Ask An Adult: Is There A Scientific Reason Why I Lose My Appetite During A Breakup?
The Debrief: Why do we tend to lose our appetites when our hearts get broken?
My boyfriend of five years and I broke up a couple of months ago and I’ve basically not been able to eat since.
My scales and my clothes and my friends and family say I’ve lost weight. I’m not exactly complaining as it’s about the amount I’d been trying to lose anyway, and I’m still at a healthy weight, but I do wonder why it is that every time I come out of a long-term relationship I completely lose my appetite.
The first time, aged 19, my weight plummeted dangerously low as I struggled to come to terms with the fact that everything is temporary. Now, at 26, I’m a lot more self-aware, but when you’re just not hungry, sometimes it’s hard to force yourself to eat. And the idea of ‘just not being hungy’ is completely alien to me as a self-professed foodie who has slipped into many a food coma at the dinner table.
Basically, as a general rule, I live to eat, not eat to live – so what’s changed?
According to a recent study, women lose an average of 5lbs in the first month after a break up, and if they stay single for a year after, they’re likely to end up at least a stone lighter, so it's not just me. I spoke to some experts to find out exactly why...
You think you’re being attacked
Your body interprets a break up as a stressful event, mainly because it’s the worst thing ever. According to Dr Terri Orbuch, relationship expert and author of Finding Love Again, divorce and break ups are ranked one of life’s most stressful events, so your body goes into survival mode.
‘When we were cavemen and faced with a big grizzly bear, our adrenal glands would trigger a fight or flight response to literally fight or flight this beast that was standing in front of us,’ adds nutritionist Lana Al-Mulla. ‘This response shuts down the non-essential systems, like appetite, to focus on dealing with the stressor.’
So you literally don’t get hungry. Often, you can also feel physically sick or nauseous, which doesn’t really help with the whole eating thing, either.
Plus, if you do actually manage to convince yourself to get some food into your mouth, dating expert Julie Spira suggests it may well taste like chalk, due to the fact that your taste buds have been affected. Bleurgh.
You stop giving a shit
‘People often forget to take care of themselves properly after a break up because they become depressed and lose interest in themselves,’ says Emma Heptonstall, known as The Divorce Alchemist.
‘When we’re feeling stressed, we don’t tend to practice self-care like eating well, sleeping well or exercising,’ adds Dr Orbuch. ‘We tend to practice unhealthy habits like drinking, not sleeping, eating less (or more) or smoking instead.’ All of which contribute to messing up your body clock and eating patterns, further suppressing your appetite.
This makes sense. I’ve been living life pretty erratically lately, facilitated by my freelance lifestyle which means I can pretty much go for days without seeing anyone or anyone having to see what the fuck I look like in my week-old tracksuit bottoms. Most days I have ‘breakfast’ at like 5pm because whatevs, I’m not hungry anyway and who’s going to make me?
It’s nice to have control over something
When the whole world is going tits up around you, sometimes we look to exert some form of control, even if it’s only over what we’re eating. Emma Heptonstall suggests that many of us use weight loss as a form of control over ourselves when we feel we have no control over anything else.
‘At the very least what you put in you mouth is within your control,’ she says.
Because you’re not stuffing your face with him anymore
Sometimes it’s as simple as: you’re no longer spending all your time cuddling on the sofa with him and stuffing your faces. According to Forza Supplements, 75% of women said they put on weight when they entered a serious relationship – so they’re bound to lose some of that when they get out of it.
‘In relationships, you can get comfy with each other, stop making an effort, get more takeout and eat in front of the television,’ says women’s health and lifestyle coach Karen Austin. All of which can make you gain all of that stuff in your booty he likes to grab.
You want to make your ex feel bad
And sometimes, losing weight is a conscious decision. Especially if your ex turned out to be a dickhead. ‘Sometimes people hope to make the ex jealous, and to get ready for the dating scene,’ says Emma Heptonstall.
Well, they do say success, happiness and looking fucking epic (but healthy!), is the best revenge. Or something like that. But probably not when it stems from not eating because you’re so sad, so if this is the case, then get some perspective and get a sandwich in your mouth pronto.
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