On getting away with it

diabetes-528678_1920Several people in my circle and my general age-bracket, are in a poor or deteriorating state of health at present. There’s cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, a stomach ulcer, the after effects of blood clots, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. I don’t have an enormous circle of friends and acquaintances, and that’s a lot of un-wellness; a combination of the diseases of middle-age, auto-immune conditions and the impact – physical, psychological and emotional – of modern living.

And that means… stress.

Stress brings with it a heavy payload of physical and psychological symptoms (just Google ‘stress symptoms’ and check out some of the lists). But chronic stress also opens the door for some far more serious conditions and diseases to enter. Who knows whether it actually causes them, but it certainly makes you more vulnerable.

Stress is about helplessness and feeling out of control.  It’s not, as some people assume, about having too much to do.  It’s far more about the feeling that, for whatever reason, you can’t cope with what you have to do or deal with. It’s about feeling ineffective, pushed around by others, powerless to influence your circumstances, or spiralling into some kind of a hole that you don’t feel able to climb out of.

Stress… actually weighs you down

Interestingly, stress is also an inhibitor to weight loss, as cortisol, the hormone produced in circumstances of stress, causes the body to hold on to its fat stores. The more chronic your stress, the harder it becomes to lose weight. And of course, the harder it is to lose weight, the more out of control the overweight person will feel. It’s one of those cruel vicious circles of life.

A contributor, for sure, to my yo-yo-ing weight and its gradual upward trajectory over the years, was the level of stress I lived with, mostly through the sort of work I used to do (which was wrong for me in many ways, but well-paid, so I pushed myself onward), and occasionally in bad relationships and their fallout too.  Divorce, financial pressures, unsatisfactory living arrangements, poor relationship decisions, work related anxiety including two redundancies and striking out as a solo-preneur, a problematic menopause, and a constant, gnawing sense of being not quite good enough at everything I tried to do. All these things contributed to a fluctuating but ever-present level of stress throughout my thirties and forties and right through until a couple of years ago. And all the while the weight piled on.

Until such point as it was no longer a product of stress, but one of its causes.

Fat stresses

Yes, fat itself became the stressor.  Here’s how it gets you: You stress about what people are really thinking of you. You see a bucket chair in a cosy coffee bar or gastro pub and wonder if you’ll be able to squeeze into it.  You see a different kind of chair in a school assembly hall, at the end-of-year stage production starring your young nephews, and wonder whether it will hold your weight for a whole two hours.  You worry about getting too hot or sweaty when you go out somewhere, to meet clients or be social. Wherever you go, you worry you’ll be the fattest person in the room.  You stress about being out of control, about your excess weight being so overwhelming that you’ll never feel normal again. You stress about never having something comfortable or stylish to wear for an important event. You become acutely aware of heaving yourself about, hoping others will not notice the effort.  When your well-meaning friends ask kindly if you’re OK to walk a few steps, or climb to the second or third floor, and you realise they think you’re almost disabled, you stress about it. You stress about weight limits on fitness equipment and spa facilities, because you exceed them.  And that’s just where it starts…

Health anxiety

This is the next layer of fat-stress. Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a fearful thing.  Health anxiety surfaced for me as the menopause kicked in, and a confusion of symptoms became very unsettling. Beneath my intellectual appreciation that I was immersed in the time-of-life experience, lay an occasionally paralysing fear – because I was fat – that there was somehow something far more serious going on, that I had brought upon myself by being overweight. The sense of impending doom I would eventually learn to manage as I tried to calm my palpitating heart in the wee small hours, was frequently overwhelming. I called an ambulance on two occasions (and nearly called them on a dozen more) and once spent the whole night in A&E wired up to heart monitors as stress and anxiety exacerbated those all-natural hormonal misbehaviours.

Statistically speaking

And health anxiety isn’t just an internal thing – it’s fed by the media, in their pursuit of emotionally-charged headlines. The voices of statistical authority would have me believe that my excess weight (well over 100 surplus pounds when I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September) made – still makes – me a candidate for all manner of disease, including most of the conditions my circle of friends and acquaintances are suffering.  Obesity, so say the statistics, puts me at significantly elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer of numerous kinds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (whatever the implications of this are supposed to be) and diabetes – and that’s just for starters.  Add osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and asthma, gout, gallstones and fatty liver disease. Oh, and anxiety and depression too.

All in all, it’s a misery-laden feast, particularly if you’re inclined to let scary headlines get under your skin.

A matter of time

But despite those 100 or more excess pounds, I’m one of the fortunate overweighties not eating at this misery-laden table.  I wasn’t at 270 pounds, and I’m still not at 207 pounds either. In fact, notwithstanding the 50 pounds or so of excess weight I still have to get rid of, and the anxieties related to my state-of-weight that I carried for years, my health is very good. I’m through the menopause (hurrah!) so I’m even feeling like an actual human being again, no longer screaming at the universe whilst sweating from every pore.  As I shed my surplus tonnage, I’m getting fitter and healthier by the day.

Believe me when I say I’m not in the least bit smug about my current state of health and wellness. And things could always change, I know this; I’m only 56 years old after all. But at the moment I suffer none of the ailments that should, if the statistics are to be believed, be my misfortune.

