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.
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?