A Loving Way to Combat the "Caregiver 10"

Last updated: August 15, 2011
heart is in my hands

Caregiving and weight gain go together like cookies and milk -- or should I say, like worry and mindless munching, or like isolation and lack of exercise? Even sleep deprivation -- another common condition of caregiving -- can add pounds because it increases levels of a hunger hormone that normally makes you feel full. Sleep too little and you're apt to keep grazing, and gaining. No wonder so many caregivers complain about gaining 10 or 20 pounds or more, while tending relatives.

So I was pleasantly surprised to read about a study linking weight loss to a simple strategy -- and one that can benefit caregivers beyond the scale: Like yourself more.

It seems that improving your body image -- feeling appreciative of your body even when you're overweight -- is a key to speeding weight loss efforts.

The study:

A study reported in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity tracked 239 overweight women for a year. All were given instruction in nutrition and basic weight management. But half were also given weekly supportive training focusing on improving body image and tactics like getting back on track healthfully after diet lapses. The women in this second group lost more than three times as much weight, an average seven percent of total body weight, compared to two percent in the group that hadn't received the added training.

How a positive self image can help change weight loss:

Dieting is stressful. The classic dieting pattern that after making an inevitable (and very human) slip, the dieter feels remorseful and worthless. When those feelings are added to an already negative self-image, the stressed, sad dieter turns to food binges or other negative behaviors (drinking, smoking) to comfort herself -- and a vicious cycle of slips and self pity is created.

Someone who feels compassion toward herself can break this cycle because she starts in a different place. She may not love what she sees in the mirror but she knows she is a good person of intrinsic worth, that her body serves important purposes, and that she is doing the best she can to make it better. She knows that setbacks are almost inevitable. But has the self esteem to not let them unravel her. She wants to do her best because she feels she deserves to be treat herself with "loving kindness," as the Buddhists say.

How a positive self image can change caregiving:

Re-read the paragraph above substituting caregiving itself for the references to dieting. Hmmm"¦.

The study didn't have anything to do with caregiving, the extrapolation is mine alone. But it's such good news (and common sense) that a mindset of being more loving toward yourself can help you move toward a better body. Doesn't it also make sense that this mindset could make your caregiving situation a little better, too?

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9 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

over 2 years ago

Sure, if anyone has any ideas about how to get the free time to take care of themselves, please let me know. I have had to change the way I cook, etc, and almost everything I do in order to care for my partner with terminal cancer. I do well to take care of him and work full time. I don't have time for all that I need to do to take care of myself. Unless of course, I totally give up on sleeping.

over 2 years ago

How is the caregiver to receive this support when their schedules are so maddening? I can barely schedule in any time for exercise and personal pursuits. How can I find additional time to go somewhere and spend an hour or so a week in a meeting when there just isn't that time to do that? Should I sacrifice on sleep to make the time? If so, apparently I'd be gaining weight anyway. If someone knows of an online option -- a message board community, mailing list, etc. -- that would be a godsend. But if this is going to require going out to meetings and the like, then I don't know how in the world someone such as me who's balancing work and caregiving would be able to deal with something like that.

over 2 years ago

Good article! useful tips thanks for sharing with us...

about 3 years ago

i can understand the whole thing about gaaining weight as the caregiver over the past 10 years i either have taken care of my ill daddy after he passed i had to be total caregiver then to my mom so i havent had a real break for a long time my weight is like a yoyo it goes up and down one month i loose 20 lbs feel great about myself then something will happen i get a pitty party started because of lack of help or sleep and before i know it 20 lbs back plus so i am doomed to be a little old fat lady all the rest of my days. only one good thing i ever got out of being fat my grandchildren always came to me to hold them cause i was warm and mushy that i will take any day for sure God Bless

about 3 years ago

I have gained about 30 lbs since starting to care for my aging parents about 4 1/2 years ago. I also quit teaching Kindergarten, which was a VERY active job, stayed home with them for a year, and now have an office job. So I'm sure that contributed to it greatly, but I know that I get a "what the hell, I deserve a treat/drink/whatever" attitude pretty often when I feel burned out, and that's not healthy!

about 3 years ago

Weight gain has been a problem for me. Not a small person anyway but as Mom began to slow more and more, I found myself doing the same. After a visit to my doctor and and EKG, it was made clear to me changes would have to be made in the care for myself. When was I going to find ( in reality, make) time to exercise? I already owned a treadmill that sat in the living room gathering dust. It is a choice. I alone am responsible for my conditions. So a choice I had to make and I did. 2 months ago. The treadmill is still sitting where it was, dust still gathering but now I am using it almost everyday, have lost nearly 30 pounds. Mom sleeps through most of my exercise time. However, Murphy's law kicks in: she wakes up just as soon as it is time for me to take a shower. I have lost nearly 30 pounds while Mom is sleeping. I feel much better. Still have a long ways to go not just for weight loss but to regain heart strength and relieve the symptoms of being heavy most of my life. I am much more positive in my attitude towards caring for my mother and myself.

about 3 years ago

essential-caregiver: I read your post; good support tips to get into others' hands!

about 3 years ago

The study quoted offered the women who lost more weight support. The gaining group did not have the same support. It stands to reason then that caregivers need support from those who care about them. I addressed the very theme in my blog today: http://www.essential-caregiver.com/support/the-value-of-companionship/

about 3 years ago

Hmm... I find the more I fret and worry about my mom, the less I feel like eating. But, yes, I agree that having a positive attitude about oneself, about one's situation, is key. Now, where is that key...

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