Losing it (and gaining it) after divorce

Divorce|September 14th 2012

The observation that besides bereavement, divorce and moving house are the two most stressful events in adult life has become a familiar cliché. Maybe we can all think of a few things to add to the list – illness for example – but there can be no doubt that divorce is close to the top of the list when it comes to emotional turmoil.

People respond to the stress of divorce in many different ways – some hit the gym, some go on antidepressants and some buy themselves a red Ferrari.

Right now, perhaps the highest profile divorcee in the world, Tom Cruise, is showing all the signs of one classic symptom: weight loss.

According to the Daily Mail, the film star, now 50, has shed a noticeable amount of weight since the news broke that wife Katie Holmes had filed for divorce in June – reportedly more than 14lbs. Alongside several pictures of a slimline Cruise, the paper quotes  a source telling Grazia magazine:

“He is refusing to slow down and is trying to soldier on. He doesn’t seem to be himself. He hasn’t been working out like he normally does and doesn’t appear to be eating well at all. His clothes just hang off him.”
The source also said: “His way of dealing with this is to throw himself into his work, but as a result he’s not looking after himself, and he risks cutting himself off from people who care about him and want to make sure he’s OK.”

As an experienced family lawyer, this account of the star’s mindset rang very true, whatever its ultimate accuracy. Noticeable weight loss – the so-called ‘heartbreak diet’ – is a very common response to the stress of the decree nisi. So is weight gain.

Celebrities reported to have gained weight after divorces include singer Christina Aguilera, while actress Eva Longoria, of Desperate Housewives fame, suffered “dramatic weight loss” in the words of the Daily Mail. Meanwhile I have also seen both such reactions amongst the clients who have come through my doors over the years.

Researcher Dmitry Tumin noted: “Divorces for men and, to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk.”

Dramatic weight changes may at first glance seem an odd reaction to the emotional strains of divorce, but I have never really found it a huge surprise. Food and drink are an intimate part of everyone’s daily lives. Our tastes and temptations are woven into our emotions.

For some people, self-denial is the natural response to unhappiness – skimping on meals, extended workouts in the gym, staying late at the office. Some people literally lose their appetite and weight falls off them. Ironically losing weight may have been an unattainable goal when things were better, this type of weight loss is too extreme.

But for others, it is just as natural to reach for that extra cream bun or have that third glass of wine becomes when they are feeling low.

The key, as ever is balance- finding that sweet spot between the two extremes. Of course, that’s always easier said than done! Stress can knot you up. Take it easy, step by step, day by day, and always remember that at some point it will pass. But in the meantime, if you are feeling that low, why not seek medical help? A course of anti-depressants and experienced therapy may soon get you back on the right path.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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