I changed my lifestyle last September because I finally acknowledged I was getting away with it.  The slew of disabling and depressing ailments within my circle of friends and acquaintances had made me realise this, and want – at long last – to do whatever I could to avoid these conditions becoming part of my lot in life.

I know no amount of healthy living can guarantee this, but common sense tells me that it must help, to manage my weight better, eat more healthily, improve the state of my heart, lungs and circulation, and exercise regularly.  I just finally got to the point where the push to do something was greater than the pull of the sofa, the packets of crisps and the ready-meals.

Now my stress level has dropped to a record low. I’m handling work better as my brain is more alert and I no longer suffer the 3pm slump. I am calmer, more relaxed, less easily provoked to irritation. I have energy to enjoy more social activities. I have self-respect again. What little disquiet as I may occasionally feel, as anyone does, is counterbalanced by a growing sense of confidence and wellbeing which has come from looking better and feeling healthier and knowing that at long last, I’m doing right by myself.

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Author: Jools

Abundant, Bold, Confident, Determined, Empathetic, Forthright, Grumpy, Healthier, Individual, Just me, Kind, Loving, Mellifluous, Natural, Optimistic, imPatient, Quirky, Real-world, Single-minded, unTreatable, Unwound, Verbal, Wilful, eXtraordinary, Young and old, Zero-tolerance.

32 thoughts on “On getting away with it”

  1. I used to suffer with stress a lot when I was younger as well, and had to recognise that I needed to do something. Thankfully, I’ve learned to manage it a lot better, and have seen the health benefits of doing so. The key is to admit there’s something wrong, isn’t it? And then we can make change. Glad you’re getting on top of it too 🙂

    1. It’s almost a light-bulb moment, when you first acknowledge your stress and the need to do something. Learning how to cope gives you back the control. I’m glad you have seen success there too, Helen.

  2. That is one of the bravest articles I have ever read about a personal battle with stress and obesity. I relate to pretty all that you say (about from being the wrong gender for one part!). I congratulate and admire you for not only identifying and implementing the changes required to improve your health, but being prepared to help others, by sharing your experience. All the best, A fellow yo-yo stress and obesity sufferer.

    1. Wow, thank you so much for your comments and encouragement. It makes me feel so good when a post connects with someone like this. Good luck to you too, on your own personal journey. Stay in the conversation on my blog!

      1. Just wondered if you had any thoughts on the possible links between ‘comfort eating’ and feeling very concerned when faced with uncertain times. I have often looked at my own times of major over indulgence and considered that I am using food and drink as a way of anaesthetising myself from things that I have little or no control over at a personal, national or even international level. Probably being a tad overly sensitive, but I do wonder if folks facing uncertainty for whatever reason has a stronger link to ‘comfort eating’ than we may think – possibly just a convenient excuse on my part, but I once read a report that thought folks eat more during a recession.

        1. That’s a very interesting point, Brian. I think it’s always tempting to console/comfort and even anaesthetise and reassure with food – and so many of us were brought up with that strong association (how often were we consoled after grazing our knees or becoming upset for any reason, with a sweet treat?). The trick is to break that association and learn to comfort and reassure ourselves with non-food things – a massage perhaps, lighting a candle and putting in some soothing music, going for a walk somewhere beautiful. I know it’s not the same, but that’s about changing our thinking, and for most of us, until we change those destructive habits and associations, we will forever struggle against overindulgence with food.

          1. Totally agree, I did a life coaching course years ago and one of the main points was that most habits took a minimum of 30 days to get free of. The recommended technique was to substitute the bad habit with a positive one until the positive habit became the norm.

          2. That’s the same approach that my Vitality Coach helped me get into. I did a life coaching course a few years ago too! But it’s harder to coach yourself, isn’t it?!

          3. I think this is the article I read some time ago – http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/menus/comfort-food-in-the-recession.htm

            I know the government did some form of happiness survey a while back, but I have been curious about the links of over-eating with feelings of discontent for reasons which are beyond the individual’s control. Perhaps, I just have too much time to consider such things, but I do wonder about links between ‘comfort eating’ and a nations concerns with issues out of the individual’s control.

          4. Brian, I’ve corrected the link in your comment with the second one you supplied – thank you.

            It’s certainly interesting to see things beyond the individual/personal level (ie, that I’ve had a bad day, so I need to comfort myself with food) to a more national or global level of concern or worry. The perception of national or global activities being out of the individual’s control is largely real, but the response can be managed. For example, I can’t change the fact that political uncertainties or terror threats exist, but I can recognise how negative thoughts about them disrupt my peace-of-mind, and learn to alter how I think about them.

            We are not resigned to act out any behaviour, for any reason – we can always change. I think that key to controlling any compulsion is first understanding the connections and stimuli, and then building the tools or techniques to displace what appear to be compulsive, out-of-control thoughts and behaviours. When you know why you’re responding in a certain way, your awareness helps you to disrupt the pattern, and if you have alternative strategies (ie, different activities, ways to inject calm or de-stress that don’t involve food), you stand a stronger chance of overcoming the old habitual patterns.

