Weight, Diet, & Bipolar Disorder

Author: Natalia Beiser

It is my genetic propensity to be heavy. My fraternal grandparents both had notable weight problems, as do most of the persons on that side of the family. I learned early on, as my descendants likely did, that food not only sustains the body, but we along with millions of Americans have a history of using food to “feed” anxiety and depression. Using food as a mood stabilizer is a recipe for destruction.

It is a part of my core being to have perfectionistic traits. I always wanted to excel as a child, not get into trouble, and look pretty. Until having weight loss surgery six years ago, I did not feel that I had control of that part of myself. I knew that being heavy was not attractive and unhealthy. I had to eat to subdue what I now know what were hypomanias; carbohydrates brought my mood down. This was occurring in the 1980’s when the adults around me did not recognize what was going on and bipolar disorder was rarely diagnosed in adolescence.

Until weight loss surgery, I felt that I had to choose between my weight problem and my sanity, sanity always won hands down. Before going on disability for bipolar disorder, I was overly stressed by being successful to disguise the times that bipolar was causing havoc on my life. Much of the time, my life was one of an actress. I put on a big smile and acted like I was doing ok when I was not. I had to maintain appropriate self-care when taking a shower seemed a monumental task.

Waking up for work on time, taking psychotropics and experiencing severe depression but going to work every day was exhausting. Even more devastating than that was working so hard but being unable to consistently keep a positive balance in my checking account amidst the hypomania. Using all of my paid vacations for psychiatric hospitalizations was heartbreaking while my cohorts were using theirs for sunny destinations. With these tasks at hand, doing something about my weight problem felt unsurmountable.

I will be the first to admit that I hate to exercise. I am afraid that people are watching and judging how I look, how slow I am moving, and what I am wearing. I have a paralyzing fear of exercising alone. No amount of cognitive behavioral therapy has helped with this.

If I had my life to live over again, I would do much of it the same. However, I would have gone to a dietician much earlier. I am a facts oriented person, and once I learned true food facts versus myths, I have been able to refrain from gaining weight. Just because your family or society tells you to eat a certain way does not mean that way is the best. I have found that gleaning information from a food expert is the way to go.

It is important to talk to your internist and your psychiatrist your food problems. If your practitioner(s) yell at you or make you feel bad about your weight, maybe you would benefit from seeing other provider(s). I have observed that the parents of others taught them how to detect whether they were hungry for a protein or a carbohydrate and then to listen to that mechanism within themselves. This has been helpful for me.

I still fail with food, but knowing food facts, along with eating regular small meals and snacks and food education has helped immensely. I think that if I would have learned about proper eating in my teens or twenties that I would have not have gained so much weight that weight loss surgery was warranted. It helps to recognize if there is a correlating emotion that food is being used to disguise. For instance, am I hungry? Do I need a carb?  Do I need a protein? Or am I feeling an emotion that I am trying to hide with food?

You do not have to walk the road that I have trod. Using dietetics is not inexpensive, but it may save your life. I will always struggle with both bipolar and food, but I suffer much less because I have incorporated dietetics. If I would have been able to get the food under control at a younger age, many of the bipolar aspects may have been able to iron themselves out, particularly regarding exercise.

Anxiety eating – treatment begins with the willingness to learn.

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