Everyone gets angry now and then, but did you know that anger can have a negative impact on your efforts to lose weight?
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that both men and women tend to weigh more if they test high for anger.
It's not difficult to figure out why anger can lead to weight gain. Just think about how anger normally makes us feel and what it does to our plans and goals.
Anger typically makes us feel like giving up and resisting doing just about anything that's good for us.
Anger also produces conflict, which leads to stress. And the connection between stress and weight gain is well known.
Anger is distracting. When people are angry they have a hard time focusing on anything but what they're angry about, which means healthy intentions can go out the window because anger has all their attention.
Anger can also be self-destructive. Self-destructive behavior can take many forms, but it usually starts with a thought that goes something like "What's the use?!" and culminates in something counterproductive: excessive drinking, overeating, compulsive eating or bingeing, giving up on exercise plans.
There are two main types of anger:
• Situational anger is connected to a particular, and recent, event. Take Jade, for example. She had been assured by her supervisor that she would get a promotion if she completed her project by a certain date. She put great effort into meeting the deadline and made plans for the raise that was to accompany the promotion. Once the project was completed, however, Jade's supervisor told her that, due to reasons beyond his control, she wouldn't be getting the promotion. Jade later dealt with her anger by ignoring earlier plans for a healthy meal and instead compulsively eating a large bag of chips.
• Chronic anger is insidious. This is the type of anger a person carries around for years. It is usually connected to experiences that happened long ago and may not even be in the person's consciousness anymore. The effects show up repeatedly, and symptoms include a negative attitude toward life, frequent outbursts of anger, recurring conflicts with other people and even anger toward one's self, ranging from irrational self-criticism to self-mutilation. Jerry seemed to be angry at the world for no apparent reason. His anger traced back to being bullied as a child. As a result, he avoided people by isolating himself and bingeing to the point of super-obesity.
Because anger is part of the human condition, it's important to know how to keep it from being self-destructive. Here are a few tips:
• If you are experiencing situational anger, get a more rational perspective on the situation. Try to figure out if your anger is based on irrational thoughts or if some of it is justifiable. Sometimes it's good to share your feelings with a trusted, unbiased party so that you can express the anger in a safe environment and get logical advice. Sometimes all you need is a healthy outlet (a brisk walk, deep breathing).
After sorting things out, you'll know if it's necessary to deal directly and sensibly with the source of your anger or just let it go. The goal here is to relax the mind and body by getting the right perspective on the problem. If you're relaxed you won't need a negative outlet.
• Chronic anger needs more intensive attention. Anger that has been unresolved for a long time is more difficult to figure out on your own. The first step is to recognize that it exists and acknowledge how it has been harming you. Repeated conflicts may stem from chronic, unresolved anger. A mental health professional can be a great, and often necessary, source for putting an end to the destructive effects of chronic anger, including those that affect your physical health and weight.
Getting anger under control is an important part of being healthy. In particular, learning to better cope with situational anger and getting rid of chronic, debilitating anger might be the answer to the puzzle about why you can't seem to be successful with your weight and health in general. Anger can block your good intentions, so don't underestimate its effects on weight and health goals. Honestly consider whether dealing with it should be a part of your weight management plan.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist, author and expert in weight management. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.