Monday, April 17, 2017

Obesity crisis is mental health crisis

At the age of 50, I'm now on my fifth year of being fat. When I went from size 10 to size 18 in the last months of my marriage in 2013, I thought, "I'm not worried about gaining weight. I've been thin and active my whole life. I'll take this weight off as soon as my life gets back to normal." Obviously that didn't happen, and since 2015 I've been very focused on at least dropping about 20 of the 50 extra pounds I'm carrying (I'm only 5'2" so those pounds really count).

But I'm trying to take it easy on myself these days. Here's a theory I recently came up with: many of us are fat because we need mental health services. Many people struggle with chronic depression or other mood disorders and the easiest and cheapest way to self-medicate is with food. We're trying to get through the days without the psychiatric treatment we need, or our medication has stopped working, or we just got on medication but it hasn't kicked in yet and we feel like hell all the time. We're tired or angry or discouraged or self-loathing or hopeless or numb or despondent or can't get out of bed or we're any combination of those. So what's quick and easy and cheap and has an immediate effect on mood and energy? Food. Whether it's sweets or alcohol or fried stuff, the key is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates turn into sugar and that gives our brains the serotonin they desperately need, so we can get through the workday or the party or the conversation with our spouse. But while our brains need the chemical reaction those carbs cause, our bodies don't need the energy, so we pack on the extra calories as fat. And the fat just builds and stays and builds and stays and no amount of dieting or exercise can counteract that process.

It's a horrible problem. I believe a large part of the obese Americans we all scorn are managing our moods and energy with food. And while mood management is the reason we eat and drink the way we do, there's no way we can lose an ounce by trying to eat less and move more. I believe our obesity crisis might actually be a mental health crisis.

We have such disgust for fat people, but what's more important: being thin or not committing suicide after the depression takes over and tells you it's time to die? On good days I have a clear answer to that. So I'll be fat because for now being fat seems like it's probably better than being dead. Probably.

2 comments:

Andria Anderson said...

Yes, I can totally see this concept. I think people in the past would have eaten their way to mood relief also, but most were too poor to afford the food.

I do see the effects of a society-wide discouragement verging on depression. You're certainly correct about carbohydrates being a temporary quick-fix. It works consistently.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

In the past, American food wasn't as well engineered to cause a physiological response that got us hooked on it. I think people with untreated emotional disorders had to find relief in other ways, or not at all. Since the 1970s the American food industry has learned how to create desire for its products with manufactured flavors, textures, contrasts, and things like "mouth feel" and "after taste." That set us up to become fat and dependent on food for things besides sustenance.