Caregivers and Excessive Weight Gain

Each of us know that excessive weight gain harms our bodies and leads to all types of physical and emotional challenges. When you see someone who has rapidly put on weight, or is thirty, fifty, or a hundred pounds overweight— well, there’s a reason.

During high stress times, cortisol (the stress hormone) levels rise in our bodies. For caregivers, “high-stress times” are daily. The level of stress we regularly encounter is nothing short of astonishing. As the levels of cortisol rise, it can cause increased levels of insulin—which makes our blood sugar drop and we crave a piece of pie rather than broccoli.

Think about it: an apple or doughnut? Celery or chocolate-chip cookies. Baked chicken with vegetables or lasagna? There’s a reason they call it “comfort-food,” and in our culture, a measure of comfort is just a refrigerator away.

For many caregivers, making a sensible meal is simply another wearisome chore, and it’s all too easy to swing through the drive-through.

That said, I see no need to create a caregiver diet plan that none of us will follow. We can leave it up to each of us to pick one of the countless meal planning options available to us from the experts. There’s not a one-size- fits-all program for this landmine, and in my experience, this particular landmine doesn’t originate in the kitchen, but rather in the  heart.

Graham Kerr (known to the world as “The Galloping Gourmet”) shared his journey from decadent food to heart healthy. Many don’t know that Graham served as a caregiver for nearly thirty years. While caring for his wife, he changed the way he looked at food—then he changed the way he prepared each meal. His message to all of us, but particularly caregivers, was about making simple substitutions, portion control, and slowly walking us into a heart healthy eating lifestyle. His simple message pointed us to the “marker” of a healthier approach to food—so we can avoid the landmine of excessive weight gain.

We’re stressed. Weary and discouraged, we simply want comfort. Food, particularly fatty food, provides a temporary relief, but by indulging in food for relief, we ultimately harm ourselves further—and we do it with a knife and fork.

Like Graham Kerr, another friend of mine helps me with this. Rather than throwing a comprehensive plan at me, he shares an easy, helpful tip: “Make one simple change.” Maybe that change is to stop buying sodas. Okay. That’s it. Make that change. Let it take hold, and then watch the results. When that’s settled in, make another change, and so forth. If we’re overweight, we didn’t get here overnight—and we won’t lose the weight overnight, so let’s manage the expectations and move slowly in the right direction.

Remember, however, the stress is real and it’s constant. Even if we are making one simple change, we still need to deal with that stress in a healthy manner. We can address our stress in several ways.

  • Exercise (You don’t have to run out and join a Try starting with walking.)
  • Counseling
  • Meditation/Prayer/quiet times
  • Drinking lots of

Again, we’re going to start slow. We tend to put ourselves under more stress by trying to tackle another activity. Reducing our stress is not another task we need to accomplish and check off—rather, it’s a lifestyle change.

If we choose to participate in activities that are healthy and calm us down, it will lesson our desire to graze. Once we’re in a calmer frame of mind, we can tackle pushing ourselves a bit to exercise more and participate in healthier activities.

Fighting Caregiver Weight

For me, I do martial arts. I’m working on my second- degree black-belt as I write this. In addition, I’m a pianist so I take time to sit at the piano and musically work out the kinks in my soul. (Also, it’s hard to eat a piece of cake while both hands are on the keyboard!)  In the martial art I take, we learn the importance of breathing properly; exhaling twice as long as inhaling.  There is no faster way to bleed off stress than to learn to properly breathe.

By the way, breathing is free.

Gardening, painting, crafts, golf, hiking—whatever it is that speaks to that stressed-out place in your heart, give yourself permission to do it regularly.

Someone once asked, “How do you find time to do the things you do?”

I don’t FIND time to do it. I MAKE time to do it. But it all starts with learning to be still and settle my heart down. I learned the hard way that if I don’t take time for stillness, I will have to make time for illness. A calmer state of mind facilitates better decisions for the body.

Avoiding the caregiver landmine of excessive weight gain starts with redefining how we view food. It’s fuel not comfort. The stress we feel cries out for relief. But it’s not our bodies screaming for it, it’s our heart. Nothing in the fridge, pantry, or drive-through speaks to the needs of our weary hearts.

Make one simple change in what we eat once a week— or even once a month at a time.  While making that change, we can also choose to participate in appropriate activities that help bleed off that stress. As we make simple healthy choices, step by step, those pounds will slip off.

You may discover however, that the excessive weight you carry is not just around your waist, but in your heart. That’s the weight that needs to come off first.

“…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:7