Shedding: Is your stress induced weight loss trying to tell you something?

Contributing writer Jessica Danser- Shwartz shares her personal story of how when life gets to stressful the weight start to come off. Sounds like a problem you wish you could have? Wait just one second, when you can’t eat because of worry, stress, grief, or heartbreak those first few pounds might be seem like an inconspicuous benefit, but when you are melancholy, lethargic, and not feeling well because your body is not feed well the way you look is not so important. When the weight loss becomes too significant and you start to look sickly being thin it can make you more worried. Jessica asks the questions why is this happening? and what can she do?

I emerge from the dressing room holding a cute little vintage strapless gown, dejected. “Does it fit?” the salesgirl asks pleasantly. “Too big,” I reply. “Story of my life lately.” “Well,” she jokes, “look on the bright side, you could have the opposite problem!”

There is a part of me which glows at this comment, a part of me which loves being the littlest, the leanest, the thinnest I have ever been. I think this body image comes from my background in ballet– I don’t read fashion mags or follow celebrities, and most of the women I most admire and find beautiful are big-boned, thick, muscular women of color. Yet there still is something validating about my seemingly endless weight loss, like I’ve uncovered a secret that other women would kill for, started to do effortlessly what others ceaselessly struggle to achieve.

Here’s the catch: what is making me lose weight is not some fabulous regimen of diet and exercise or some strange genetic mutation– I’ve lost over 10 lbs (a lot for a person as small as I was to begin with) in the past 4 or 5 months due to stress. I am the opposite of a stress eater, numbing my pain with Cheetos and chocolate. Negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, and anger kill my appetite, and at times seem to also speed up my metabolism so that whatever I AM eating goes straight through me. This then becomes a vicious cycle wherein my low blood sugar and lack of energy due to not getting enough nutrition to get through the day make me irritable, irrational, and teary. But when I sit down in front of a plate of food my stomach ties up in knots so I can’t get down more than a few mouthfuls.

Even as I secretly preen a little when people comment on my weight, hearing a friend who is giving me a Pilates lesson comment that I am so thin she feels guilty giving me an exercise class is disturbing. I want to break this cycle, get back up to a size 2, stop being able to see the bones in my sternum and having knees so bony they are constantly covered in bruises. I want to stop looking like I’m a kid wearing my mom’s clothes. I want to have a butt again. But how do I make myself eat when I feel too stressed to, make myself cook when I feel too tired to, make myself have real meals instead of munching on fruit and nuts all day when I don’t feel hungry???

My friend Theresa Ruth Howard, who writes the blog My Body My Image about female/dancer body image, says this: “The body is an organism that reacts and response to internal and external situations. Your body is direct reflection of your life circumstances, and right now it is stressful and shedding in a way. I don’t know that you can ‘do’ much about that. You are eating as well and as healthily as you can, when you can but it seems like you might just have to wait for this period to pass. I make the association to your weight loss as a letting go – you in your life might need to let go and surrender. Your body will be restored when your life comes back into balance again. Worrying about it will certainly not help.”

I don’t have a great answer as to what to do about this problem, and as I write this I am hoping that the stresses I have been experiencing will start to die down so I can start to resume a more normal life, eating regimen, and weight. But one thought has occurred to me. As I accept my 103 lb body and its reduced energy level, I am going to try to look at eating as an activity to nurture and care for myself, and make it a priority to take time several times a day to stop what I am doing and feed myself. Rather than trying to force myself to overeat to gain back the pounds I’ve shed, I am going to look at eating the same way I might look at attending a yoga class or getting a massage, a gift to myself and a reminder that I, and my well-being, matter and deserve my attention and care.

I’m going to ignore the subversive voices in my head telling me that my stress-related thinness is a good thing, ignore the opposing voices telling me I no longer look good with fewer curves, and remind myself that my body is a vessel and an instrument– for my art, for my health, and for my soul. And I’m going to try to get back to the JOY of eating, not just the physical necessity, and remind myself that enjoying food, even when there are other things to focus on which seem more pressing, is my right as a human being.

Theresa’s suggestion I might be in the process of shedding things is admittedly a bit terrifying to me– as a person with strong attachments and a bit of a controlling streak, letting go is not my favorite activity. But perhaps what I am beginning to let go of here is the part of me which allows outside circumstances to get me so upset that I neglect my own health and happiness. It seems to me that this is a common occurrence in women– this tendency to focus so much on something external, whether the needs of others or the standards of society, that we cease to listen to the inner voices which alone can guide us to our best selves. It is this powerful voice within me I plan to listen for at my next meal.

13 thoughts on “Shedding: Is your stress induced weight loss trying to tell you something?”

  1. I think you are very brave to show the pictures in your bikini. Without the first one, the second would not look too thin. But in the first you are so beautiful and HEALTHY-looking! The contrast is a bit jarring. Your essay is very moving.

  2. I relate so much to your situation. And I find what you said will help me become a stronger person and ignore the external factors that have been affecting my health. Thank you for sharing your story!

  3. Wow. Hope you can continue your quest to give your body what it needs. The fatigue is your cue…you’ve probably trained yourself out of listening to hunger cues or allowing yourself the joy of feeling a hunger need and meeting it and feeling satisfied once its met. Sounds like you have two inner voices and you have to decide which one you want to listen to. The one that loves being “superior” than those who can’t ignore their body’s needs like you, that competitive part that views weight loss as a fun competitive game and makes you like winning at losing weight. And the other voices that say you don’t like having energy to even cook and that voice that says you want to enjoy food! Good luck…I hope you can enjoy the simple daily pleasure of food and fight our society’s strong warped view of the female body…and appreciate your body as a human and a woman and appreciate what our bodies do!!!!