          5. Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I certainly concur that it is all about identifying the trigger points for our own personal comfort eating patterns (all good life coaching stuff!). I guess I have just been surprised by how recent national and international political events have unsettled me so much and how part of my response has been to turn back to comfort eating, after losing 5 stone a couple of years ago, I thought I had the comfort eating well and truly sorted this time. However, starting to get back on the right track now.

          6. Wow… you lost 5 stone! That’s amazing indeed. Many years before my current healthy lifestyle changes, I once lost around 50 pounds (with Weightwatchers, in 2002), but put it all back on again, and more besides, over a very short period. I’d taken my eye off-the-ball over Christmas, and when I came back ‘on’ to my diet, I was horrified to see what my festive eating had done, and it catapulted me back into old out-of-control habits. So I do very much understand where you’re coming from. We think we have it nailed, but we can’t afford to let down our guard. The key is what you’re doing – getting right back on track before there is too much damage, restoring your sense of balance and calm, focusing on the positives, and reclaiming lost ground. Good luck, and stay with it. With a 5 stone loss, you will have seen many, many health and wellbeing benefits, all very well worth holding on to.

          7. Yes, I have been delighted with the 5 stone loss. This occurred due to my GP offering me a ‘Slimming World’ prescription! I had no idea that a diet club prescription was available via the NHS, but if your BMI hits a certain level, then hey presto it is then an option for most doctors. Combined with a lot of walking and leading a health walks group, all went pretty well for sometime, even when dealing with the stress of a parent passing away. Then complacency, too much festive spirit and various quite stressful life changes saw some bad habits/comfort eating returning, resulting in a couple stone heading back on again. Say hello to the yo-yo weight effect again, but now somewhat better equipt to managing things via life coaching and Slimming World, so hopefully heading back in the right direction.

          8. I think complacency is a big enemy. We yo-yo weight losers and gainers cannot afford to let complacency creep in. We cannot… ever… allow ourselves the luxury of taking our eye off the dietary ball. Sad but true – and the sooner we stop fighting it and learn to live with the knowledge that this is our lot, the better. Good luck with Slimming World – I hear many good things about it, and it obviously worked for you last time, so bodes well for getting those bad habits back under control I wish you every success!

          9. Thank you for your good wishes. I also wish you well with your new healthier approach, it certainly sounds like you are making great progress. I do feel for some of us if is a bit of life long battle, so hears to us both winning our own personal battles of over indulgence. It is fascinating to look at the various trigger points for all of us – at both Weight Watchers and Slimming World a lot our tales had very similar themes – using food as a reward, suppressing various negative feelings and good old comfort eating. I often think that over eating is more a matter of the mind than that of the mouth! So here’s to positive thoughts and a calmer mind.

  3. This is an excellent post. I became very conscious of turning things around because my father never got to enjoy that ‘second half of life’ as he passed away from a stroke (5 years after a heart attack) at the relatively young age of 49. He had been overweight since his mid-thirties (so not as a young person) and thus the bad lifestyle took him relatively quickly. I hear what you are saying that many people, however, do ‘get away with it’ for many years until it is too late. Hopefully I have reversed the trend in myself and will keep at it now. I feel quite healthy and I am happy that my blood lipids and blood glucose (as well as my weight) are also in the healthy (and in fact low) ranges.
    You are doing a wonderful job with the information provided in your posts.

    1. My father too sadly died at a relatively young age, having been unhealthy and stressed for several years. He was the first person to educate me about the dangers of excessive stress, long before it was fashionable to focus on this. For him, it proved to be ‘too late’, but even that wasn’t enough to redirect me towards a healthier lifestyle and better stress management. But in your thirties, life is all about pushing forward, striving for career stress and so on, isn’t it? So we force our way through the stresses. I didn’t do it then, but now I’ve made the changes which I hope will help to keep me well and active into a healthy middle and old age – no guarantees of course, but we can only do what we can do.

      Congratulations for getting those important numbers down for yourself – I’ve managed to do the same, and it’s a very satisfying feeling, isn’t it? And thanks again for your lovely, encouraging words about my posts. 🙂

      1. Thanks for the lone reply. I appreciate it. I agree about the stress. It crept up on me. It started just by being over-productive and always being the one to fix things and help people and that turned into an obsession that I could never take a proper break because people were relying on me. It made me make bad lifestyle choices on time management and exercise … and then the comfort eating began. My dad was a workaholic and he wore that like a badge of honour. I fell for that same trap. I try and encourage my children to make better choices. It does not always work (children never listen to their parents). So now I am TRYING to lead by example. Hopefully they will see (in me) that a better life balance works.

        1. Stress does indeed creep up on us. Workaholicism and stress are modern-day badges-of-honour too. And when we’re younger, it doesn’t occur to us that there will be a price to pay. I can’t bear to think of how often I pushed and pushed myself in the interests of career success – and how differently I see things today.

          There’s a very interesting quote attributed to the Dalai Lama – I wonder if you know it. When asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said: “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies, having never really lived.” I hope that’s not too depressing, but it does rather sum up how we got to where we are today.

          At least we are making better choices now, eh?

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