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What now? Divorce Causes Weight Gain?‎

Caroline J Cederquist, M.D.‎

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 of and 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 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.‎


Weight Loss, Then Weight Gain

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 Stress Culprit

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 Divorce Diet is the brain child of renowned divorce attorney and negotiation expert Rebecca Zung ‎ESQ and Caroline Cederquist, M.D. renowned nutrition, lifestyle and weight management expert. It ‎includes knowledge about the legal process while also honoring the emotional process that divorce is. ‎It also involves acknowledging and creating a plan of self-care that involves exercise, healthy eating ‎and ensuring enough sleep to allow you to make the best decisions in the divorce process as you ‎create your best future. ‎

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