Being fat vs being depressed – do you have a choice?
11 Mar 2012
Here’s an irrefutable fact: Using medication to treat depression often results in weight gain. (See Mayo Clinic: Expert Answer)
- The medication itself causes weight gain, OR
- Decreased depression (due to appropriate medication) leads to an increase in appetite.
If a depressed person refuses medication, that person is equally screwed, as far as weight gain:
- Depressed people often eat carbs to feel better and exercise less due to lack of motivation; therefore depressed people often gain weight.
Doesn’t that increased weight negatively affect one’s mood? Sounds like a vicious cycle to me. So I must decide which battles to wage and which ones to dismiss as unimportant.
When I was feeling lower than a snake’s belly all those years ago, I didn’t care about the weight gain my psychiatrist warned me about. All I wanted was to feel better. My appetite at the time was way below my normal and I was nursing a 10-pound baby full time. Fast forward 8 years. I have gone through a separation and divorce, been a single parent, then met and married the man who would become my second husband. I am incredibly happy and optimistic these days. I’ve become quite adept at giving myself permission to ‘slack off’ on normal tasks at home in order to feel better sometimes. I have no intentions of ever stopping my anti-depressants, either. I have finally achieved a détente with my depression. I know it’s there, and I have it under control. My weight, however, has increased by quite a bit in those 8 years. I no longer resemble a frail delicate flower, and I feel my fatness makes me less of a sympathetic case.
So here are my choices:
- Keep taking anti-depressants that are proven to be successful for me and I get fatter, OR
- Remain depressed and get fatter anyway.
I have been thinking about this post for about 2 months before attempting to put fingers to keys and pound out some meaningful, uplifting words about accepting myself for what I look like, instead of berating myself or promising myself I will look better someday by harnessing my will power properly. Or somehow stop eating foods I know are ‘bad’ for me. So I will stop eating these, not weigh myself or judge myself or think about what I look like. I will bury myself in the goal of achieving perfect health. I will then look great, but not care about what I look like. Because that’s not what this is about, right? It’s about having such a healthy body image and such amazing self-worth, that I am above thinking about what I look like (even though I will look great because I have both of these things).
Now that I’m balanced, happy and not depressed, I’d like to get back to my former physical self. My age complicates matters, since everyone knows middle age carries with it the very real threat of middle-age spread.
I am proud of my body for having produced two perfectly healthy children, who will grow up and continue to make me proud. I have fairly good stamina and coordination. I can hold my own on a bike ride and I am energetic enough to walk my 75 pound dog two times a day, work full time, bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. My husband thinks I’m the hottest thing on two legs. So who cares if these legs are fat? Well, I do. I care very much. I want to look young (thin), hip (thin) and fun (thin). I also want to not be depressed. I do not want to look like a 41 year old past her prime Mom. I want to look like a 41 year old, enlightened, super healthy, glowing, foxy Mom. Is that wrong? This depends on the information I decide to incorporate into my own personal guide for living.
Food is a pleasure, a gesture of love, and the setting around which family traditions, bonds, and holidays are formed. So how can I believe food is the enemy? Frankly, I don’t think bread and potatoes with butter, food that has sustained my people for hundreds of years, is bad for me. And no amount of brain washing or fat shaming is going to change my mindset. But I digress. I am a depressed person and therefore am doomed to be fat (it seems), unless I ignore my body’s hunger pangs. Eating vs. Looking good. That seems to be the battle being fought here.
Dieting doesn’t work, that’s what we’re told now. So to lose weight and be healthier, we are supposed to eat what our body tells us it needs. Sometimes my body needs raw cookie dough. Actually that’s not true, it’s my brain that needs it. But that’s part of my body.
And if I satisfy my brain, won’t it be sated, and then start craving salad with no dressing? That’s the theory of some writers, specifically Geneen Roth. I have read two of her books, in which she expounds on her theory of treating yourself with kindness as if you are a small child. Denying yourself a certain food will cause you to perseverate on said food and rebel by eating lots of it, eventually. Again though, my situation is complicated by my depression. Overriding one’s brain is, as most depressed people will tell you, nearly impossible. As it is, I frequently self-assess my mood and perspective on situations that arise in my normal life, to make sure I am reacting in a reasonable way.
Because I’m a mother, I also have to be aware of how my self-image affects my children, especially my daughters (I have a blended family, with 5 children all together). So I don’t say negative things about myself out loud. I think them, but I don’t say them. I also avoid taking them swimming, claiming that’s Daddy’s specialty. This is bad, I know. Am I supposed to feel bad about this too? One day a couple of years ago, my youngest son, 8 at the time, suggested I not wear a bathing suit (I was wearing one at the time) because my legs were fat. I replied that my body is beautiful and strong, having produced perfectly healthy children. He was silenced but the voices in my head spoke up and agreed with him. Fun times.
A small anecdote about my recent trip to Paris, a city I love and have visited many times:
During our trip, I fell down a set of stairs and broke my ankle. After I returned from hospital back to our apartment, I learned how to negotiate walking using my crutches. My Mom, trying to be helpful, said I would probably lose a lot of weight because walking with crutches is so taxing. I could lose 40 pounds, she said. I replied that I don’t want to lose 40 pounds. Is this the truth? Sometimes it is.
I don’t want my day-to-day life consumed (ha ha) by calories, exercise and weight. My Mom’s life is that way, and I refuse to fall into that. I’m not above wanting to look attractive in the way I define attractive. I already fight a nearly daily battle with depression. This is a battle I am thankfully winning almost every day, and I don’t know if I can ask for more than that from myself.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, I was determined not to let my condition define my life. Well, now I must decide not to let my fatness define my life. So far, this is impossible. There are so many events and habits in life about which to feel guilt. Am I being too hard on myself, expecting thinness at my age? Am I being too easy on myself, allowing myself to just eat? Sure, there is a happy medium, but for me, that’s impossible to achieve.
My solution is to take it one meal or snack at a time. I make healthy choices and try not to think about my overall appearance. I tell myself the following things:
- I can be healthy inside, even if I don’t look perfect on the outside. [Tweet this!]
- Taking care of my internal health is important to my longevity.
- Each sensible snack and meal has a positive cumulative effect on my appearance.
- When I feel sad or anxious, I will call someone to talk, or I will go outside with my dog. Or maybe I will have a nap.
In one year from now, I would like to weigh less. I don’t know if I can make that happen, but even if I don’t, I figure my eating habits are still a good example for my children and I will also feel better. That’s what my life is all about – feeling better.
Photo credit: Joy Sánchez
Tanya Rosenberg lives in Toronto Ontario with her blended family. She works as a technical writer and reads in her spare time, as well as dabbles in various arts and crafts projects. A restless decorator, her home’s interior is subject to frequent reconfiguration. She is an introspective work in progress.