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Yep, caregiver weight gain is a thing. If you find the numbers spiraling up on your scale—you’re not alone.
Taking care of a loved one is as equally rewarding as it is stressful. So, it’s easy to understand how caregivers may lose sight of their own health when they are preoccupied with taking care of their loved one’s daily needs. Maintaining a healthy weight is a challenge for most, but the constant stress of caring for others creates an extra challenge. In most instances, poor eating and exercise habits may be the reason for unwanted weight gain but it’s not the only reason. According to Weight and Wellness, approximately 90% of caregivers say stress has the most impact on their lives and on their health. This kind of stress can lead to stress eating if other coping mechanisms are not explored and in place.
A Few Ways You’re Risking Weight Gain Without Knowing
Lack of Sleep
You are probably already aware that nighttime snacking is not a good choice for controlling your optimal weight. What you may not be aware of is that science is suggesting that it’s not just snacking that’s the problem, but lack of sleep may also be a culprit for weight gain. Some research suggests that lack of sleep interferes with the hunger hormone, ghrelin. A few studies from the University of Chicago and Stanford University in California found that this appetite-stimulating hormone rises in people who have not gotten enough rest. It is also stated that leptin, the hormone that signals the brain when you’re full, decreases when people don’t get enough rest, according to AARP.com
When overwhelmed and stressed it is common for many people to reach for comfort food which starts to become habitual after a while. According to the Mayo Clinic, emotional eating is eating to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. As most, if not all caregivers know, those emotions are quite common to experience in varying degrees while providing care to a loved one or a client.
Although eating comfort foods have a temporary calming effect it can also create long term consequences. It’s hard to break this type of habit, but learning your triggers is an excellent start. One suggestion for eliminating stress eating is to consider journaling to sort out emotional triggers you may be having that are causing you to need comfort. Keeping a journal is also helpful for reflection and to understand past setbacks.
One important thing to remember is that when the urge to eat arises to soothe your emotions, the urge will pass if you don’t give into it. That is why providing an outlet for your feelings is going to help in the long run. It will become a new, healthy habit to turn to a journal rather than a cookie for comfort and emotional release.
Perhaps you can’t cut out emotional eating altogether. If that is the case, consider keeping healthy snack alternatives around for quick and easy access. It is all about planning so equip yourself with your favorite healthy snacks.
Here are a few ideas to have on hand. Be sure to eat it slowly and be consciously aware of the flavor and enjoyment that the healthy snack is providing – and that it’s guilt free!
- Instead of chips, try a few unsalted, roasted almonds or walnuts. They will provide you with the crunch that chips offer without the high unhealthy fat and sodium.
- Substitute sweets with fresh or dried fruit. When your brain feels the need for something sweet you can trick it by eating ripe, juicy, sweet fruit.
- Replace ice cream for a cup of frozen low-fat yogurt or a frozen “all fruit” pop. Grocery stores provide a plethora of choices for both healthier options. Consider having more than one flavor or type of frozen treat on hand to help your brain feel satisfied with having a selection.
- Replace soda, both sweetened and diet, with naturally flavored water. This is another product that comes with rows and rows of choices at the grocery store if you opt for store-bought. According to Inc.com, diet soda can also lead to weight gain in a variety of ways including conditioning our taste buds for sweetness. Click to learn more about diet soda and weight gain.
You may not even be aware that your body is getting dehydrated. Sometimes the demands and responsibilities of caring for a loved one are 24/7 so it’s easy to miss early cues that you’re thirsty. But the kicker is, the signs of dehydration are easily confused with hunger. Some signs of prolonged dehydration are fatigue, headache, dizziness, reduced cognitive function, confusion, and a growling stomach. So, be careful that you are not getting thirst confused with hunger. Some suggestions are keeping a tumbler or bottle filled with water nearby so that you can take drinks regularly throughout the day. There are even apps available for you to download that help you keep track of your daily water intake. Most apps allow you to set an alert to remind you to take a water break.
Neglecting self-care will lead to caregiver burnout. Increased stress creates a cascade of hormonal responses, one being cortisol, a stress hormone that creates insulin resistance and—you guessed it—weight gain. As a caregiver, it is normal to feel overly responsible, but keep in mind, you can delegate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It doesn’t mean that you are not able to handle the responsibility of being a caregiver. It means you are human. Create a circle of friends and fellow family members if possible. You can also find support through local community based elder programs and services. If you don’t know of any, consider an internet search or contact your city’s Office of Older Adults for recommendations.
But whatever you do, do not neglect you! Find a way to carve out time for what brings you peace and calm. Things you enjoy. Consider taking a walk or other physical activity that you enjoy. It can also be as simple as taking 5 to 10 minutes each day to do some deep breathing while listening to music that you find soothing.
Your health care is often finding the time for self-care. If you begin to develop alternative habits that promote your mental, physical, and emotional wellness, you will find that the urge to eat under pressure becomes lessened.
If you find the need for respite care (a temporary break from providing care) consider adding Assisting Hands® Home Care as a part of your support and care network. They provide compassionate caregivers who will provide care for your loved one and give you the time you need for yourself. To find a location near you visit www.assistinghands.com
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
- Eleanor Brown
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