Ok guys, get ready for a long, vulnerable, honest post about weight gain. It’s not easy to put this out there, but I know there are people out there who can benefit from a message of self-love and compassion around our bodies, so here I am, sharing it today. The fact that I can write this and put it on the internet and send it to peoples’ inboxes for all to read is huge for me. After years of feeling that the number on the scale measured my worth, my commitment, my discipline, my success, my value, etc., I’m SO thankful that working with my health coach and completing my own health coach training helped me to reach a place where I can make this statement without shame, self-loathing, or panic.
I have gained 20ish lbs since August. To be honest, I don’t feel great in my body. I’ve had to buy some bigger clothes, and my energy has decreased some (or is it just that I’m expending more being a mom, business owner, wife, nonprofit board member….?). I don’t like how big my belly feels, and I definitely see the change in the mirror. I started to notice the tightness in my clothes and the extra weight around my belly late fall. I’ve had several people ask if I’m pregnant. Ouch. This isn’t the first time I’ve gained a large amount of weight in a short time, and I was bummed to recognize that old familiar feeling.
But this IS the first time that I have reacted with compassion and curiosity rather than condemnation and panic. A few years ago, I would have gone into self-critical mode, asking “how do I lose this FAST so no one notices? How have I been so undisciplined? Why can’t I control my body?” Thankfully, my studies as a health coach have taught me that these questions are not only unhelpful, they’re downright harmful.
What DOES work is curiosity and compassion. So this time, instead of asking those old questions, I asked myself: how am I feeling lately? How have my behaviors changed and why? What do I know to be true about why this weight gain might have occurred? How can I move forward to take better care of myself in loving ways? Through curiosity I can answer these questions in a neutral way, understand what is going on without a sense of shame, and develop a do-able, even enjoyable (!), plan to move forward.
Asking those questions, it is easy to see that stress has been the key culprit. I spent a lot of time this Fall in my sympathetic nervous system, or that “fight or flight” mode. My husband’s political campaign, with the hours I put into helping and the negativity we endured, plus the uncertainty and hurt that followed his loss were extremely anxiety-provoking.
The more time we spend in our sympathetic nervous system, the more cortisol our body secretes. Cortisol is a known cause of excess belly fat, so it’s no surprise that most of my weight gain has been in my belly. I’m so glad that the work I have done in the past to heal my relationship with food and my body, coupled with my health coach training, has allowed me to look objectively at this weight gain and understand that it is very minimally about my choices of food or exercise, and almost entirely due to emotional and mental stressors beyond my control.
Additionally, it is easier for me to see that my approach needs to be one of compassion and love rather than punishment and restriction. Being angry at myself, panicking about how to get weight off FAST, and restricting food to make it happen would only add MORE stress, which is very counterproductive when stress is the source of your weight gain in the first place.
So, what am I doing about it?
1. Getting some more childcare help so I have more time to focus on me.
2. Releasing the need to expend my energy focused on my husband’s career – I’m here for him if he needs me, but I don’t need to internalize the day-to-day ups and downs as he figures out his own path.
3. Coaching myself – the beauty of this business is that as I encourage self-love, wellness, and healthy living in my clients, I can’t help but encourage the same in myself IF I’m willing to give myself that gift.
I am also practicing patience with myself. Since recognizing these changes in my body, I’ve spent a couple months treading water. Honestly, I needed to catch up on rest, as well as enjoy the holidays and find my commitment to myself again before I could have the mental and emotional space to make my health a priority.
You might ask how I, as a health coach, could take this long to make a change to reverse this trajectory I’ve been on (my inner self-critical voice has asked me this several times), and the answer is because I have chosen to treat myself the way I would treat a friend or client. You see, when we’ve spent several weeks or months neglecting ourselves and living mostly in fight or flight and survival mode, it’s not easy to snap back into self-care mode. We only do harm if we unrealistically expect an immediate shift, or delude ourselves that it won’t take time, introspection, and contemplation before taking action.
We know best what we need and when we are ready to make healthier lifestyle shifts. No one can tell us when or how to start better than we can tell ourselves. And when we have learned to love ourselves, we also learn to honor our needs and accept where we are on our journeys. For the last couple months, I have not been in a place to try to make changes without it feeling like I was punishing myself or condemning my lifestyle. But through some focusing inward, through giving myself the gift of the time I needed to process the challenges we have faced as a family these last few months, and through unrelenting kindness to myself, I have finally reached a place where I feel excited to start prioritizing myself and my physical health through some mindful changes going forward.
By approaching it in this way, I can see that the 20lbs are not the problem, they’re a symptom of the problem. The “problem”, which feels like too harsh of a term, so let’s say “challenge” instead. The challenge is a lack of time for and commitment to self-care. Even if I could make those 20lbs magically disappear forever through a restrictive diet or with a magic pill (spoiler alert: I can’t), merely treating the symptom wouldn’t eliminate the challenge from my life.
To date, I’ve worked to re-vamp my commitment to my health by focusing inward, processing, and resting. That has led me to a place where I recognize that food does need to play a role going forward.
As I’ve looked at what has been different about my approach to food over the past several months, I recognize two things:
1. An increase in takeout food and alcohol (to remove pressure to cook, save time, and relax), and
2. A creeping in of emotional eating, which I had worked hard to move away from a couple years ago when I worked with my health coach.
What I will NOT do is criticize myself for these understandable coping mechanisms, start a strict diet, punish myself, or become hyper-focused on the number on the scale, counting calories, or other measures outside myself that will only lead to more stress and worry. What I WILL do is re-dedicate myself to the principles of Intuitive Eating, prioritize exercise that feels good, incorporate big and/or small activities into my life that bring joy, relaxation and restoration, and find better ways to process my emotions than through comforting food.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for sticking with me! Part of why I want to have a blog component to my business is because writing truly helps me process life. I hope my story has helped you feel supported to give yourself grace in the areas of your life where you need it, and to know that your own intuition is your best guide. I look forward to sharing more on this journey! And if you’d like to share with me where you find yourself in terms of self-care and compassion these days, send me a message. I would truly love to hear from you!