When I was out of work for nine months a decade ago, I felt like the universe was conspiring against me. I had way too much free time, I thought I deserved a lengthy wallow in my favorite comfort foods, and my desk was only a dozen steps from the refrigerator. Sure enough, before I landed a job, an extra 10 pounds had landed on me.
How to avoid the piling on of pounds? To find out, I consulted one of my favorite gurus, Pam Peeke, MD, whose new book, The Hunger Fix, harnesses the latest neuroscience research to the task of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
The first thing she told me surprised me. “When you’re unemployed, your stress response is in overdrive. You’re filled with uncertainty and anxiety. You feel helpless, hopeless and defeated. Toxic stress can keep your stress hormones permanently elevated. For some people, this takes away their appetite and they lose weight.”
Wait a minute. Takes away their appetite? Who are these people and how can I join their tribe?
Peeke tells me that it’s a small number of people and assures me that it is not a healthy place to be. For most of us, the problem is the reverse. “There are stress undereaters and stress overeaters. More women then men are emotional eaters. Men often turn to alcohol, while women hit the food. And even if you’re a stress undereater, the weight will come back, though there’s no telling when. Maybe when you land a job, or maybe you just get used to being unemployed.”
For the majority of us — the stress overeaters — Peeke has a formula to follow.
Keep a Routine. We know this is important for your job search; turns out, it’s also key to warding off the extra weight. “Take classes, develop a new skill, research new fields that have the best job prospects,” Peeke says, because it will help you stay positive. Don’t walk around in a bathrobe. You have to take care of yourself mentally. “You must have patience and perseverance. You never know when a random situation will bear fruit for you.”