  4. I loved your story. I really feel like im the only one this has happened to. I went from 234 which is unhealthy yes to 143 in less than a year and im still dropping pounds. Eveyones comments feel nice at times but i dont recognise the person in the mirror

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story. This has helped me realize I am not alone in my struggle. I have been on this very same journey for about three years now with the severe weight loss from stressful events in my life, as well as dietary limitations from gluten and dairy intolerance. It hasn’t been one thing after another, but one thing on top of another, as far as the stress goes. The weight loss, as of today, is 35 pounds. I now weigh 110. I originally weighed 145 three years ago on a 5’5″ frame. I used to think that maybe I would like to lose about 10 pounds, and now, I can’t even gain back 10 pounds. Shoot, I can’t even gain back 5 pounds. The weight loss has been stressful to me as well because I don’t like the way my body looks anymore, and of course I worry that something serious might be wrong with me, even though the weight loss only happens during those times of high stress. I also experience other physical and emotional symptoms when I am stressed out. (stomach pain, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea) I am way too skinny and quite honestly, I don’t even like to look in the mirror. I lock the bathroom door when I go take a bath because I don’t want my husband to see me without my clothes on anymore. I hate this. I am doing all I know to do to try to gain weight, but every single time something stressful comes up, I lose more weight. I don’t know how to stop this vicious cycle.

  6. wow, thank you for posting your story and for all the replies too. its nice not to be alone in this. i am usually small, although i do get quiet big when pregnant. but for the past year i have been sitting on 43kg, (94 or so pounds i think)i’m 5 foot 3. my stress comes from unhappiness in my personal life-maybe its a bit of depression?, my home based business which is over taking my life in many ways and although i love it, it is also causing me actual harm. i’ve developed painfull tendonitis in my fingers which wont heal because i can’t rest it for any length of time (i make specialty cakes, wedding cakes and such).
    i know what you are saying about feeling a little bit good about being the skinniest girl in the room. but i hate that people question me about it or even think i take drugs to look this way. i don’t even drink coffee! i just can’t eat when i am stressed or i feel guilty stopping and taking the time to eat. i always say “i’ll just finish this first” then move onto the next job and forget to eat. 3 nights a week i will eat dinner at about 2:30am as this is when i have finished my cakes (have it work late at night after everyone is in bed) so i know this can’t be helping in maintaining a healthy metabolism. but thank you, i don’t feel like its impossible to get out of this rut and that i’m not the only one. its lonely being the skinny girl too, alot of people assume your bitchy and self obsessed and its usually further from the truth. us loosing weight from the act of constantly doing things for others.
    anyway, thank you for letting me get this off my chest. no one i know can understand what this is.
    thanks again

  7. This is EXACTLY what I’m going through at the moment, and I’m so glad that I’m not alone. Thank you so much for writing this, and I will try to keep these thoughts in mind towards food!

  8. Hi, glad to know im not alone. i feel the same way, my friends all think im crazy because they all want to lose weight and here i am trying to gain it. Stress has really played a big factor in me losing the weight, i am 120lbs right now, and im so not happy with it. I was weighing in at 130 and i was so happy with that weight.but now it seems like im never going o get there again. I hope this passes soon because it is stressing me out more..

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. I lose my appetite to eat when I am in high stress,high pressure situations. I have lost almost 12 lbs in the course of six months. This may not seem like a lot but I was only 110 lbs and got down to 98 lbs. I am 23. I am slowing gaining weight back one pound at a time. This may sound odd, but exercising helped me increase my metabolism as well as increase my serotonin levels. Taking care of myself is helping me enjoy eating food again and manage stressful situations. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Thanks so much for posting this. I keep looking for articles on stress-induced weight loss, but they always seem to talk about anxiety, which I don’t think is entirely my issue. At 5’5 and 15 years old, ever since school started back up again (around 6 months ago), I’ve lost about 17 pounds. I’m 104 now, and my sickly appearance is unnerving. My friends keep saying I’m “lucky,” but I certainly don’t feel that way. I feel unhealthy and bony and strange.

    Your article was an inspiration to me. Thanks again for posting it. I certainly do aspire to have a mindset about eating such as yours.

  11. Thank you so much for this post 🙂 I’m facing the exact same condition lately and am devastated to know I’m losing weight without even trying, and yes, I am under a stressful condition due to my recent job and colleagues/boss. I don’t feel like eating but I stuff myself with tons of food and even bought a protein shake!

    But I totally agree with what Theresa said about this is a season where my body is letting go of something. (I am a control freak towards myself, and a melancholy too).

    God bless you! Sincerely wishing you the best of health and I’m sure we’ll be restored once the season is over! 🙂

  12. Thank you for sharing. I also am going thru this exact thing. I have never wanted to loose weight but have gone down to a size 4 from a size 12 over the past several years. I want my butt back too! I have never been this thin and long for the days I will fill out my clothes again. I will try to adopt the thoughts you shared and once again find joy in feeding my body and the necessity to give back to MYSELF and the acceptance of my body. Thank you

  13. I admire your ability to express this situation so accurately. Stress has certainly taken a serious toll on my health as well. I have lost over 20 pounds in the past few months, which brings me to less then 110 lbs. I feel boney, strange and I hate the way I look. Most of my life I have been overweight. Now that I am finally the thinnest I have ever been I never hated myself more. I feel like I’m losing control of myself. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep and I can’t focus on anything important in my life anymore. I hope that in finding similar situations that I can learn coping methods. Thank you for sharing tour story.

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