It is well known that people who are depressed, grieving or are simply unhappy can either put on or lose weight. The role of how we feel about ourselves and the world can be an important ingredient to losing excessive weight. How can emotions contribute to physical body weight and why does someone’s emotional landscape become reflected in their body? For those people who are physically affected by emotional ebb and flow, these questions about how emotion affects our physical body is very pertinent.
Emotion is often attached to thought, however it is often felt in our bodies. Long term emotional stress or depression can very well have a physical effect of weight gain. It is as if the heaviness of the emotion is held in the muscles and organs in the body. In Eastern medical traditions, such as in kinesiology and acupuncture, emotional anatomy is well regarded. Emotions are said to sit in body parts and do affect physical manifestations in the body. I find in my work as a psychotherapist, that many people’s physical symptoms fit perfectly with their emotional concerns. Likewise, I also see people’s physical symptomology affecting their emotional experience. It can become a self-perpetuating pattern where the physical and the emotional feed off each other to create full blown psychological and physical conditions.
Emma & Self-Loathing
Emma came to see me about her depression. She said she was feeling down, slobby and had put on so much weight in the last six months. She said she could not sleep well and that she felt lonely and angry most of the time. As we talked, it became clear that the end of her intimate relationship with Tod contributed to her mood and self-image. The relationship ended a year and a half ago, but it was only six months ago when he began a relationship with someone else. When we discussed the quality of that relationship and what it meant to her, it became apparent that Emma had built a great deal of resentment towards Tod over a long time. As she spoke, she began to realise that she had expected him to make up for his mistakes. When he finally found someone else, she realised he was not going turn around and apologise and change his ways.
What was really important however, was the meaning this had about herself. Emma realised that she had come to hate herself because on some level she believed it was her fault that he treated her poorly and never made up for his behaviour. Her self-loathing for his lack of considerate actions and choices had resulted in depression and weight gain. Of course, the physical and emotional cycle spiralled out of control as the increased body weight lead her to hate herself even more. And it stopped her from moving forward and finding a more rewarding intimate relationship.
Emma’s Way Out of Her Bind
In recognising her pattern of self-loathing, increased body weight and depression, and her interpretation of the events that underlay her pattern, Emma began to consciously turn it around. When she explored the pattern and gained clarity of herself, her beliefs and attitudes shifted. She realised that Tod’s actions were an effect of his own patterns and were not actually about her. She learnt that she could hold a sense of self that was not dependent on how others treated her. She also learnt that she could create an environment of self-love in her life and challenge the beliefs that lead her to think she was worthless or not good enough for love.
Emma’s journey in therapy was not a quick one but it was rewarding! As she learnt healthy ways of thinking, feeling and actions that honoured herself and her body, her depression lifted over time. Likewise, her body weight decreased as she became increasingly happy about herself and her life and increased exercise and maintained a healthy diet. The key here was that she did not try to enforce a diet and exercise regime on top of her self-loathing and depression. Rather she lovingly shifted bad eating and exercise habits with her increased self-esteem and self-efficacy from changing the ways she perceived herself in the relationship with Tod. Therefore the changes she made were more permanent life style changes that reflected and her happy sense of self.
The Emotional Dimension of Weight Gain
The emotional dimension of weight gain and lose is often underestimated. Sometimes where there are stubborn self-defeating patterns when people are trying to lose weight, the emotional landscape is an essential aspect to understand and overcome. There may also be other physical conditions attached to the intra-personal dynamic such as adrenal or thyroid problems, but the emotional aspects are still important.
Have you ever realised the emotional aspect of weight gain?
I would love to hear your experiences and questions[Disclaimer. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]