Health

Depression and weight gain

BY FITZ-GEORGE RATTRAY

Sunday, September 16, 2018

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I recently wrote an article on the relationship between stress and weight gain. The response was significant. Although this conversation has been ongoing for decades, it is increasingly clear that more people are beginning to recognise the impact of their mental state and physical well-being.

There is a list of particularly important issues connected to our ability to choose and maintain a healthy lifestyle, very high on this list is depression.

One of the first essential things to remember is brain, mental and emotional energies are finite. The finite nature may not be as apparent when compared to muscle fatigue, but there are a few simple reasons.

The brain has no pain sensors. The aching and burning you feel in muscles are clear indicators of overwork or fatigue, fortunately the brain simply does not work this way.

Nevertheless, every function is finite and the higher the function, the more it pulls from a central pool of energy. Cognitive functions and processes, such as those related to working memory, decision-making, learning, reasoning, attention, and language, willpower and much more, are both draining on the finite pool of energy and are quickly jeopardised when energy is low.

How does depression affect your weight?

Once you have started your day, and have rested as much as you are going to, all the energy you are going to have is intact and ready to serve you. As your day progresses you are pressed upon by tasks, concerns and issues. This energy is depleted, leaving you at the end of the day with just enough energy to sit or lay around, and to only do the absolute essentials or perhaps to reward yourself with a treat for surviving the day.

You are now both physically and mentally drained.

This pattern often leads to night-time snacking, eating within three hours of bedtime, or worse. These foods usually consist of the most calorie dense, nutritionally weak foods, which have actual medical risks attached. Other patterns observed are overcompensatory eating for physical exercise and weekend splurges.

As with any emotional and mental state, depression will drain our energies and resolve and drive these patterns significantly. But as depression is highly misunderstood, let's take a moment to get some clarity on what it is.

Are you depressed?

Depression is not sadness, unhappiness, moodiness, weakness, or laziness. Depression is a very serious medical illness which will impact the sufferer's interest and ability to fully appreciate the enjoyability of life and can have the following characteristics:

• Levels of severity and durations;

• Weight loss or weight gain;

• Affect your physical and emotional well-being;

• Perpetually feeling tired and drained;

• Range from low feelings to absolute total despair;

• Difficulty focusing and making decisions;

• Extreme focus on a specific task or purpose;

• Persistent episodes can last from morning to night and continue for an average of six to eight months;

• Loss of interest in activities and many relationships;

• Feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness;

• Difficulty remembering past events, words or details;

• Frequent thoughts of death (not a fear) and suicide;

• Compromised or excessive sleep;

• A lack of pleasure in everyday activities;

• Anxiety, restlessness or conversely, slowing down;

• Ruminating, constantly recalling, pondering, deliberating, and pouring over issues;

• Most importantly, diagnosis begins with consulting a mental health professional.

Are you recognising five or more of these characteristics occurring within the last two weeks? If so, contact a medical professional; it will be well worth the effort.

If you have been suffering from depression and have overweight issues, chances are you have been “self-medicating” with food, hoping to numb your depression with rewarding foods. Usually these are high in calories, flavours, sugars, oils, or creams and may be taken socially, solitarily or both. Often these foods are connected to or an escape from earlier memories, family, parents, place, or situation making them so very precious and safe.

But remember one thing, numbing depression with food is not fixing it. It's literally feeding the depression, enflaming the cycle of brain chemical imbalances, driving a system of downs and ups, lows and rewards, on which depression feeds. Added to that is the impacting damage to our gut microbiome, the delicate balance of gut bacteria which researchers are calling our second brain.

The preferred foods of the depressed mind are like throwing a bomb into our helpful bacteria, allowing the ones to stimulate unhealthy moods and cravings to thrive. Eating away depression is no more a solution to depression for you than crack is to a crackhead's distress.

Rea

I appreciate that you or someone you know may understand what I am saying here, unfortunately I also appreciate that most people who are exposed to the realities of depression and its effect seldom do anything about it. Make the effort, decide deep down what you want, who you want to be, how you want to live, and act on that — take the first step: Reach out.

Forget how abstract it sounds. Forget any ignorant stigma you may have been exposed to, forget worrying about being private or the perceived difficulty in finding the right person. Get started on your recovery now. Psychologists and Psychiatrists have the tools to get you on the road to management.

Working on your nutrition and fitness will go hand in hand with your mental recovery. It will not be easy. Your brain has created a set of habits and fooled you into believing that they are connected to your survival. Unfortunately, our society, family, friends and the food industry have also been selling you on the same message. Get help separating yourself from these habits and false limiting misconceptions.

It is essential to get the knowledge, guidance and support. Start now, it will never be a quick fix, but your options are indefinite suffering or a slow, steady fix to wonderful improvements otherwise unimagined.

Fitz-George Rattray is the director of Intekai Academy, which is focused on helping people live a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and weight management. If you are interested in losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle, give them a call at 968-8238, or visit their website at intekaiacademy.org .

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