Depression and Weight Loss - Mind Maintenance
By Shauna Reid, aka Dietgirl
In my first column I wrote that I’d share both the ups and downs of my weight maintenance. Today’s instalment covers the downs.
The biggest lesson I've learned about maintenance is that you have to deal with your demons. My body may have changed when I lost weight, but I didn't get a personality transplant. I've realised that if you ignore any underlying issues, they will resurface and bite you on the butt when life gets hard.
My demon has long been depression. Doctors tell me it's caused by dodgy brain chemistry, or genes, or challenging life events, or all of the above. Depression is more than feeling down or the blues. When it swoops in, it steals your energy and joy. You feel detached and robotic, like you're watching your life happening from above.
I had two major, debilitating episodes during my twenties, but for years I thought I had it licked. I’d learned to manage my mind with healthy diet and exercise. I felt balanced and content as my weight loss journey eased into maintenance.
Weight Loss Maintenance
My first year of maintenance was a blissful honeymoon. I loved my new clothes, new fitness and new ability to fit inside bathtubs. I wrote my Dietgirl book and told the world about the peace I'd found with my body. Keeping the weight off was easy!
Then life got a little crazy. I started a demanding new job, renovated a flat, promoted my book in the UK and USA and moved house three times in a year. I tackled big fitness challenges, like training for kickboxing grades and a marathon walk.
I held it together for a long while, albeit in chaotic fashion. I’d alternate weeks of intense exercise with weeks of nothing at all. I’d buy takeaways too often then go crazy with healthy cooking. I wrestled the same ten pounds, pinging up and down the scale. I was still safely inside my size 14 jeans - so everything balanced out, right?
But dark clouds were gathering. My mind was foggy and I couldn't focus on my work. It was like viewing the world through a grubby, bug-splattered windscreen. I was numb and withdrawn. I told lies to wriggle out of social occasions, scoffing chocolate at home instead. I burst into tears at inappropriate moments, like at work or in bus queues. I tried upping my exercise to boost my mood, but it left me drained instead of euphoric.
Deep down I knew this strange behaviour was all too familiar, but my denial was strong.
It's just a bad patch," I told myself over and over, "One good day and you'll be okay again." After all, there was no logical reason to feel miserable - I had a good life and so much to be grateful for!
Meanwhile my inbox was flooded with messages from book readers, telling me that I was an inspiration.
I'm not! I wanted to write back. If you knew how I'm barely holding it together, you'd demand a refund!
I feared they were writing to a person that didn't exist. Book Shauna was so confident and self-accepting. Where did she get the drive to lose 12 and half stone when I couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed?
In late November 2009 I entered my first kickboxing tournament, hoping the challenge would boost my confidence. I got my butt kicked, but the real humiliation was hopping on the scales for the official weigh-in. I'd put on a stone and a half since January! I had visions of my readers chasing me down the street, hurling books at me as they shouted, "Fraud! Fraud!”
My weight and depression have always frolicked hand and hand. When I feel balanced I don’t need food to make me feel good – I prefer people to pastries! The urge to binge is a warning that there’s a deeper problem – but I’d been ignoring it. And ignoring the warnings was how I got to twenty-five stone in the first place. I can’t go there again.
The next evening I watched a timely episode of Inside Sport in which famous sportspeople like Marcus Trescothick and Frank Bruno spoke about their battles with depression.
"If you had a broken leg you'd get it fixed," said footballer Neil Lennon, "So you’ve got to do the same if your mind is broken."
Picking Myself Up
Looking back, when I hit maintenance I thought I could tick off FAT and DEPRESSION from my List of Issues. But getting to goal didn’t make my demons disappear. They will always be part of me. I understand now that if I want to maintain my weight then I need to maintain my mind first.
I finally went to the doctor yesterday. She asked how I was feeling and I cried, but she had plenty of tissues for me to honk into. I’ve taken the first step to getting the help I need.
It sucks to admit that I’m back down here. I know it will take patience and hard work to feel well again. But for the first time in months I feel a glimmer of hope. I know I can get back on track. There is an old Japanese proverb: Fall over seven times, get up eight. I’m ready to pick myself up again.
The community on WLR can help you get through the tough times associated with weight loss. Take a look at our Member’s Forum and Message Boards to talk to others who have experienced the same problems. Try it free for 24 hours.