Billie Holiday: This lady both lived and sang the blues.

Have you been in this place?  Slumped on the couch  at the end of the day, watching cable repeats of “NCIS” or “Criminal Minds,” and craving — I mean craving — a bunch of saltines.  Like, a whole box.

But, somehow, the box of saltines isn’t enough.  So you root around in your fridge and come up with some leftover black beans and a not-too-ancient-looking container of hummus.  And in the cupboard you find a whole bag of pita chips that you forgot you had.  Ooh, and there’s a jar of peanut butter.

Might as well have another glass of wine while we’re at it.

Perfect!

Not.  Definitely not, not, not.

I know, because I have been there.  I was seriously depressed.  Not depressed as in “what a crappy day I just had” depressed or “bummer, the Giants didn’t make it to the playoffs again” depressed.  Depressed as in months of struggling just to get out of bed in the morning, feeling like there’s no point to anything, not having the energy to do anything anyway and wishing I could just blot out my entire existence so as not to have to deal with it.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been there — far from it.  Personally, I believe that at least 95% of the population experiences a significant bout of depression at least once in their lives.  But when you’re going through it yourself, you tend to feel very, very alone.  It can take you a long time to do something about it — and once you do, by seeking treatment, it can take you a while longer to feel better.

Depression is a serious, crippling and even life-threatening disease.  The most important thing you can do is recognize that you need help — and then get it.

Weight gain seems like a pretty minor issue, in the scheme of things.  But, hear me out.  First of all, weight gain is often a symptom of a condition that is underdiagnosed, underacknowledged and undertreated.  The weird thing is, most of us know when we’re depressed, right?  And yet we sort of ignore it for as long as we can.

People with depression who try to lose weight without first getting treatment for their depression are fighting a losing battle, according to one study I read about.  Yet few — if any — weight loss programs include screening or treatment for depression.  The study authors recommend that they do so.  That way, more women (yes, it does seem to be more women than men) can get the treatment they need for the condition that’s at the root of their problems, instead of just focusing on the symptom, i.e., weight gain.

To be sure, not everyone with depression puts on extra LBs.  In fact, some people lose weight, to an unhealthy degree.  But, according to an article on livestrong.com, research suggests a biological reason for why many of us eat like there’s no tomorrow when we’re down:

The craving for carbohydrate-rich foods such as chips or pastries may reflect low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that elevates your mood, note Drs. R.J. Wurtman and J.J. Wurtman in an aritcle published in the November 1995 issue of Obesity Research.  Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates may trigger a release of serotonin, which could lead you to a cycle of overeating to relieve depresion, the Wurtmans suggest. Antidepressant medications may correct your serotonin levels and help you manage the emotions that drive you to overeat.

So that explains the saltines. 

Another article on livestrong.com says that “women typically experience atypical depression.”  Instead of sleeping and eating less (typical), they sleep and eat more (atypical), especially carbs.  Add to that our increasing  “feelings of guilt, remorse and helplessness” and it’s no wonder that we’re a big hot mess.

Once we see the light at the end of tunnel by getting the treatment we need and leaving depression behind us, we’d like to lose the extra weight, right?  But, oddly, those newly acquired pounds don’t magically disappear just because we’re no longer depressed.  (At least mine didn’t.)

They’ve become part of us, as have the bad and self-destructive habits we developed under the influence of depression.  Namely overeating and underexercising. 

So, clearly, the solution is to stop doing those things, eat more sensibly — maybe even diet — and get more exercise.  Simple, right?

It may be simple, but it’s not easy.  It takes a lot of commitment and willpower to undo those bad habits.  It’s not impossible, but we have to work at it.

And once you’re feeling better, you can start to work on it.  But give yourself a break.  Yes, take action, take control, but don’t set unreasonable goals for yourself and don’t set yourself up for failure.  (Ahem, speaking from experience yet again here.)

Personally, I have be especially careful about physical activity.  When I decide to lose weight, I want results yesterday.  So what do I do?  I work out like a maniac at the gym.  And then I pull a muscle.  Or my plantars fasciitis flares up again.  And then I have to stop working out for a while.  Which undoes any progress I’ve accomplished and makes it harder for me to start working out again once I feel better.

So, take a deep breath.  First things first:  Deal with the depression.  Feel better.   Then work on losing weight when you’re ready.  Go at your own pace.  My current workout regime consists of an hour of fast-walking (4 mph) on the track, five days a week when I’m good, plus a half-hour on the eliptical three times a week.  I feel like I should be doing more, and eventually I will, but for now I’m trying to be realistic.

As for a food plan, be sensible.  Don’t jump on a fad diet.  Choose a plan that will help you change the way you eat for the rest of your life.  A plan that will put you on the path to healthy eating as a lifestyle, not just short-term, fast-results  “dieting.”

For many of us, coming out of depression signals an opportunity to change our relationship with food.  Food shouldn’t be a crutch; it’s not a substitute for love or friendship.  It’s essential to staying alive and it’s also one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Once we are healthy ourselves, we can develop a healthy relationship with food.

Now, if only the Giants could get their act together.

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