The old adage goes, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” I don’t know if food has anything to do with colds or fevers, but it is such an important ingredient in diagnosing major depression that it’s classified as a symptom. My interest? Last month (November 2017) I gained 15 lbs., but more about that in a moment.
I started pastoring my first full-time church at 20 years of age. Yes, I was young, inexperienced, idealistic, unqualified; a babe in grown-up clothes. My weight was 165 lbs., two years later it was 212 headed toward 230. You see, I’m a stress eater and that first church needed a far more mature and experienced person than I.
There were several stressors. I was a full-time student trying to finish college. The church was a full-time charge with heavy expectations. It had a reputation of disgruntlement, but I was naïve and thought I would be different. I wasn’t. My idealism was shattered, a world-rocking stressor for me. The church more than doubled in two years. That’s a good kind of stressor, but it is stress none the less.
After a round with stomach ulcers and with my blood pressure rising, my doctor sat me down for a talk. She said that if I didn’t get control of my eating habits, my health could be negatively affected. I made eye contact with her and shot back a reply, “Food is the only thing I have in my life right now that doesn’t talk back.” And thus, I fixed my course for obesity over the next 31 years.
However, weight gain or loss alone is not enough to suggest depression. Although my weight gain was significant in those early years and eventually topped out at 280 lbs. three decades later, it lacked rapidity. To be considered as one of the nine symptoms of major depression, weight is limited in both time and amount. It must be both rapid – within a single month – and significant – plus or minus five percent of your body weight – without conscious effort. During my six episodes of depression since 1999, weight was a factor twice. In the spring of 2014 I lost 20 lbs. in a single month – eight percent of my body weight, and last month I gained approximately eight percent.
Since late August, I have been in a mild clinical state of depression. In November, I dropped to a moderate state and I fed it like a growling grizzly. I raided the children’s left-over Halloween candy. Ate two bowls of ice-cream a day. Lunch consisted of cookies, candy, or any other sweets I could find. Thanksgiving was indulgent. My appetite was insatiable. I hated myself for doing it, but regardless of the every-morning-promises I made to myself; I couldn’t stop. It was a primeval scream for gratification; an urge, a drive, a hunger that had to be satisfied. For 2017 I vowed to lose 20 lbs. Before November I had lost 23. If I hadn’t already been depressed, that alone was enough.
Mood and food have long been related, but more research has gone into what moods we feed and what ones we starve. “Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating” or cooking, or lacking the energy to prepare meals, says Dr. Gary Kennedy, of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Major Depression Resource Center)
Sadness, worthlessness, guilt, and other negative emotions appear to be connected with eating. “Depression can also result in emotional eating, a common event in which the need to eat is not associated with physical hunger,” notes Debra J. Johnston, RD, of Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. Some may eat to avoid feeling or thinking. (ibid.) (Depression’s Effect on Your Appetite by Chris Iliades, MD)
Anger, frustration, and excessive and prolonged stress are also associated with eating. (Ibid.) Here, I must plead guilty. Generally, I can handle a single stream of stress, but multiple streams tend to bring me down rapidly. August, September, and October saw a convergence of stressors until it became an overwhelming torrent. An education problem, a family relationship issue, and six medical matters of which half pointed toward cancer was more than I could bear. Although, the medical issues were less problematic by November – after informative or negative results from tests and retests, a surgery, and a new medication – it was too little too late to make a difference. My stress had to be fed.
I just love the way the literature addresses this subject. Make wise nutritional choices, it says. I’ve reached two conclusions about the depression advice givers: First, I think their intended audience is people who have symptoms of depression but do not meet yet the clinical definition of a major depressive disorder and/or those who have met the very minimum of requirements. Please don’t misunderstand my words as discounting or belittling the seriousness of depression at any stage, but at this point rational thought and wise decisions are easier to come by.
My second conclusion: the writings are not for people with severe depression. I’m not whining or looking for a “poor Jay, he’s had it so rough.” Save your sympathy. I’m observing a deficiency in the literature that lacks the ring of truth or practicality for a woman who can’t get out of bed, regardless of her best effort. The man who every day exhausts the resources he has in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Stop asking people to make rational and wise decisions when the biggest choice of the day, the only important choice, is to live or die.
So, I gained 15 lbs. in November. I feel terrible and don’t like myself much right now. But, by the grace of God I will overcome.
By the way, I’ve lost six lbs. so far in December.
The LORD be with you.