In this article, I wish to talk about why caregivers gain weight in the course of caregiving. I feel this issue needs to be addressed and speak about because often this is overlooked. And being a caregiver, it is important to remain healthy physically and emotionally before one is able to care for someone’s under one’s care.
What I am about to say is not only applicable to caregivers but full time home makers as well as people in the service industry such as customer service. Because the role involves a lot of giving of one self’s love, energy and dedication.
I have been a full time caregiver for more than 4 years now, giving up my corporate job to care for my mother full time. In the course of caregiving, I have also gained a lot of weight even though physically I am more active than I’ve ever been in most part of my life.
It is not only me, but I’ve witnessed similar phenomenon within other caregivers. Some whom I have known personally to have been slim for most part of their lives, and then putting on a lot of weight when they started become caregivers. I know of a caregiver who actually eats only one main meal a day, and fruits in between, yet she is baffled by her weight gain (she used to be petite and slim).
The cause of weight gain in caregivers
The cause could be emotional stress that comes with the toll of the job. Caregiving after all:
1. No time to care for oneself or fix up nutritious food
The irony is that are caregiver would have time to care for the person under their care but often neglect their own welfare. For example, when I cared for my mom, my priority is to ensure she gets nutritious food (she takes soft diet). When I do not have time, I would just quickly make a dash to shops to get some food. These food are not as healthy as homecooked food (I find that it is faster to actually buy than cook because if I cook, I needed time to prepare the food, followed by a lot of washing and cleaning after cooking).
2. A thankless job.
No one would thank you for doing a good job but when something happens, all fingers would point at you for doing a bad job
3. Lonely and isolation often with no relief.
Often when one takes up the caregiving role of a parent, the responsibility would lie solely in one’s hand. Sometimes siblings may promise that they would take turns. But when it comes to the time to help, there may be all sorts of excuses. In the end, caregiving become one person’s sole responsibility.
4. Experiencing grief
Caregivers often develop affection for those under their care. And to watch the person deteriorating away each day is very sad. This is especially so if one is caring for a parent or relative that one loves very much. I am caring for my mom who have Alzheimer’s and other health condition (liver cirrhosis, cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes). Deterioration would be inevitable. And it often breaks my heart to see her condition getting worse with time.
Emotions and weight gain
First thing first, not all would gain weight during emotional stress. In fact, some people would lose weight when they feel distressed, overwhelmed or stressed as they are not able to eat.
But most people would tend to gain weight. It is not as simple as getting more exercise or eating healthy. Even though one may be doing that and still gain weight.
I believe whether we gain weight easily or not depends on how we processed the emotions that overwhelmed us. If we take in the emotions, develop anxiety and despair over the future, likewise it would cause our body to retain in the calories from the food that we eat.
Another thing is when we are emotionally overwhelmed, some would cope with emotional eating. There would a strong urge to take comfort food. Food that are usually processed, high in sugar and/or fat. Examples are ice cream, rich cakes, puddings, pizzas, chips and carbonated drink/processed fruit juice. These kind of food provides a temporary high, only to come with energy drops.
Even though the person could control the portion of unhealthy food, when our personality is to take it all in, our body would also ‘lock-in’ the calories from the food. This is one way how stressors can make a person gain weight.
Often it is easy for someone from the outside to look and judging a caregiver for being fat, overweight and not able to ‘keep it together’. Beginning when I started in my role, I get a lot of criticism and comments from people who felt I could have done my job better. While I took into consideration of each one of them, some comments were made with quite a sarcastic and judgmental tone. Don’t take these personally. Because sometimes people really have no idea what they are talking about. And when they get thrown into the same situation, they would not be able to do a fraction or half as good as what you are doing.
Caring for yourself
Sometimes, we would need to reach out for some comfort food. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is important to control the portion and frequency of consumption of fattening or processed food.
Here are some of the methods I adopt which I hope may be helpful for you as well.
When I eat processed or unhealthy food, I always take note of how it makes my body feels afterwards. Usually I would feel sluggish and hit an energy slump. It would also affect my mood. I find that by being conscious made me more aware of the effect that the food has on me. I need to have energy as I care for my mom and do chores the whole day. By keeping in mind the effects of unhealthy food, it helps me cut down the frequency and portion that I take.
Another thing is long term cost. If we do not watch what we eat, we may find ourselves requiring long term medication once we developed chronic health condition like high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes. Perhaps it is because the cost of my mom’s medication and treatment is high. Since I give up my job to care for her, I do not get any medical coverage should I need to go on long term medication. The question we need to ask ourselves is that, if we do not watch what we eat, would we be able to afford the cost for medication?
Furthermore, if we developed mobility issues (ie from stroke or complication from diabetes) from highly preventable factors, could we ourselves afford a caregiver or nursing home?
It does not mean we have to deprive ourselves of the food we love. Already caregiving has taken away a lot of flexibility and freedom. Food may be the last shred of comfort we are holding on. For me, once a while I would still treat myself to that cup of latte or some purchases (inexpensive items but something I like) that can help lighten my day. Like fried stuff and desserts, I try to keep my portions within reasonable limit. Not go all out to binge or eat without a care.
We would not know what would happen to us in future. If our body and mind would fail on us and we would require long term cost for medication and treatment just to stay alive. It is just too bad if things happen from factors that I have no control over. But just with the realization of the possibility of incurring high cost if I refuse to stop clogging my arteries with oily food or straining my spleen with sweet food, I would need a lot of money to treat myself gave me the discipline I need to still allow myself to indulge but to control my portions. I hope too that if you are in similar situation, you would also take these factors into consideration- to care for the body that is now still serving us well.