People are always looking for ways to lose weight. And for some, they will try every pill, gimmick, drink, etc., trying to drop those unwanted pounds. Only to discover after much frustration that nothing they buy or try will work. And as their weight hangs on or even keeps going up depression sets in—or could it possibly be the other way around?
What comes first, weight gain and then depression? Or depression first and then weight gain? Unfortunately, the experts don't know. But one thing they all agree on is that weight problems and depression are both heavy burdens to bear and they often go hand in hand. While some people experience weight loss with depression, weight gain is much more common and can lead to serious health issues.
So the question is, why, are depression and weight issues so closely linked? Well, to put it simply, the part of the brain responsible for emotion also controls the appetite. And when this emotional part of the brain gets disturbed in someone who is depressed, their appetite gets disturbed as well.
EMOTIONS AND APPETITES
Emotional eating is when you eat not because of physical hunger but rather emotional hunger. When a person eats in response to their emotions, they are trying to soothe themselves by the food as it changes the chemical balance in their brain. Some foods, especially foods with high sugar and/or fat content may make you feel better, but only temporarily. And because the person associates the “feel good” feeling with the food, they want to eat more which leads to weight gain which in turn makes them feel bad about themselves which then leads to more eating and the vicious cycle has begun. Breaking that cycle can be quite challenging.
Because depression and weight are so closely linked, it is important to tackle both problems in order to get the upper hand on the situation. It’s not so important to figure out which problem came first but rather which one should get the most attention initially. If someone is severely depressed and overweight, the depression should be the primary focus. However if someone is exhibiting an eating disorder such as bulimia, and their eating is out of control, that would become the primary focus.
So assuming the person is depressed, overweight and is looking for help, what do they need to do? It might be surprising but the same tactic to control weight applies if you have depression—Decrease calories and increase physical activity. Now we know that when a person is depressed, they probably find it harder to muster up the energy to just get out of bed in the morning let alone make wise choices on what they are going to eat. However, it is critical to find a way to do both despite the effects the depression is having on them. So below I will offer some tips on weight management that will also help with depression.
BE MORE ACTIVE
Get moving! Most people with depression and weight gain have over time reduced their amount of physical activity. The low energy that comes with depression can be debilitating. But exercise is so key to treating not only the weight but the depression as well. Look at it as something you can do for yourself. And by taking an active role in caring for yourself it makes you feel good which in itself can be therapeutic.
And keep in mind that every bit of physical activity helps. It doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym and lift weights or run on a treadmill—unless that’s what you like. If you are struggling with low energy start out small. Set a goal to get out of bed in the morning and doing some stretches for a few minutes every day for a week, then add a walk and then other activities that bring you pleasure. By building on these small changes, overtime you will feel more in control, have a more positive outlook, and become more motivated to exercise.
MAKE GOOD CHOICES
Depression and food unfortunately results in unhealthy eating choices. People with low self-esteem often use food as a way to stuff their feelings of inadequacy and depression. So to turn this beast around examine the relationship between your depression symptoms and food. Consider the feelings you have about your weight and be mindful of how and when you use food. Food should be seen and used as a source of nutrition, not as an outlet for depression.
To help you start each day with the intention of eating healthy, I am going to give you a list of affirmations I found in an article by Self-Esteem Experts that I really like. Each day pick an affirmation from the list below or make up your own and repeat it to yourself throughout the day.
- Today I choose to eat healthily because I love myself.
- I eat for nutrition, not for boredom.
- Today I replace sugary food with healthy choices.
- I forgive myself for overeating. I will make healthier choices today.
- I eat food that is good for me.
- I make wise food choices.
- I nourish myself with water, exercise and healthy food.
Ahhh, that will be the reward!—To feel better. By taking charge of your life a step at a time and addressing the relationship between your weight and depression it will help to create a better body image. And as you decrease your weight by eating healthy you will also find that it will lead to higher self-esteem and a feeling of empowerment and content.
If you would like some help as you journey through this process of making the connection that by feeding your body you are also feeding your mind I encourage you to make an appointment with me at (616) 516-1570 or clicking on the “connect tab.” I look forward to helping you down the path of emotional and physical well-being.