These past few months have been incredibly stressful. Anxiety over a potentially deadly virus lurks under the surface of many of our thoughts and decisions. We’re worried about our economic future while living in very close quarters with our family — or, perhaps, feeling trapped by our aloneness.
Since childhood, we’ve been taught that one of the best ways to soothe troubled emotions is to eat. Now, when a bad day at work upsets us, that tub of ice cream gives us instant pleasure.
Combine the anxiety of life during the COVID-19 pandemic with our tendency to use food as an emotional crutch and there is an unfortunate truth about all the “COVID-19 pounds” we’re gaining.
Dr. Michael Lyon is the medical director of the Medical Weight Management Program. Never before has he seen such need for the clinic’s approach to obesity and its causes. And while the clinic’s programs are for people who have medical conditions caused by obesity, he has wise words for anyone who is struggling with their relationship with food.
“We have to teach people to get out of their heads and into their lives,” Dr. Lyon says.
What does he mean by that? “So much of the time when we’re distressed, we’re living in our heads or we’re living in the future and catastrophizing. We’re negatively forecasting a future outcome as if we have some sort of magic crystal ball to know what will happen. But we don’t.”
It’s human nature to focus on the negatives and discount the positives, he says. “We ruminate about these negatives until we have this fire in our head that we can’t put out.”
There are ways to put out the fire. And there are also ways to do it while adhering to the “safe at home” directives.
One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that the Medical Weight Management Program has enhanced online access to its programs.
Here are some of the approaches the team of medical professionals take — approaches which can help anyone who is tempted to reach for that bag of cookies or chips when they need a way to cope with a COVID-19 world.
“You don’t necessarily strive for freedom from anxiety,” Dr. Lyon says. “You can accept it’s there but that it doesn’t control you. Resilient people — and our goal is to help people build resilience — master their emotions by learning how to deal with them more effectively. It starts with calming their minds and calming their body.”
The difference between ruminating and being mindful is totally different.
Dr. Lyon says, “When you’re mindful, you’re focused on the present. Learning to be present is to learn how to live your life now. The future isn’t here; don’t give it too much weight.”
LET YOUR VALUES DICTATE YOUR GOALS
As Dr. Lyon says, “People tend to postpone happiness to a time when they think they’ll really be happy — when I have more money, or I meet the person who’s right for me, or I lose weight.”
“We need to recognize the miracle in the simple things in life. When someone has a serious weight problem, it’s a long hard road to being healthier. The only way you can endure that journey is to learn how to enjoy the trip. You have to take a lot of small steps. If you’re burdened with despair and hopelessness, if you’re anxious and stressed and you need some way to release that pressure, then turning to unhealthy habits such as binge eating takes you in the opposite direction.”
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOUR THERAPY
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, helps people understand how their emotions and thoughts work.
“Thoughts are not facts,” says Dr. Lyon. “They are opinions of your external circumstances or your forecast of the future.” When you get caught in a thinking trap, “CBT helps you recognize certain patterns so that you can call out your thoughts for what they are.”
To find out more about the Medical Weight Management Program*, visit medweight.ca or call 604-777-5500.
*People need a medical referral to be enrolled in the program. The program’s medical team is still working individually with clients and has enhanced its increasingly popular online group workshops.