat well. Be well.