Have you ever felt guilty after eating something you just know you shouldn’t eat? Maybe tried slipping into your favorite jeans to realize that they are just a little too snug and then regretting every donut you have ever eaten? What about looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing nothing but every flaw? Now imagine those thoughts screaming at you non-stop, getting louder until you can’t hear anything else.
Welcome to your body with depression.
Recently, I decided that I was going to cut all refined sugar from my diet. Why you ask? Because I had convinced myself that cutting refined sugar would bring me closer to finding a mind-body connection, something that I have been seeking to reach ever since I started therapy again almost 2 years ago. The result was far from any sort of connection- I was grouchy, miserable, and craving Diet Coke, my kryptonite. But I did gain something: control.
Reflecting back on the day that I decided to cut sugar, I was knee-deep in stress from the end of the semester, working on my biggest project of the year, and confronting a nasty problem at work. I felt like I was losing control, so I looked for the easiest thing I could have power over: what I ate. This isn’t the first time I have manipulated my diet or denied myself food in order to feel like I had some tiny bit of control in my life. This has been my relationship with food for the last 10 years. This has been my depression diet.
Although I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder nor would I consider my eating habits to be distinctly unhealthy, I do acknowledge the fact that living with depression has forced me to be hyperaware of how I am treating my body. In the pursuit of the unattainable perfection I have always sought, I have tried to push myself towards a body that is perfect. Any pants above a size zero won’t do, wearing a size medium shirt crushes my self-esteem. This has sometimes led to trying “get skinny fast” tricks or working out to my body’s limit. Not being able to reach my dream body type overnight then led to deeper depression and a stronger feeling of helpless, thus pushing me to seek out ways to find control. It is an unending, unpleasant, and potentially dangerous cycle.
I believe that there is a way out. Learning to respect your body is one of the hardest things to accomplish when trying to overcome a mental illness. I have been angry at my body for cursing me with this illness, for not living up to my outrageous demands for perfection, for betraying me with its weakness. I have starved it, punished it, and disrespected it. But this body- stricken with depression and anxiety- is strong, resilient, and beautiful. It deserves to be loved as such.
I am still learning to love the body that I have lived with for 25 years. I am starting to give my body the respect it demands. Simply being aware of my eating habits and not letting myself get wrapped up in the numbers on the scale or how my jeans are fitting is the first, tiny step. Forgiving my body for its faults and pushing it towards new challenges is the next. Eventually, I hope love will come.
In the meantime, I am never, EVER giving up Diet Coke again.