There's no doubt about it: breakups can shake us to our core. Although we all deal with them differently, many people have experienced the phenomenon as the "breakup diet." Why does heartbreak cause us to lose interest in food? We sat down with YourTango experts Marina Pearson and Debra Smouse to find out why loss of love causes a loss of appetite.
For starters, Pearson points out, "Considering that body and mind are connected, it makes sense that if you are upset that your body will be affected." She explains what happens on a chemical level when we think stressful thoughts: "The first thing the body does is to create more adrenaline, which flows into the body; this increases our cortisol levels. Too much cortisol in the body on an ongoing basis can lead to sustained elevations of blood sugar, substantial loss of calcium from bones, depression of important immune responses, high blood pressure, loss of muscle mass, increased fat accumulation, and even loss of cognitive function. In short, it affects our immune system, and as our immune system is in the gut, is there any wonder that your appetite is affected by a breakup?"
Smouse expands on the physical reactions we often have to food when dealing with breakup pains, explaining that although some people turn to comfort food like cupcakes, wine and ice cream, many others feel ill when attempting to eat: "It's as if there is a connection between our stomachs and our hearts, and any food crossing our lips sends us into physical pain. We're unable to swallow. We force ourselves to eat something, and it immediately comes back up. Though we aren't quite ready to feel healing and hope, we don't desire to feel any more pain, so we abstain from eating."
When our hearts are hurting, Pearson says, it is logical that our bodies are, as well. "The body can only ever be in two states: either in a state of repair or a state of repose. If heartbreak is affecting you negatively, then your body will be in a state of repair. If it's constantly in a state of repair your appetite will be affected, as your body will be working over time."
While dropping a few pounds can be encouraging or even feel great, Smouse warns against taking this into unhealthy territory. "My client Ann became almost skeletal after her divorce. Her doctor urged her to put some weight back on, but she was conflicted. She was convinced her husband had an affair because the other woman was 'skinny', so what began as a reaction to the anxiety of the breakup eventually became her way to prove to her ex that she could be thin, and therefore desirable. One of the best ways to recover from a breakup is by taking care of yourself both emotionally and physically." Losing weight can be part of that equation but, as Smouse says, "starving yourself isn't taking care of yourself... even if it is helping you to shed some extra pounds."
So how can we move forward and engage in healthier behaviors toward food when we're reeling from a breakup? Pearson suggests keeping your detrimental daydreaming to a minimum: "Terrifying thoughts about your breakup or ex may look really real to you in the moment, but they are not — just like when you go the movies and see the wonderful special effects, you know that the actors are not really acting on the screen in that moment. The same is true of our thoughts department. Thoughts are the special effects department of our minds, and even though they may look really real... they are not."
Once you accept that your emotional and mental demons are able to be conquered (you WILL find love again; you CAN heal), Smouse encourages you to indulge in some self-care. "First of all, allow yourself to feel everything. While numbing seems like a good solution, the longer you put off processing your feelings, the longer it’s going to take to recover. Remember that a breakup involves grieving the loss of the relationship, as well as the idea of what the relationship represented." Keep reading...
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