Baby Boomer and Generation X women grew up with movies like Working Girl and television shows like L.A. Law depicting women who could have it all.
Not only did many of us in that age group grow up with expectations of what we could achieve — but also what we would look like — the smartly suited, confident professional woman who could stride boldly from the board room to a variety of post-work pursuits.
However, the reality of our workplace lives is different from the pop-cultural ideals we were fed — and this extends to the way we look, both in jobs that demand those crisp, tailored suits as well as professions that allow for more casual attire.
Philadelphia-area psychotherapist and hypnotherapist Dr. Steven Rosenberg assesses that the more things change, the more things remain the same regardless of whether a woman is married or single. The primary trigger originates from the ongoing struggle to find respect and parity in a man’s world, he says.
His practice is focused on hypnotherapy treatments for smoking cessation, weight loss and facing other health issues that require behavior changes.
“If they are single, many women are taken advantage of because they do not have a family to take care of,” he assesses. “The married women with children, meanwhile, have the added stress of handling the kids and all that comes with it. There are financial pressures, social pressures and more.
“Secondly, most working women are sleep deprived, prompting them to eat junk food to keep up their energy during the day. Also, they do not have time to shop and take care of themselves by having the proper food available for themselves. Where is the time to exercise? Trying to fit everything into a day is a challenge.”
Rosenberg adds that because a lot of people think of food as a reward, this makes them turn to fat or carbohydrates to ease stress of the day. Drinking water, which is the best alternative, is rarely done because they don't have time to go to the bathroom. People keeping kosher may find the challenge doubly difficult because of what food may be available to them at certain times and places.
Debi Silber, a New York City-based health and weight loss coach, speaker and author (www.TheMojoCoach . com), has firsthand experience as a working mom with four children and five dogs. She concurs with Rosenberg that belly fat mercilessly attaching itself to high-achieving women is triggered by excessive amounts of stress and a scarcity of hours in the day, leading to poor eating habits and not enough exercise.
“When we’re stressed, we’re not interested in label reading and making healthy choices,” Silber states. “We're consumed with our stress and don't want to think about it.”
Silber points out that our bodies are actually craving the release of two neurotransmitters: serotonin (which gives us a sense of calm) and dopamine (which ignites the pleasure centers of our brain). Furthermore, when under stress, our bodies become flooded with the stress hormone cortisol.
These chemical reactions ultimately have detrimental effects, including increased appetite, suppression of the thyroid (and metabolism as a result) and unflattering fat storage in the body’s mid-section. They end up suppressing the adrenals, creating extreme fatigue, and we look for energy in caffeine and sugar.
Silber says she recently became what is known as a functional diagnostic nutritionist because these work-related weight gain issues have been such an important aspect of her business. She says she can test her clients for adrenal issues including weight gain, cycle changes, fatigue, low libido, irritability, joint pain, digestive disturbances and more.
“As someone who’s recovered twice from a host of illnesses, symptoms, conditions and even disease, I now help women do the same so they can become their personal/professional best,” she says.
“The cortisol crash is worse for women,” affirms Cammi Balleck, known nationwide as the “Happy Hormone Doctor.” “Women need to take supplements in the morning for their adrenals in addition to a B vitamin daily. I also have all my working mom clients take a mineral at night. All women who feel stress are already mineral-deficient and this leads to other problems with weight, wrinkles and mood swings.”
Like Philadelphia’s Rosenberg, Balleck cites sleep deprivation as a major wellness issue for working women, adding that it plays a role in elevating cortisol levels in women.
“Where does all this cortisol go?” Balleck says. “If you don’t sleep, it goes to your muffin top and spare tire. Cortisol plays a large role in our weight; if we are stressed too much and not balancing our cortisol it will inevitably cause weight gain.”
Balleck does note, however, that some married women may have an advantage over single women because they feel more secure having a husband and are not so conscious about their weight.
Jennifer Voutsinas, senior counselor at Medifast Weight Control Center in Feasterville, meanwhile, says that based on what she’s observed in her practice, whether women commute to work, work from home or are stay-at-home mothers, the challenge of gaining weight is inevitable for nearly everybody.
“Most women do not put their personal health concerns on the daily ‘to-do list,’ ” says Voutsinas. “Women’s needs are often defaulted to the bottom of the list, and often don’t even make it on the list at all!”