How To Lose Weight When You’re Depressed
Like a lot of people, my struggle with depression also turned into a struggle with my weight. In addition to trying to fill my emptiness with exciting or comforting foods, I was too depressed to work out like I once had. My doctor put me on an antidepressant and mood stabilizer, which gave me energy to start a new running routine, but the new prescriptions made me gain weight faster than ever!
By the time I was 23 and in the second year of my graduate counseling program, I was 70 pounds overweight and devastated about it. The more I gained, the more hopeless I felt about following my doctor’s advice to
Just eat less and exercise more!”
I knew I had to break this vicious cycle, but how?
Learning How to Lose Weight Begins with Me
A lot of the focus on depression-related weight gain centers around physical changes: talk to your doctor about a new antidepressant, follow this new diet plan, take this new diabetes pill, try this new workout. But these don’t get to the heart of learning how to lose weight.
What I found, however, was that overcoming my body image issues (and subsequently making healthier choices) had to start from within. So I put my counseling classes to work for my most important client: me.
Knowing How to Lose Weight Means “Reward the Behavior, Not the Outcome”
Many people struggling to lose weight set up rewards for themselves.
When I lose twenty pounds, I’m going to treat myself to a new dress!”
If that works for you, great! However, this made me feel like more of a failure. No matter how much I starved myself or slaved away on the exercise machine, I couldn’t make the scale reflect my hard work. I started doing some pretty unhealthy things to try to get the results I was looking for, but those were scary and unsustainable for the long term. Realizing how to lose weight was challenging.
While I was doing all of this, I was also learning about behavioral therapies in my counseling classes. We learned that we needed to help our clients reward their small-scale positive behaviors, not their long-term outcomes. Clients may feel hopeless over huge goals that can be influenced by chance: getting their kids back, finding a job, staying clean for a year, etc.
Go For Those Small Tangible Goals
By rewarding smaller actions, such as updating your resume or attending a parenting class, you are more likely to feel in control of your outcomes. You’re also much more likely to continue taking the small steps that will lead you to your ultimate goal.
Mastering how to lose weight is no different. A lot of factors can influence weight, and hard work doesn’t always show in the scale. I began rewarding myself for my behaviors, such as:
– Going on a walk
– Going to the gym
– Buying healthy foods at the grocery store
– Reaching a small fitness goal (such as running my first mile)
When I started focusing on smaller, more tangible goals instead of the scale, I found myself much more motivated to work out and eat healthy foods.
Knowing How to Lose Weight Means Making the Behavior Immediately Rewarding
Exercise can help or even occasionally cure depression. Furthermore, even if you don’t lose weight, exercise can make you feel a lot better about your body! But when you’re too depressed to get off the couch, those rewards are too intangible to motivate anyone.
Instead, I found ways to make exercise fun, social, and easy. I downloaded some apps that made me happy and excited to be working out, such as the Zombies, Run! 5K training app.
Recruit Your Friends And Be Bold About It
When it felt like every workout was an adventure and I had friends talking to me, I found myself waking up eager to put on my running shoes.”
I took it a step further and recruited friends and family to exercise with me. It took a little persuading, but they eventually joined me! Now, even though I live far away from everyone I knew, we’re still closely connected thanks to our running games. We even have inside jokes. Maintaining that support network has been invaluable, especially when I feel isolated. Learning how to lose weight can be enjoyable.
My family and I also cooked some healthy recipes together, both during holidays and random weeknights. Learning how to lose weight means getting accountable to friends.
Helping Others Will Help You Grow and Change
Lastly, I discovered ways to make a difference with my body: helping friends move, running charity races, volunteering physical labor, and using apps that donate money to groups based on how much activity I log. I also stopped eating all animal products for a while, and now I’m vegetarian. This isn’t a requirement, but it really helped me! Once I found a way to feel good about what I was eating, I just didn’t struggle with portion size or eating healthily. I was truly learning how to lose weight despite my depression.
Everyone is different, so you may find success eating locally, boycotting foods made with slave labor, or even sharing your food with less fortunate members of your community. Find a cause that excites you!
Losing Weight Means Smart Exercise and Diet Choices
Finding ways to exercise consistently and eat nutrient-rich calories made a huge difference in my life. Not only because movement can be great medicine for depression, but because exercise is also linked to better body image, even without any weight loss at all. While new antidepressants and diets might help, I believe that reframing, or shifting, how we view goals is a great way to improve mental health, even if you’re still sick with depression.
Today, my depression is pretty much gone. I wish I could say it was due to some magical pill or exercise routine, but the truth is that I simply outlasted it. I was lucky enough to be tougher than the disease. And even though I’m still a few pounds heavier than I’d like, I don’t hate my body anymore.
My body is strong. It helps others. It can run faster and farther now than it could when I was a pre-depression teenager. I’m not sure I can say that I’m glad I was depressed for eight years, because I’m still picking up the pieces, but I am glad that I reframed my view of my body and my weight!
Now it’s your turn!
By Jordan R. Williams