Mental health is often a subtle thing.
Do people sometimes gain weight because of depression? Or do people sometimes become depressed because they are overweight? Yes, both. The chicken and the egg arrived together on that side of the road. We’re also susceptible to outside influence from others. It’s hard enough when we see the judgement of people we don’t even know, but when our caregivers, loved ones, and friends give us the impression they think we are failing or not good enough because we won’t lose weight, we can start to feel broken. What other people feel about us shouldn’t lead to depression and poor self esteem, but it often does.
I have noticed there is also a belief that people can get out of depression if they really wanted to, just by making themselves feel happier. And often, that’s what some of us are trying to do when we overeat. It’s a form of self-medication, but we fail to realize at the time that it’s not the right medication.
When we’re feeling down, we think that comfort food or maybe a decadent treat will help us feel better, and it often does, at least while we’re eating it. Unfortunately, that can lead to regular overeating, we’re trying to hold on to that feeling that the first bite of our favorite ice cream gives us. Of course, like medicating with any “feel good” drug, we come down, and often feel bad about what we’ve done… so we do it again to feel better. And then as we gain weight, our self esteem can plummet, we can feel more depressed, and since we don’t like to feel bad, we self-medicate. Rinse and repeat.
Changing the way we eat, “going on a diet”, in a lot of ways, is like giving up alcohol or drugs is for people who have dependency on them, and there is some of the same brain chemistry involved. But there is a difference that’s hard to get past… when someone breaks their dependency, they stop taking their drug of choice. They stop drinking, or they stop taking opiods, because they know that you can’t be a recovered addict by practicing moderation. But we can’t stop eating. Food is both a requirement for life, and for some of us, a drug. The challenge is in learning which foods we can’t have in moderation, while learning to embrace the nourishing foods we can.
I’m never going to prefer carrots over cake (hmmm… carrot cake). But I can prefer to be healthier, and hopefully happier, by breaking the cycle. One day at a time.