Author: Mary-Catherine LaBossiere, MPH, RD, LDN
The first couple weeks after your spouse deploys are like no other. At first, you might feel a rush of calm and relief. Let’s be real - the gear all over the place, the numerous schedule changes, the fear of not spending enough time together before they leave. Those feelings of anticipation and nervousness are (temporarily) over.
In the coming months, your clothes are likely to start fitting differently - whether intentional or not. In order to avoid the constant ups and downs of your weight every time your spouse leaves, let’s talk about the underlying reasons for the weight changes.
I also want to preface this article by saying that you in no way, shape or form need to change your weight while your spouse is gone. It’s really important to me that everyone understands that all bodies are beautiful and all foods fit. But anyways, let’s get to it!
Factor 1: Routine
Before your spouse leaves, things are probably a bit chaotic. Routine may be tossed out the window because you’re focusing on packing lists, seeing people, pre-deployment leave, and quality time with each other. After they’ve been gone for a bit, you start to get into a new routine. Depending on your occupation, your schedule is likely more consistent, making it easier to create new routines.
Routines are beneficial. They help induce calm and manage stress - both of which are important while our spouse is away from home. Maybe now, you can better build exercise into your routine. When you make a plan, it’s likely easier to stick to because there’s one less variable in the scheduling mix. Maybe that means you can meal prep because you have a bit more steadiness in the day-to-day happenings. Routine can help with weight loss.
Factor 2: Priorities
Your priorities when your spouse is home and while they’re away might be different. While they’re home, you might prioritize quality time with each other over going to the gym. That quality time might be different, especially if your spouse is in a drastically different time zone, so you find that you have more space in your schedule to prioritize moving your body.
While you might prioritize going out and spending money when your spouse is here, you might prioritize saving money while they’re deployed. While you might prioritize spending evenings together when your spouse is here, you might work later hours when they’re gone.
How your priorities change can influence your weight, especially if you’re more likely to prioritize healthy habits while your spouse is deployed.
Factor 3: Stress Levels
Each person’s deployment experience is different. For some spouses, they may feel they’ve been through this so many times that there just isn’t much stress anymore. Or maybe their spouse is deployed but in a less dangerous place where there are fewer worries. They miss their spouse, but they’re not suffering from extreme stress every day. (Also, it’s important to note that stress and anxiety are not the same thing, which is why we’re referring to stress here!).
On the flip side, you might be going through an extremely high stress deployment. It’s important to note that I’m a firm believer that you have a right to your feelings.
Nonetheless, that stress level can impact our appetite and therefore weight.
When our body is under stress, it produces a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). CRH suppresses appetite, so you might not feel hungry. When you’re not hungry and motivated to eat, you probably aren’t eating enough. This, by default, leads to weight loss (although it’s not advisable nor sustainable to lose weight this way).
On the flip side, the body also produces large amounts of the hormone cortisol when we’re stressed. Cortisol increases blood sugar by putting the body into an insulin-resistant state. This can lead to an increase in appetite and our body craving high fat, high sugar foods. Cortisol also alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system (which can partly speak to why some people with high stress experience digestive issues). High stress, and subsequently high cortisol levels, can increase your appetite, food intake, and weight.
Before you think something along the lines of, “Shoot. I’m helpless because I can’t control what hormones my body is producing!” know that the best way to keep those hormones at bay is by managing your stress level and focusing on balanced nutrition (because diets don’t work!).
Factor 4: What You're Eating
When you opened this blog post, you probably thought this would be the first thing I mentioned. In reality, our intake is going to be the biggest factor that results in weight loss. So why are things different when your spouse is deployed?
Routine meals: Do you schedule meals when your spouse is home? What about while they’re gone? If you eat consistent meals throughout the day, you’re more likely to be a lower weight. If you’re skipping meals, you might end up overeating later and gaining weight. In fact, one study showed that people who skip breakfast are 4-5 times more likely to be obese.
Eating out: Think about how many days per week you ate out (including takeout, sit down, and drive through) when your spouse was home. Now, think about how many times you’re doing that now. For some, they may feel less tempted to eat out because they’d be eating solo and don’t want to spend money on “just them.” I mean, in 2019, American households spent over $3500 per year on food away from home (just about $67 per week). This can also tie back into priorities: do you prioritize convenience while your spouse is gone and/or saving money?
For others, they see eating out as a convenient way to avoid spending hours in the kitchen preparing meals for just 1 adult plus however many children. They may also see eating out as an opportunity to get out of the house and socialize with friends (which includes those FRG events!), which is important when you’re trying to keep sane during the long days. When it comes to those weight changes during deployment, people who eat out are more likely to gain or maintain a higher weight.
Alcohol: Consider your alcohol intake while your spouse is home versus when they’re deployed. According to a study published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, individuals who drink alcohol consume an additional 384 calories per day on average. This can add up over time. On the flip side, if you were drinking a lot while your spouse was home and now are less inclined, you might see weight loss as a result of drinking fewer calories.
Factor 5: How You're Moving
Exercise is another important factor when it comes to our weight.
On one hand, you may:
- Be more active because you use it to fill the time
- Have fewer interruptions in your schedule so you can stick with your exercise routine
- Prioritize the workouts for your mental and/or physical health
On the other hand, you may:
- Be less motivated to get up and get moving
- Feel like you’re dragging because you’re in a slump and/or not feeding your body right
- Struggle to get out of your own way because of all the deployment emotions
If you’re exercising a ton and not losing weight, you might be overdoing it. I can speak from experience on this one. Two weeks into my husband being gone, I had purchased a walking desk and was walking around the neighborhood for 2-3 miles with the dogs up to twice daily. You might guffaw at that, but it was how I coped - I just kept moving so I didn’t have to sit in the silence of an empty house. I didn’t change my eating habits, yet I gained weight a few weeks in - likely as a result of this overexercising. If you’re in this boat, make sure you practice adequate rest and provide your body with enough nourishment!
There are a lot of factors that can influence your weight while your spouse is deployed, including your routine, priorities, stress level, food intake, and exercise level.
As a registered dietitian, my biggest advice if you want to lose weight is to focus on building healthy, sustainable habits. Avoid the fad diets and trendy supplements. While you might see some weight loss, most of the time you’ll end up regaining what you lost and then some. In fact, about 80% of people who lose weight regain it.
About the Author:
Mary-Catherine LaBossiere, MPH, RD, LDN is a military spouse, registered dietitian, and the owner of Defy Nutrition. She started her career working in obesity and diabetes clinical research while earning her Master’s in Public Health. Mary-Catherine then transitioned to working in behavioral health. Now, Mary-Catherine is a full-time entrepreneur who helps women eat like human beings and develop healthier relationships with food. She is on a mission to empower women to ditch diet culture and focus instead on sustainable habits. In her free time, she loves being active and exploring the outdoors with her husband and their dogs.