Managing Weight with Chronic Illness

Managing Weight with Chronic IllnessPin
Managing Weight with Chronic Illness

Managing weight is a complex task for a healthy person. When we add in chronic illness or pain, keeping our weight at a healthy level becomes much harder. Most of us know in order to maintain our weight, our food intake has to match our energy expenditure. If we move too little, eat too much or have a slow metabolism, we will gain weight. If we don’t eat enough for our metabolism or activity levels, we lose weight.

However, knowing these things and implementing them is often a whole other story.

Reasons for Weight Struggles

  1. Using food for comfort.
  2. Habits: for ex. having a can of soda every day at lunch.
  3. Portion sizes that are too large or small.
  4. Consuming foods with a lot of empty calories compared to foods that have lots of nutrients in them. For ex., potato chips vs. a baked sweet potato.
  5. Medications that increase hunger.
  6. Medical problems or disabilities that affect our ability to exercise.
  7. Medical conditions that affect absorption of nutrients from our food.
  8. Depression or other mental health conditions.

Eating for Comfort

Food played a huge role in my home growing up. It was almost like love and food were two sides of the same coin. Can you relate?

Also, many of us grew up in homes where food was the focus of family get-togethers. Our parents may have given us special foods when we were sick or upset. Often these treats were sweets or carb-heavy items like pizza or pasta.

When food and love get intertwined it’s a real challenge to change our eating habits, because we feel comforted when we eat similar foods now. When we restrict our favorite foods we feel like we’re being deprived.

The past three years have also been very stressful for me with pandemic isolation and uncertainty, a broken shoulder, family strife, the deaths of 2 friends and one stillborn grandbaby.

For all of these reasons, I’ve really struggled over the past 3 years with emotional eating. Even though I lost 80 pounds on the Bright Line Eating Plan, I have gained it all back plus. It’s very discouraging.

Healing from Emotional Eating

In my search for help with emotional eating, I’ve found some insights I want to share with you. Recently I read an article by Lori Montry called Eat, Heal, & Love: A Guide for food and body freedom. Trauma-Informed strategies to end emotional eating without willpower, control, & shaming. This section jumped out at me:

A nervous system that is stuck in survival mode is incapable of change. In order to change habits, thoughts, and emotions, you must have a healthy, regulated nervous system.

Lori Montry

How many of us with chronic pain and illness are in survival mode every day? Between our symptoms and the stress of modern life, I’m guessing most of us are in survival mode most of the time. I know I am. So it seems, we need to find ways to calm our nervous systems down. But first we need some information about our brains.

Our Efficient Brain & Our Weight

The interesting thing about our brain is when we do something that helps us feel better, even if it only helps for a short while, our efficient brain remembers. So, for example, when we feel better after eating something sweet or salty, our brain remembers it. The next time we feel stressed out, our brain prompts us to grab something to eat without our needing to think about it.

This is also true for anything else we may use to decrease stress. Think alcohol, gaming, binge watching Netflix, gambling, shopping, etc.

A perfect example of our brain’s automatic nature, is how we can drive a car without having to think about how to do it. Once we learn how to drive we can focus on getting safely to our destination.

There’s No Blame

Since our brain is only doing what it’s designed to do, there is no place for blame or shame. Instead of beating ourselves up because we cannot control our food intake, we can be kind to ourselves. This is a game changer for me.

The other thing about our brain is that it doesn’t like change. Change feels scary for a reason. Survival in a dangerous environment means we keep doing what has kept us alive so far. So if overeating or emotional eating has kept us alive so far, our brain thinks what we’re doing is good and resists our efforts to change it.

After all, eating enough food is necessary for us to survive and if food is available, our brain says we need to eat to have the reserves for the next famine. Yet again, our brain is just focused on our survival. It isn’t interested in our comfort or well-being.

Getting Out of Survival Mode

So, if our brain is just trying to keep us alive, how can we make changes to increase our well-being and health? According to the article Eat, Heal & Love, we need to focus on getting out of survival mode by calming down our nervous system. When we are calm we can think clearly and make choices based on our goals instead of mindlessly eating.

Lori has a 3 video series called The 3 Keys to Overcoming Emotional Eating. I recommend listening to these videos and downloading her e-book. Unfortunately, her coaching program is way too expensive for my budget. I have found these videos and e-book to be informative and helpful.

Three things I’m trying to do to quiet my own nervous system to stop my emotional eating are

  • practicing deep breathing and being in the moment when I’m upset.
  • sitting with whatever feeling I’m having instead of immediately trying to distract myself.
  • looking at events by observing them instead of jumping to judgement or “shoulds”. (Observation is a DBT skill.)

It dawned on me recently that I can tolerate an unpleasant emotion for a bit without anything bad happening. So perhaps I’m making some progress with being mindful and staying in the present moment.

Tapping for Weight Management

Tapping is another tool I’ve used in the past and want to use more often.

Tapping, also known as EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), is a powerful stress relief technique…. based on the combined principles of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology.

The Tapping Solution

Jessica Ortner from The Tapping Solution wrote an e-book called 103 Disempowering Beliefs about Weight Loss & Body Confidence & How to Eliminate them in Minutes. I started working through this e-book last year, but quit when I got stressed out with taking care of my elderly parents and ended up sick. I’ve recently restarted working through it.

One disempowering belief I finally recognized was I felt like I didn’t matter to anyone in my world, so why should I care about me. I finally recognize that I matter even when other people don’t treat me well. It’s still a work in progress though. I forget when I’ve overdone it and am exhausted.

If you’re interested, Jessica has also written a book called: The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss & Body Confidence: A Woman’s Guide to Stressing Less, Weighing Less, and Loving More.

Wrap-Up of Managing Weight with Chronic Illness

These are the things I’m using to help manage my weight. It’s a work in progress. If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy weight, you’re not alone. I hope these resources will help you, too.

Till next time, Kathy

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By Kathryn

I'm a writer, disabled registered nurse, and former home school parent of 6 children ages 19 to 32. I'm also a domestic abuse survivor.

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