Weight gain. It can be positively daunting facing the grim reality of regaining weight after months or years of being depressed. Beating up on yourself is not the answer. It will only make you feel worse.
My Depression Story
For the past several years I’ve been overcome with bouts of depression, grieving several life-changing losses in my life. From dealing with the isolation of a move, and the prospect of becoming an empty nester, to my cat’s passing, my adult son moving back home, mom’s mental illness, legal battles, problems in my marriage, and facing the reality of getting older and losing my confidence.
Let’s just say that around last year this time, I was just whipped! I found myself right back again at Victim Place, where nothing felt better than eating ice cream, so I just packed on the pounds.
My feelings about that ran the gamut from being mortified, shocked and ashamed to anger, and indignation followed by waves of sadness and disappointment. Maybe you can relate. If you have been feeling anxious and upset about gaining weight, my advice to you is to forgive yourself and move on. That’s what I’m doing and I’ll be happy to share my health renewal process with you.
Here are several tips that have worked for me to reclaim my health and regain my sense of confidence.
Mindset – Getting healthy is a process that will take time. There will be ups and downs. Guaranteed. The best way to recover from those down times, is to forgive yourself and move on. I learned that a little bit of self-compassion goes a long way. Perhaps in the past, you learned to bootstrap your way forward, and take the drill sargeant approach which made every effort seem so much more difficult and painful than it needed to be. Maybe you’re bringing emotional baggage with you from childhood where others shamed you for being fat. The good news is that you don’t have to accept that kind of disrespectful treatment anymore. You’re in control now. Nobody is pushing you to do anything. You can choose to be gentle with yourself by setting a pace for change that feels natural to you.
Add, don’t subtract. – Back in 2013, I first met and interviewed Health At Every Size author, Linda Bacon, Ph.D. She was on my Lovin’ the Skin You’re In radio show. She shared the advice that it was easier to add a new habit, rather than focusing on depriving yourself of anything. She suggested doing something small like adding a salad to a meal, or committing to try a new vegetable. That’s exactly what I did before and where I began again.
Listen to Your Body – Think about choosing foods that feel good in your body over time. For example if you’re thinking about eating a whole bag of M&Ms, take a moment and think about how that is going to feel in an hour, in several hours, the next day. A few years ago a conversation with someone plunged me into enormous feelings of shame and feeling like a victim. I sought solace in a half gallon of black raspberry ice cream. My stomach was twisted in knots for days. I felt nauseous, gassy and bloated. That experience made me really aware that I am lactose intolerant and ice cream past a certain small amount can cause me some serious pain. I still love ice cream, but will often choose the Dairy Free brands. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat the foods you love. Notice if they are causing you any discomfort, any allergic reaction, gas, bloating, pain, or anxiety. If you notice that your symptoms appear soon after you eat the food, you may want to begin eating less of that food simply because you want to feel better.
Don’t fear fat. Perhaps you’ve become used to naked salads and rubbery vegetables. Fat has long been maligned by the diet industry, leading people to avoid it. When you add butter, salad dressings, nuts and oils to your meals, you will add great flavor that will keep you satisfied longer.
Visualize what you want. Your daily habits are part of the engrained programming in your subconscious mind which controls all aspects of your life. You can have the best of intentions, but if your goal is pushing you too far out of your comfort zone, you will find yourself continually self-sabotaging your progress. It’s a waste of time to fight yourself when you notice this. You can win the war by giving up the battle. Learn how to work with your body, rather than against it. Our brain thinks in pictures. If you want to change anything in your life, change the way you think about it. If you have a habit of drinking a lot of soda and you want to switch to drinking more water, or eating more fruit, put an enticing picture in front of you that you will see several times a day. Your unconscious mind will pick up your desires and reorganize your body and push your buttons making you crave what you want until you get it. That’s the power of your brain’s reticular activating system and the reason why you get more of what you focus on.
Say What’s On Your Mind – If you’re a person who is not comfortable expressing your emotions, you will end up wearing them as excess fat on your hips, your face, your stomach, your arms and all areas where excess weight is stored. There’s no shame in that, but there is a health consequence that will end up shortening your life. You’ve got to ask yourself, “Is it worth it for me to stay silent?” If you are in the company of people who intimidate and frighten you, and saying what’s on your mind feels too dangerous, don’t do anything to risk your safety. Rather find a group of others who share your opinion and within that circle, feel the freedom that comes with speaking what’s on your mind.
Ditch the Drama – Don’t focus so hard on seeing a smaller number on the scale. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself that could make you feel the need to overeat. Compulsive or emotional eating is triggered by strong and overwhelming emotions that feel unmanageable. I’ve learned it’s a waste of time to shame yourself for overeating. Now when I find myself eating out of control, I look to see what is happening in my life that is overwhelming me.
Lighten your emotional load by becoming aware of the situations in your life that are draining the life out of you, and keeping you feeling emotionally hungry. Look for the places where you are spending your time, spinning your wheels trying to change people and do things for others who don’t appreciate you, resist your efforts and refuse to change. These are probably the situations that trigger your urge to eat compulsively. Forgive yourself for overeating and know that you are only doing the best you can with what you know. As Oprah says, “when you know better, you do better.” Your ultimate goal is to let go of any situation or person that makes you feel helpless.
A Piece of Quiet – Living in a fat shaming society, there are so many reasons why a weight gain could spiral into depression. Worrying about how you look and what people think about you is really all nonsense and an illusion. It’s not other people’s opinions of you that matters, it’s how you think about yourself. Once you can change the way you think, nobody can control you anymore.
