Weight gain is a normal part of life. All bodies fluctuate for a variety of reasons. However, stress being one major contributor to weight gain, has certainly been at an all-time high. If you’re feeling depressed about weight gain, here are 7 strategies to adjust your feelings and move on with a better mindset. With Covid-19, the elections, chaos all around the country and world, as well as the recent holidays, you may be noticing your body has changed in ways you are not happy about.
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
Interestingly, depression and weight gain often link together, however, it is unknown which truly comes first. Does depression lead to weight gain or does weight gain lead to depression?
There is certainly a stigma connected to overweight people. Being overweight associates with negative attributes that certainly lead to low self-esteem and not feeling good about yourself. This mindset may cause you to use food as comfort and the cycle continues.
The brain’s role in feeling depressed about weight gain.
In addition, it is fascinating is how the brain often connects depression and weight gain. This occurs because the brain’s limbic system controls both emotion and appetite. Subsequently,fFeeling a lot emotionally, whether that is positive or negative, can create cravings and a need for emotional comfort.
This explains why you might eat when you’re either really happy or very sad. But what about dieting? In short, how does deprivation and hunger that comes from dieting affect feelings of depression and weight gain?
How dieting contributes to feeling depressed about weight gain.
Ironically, dieting is the biggest contributor to weight gain which therefore leads to feeling really bad about yourself. At first, the diet may prove successful. You may feel great having lost several pounds.
But at what cost have you lost that weight?
For example, have you deprived yourself and restricted foods that you’ve really wanted? Did you notice feeling moody or grumpy? How was your sleep while you dieted?
Unfortunately, dieting is a quick fix to a long-term issue. And the process of dieting leaves you feeling so deprived that you end up gaining the weight back and maybe even more so. This would cause anyone to feel depressed and defeated. Ironically, it leads to serial dieting.
Serial dieting leads to a term called learned helplessness which is causing you to feel depressed about weight gain.
If you’re a serial dieter, then you may have entered the learned helplessness phase associated with dieting. Learned helplessness is directly correlated with feelings of depression. It basically means that no matter how hard you try; you simply cannot attain and maintain your goals. Eventually you have to give up.
Dieting teaches you that food is either “good” or “bad”.
Dieting is all about rules that involve serious restriction and lead to feeling like a failure. Can you relate? Diets teach that food is good or bad. This is a huge set up for feeling shame around certain foods that you “should” stay away from.
Eating “bad” foods feels shameful. This can cause you to feel like you’re a failure every time you eat a piece of chocolate! In order to avoid this shame, you may need to hyper control what you are eating.
Hyper control vs feeling out of control.
Restriction from diets also leads to over-controlling what you put in your body. The little rebel in each of us will eventually cry out and say, “screw it!” That is when a binge or overindulging of “bad” food happens.
You either have to over control what you put in your body or not care at all and eat in a way that feels out of control.
Not only does dieting create this shameful cycle around “good” and “bad” food, it also doesn’t provide your body what it really needs nutritionally. Malnutrition contributes to moodiness, feeling “hangry”, poor sleep, weakened immune system, poor energy, poor digestion, increased cortisol (the stress hormone) and many other negative consequences.
For more information on diets and the negative effects, check out this article.
Now that you’re thoroughly depressed and wondering if there is any hope, here are 7 strategies to help you adjust your feelings.
1. It’s important to have the proper expectations on your body type and bone structure. If you’re bigger boned, more curvy or more voluptuous, don’t expect to have a body that looks like barbie!
Having the proper expectations and goals with your body is important and sets the stage for your minimizing depression about weight gain. Accepting your genes and DNA will help you feel more at ease with where your body wants to land.
2. We all have a landing point and forcing it to go below this will only cause the depression and weight gain cycle to continue. Embrace your landing place and shift your goal from needing to be a certain number on a scale to feeling comfortable in your body.
3. Please don’t deprive yourself. Restriction and deprivation keep the dieting, learned helplessness and depression cycle alive.
Shift from the diet mentality to a mindfulness practice. Learning how to see food as neutral vs good or bad is a great start. It’s easier said than done, but imperative in creating a mindful relationship with food and your body.
4. Don’t compare to others. Every “body” is unique and different and can be valued as such. Your body has its own beauty and no one else needs to take away or add to that. Comparing only triggers shame for what you’re not. Anything that creates shame needs to be abolished.
5. Be patient with yourself. Depression can make everything feel very overwhelming. Even the smallest tasks can feel enormous and debilitating. So, go slow and be gentle with yourself. Set small baby step goals that feel doable to you.
6. Find exercise that is enjoyable and don’t over strain your body. That only triggers increased cortisol that causes increased hunger. Leisurely exercise is a great way to know you can stick with it vs going at it all or nothing. I recommend walking 20-30 min 5 days a week if that is possible. Again, start slow and gradually increase your time up to that point.
7. Get support in understanding your depression. Often depression is linked to unresolved anger. This emotion tends to get stuffed down and pushed away. Learning how to engage in a healthy way with unresolved emotions are a way for you to release unwanted weight that does not need to be carried anymore.
You’re not alone!
If you’re feeling depressed about weight gain, you’re not alone. These 7 strategies will help you adjust your feelings and start to approach food and your body in a whole new way. Leaving the diet mentality and embracing your true self with mindfulness and self-care may seem daunting, but it is life changing. Go slow, be patient and get the support you need and deserve.
Lesley Goth, PsyD specializes in helping women ditch the diet mentality and embrace mindfulness. She has created an online sustainable weight loss intensive specifically for women. If you’d like to know more, please contact Lesley here.