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Can pain cause weight gain?

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Each day I work with clients to improve their health. One of the main issues they face is failing to accomplish the goals we set together. These clients are smart and capable, and have all of the information available to have success with their program. If they have all the tools they need, then why did they fail? Could pain be holding them back?

The feeling of failure is torturous. At one time or another, we have all failed at some personal goal. Get up earlier, exercise more, eat better, drink more water, read more, get more rest, be more productive... These are all things we want more of because we know they make us feel better. What is stopping us from being in alignment with everything we want to be?

There are many reasons diets fail. Self sabotage is one of the topics we will talk much more about in future articles. If we all want is to feel better, then why do we do things to make us feel worse? Failure can cause us immense pain and we may not be aware the of the power it holds over us. If we don't know why we are failing, how do we fix the problem? Failure is invisible to most people. The frustration, sadness, and overwhelming anxiety that develops can become literal. We allow our belief that we "can't" change our decisions. This can create setbacks in our health and wellness plans.

When setting health goals, people are constantly failing. They want to get better, feel good and live their best life. One of the many hurdles in the way of successful weight loss is making good food choices while in physical or emotional pain.

The process of self sabotage can repeat itself because of biological, hormonal, and social cues. How can we break the cycle?

Physical pain > Frustration > Need for relief > Poor food choices > Weight gain > Failure > Emotional pain > Need for relief > Poor food choices > ...

What I have learned from my clients:

Everyone wants to feel good. We all desire energy that allows for pain free activity, clear and focused thinking, and restful sleep.

There is more than enough information on how to be healthy, and you can find it in less than 5 minutes on Google. So, if we know that fruit is better for you than chips, and that bingeing on cookies is not doing use any favors, then why do we do it?

What is the correlation between emotional pain and physical pain?

Pain is everything and pain is nothing. We cannot see emotional pain. We can't understand how someone else is feeling. We can't see their nerves burning, or their skin itching, or their belly aching. We know pain exists, and we expect it in times that we know can cause pain such as injury, surgery, bleeding, and from emotional events like grief, sadness and loss. Pain management is a very personal journey and regardless of emotional or physical pain, they both hurt.

Science is starting to understand how much pain can alter our thoughts, hormones, and biochemical processes. In fact, even the perception of pain can cause actual inflammation and swelling in our body!

I have so many clients who are in chronic pain, and many of them have resorted to non medication pain clinics, and even psychological counseling. If imagining pain, and feeling pain from an injury cause similar effects, then could our thoughts be the key to freedom from pain?

Could pain be altering your dietary decisions ?

Both physical and emotional pain cause an increase in desire for sweet foods. Pain triggers hormone responses that raise cortisol and affect blood sugar, possibly leading to weight gain. Sugar also causes an increase in serotonin (the feel good chemical that can also temporarily reduce the feeling of pain). The downside of this serotonin boost is that it crashes quickly, which can cause cravings for more sugar, tiredness, and lowered mood.

Client "A" is in pain from a chronic back injury. He know's he can't do a lot of exercise, and needs to rest the area, but feels the desire for something to take the edge off the discomfort. He is trying to avoid medications because of side effects, drugs are dangerous, alcohol isn't the answer, so he chooses a little but of candy.

Could this choice be causing more problems than he thinks?

How does sugar cause weight gain?

  • When you eat sugar or just about any carbohydrate it gets broken down into glucose.

  • Next, glucose sends a request for insulin to come pick up the glucose and put it to work. (Glucose is energy for your muscle cells, brain cells, and organs).

  • If there is more than the needed amount of glucose left over from this process it can't stay in the blood, and your cells have all they need, so your body must call for extra insulin to store the glucose for later use. (This process is inflammatory and puts your fat cells in lock down, or "fat storage mode").

  • If you are trying to lose weight or making an effort to maintain a healthy weight, this process can set you back.

What can we do to get back on track, even while in pain?

Here are 5 easy steps to staying in control of your diet when pain is fighting your best efforts

  1. Make yourself aware of what may be happening in your body, and accept that you are not your pain. You are amazing and smart and strong! You can accomplish anything! Start to separate your thoughts from thoughts that acknowledge, physical and emotional pain. By starting to realize that those thoughts are a result of a chemical process in your body that affects your hormones, cravings, energy, and even thought patterns, you can start to separate "you" from your pain.

  2. Consciously create a plan that works with your body and not against it. By keeping steady meal times and eating balanced meals every few hours, leaving time between to digest your food, your blood sugar can stabilize and allow cravings to calm down. Be sure to include lean protein at each meal to further stabilize blood sugar and provide the the amino acids needed to create neurotransmitters that improve mood. Lean protein can also help to regulate appetite.

  3. Move your body by incorporating exercise, stretching, or physical therapy. Some of the best research in the field of exercise is how it increases "feel good" chemicals called endorphins. Set a goal of 30 minutes every single day. You can even divide that into 3 10 minute segments or 2 sets of 15 minutes.

  4. Meditate often. This may seem out of your normal routine but meditation changes your brain waves! The brain is responsible for translating the pain response to you. If our thoughts can create the same response as an actual injury, imagine how taking control of your mind and calming it could benefit your health and well being. Many free introductory guided mediations are available online, and they have specific pain relief programs that are easy to follow and only require a few minutes a day.

  5. Get help from professionals and from your community. At some point, you will know if what you are doing is not helping you get to where you want to be. Push yourself to spend time with friends and family. Avoid isolating yourself. Surround yourself with positive activities and positive people even when you don't want to. Know that it is ok to seek out support groups, therapists, or specialists to help you. This can help you break through cycles of self sabotage. Find your inner strength to push harder toward feeling better, even if it is uncomfortable, it is not impossible. By surrounding yourself with others you will see you are not alone in your pain or struggle.

If you are looking for more helpful ideas and inspiration to live a healthier and happier life, follow Brightly Well on facebook, instagram and LinkedIn. Feel free to email me for info on upcoming local and online classes and to receive the Brightly Well Newsletter full of course information, motivational tips and healthy recipes!

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