Struggling with weight loss

Like many women, I first started struggling with my weight as a teenager. I seemed to go from being a bit chubby to being very much overweight in no time at all. Unfortunately, with no real idea of what to do about it, I crash dieted. I lost weight very quickly and felt happy about it (or at least I thought so at the time). People commented on it, asking what my secret was and laughing when I said I just didn’t eat much.

About a year down the line, I looked in the mirror one day and it was like an illusion had broken. I wasn’t dangerously skinny – a size 8 – but it looked ridiculous. I have a naturally curvy figure so my hips kind of jutted out and I had a tiny waist but a large bust that just didn’t match at all. I snapped out of it and started eating more. I went up to a size 10 and looked so much healthier. I stayed at that weight for a couple of years, thinking my troubles with weight were far behind me.

Then when I got pregnant at 19, I inevitably gained weight. I didn’t really think about it. Gaining weight during pregnancy is just the norm and somehow I assumed it would just come off again once I had the baby. It did not.

If anything I gained even more since having my daughter. I think it was a mixture of a few things. In my teen years, any stress killed my appetite but now, stress makes me comfort eat. Struggling with depression only made it worse. When my daughter was a baby, I stayed at home most of the time, dragging myself to playgroups so that she could make friends. Then we moved to Cardiff and I became a bit more confident, less anxious and made a few friends myself. Then I realised that I’d put on quite a bit of weight. I was 14 stone, about 4 stone heavier than my ideal weight. I actually tried a crash diet again, thinking it had worked so well previously (remember, I wasn’t mentally healthy at this point). It didn’t work. I didn’t have the willpower to stop myself eating constantly.

Once I started dealing with my mental health, dealing with my physical health became easier.

Now I know I’ve gotten into a habit of yo-yo dieting. I’ll manage four weeks of a really strict diet and lose maybe half a stone, then I’ll have a bad day or week and fall back on my bad eating habits. I need to change that. I’m back on a diet. But instead of trying to stick to 1200 calories per day, I’m going for 1600 calories per day. The weight loss will be slower but it’ll be easier to stick to. I can allow myself a few treats and not feel like I’ve failed.

I’m also meal prepping more. Yesterday I made a 4 portions of black bean chilli, some roasted chickpeas (never tried these before but they are So Good), boiled some eggs as snacks and bagged up lots of fruit, veggies, nuts and dried fruit so that I’ve got healthy snacks on hand. Hopefully this means it’ll be easier to avoid unhealthy foods.

For a while I tried exercising for an hour every day. But with family and work as well, it just isn’t something I can do. I started feeling like a failure when I didn’t manage it. I also forgot that I can count the walking I do as exercise. I walk my daughter to school each day – that’s about 2 hours altogether. Plus, I’m always on my feet at work. I’m not an inactive person, really. So I’ve cut down my exercise goal to half an hour, at least four times a week and added in some yoga, which really helps with depression and stress. I’m trying to take more long walks. Like if I have a day off, I’ll drop my daughter at school then go walking for hours in the park or to somewhere interesting, like Cardiff Bay or Castell Coch.

I’m starting to learn that I need to focus more on being healthy than on being thinner. Yes, I should lose weight. But the way I’ve going about it makes my depression and anxiety worse. I’ll have a pizza takeaway then feel terrible for days afterwards, like I’ve failed completely. Instead, I need to realise that if I eat healthily most of the time, the occasional takeaway or slice of cake isn’t going to hurt me.

Most importantly, I need to keep in mind that healthy eating (as opposed to either crash dieting or overeating) makes me feel happier. Bad depression days are more likely to occur when I’ve been strictly dieting or after I’ve binged. It’s all about balance!

My goals used to be to be a size 10 again. Now my goal is to feel good.

Wish me luck with it!

 

Mental illness in culture

The other day I was watching Friends, a programme that I’ve been watching since I was about seven years old, and something occurred to me. The character Monica’s fixation with cleanliness and order is referred to throughout the ten seasons. It’s made a joke of. She’s called a ‘clean freak’. Does she suffer with OCD?

When I think about it, this isn’t very strange. Sheldon Cooper from the brilliant comedy show Big Bang Theory (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it) has many compulsive behaviours. While it’s never identified as OCD, a fairly recent episode actually created quite an interesting way of explaining the anxious feelings of OCD and other anxiety disorders to people who don’t experience them. When Leonard has forgotten to return Sheldon’s DVD to a rental shop, he must wear an itchy red jumper until the situation is resolved. I know that when I’m going through a phase where I feel very anxious about everything, it could definitely be likened to the niggling discomfort of an itchy jumper. You can never stop thinking about it and it will make you uncomfortable until it’s sorted out.

There are plenty of other examples. Miss Pilsbury in Glee admits and has treatment for OCD, Sherlock Holmes is quite open about being a higher functioning sociopath and I believe there’s currently a programme called My Mad Fat Diary on E4 about a girl with bipolar disorder, although I’ve never actually watched it.

So how do these programmes portray mental illness? For the most part, they’re made into an entertaining part of the shows. Occasionally, they’re talked about openly. Rarely does the person concerned actually receive treatment. On the other hand, it’s not always seen as a negative. Sherlock just wouldn’t be Sherlock without that near complete lack of social awareness that actually seems to help him focus more on being a genius. Isn’t being creatively brilliant often linked with mental illness? I’ve read that there studies looking into an actual genetic link but if we look at examples, particularly of musicians, writers and artists, I think we can really see a link between the two. Vincent Van Gough, one of the greatest artists in human history, famously suffered with severe bouts of depression and eventually committed suicide but captured the intense beauty in nature so amazingly well in his work. Ernest Hemingway and Silvia Plath both suffered with depression and both committed suicide too but are often celebrated as two of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. There’s the so called ’27 club’ of musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who all died either of drug overdose or suicide at the age of 27 all suffered with depression. As a side note, studies into this have shown no increased risk of death in musicians at that particular age, although the parallel between creativity and depression does seem to exist. While I’d never describe myself as a great or even good writer, I certainly find writing a great way of dealing with some of my own issues.

Now it is becoming more socially acceptable to speak out about depression and other mental illness and I think this is, in part, thanks to people like Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson who have spoken openly about their own battles with mental illness. We now accept that mentally ill people can be verbose, charming, intellectual and hilariously comical, just as they could have any other characteristic that one could attribute to a human being. You could speak to someone every day and never know what demons they grapple with.

Mental illness is all around us. As, according to the Mental Health Foundation, around 1 in 4 of us suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives, I believe it’s something we all need to become comfortable speaking about and learning more about.