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A Perspective on How Weight Loss and Mental Health Interact

Weight Gain and Confidence Loss

A few years ago, I would’ve never imagined that I was going to end up taking medication to stabilize my mood and prevent a psychotic break. I saw the medication I’m currently taking as a curse at first, but through therapy I’ve learned to see it as a safety net and an essential part of my mental health care. This medication has been a miracle in many ways but it definitely has had some unpleasant downsides.

I gained 40 pounds in less than a year while I was taking psychotropic medication and going through a depressive episode. I was self-medicating with food and taking a 30-minute walk—which used to be a piece of cake for me—seemed like running a marathon. Thankfully, I had the support of my family who didn’t force me to change but nudged me into going back to the vibrant person I used to be.

When I looked at myself in the mirror one night and the intrusive thought of “I’m so disgusting” came, I knew something had to change. I was surprised by how automatic and toxic this thought was but I understood where it was coming from. A transformation in body, mind and spirit was overdue at that point, and I felt a weird combination of discouragement and hopefulness.

You probably cannot relate to the way I put on so much weight if you’ve had a weight gain experience as well. Maybe you gained weight because of emotional eating, a health condition like hypothyroidism or a big loss in motivation for taking care of yourself like you used to. The reason why we gain weight isn’t as powerful as knowing that we can get to a healthy weight and feel great in the vessel of our spirit. If you’re trying to feel more comfortable in your own skin, I believe in you. You have what it takes to get better.

Weight Loss and Confidence Gain

I think social media can be a turbulent world for many reasons, but I also think it’s a wonderful gateway for inspiration depending on what paths we choose to take with it. I remember how much encouragement I got from watching YouTube videos, Instagram posts and Tik Tok videos on weight loss journeys. I found myself in the struggles and

victories of others. I believed that change was possible for me so I hit the ground running.

I decided to join a CrossFit gym because I thought that hardcore exercise would be a dynamic and fast way to burn off calories. I was only there for 3 months before things got complicated with the pandemic, and when it reopened I no longer thought it was a good fit for me because the competitiveness with others didn’t blend well with my maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies.

I spent a couple of months walking for at least 30 minutes and counting calories with My Fitness Pal to make sure I was at a 500-calorie deficit almost daily. I tried intermittent fasting as well. I was too meticulous with counting calories, in retrospect, which led to a problematic relationship with food later. After CrossFit and walking came the at-home YouTube workouts, which were fun and got me to the figure I used to have before gaining 40 pounds. My confidence was going up a little bit every day because I was being so disciplined with my weight loss goals and I loved myself for it. A cousin of mine commented at a family Christmas party “She’s like she used to be” and my dad told me months later when my clothes fit me better “We need more people like you in the world.” Words have gravity to them and hearing these things made me realize I was moving in the right direction.

Weighing myself at my psychiatrist’s office one day and realizing I had reached my ideal goal weight after a year or so felt great. I had put a lot of willpower into workouts, optimistic thinking and resisting overeating. My blood, sweat and tears had finally paid off.

The Mess After Creating the Masterpiece

Getting to my healthy body weight made me think that the hard work was over. Little did I know that maintaining a healthy body weight would be just as hard and at times harder than losing weight for me.

I started having binge eating episodes because my body was trying to fight back the food deprivation I had put it through for a year. The night after my 22nd birthday May of this year I got up from bed and ate an extra-large piece of cake, bread, a bunch of cookies and milk. My abdomen was bloated like never before and it so was painful just to sit. I was suffering but I had myself as my best friend in that moment. Two days after this I decided to follow a vegan meal plan cold turkey (I still follow a vegan lifestyle to the best of my ability).

I was still counting calories after losing the 40 pounds to make sure I ate the right amount. I read an article from Harvard saying that counting calories is harmful, so I decided to try intuitive eating instead by eating wholesome foods to reach the sweet spot of satisfaction and not worry about petty details like how much calories are in a teaspoon of olive oil. My relationship with food needed healing though, because I went back to counting calories and felt disoriented.

Trusting a Higher Power

One night after a binge eating episode I called my local hotline because the emotional pain from guilt was too heavy. I was entrapped in the all-or-nothing cognitive distortion thinking that I needed to be perfect with eating and if I indulged a little I was automatically a failure. It was a funny experience, calling the hotline, since I worked as a crisis counselor at the time handling this type of thing.

I was introduced to Overeaters Anonymous that night and in the morning, I called one of the long-time members in my local chapter. She told me I had the hallmarks of food addiction and I decided to attend a meeting about a week after with no specific expectations.

I was operating under the impression that maintaining a healthy body weight was a matter of physical and mental strength, but through OA I learned that the spiritual component takes the lead. As a Christian, I follow a God that is loving, forgiving, slow to wrath, all-knowing, all-powerful and there’s only light in Him. He is my Higher Power and guides the decisions I make with my recovery from food and body obsession.

I’m working with a wise and incredibly supportive sponsor through OA that reminds me that serenity should be the goal as I get through the journey of recovery. In the face of: a mental illness for which I need medication; easy access to unwholesome foods; and having sedentary work, I choose to respond with serenity knowing that with a power greater than myself I can have an all around good life.

What do you think about the relationship between body weight struggles and mental health?

I'd be glad to hear from you, so leave a comment and follow @pursuitofeureka on Facebook and Instagram.

Wishing you the best in your journey of discovery!


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