I gained weight from comfort food after my miscarriage. How can I get back to feeling like myself again?

Seeking comfort in food after experiencing trauma is incredibly common.

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Seeking comfort in food after experiencing trauma is incredibly common.
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Getty/Kethy Wang
  • Recovering from any kind of traumatic event takes a long time.
  • Seeking comfort in food is incredibly common, but it’s never too late to create new healthier habits.
  • Being more mindful should help you work out why you’re eating emotionally, and introducing gentle low-impact exercise will help you feel like your old self again.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek out professional support, both nutritionally and psychologically.
  • Read more Working it Out here.
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Dear Rachel,

I gained a lot of weight (so much so that I’ve avoided the scale for the actual figures) after losing a pregnancy which was followed by a deep depression. I fear my body has changed, I barely recognize myself. Whilst my mind has been on the mend and feels much clearer a year later, I feel the damage to my body is irreversible. I guess my question is, how do you find an alternative for comfort-eating and motivate yourself to look after your health after a trauma?

– Recovering

Dear Recovering,

Firstly, I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a pregnancy at any stage is an incredibly difficult thing to go through. Please know you are not alone.

I think it’s really important not to beat yourself up for gaining some weight while you’ve been grieving and struggling with your mental health.

Many of us are conditioned to seek solace in food, so comfort-eating is incredibly common. Most people do it.

Bodies change, and that’s OK. We all go through phases where we gain weight and lose weight as our priorities shift and our lifestyles evolve.

That said, it’s never too late. You’re never too old to start. Nothing is irreversible.

It sounds like you needed that time to grieve, and it’s OK that your body and your fitness weren’t your priority.

The fact that you say your mind feels much clearer now is fantastic and suggests that you’re ready to start incorporating some new healthy habits into your life.

Consider psychological as well as nutritional support

Eating more nourishing foods and doing more exercise will undeniably help you recover and boost your mental health. However, it might be worth speaking to a professional too.

“Any kind of traumatic event like this will take a lot of time to get over and it will take a lot of nourishment for the mind and body, so my first suggestion would be to seek out psychological support alongside nutritional support,” registered nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert told Insider.

“The ultimate answer would be: yes, you can work on yourself, and yes, you can regain a healthy relationship with yourself, with food, with your body, but that does take quite a bit of work, and that in itself is quite a difficult process to go through, but one that you can most definitely achieve.”

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It just comes down to forming new habits and creating new routines, but that won’t happen without some effort.

“Nutrition and psychology work hand in hand, and emotional eating is often a way of coping with the things life throws at us, which serves us well sometimes but other times it can be a punishment,” Lambert added.

“There are other ways of coping with difficult life events which don’t involve food, but they may require work in a one-to-one setting with a health professional.”

Be mindful to work out why you’re seeking comfort through food

When it comes to the foods you’re eating, it might be worth taking a step back, being mindful, and thinking about why you’re turning to food.

“Our relationship with food can be complex – not only do we turn to food to satisfy our physical hunger, many use food as an attempt to alleviate difficult emotions,” leading London nutritionist Lily Soutter told Insider.

“Highly palatable foods that are rich in fat and sugar are often chosen as they stimulate the release of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine.

“However, these foods do not ‘fix’ the feelings that triggered the initial eating, and we’re often left feeling worse off than before.

“An overreliance on using food to manage emotions is a learned behavior, which means that it is possible to make positive change.”

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Soutter advocates mindfulness to help you stop turning to a family-sized bar of chocolate in a moment of impulse, and also become more in tune with your emotions so you can choose healthier self-soothing mechanisms.

“When you notice a strong emotion arising, firstly observe this emotion as if you were looking at it through a window. Label the emotion, for example, are you feeling sadness, boredom, stress, anxiety or even happiness?

“Next, rate your emotion from a scale of 1-10, with the higher numbers being the most intense emotions.

“Notice where you feel the emotion, do you have tightness in your chest or tension in your jaw? Take a few deep breaths into this area.

“Next choose a task from a pre-written list of self-sooth strategies unrelated to food such as calling a friend, listening to music, going for a brisk walk, or even meditation.

“Once you have completed your self-soothing activity, re-rate the emotion from a scale of 1-10, and appraise how well the skills worked.”

Introduce low-impact exercise in bite-sized chunks

When it comes to reintroducing activity into your life, don’t try and take on too much too soon as you continue to heal.

“In order to get out of the negative patterning post emotional and physical trauma, redirecting your focus in bite-sized pieces towards nurturing your body, as opposed to judging yourself for what you think are poor choices (emotional eating or otherwise), will naturally shift your focus toward the positive aspects and will encourage you to start looking ahead once again,” Niki Rein, founder of boutique barre collective Barrecore, told Insider.

“I always advocate incorporating a few mindful and low-impact workouts into your routine once you’ve made the decision to start exercising regularly again.

“Once you make the decision to commit to showing up as little as twice a week and being open to learning about your new body, you are sure to not only see positive changes in your physique, but also your mental wellbeing and confidence.”

The motivation may not be there to start with – you’ll likely have to push yourself at the beginning, which can be hard. But once you start feeling better, the motivation to continue will come.

If you’ve tried to make some healthy changes on your own but don’t feel any better and still feel overwhelmed, consider seeking support from a qualified nutritionist, dietitian, or therapist to help you work your way back to a healthier relationship with food and your body.

You will get there, and things will get better. It may just take a little time.

Wishing you well,

Rachel

As Insider’s Senior Lifestyle Reporter and a self-confessed fitness fanatic, Rachel Hosie is fully immersed in the wellness scene and is here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light vs. heavy weights, or don’t know whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.

Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips – she regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up-to-date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest, healthiest life.

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