by Michael Trovato
Let’s paint a picture:
You notice that you’ve gained a few pounds, despite your best efforts to eat healthy. No matter what you do, you’ve felt constantly hungry lately. You eat dinner, but don’t feel full, so you continue snacking.
You’ve been keeping a log of the foods you eat on a (mostly) daily basis, but on the days you slip up, you go overboard, free from any accountability for the day. Inevitably, though, the day ends and the feeling of freedom turns into guilt, as your stomach churns from eating way too much.
You beat yourself up over it and vow to get back on track starting tomorrow, and you do well for the next few days. Then you slip up again.
You worry that something’s wrong- that you lack discipline, or that you have an eating disorder, some kind of worm, or a chemical imbalance that disables your “off” switch.
So, you go to the doctor.
You tell the doctor that you’re concerned about your recent weight gain. You explain this recent pattern of behavior and admit, “I can’t seem to stop.” The doctor prescribes an appetite inhibiting medication, a fat burning supplement, and refers you to a dietitian.
Problem solved… Right?
Not so fast. First, let’s paint a bigger picture...
During the time of your recent weight gain, you’ve been having a hard time at work. You’re feeling unfulfilled, underappreciated, and that you’re just going through the motions of your day-to-day work routine, without getting any enjoyment from it. Your mind is constantly elsewhere. You don’t feel connected to many of your coworkers. Your commute is too long.
When you finally get home, you know that you should go for the run you’ve been putting off for days, but you just want to relax. You still have to make dinner, do laundry, clean the dishes from last night, play with the dog who’s been alone all day, take a shower. By the time you do these things, going for that run is out of the question, and you put it off yet again- maybe tomorrow.
You begin to consider a change, switching jobs or career paths entirely, but when you explain this to your family, they question your judgement. They ask,
"Why would you leave a secure job with benefits?"
"Is this a responsible choice?"
"Have you given this your actual best?"
"Are you sure?"
You ask yourself the same things and begin to doubt yourself and your instincts, but you stand firm and resist their doubts. You assert that what you’re feeling about work is real, and that you’re going to look for something new. They don’t understand, and you feel disconnected from them, even frustrated with them.
These things weigh on your mind, and when you finally lay down, it keeps you awake. As you lay awake, you become hungry again. You try to resist, drink water and get to sleep, but after a certain point there’s no avoiding the hunger. You grab a snack.
A scoop of peanut butter. Some crackers. That leftover piece of cake from the party over the weekend.
You finally get to sleep at 2 a.m., only to wake up to your alarm 4 hours later.
You go through this struggle on a daily basis. So you go to the doctor, and play out the scenario in the first picture. You get your prescriptions, and schedule an appointment with a dietitian who suggests changes to your diet.
"Don’t eat carbs in the morning."
"Drink more water."
"Eat more turkey."
"Don’t eat after 8 p.m. Ever."
You try these things with some success, and for the first week or so, you feel better. In time, you find it hard to resist that egg sandwich at the deli you pass on your already too long commute. You forget to drink enough water. You run out of turkey. You get invited to go out to dinner with friends on a Friday night. They’re working late, but it’s been a while so you meet up- at 8:30.
You share some appetizers, scarf down your entrée, and get roped into ordering dessert. You have a couple drinks. You deviate from your plan, and you go overboard. You’ve slipped up again, and back comes the guilt. And the struggle continues…
In the story told above, at least three factors have contributed to overeating:
1) Work stress (Occupational Health),
2) Family relationships (Social Health), and
3) Lack of sleep (Physical Health)
Of course, this is just an example; these three factors may be placed in a different order, but the fact still remains that they in some way contribute to your overeating and weight concerns. So, what if instead of prescribing medication, supplements, or a visit to a dietitian, your doctor referred you to a career counseling center to help you search for a new job or career?
While this may seem nontraditional, it’s important to realize that there is a domino effect at work here. The cause of our behaviors are rarely isolated- they’re connected. In this scenario, the stress from work could be considered the root of the overeating issue. If this is the case, you may not be “what you eat,” as the adage suggests. Instead, perhaps the adage should be, “You are WHY you eat.”
If you focus only on the end result (overeating/weight gain), the obvious solution might seem to be an adjustment to your diet, a fat burning supplement, or a prescription. To trace the chain of events, however, you may realize that the stress from work caused strained communication with your family, which in turn weighed on your mind and affected your sleep, which in turn played into your eating habits.
Each factor represents a domino, and when one falls, it knocks down the next one, and so on. But, if you prevent the first domino from falling, perhaps the rest don't follow. Perhaps your communication with your family doesn't become strained. Perhaps your sleep doesn't suffer. Perhaps you don't overeat.
This is not to suggest that a supplement, prescription, or specialist won't help resolve the overeating issue- they may. However, to embrace the idea that each dimension of health is somehow connected (in this case your occupational health, social health, and physical health), may lead you to look at what else might be causing weight gain or overeating. And, while the “Overeating/Weight Gain” domino might be the last to fall, perhaps it’s worthwhile to take an “upstream”approach to follow the chain of events that caused it to fall in the first place.
Thoughts? Join the conversation: facebook.com/groups/whatismyhealth
© Copyright Michael Trovato, August 17, 2016