Maybe life has dealt you a crap hand and you’ve been playing small, afraid to rock the boat for fear of being judged. Maybe you feel like you’re all alone in the world and food is your only friend. To break the cycle of sadness and shame you feel, you’ve got to do something to suspend your self-doubt so that you can tap into your own inner wisdom and remember who you are. You need to get quiet and listen to your heart.
Every single day, maybe even several times a day, you’ve got to ground yourself in the awareness that you are lovable, worthy and beautiful, inside and out –no matter what! When you change, the people around you change. Maybe you’re used to talking down to yourself or calling yourself names, or maybe you remember having that done to you by someone else. Either way, criticism and hatred colors your experience of the world and left unchecked you can live forever in self-pity.
With so much negative news coming from everywhere, if we don’t have a way of filtering it out, we’ll get caught up in anxiety, worry and fear. Set aside time to silence the busyness of your daily life by doing something to clear your thoughts and get started on the right foot. I swear by meditation. Some people just like to sit in silence, pray, go for a walk, do yoga, have a cup of tea or do any other activity that quiets their mind. My daughter, Cara loves to knit. Whatever works for you to create more space in your life will also work to tame your inner critic.
Stress-relief – Life is hard and stress is real. Your body has two natural inborn responses; a stress response and a relaxation response. You can calm yourself down or work yourself up into a full-blown panic attack. The amygdala is an almond-shaped, survival part of your lizard brain that gets triggered every time you feel stressed out. It can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined threat so if you’re under chronic stress, you could be experiencing emotional overwhelm, causing panic, anxiety and worry up to 50-100 times a day. When you think of all the things that are bugging you, add up unresolved issues from your past, relationship problems and health issues, you can see how stressed out you can get.
It’s no wonder we overeat. Food is associated with dopamine release which activates our brain’s feel good feelings, fooling us into believing that we will always feel better after eating. Eating for many is the quickest way to calm our brains down and silence the panic alarms. When the stress chemicals in your brain are released, they flood your body with toxins that make you sick, cause weight gain, lead to depression. I swear by a stress-relief technique called tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. Studies done on people with depression have shown that tapping can reduce their stress hormone levels by as much as 24%, an astonishing rate reduction. Tapping is one of the things you can do to activate your body’s relaxation response.
See your body with self-compassion – Realize that the extra weight on your body is there for a good reason. Sometimes life hits you with curve balls that smack you right off your feet. And there will be other times like holidays when you get so caught up in being reunited with friends and family, that you don’t realize how much you’re eating. No matter where your body is in terms of your health and wellness journey, just accept that as your new starting place, because by doing that you make it possible to move forward.
Cradle and appreciate your body – I learned that as long as you hate your body, you will feel pressured to eat for comfort. If you’re like most women who struggle with excess weight, perhaps you have been dismissive of your body. It may feel like a temporary solution to avoid mirrors or only look at the body parts you like, but science has proven that our bodies and our thoughts are like two sides of the same coin. Your thoughts affect your body and your body affects your thoughts. It doesn’t feel good when you dismiss a part of you. It’s heartbreaking to dismiss yourself and it feels like you’ve given a piece of your soul away. Each day whenever I’m in the bathroom alone, I stand looking at the mirror, focusing on my body with the intention of sending loving thoughts. I place my hands on my stomach in the same way I used to cradle my belly when I was pregnant.
Stand each day, facing your mirror, looking into your eyes and speak honestly about how you feel. Vent, get angry, and be willing to look at your emotions, knowing that they are just waves and chemical storms passing over you. Consider changing your goal from wanting to lose weight to learning how to love yourself as you are. By doing that, you melt away the resistance your body feels to letting go of it’s barrier of protection.
Get support – Groups like Weight Watchers and other member based organizations keep on drawing people back because the benefit of having people understand you is so enticing. The challenge is many times they are based on talking about food and not feelings. Join FB groups or live Meet Ups that discuss issues that are meaningful to you where you will feel supported and appreciated.
All in all, coming back full circle–getting healthier is a process that takes time. And if you’re facing the consequences of weight gain from depression or anxiety, I’m here to help. Two years ago I was successful in releasing 28 pounds using a non-diet method called intuitive eating combined with tapping to confront the many unresolved issues in my life. I thought I had this weight thing licked but then depression completely knocked me off my feet. For awhile, I just stopped caring about taking care of myself.
I have had experience in watching loved ones around me struggle with depression. When my mother was in her 40’s, she was diagnosed with bipolar. As much as I love her, I never really understood how her illness affected her until recently. Last year I spent some time with her. I have watched my mother struggle and appear helpless to manage her moods. That incentivized me to care for myself with a new level of intensity and consistency. My temporary dip into depression was enough to make me realize that nothing is more important to me than being healthy and happy. And that made it clear to me that releasing my excess weight is the kindest thing that I can do for my body to avoid the looming threat of Diabetes. But I refuse to go the route of diets or deprivation. And from past experience I know it’s not necessary. I will have to re-train my body to crave healthier foods again and to fall back in love with being active.
Over the past year I’ve learned to see a new connection of thinking that I never recognized before; the marriage of self-acceptance with self-preservation. It takes the idea of self-compassion and moves it into taking action. I’ve been working toward this idea for years but it’s only become really clear to me as I have decided that my biggest benefit to getting more active is the rush of seratonin and other happy chemicals that is a natural prevention against depression.