One fitness “celebrity” on Instagram is exposing more than just her body. Makayla — who goes by @abeauty_and_abeast_ and uses the tagline, “Love your damn self” — shares her personal health and fitness journey with more than 41,000 followers. However, this social media influencer recently admitted that she’s not as trim as she was last year.
“I never meant to gain weight. I didn’t do it on purpose,” she posted. “I didn’t gain weight because I needed to. I gained weight because my mom died, and I was suddenly dumped into the worst, most confusing, excruciating, world-ruining tornado of grief and anguish. I went into survival mode, and as a result, exercise and planned meals became a non-priority.”
In fact, Makayla is not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, people are more likely to abandon healthy eating habits and opt for high-calorie, high-fat foods during times of stress. Also, the body tends to store more fat during periods of prolonged stress compared to when it’s in a more relaxed state.
“Emotional eating is eating in response to feelings, not hunger,” Susan Albers, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body-image concerns, and mindfulness, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Sometimes we are under the assumption that emotional eating is only in response to feelings like boredom, anxiety, grief, or stress, but it can actually be when you eat to keep good feelings going,” says Albers, who is also the author of 50 More Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.
There’s a biological explanation for why periods of extreme stress may encourage unhealthy food choices.
“Your body becomes flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone, that is linked to your fight-or-flight mechanism,” says Albers. “And that fight-or-flight response gears up your body for a battle, which makes you crave sugary, salty, and fatty foods.”
While emotional eating is not a clinical disorder, she adds that it can “spiral into a problem if it continues and is the only mechanism you have for coping with your feelings.”
In order to put an end to this vicious cycle, she says, the first step is recognizing that you’re engaging in emotional eating, followed by being open to the idea of trying other coping mechanisms. “It’s likely that the emotional eater in the midst of grief has gotten hooked to the quickness and easiness of soothing with food,” says Albers. “But, rest assured, there are other ways.”
She advises seeking social and emotional support from friends and family, as well as a counselor. “Don’t isolate!” emphasizes Albers. “This leaves you alone with food to engage in emotional eating, which is only a temporary way to find comfort.”
Also, do your best to keep a sense of normalcy about your life. “When you’re grieving, it can feel like your world has come to a screeching halt,” she explains. “So making sure that you keep moving and doing your regular routine can be of some comfort.”
It’s also imperative to try to find healthier emotional outlets, such as meditation, exercise, yoga, prayer, routine, or distraction. “Match your feeling with the intervention,” advises Albers. “If you’re feeling angry about your loss, you may need to vent those feelings or move to shake it off.”
Above all, she warns about the one path you’d want to avoid. “Like drowning your grief in food, be cautious of escaping your feelings with other substances,” concludes Albers. “Facing these feelings head-on with support from others is key.”
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty:
- What These Two Women Learned From Writing About Their Eating Disorders
- Why ‘Fitness Barbie’ Wants You to Love Your Body
- How a Woman Healing From an Eating Disorder Is Dealing With Pregnancy Weight Gain