QUESTION: My wife and I have both gained more than 20 lbs. each caring for our sick child, Chloe. I’m happy to report Chloe is regaining her health and is finally out of danger. Unfortunately, our combined 40 lbs stays with us. There is no doubt we both overate to compensate for our suffering while watching our daughter go through many difficult and painful procedures. We can’t seem to break the habit now that she’s on the mend. What can we do?—Andy and Maddie
ANSWER: I am happy to hear that Chloe is regaining her health and the future looks bright. You both sound like wonderful, caring parents, and she is a lucky little girl to have you in her life. Overeating can be a direct response to caring for another who is experiencing pain or suffering. As compassionate human beings, we can fall prey to taking the pain and suffering of another as our own pain and suffering. This pattern can lead to compassion fatigue, which is a set of symptoms that can easily disrupt our lives. This seems to be particularly prevalent with parents and their children, which is understandable given the strong emotional tie that exists in that relationship. In order to subdue the anxiety and pressure we are feeling, we tend to medicate ourselves. This self-medication can appear in the form of alcohol, drugs, tobacco or food. When we are stressed it is easy to reach for a cigarette, a beer or a brownie. Unfortunately, we pay a price when choosing these unhealthy ways of managing our stress and unhappiness. And in your case, the price you are paying is the extra weight.
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The first step for both of you is to practice self-compassion. You have just passed through a very difficult time in your family, and you have made it to the other side. Forgive yourselves and embrace feelings of gratefulness. Take a deep breath, and resolve to work together to lose the extra weight. Even though you have each other for support, though, there are many tools out there that can help you achieve your goals. Three apps come to mind: www.mynetdiary.com; www.myfitnesspal.com; and www.loseit.com. All three, and many more that are available, help you record your daily calorie intake, list the calorie content of more than 250,000 foods, offer professional nutrition and exercise information, and even provide online support groups. Since you will be required to enter your information daily, these easy programs will keep you focused and on the path to success. The information is also extremely educational. And don’t forget to ramp up your exercise program, even if it means only walking an extra 15 minutes a day. Every little bit helps and achieving wellness is the best thing you can do for little Chloe. Good luck!
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.