10 September 2009

Depression, anxiety and self-deception

Psychological factors like depression and/or anxiety, and self-deception may be hampering your desire to lose weight.

Psychological factors like depression and/or anxiety, and self-deception, may be hampering your desire to lose weight.

Depression is one of the most prevalent psychological conditions in the modern world.

A depressed person may feel sad, unmotivated, lethargic, lack energy and want to sleep all the time. While some patients with depression lose their appetite, stop eating and lose weight, most other depressed individuals tend to gain weight. This is not surprising when one considers how sluggish and unmotivated these individuals are. They are not lazy or weak-willed, but they can literally not do anything about the paralysing lethargy they experience.

It is also understandable that depressed persons do not have the energy to exercise or the interest to try to follow a special diet. It is just all too much for them.

If you are caught in the depression-weight-gain-trap, then please go for help. The depression you are suffering from is not shameful, you are not weak or bad, and you will not just snap out of it. You need professional help. Consult your medical doctor or a clinical psychologist who will pinpoint what kind of depression you are suffering from (endogenous or exogenous) and prescribe medication and/or therapy to help you come to grips with this condition.

Once you have started to feel better and have returned to the real world, you can use a low-fat, high-fibre diet and start doing exercise to lose that weight. Trying to diet and exercise when you find it a burden to get up in the morning is not going to work. Clear up the underlying problem and then do something about your weight.

The second psychological factor that often counteracts attempts to lose weight is anxiety. If you are stressed out of your mind, constantly worrying about a host of problems and wound up like a tight spring, then you are either not going to have any energy left over for exercising and paying attention to what you eat, or you will indulge in eating binges to relieve some of the unbearable stress. All these factors will prevent steady weight loss.

Once again you should not think that you are weak or useless because you suffer from anxiety. Go to your doctor or consult a clinical psychologist to assist you in getting your anxiety under control. You will only be able to function properly and succeed with slimming if the burden of anxiety has been relieved.

A word about exercise
Ironically, the one thing that people who suffer from depression and anxiety find the hardest to do, namely exercise, is the one solution that would do them the most good. Exercise will not only help you to lose weight and motivate you to stick to your diet, it will also lift your mood if you are depressed and relax some of the tension if you are anxious.

As soon as you are able, please try doing regular exercise like brisk walking in the fresh air, cycling, or water aerobics, or join a gym. Endorphins, which are chemicals we make in our bodies when we exercise, can help to counteract depression. When you exercise you also improve your blood circulation to the nervous system which will help you to relax.

Human beings are masters of self-deception. How often do you set out to do something like lose weight and fail, because you make endless excuses why you cannot stick to a diet and/or exercise schedule? “I don’t have time to jog/eat breakfast/shop for special low-fat foods! I can’t make all these fancy diet meals because my family won’t eat them! I really stick to my diet all week and then pig-out on weekends?”

The list of excuses and rationalisations is endless. If you are making excuses instead of getting on with dieting and exercising, then you need to take a good hard look at your attitude to slimming. Do you really want to lose that weight? Then stop deceiving yourself and stick to your intentions. You are, after all, the person who is going to benefit from weight loss and deceiving yourself is doing you harm. The time has come to put all those excuses behind you and get going with your diet and exercise! - Dr I.V. van Heerden, registered dietician.


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