In my weight management practice I always take a weight history in addition to a medical history. In the weight history my patient and I will discuss where his or her weight was at various points in life. Common milestones most people can recall are what their weight was on graduation from high school, leaving military service or when they got married.
In addition to our discussion of any medical concerns or diagnoses that occurred at various ages, we also discuss the important life events and how self-care was handled at those times such as finishing school, career issues, important relationships, moving, and starting a family. We also discuss times of stress and how those stresses were handled.
One important cause of life stress is the end of a significant relationship or divorce. Noted divorce lawyer and authority, Rebecca Zung-Clough quotes the statistics that 50% of first marriages end in divorce while 67% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. This stressful life event is thus pretty common.
With regards to stress, some couples sail through divorce and end up as friends. However, on the life stress rating scale, divorce was listed as the second most stressful life event, second only to death of a spouse. It was actually rated as more stressful than being detained in jail.
While I do have patients who are actively in the process of getting divorced, I most often hear about the effects of divorce from a historical perspective such as when taking the weight history.
What I have observed is that many times, divorce has a profound effect on body weight. I have had many patients share that when they got divorced, they really lost weight. Often this was in the classification of unintentional weight loss. That means, the person was not enrolled in a weight management program or otherwise trying to lose weight but weight loss occurred anyway.
I recall patients telling me that they lost weight even though they were eating junk food and drinking too much wine just to get through it. Others share that the time was such a blur they don’t recall if they ate much of anything at all. And while I have heard more stories of weight loss with divorce, there have also been many recollections of weight gain with divorce as well. Sometimes there was comfort eating or even binge eating involved. Other times the abrupt change of no longer having meals at home and thus an increase in restaurant eating accompanied the months or years of the divorce process.
The common shared experience is that with the stress of divorce, many people switch into a survival mode. They are often fearful, anxious, angry and on overdrive. People in this survival mode will have higher level of catecholamine hormones, the hormones that are supposed to enable us to flee if we are in physical danger. Think of the significantly increased heart rate and increased respiratory rate that occurs when you have been startled. Those are the effects of the stimulating survival catecholamines. Sleep is often affected as well and chronic sleep deprivation occurs. It makes sense that all of these effects can make people a bit hypermetabolic and unintentional weight loss can occur. Body weight is lost but often muscle is lost in a higher percentage in this state compared to when someone is eating healthily to lose weight and ensuring adequate lean protein intake along with other important nutrients.
Often the stories of the ‘divorce diet’ result in weight loss that is regained when life settles back down. Sometimes resultant weight gain can be higher than it was prior that a person’s previous baseline. This is usually the case with ‘stressed’ weight loss.
Avoiding weight change is rarely a priority to people when they are going through a stressful time. It is rather a marker of significant stress. The divorce paradox is that during a critical time when clear thinking and problem solving skills are most needed in order to create the best outcome for your future, the effects of stress, poor nutrition and sleep deprivation on our physiology make this much harder than normal.
The new divorce diet includes knowledge about the legal process while also honoring the emotional process that divorce is. For more information on that, please read ‘Breaking Free- A Guide to Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Freedom’, by Rebecca Zung-Clough, Esq.. It also involves acknowledging and creating a plan of self-care that involves exercise, healthy eating and ensuring enough sleep.