Depression and Weight Management:
Ten Steps to Successful Weight Loss
In the page of this web site called “My Story: How I Was Healed From Depression,” I describe how I emerged from a one year, suicidal depression. I experienced many blessings as a result of this episode, such as a deepening of my compassion and a renewed faith. There was, however, a downside—I now weighed 250 pounds. This was a far cry from the 180 pounds I had weighed a decade ago.
I didn’t consciously plan on this happening. I didn’t wake up one day and say. “I think I will gain seventy pounds today.” Growing up, I was a skinny kid. I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight. But when I entered my forties, my metabolism began to slow down. As I became less active, the extra pounds gradually snuck up on me. And when I experienced a major depressive episode at age forty-seven, I ingested all sorts of antidepressants, some of which were said to cause weight gain. I am sure that these drugs played a part in the expansion of my girth.
At first I was so happy to be free of depression that I didn’t mind the excess weight. But then I learned of that people who suffered from depression, like those who are overweight, were at a greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and dementia. Thus, a person who is both depressed and obese receives a double whammy.
All of this was percolating in my mind as I entered the new millennium. Over the next ten years, I made three attempts to lose weight. Each time I met with modest success, only to put the weight back on. According to the body mass index (BMI), I was borderline obese. I decided I had to something.
Then, in late July of 2010, I bumped into a former member of my depression support group who also struggled with his weight. He recommended that I join Weight Watchers because he knew, as with recovering from depression, that people need social support to successfully manage their weight. Thus, I made a vow to go to a meeting as soon as I returned from a trip to the East Coast to attend my godson’s wedding.
A week later, on August 2, 2010, I attended my first meeting of Weight Watchers. I weighed in at 232.8 pounds. Weight Watchers jump-started my recovery in two ways. First they introduced me to the idea of keeping a food diary to track my calorie intake. Second, they helped me to set my first short-term goal of losing five pounds. As I worked the program, the obvious dawned upon me. Just as I had created a new lifestyle to heal from depression, now I needed to implement significant lifestyle changes to manage my weight. Moreover, unlike my previous three attempts, this regimen needed to be sustainable and enjoyable.
To make this happen I took elements of my 12-week body-mind-spirit depression recovery program and combined them with the principles I had learned in weight watchers to form a ten-step weight loss plan. The results of this program have been stunning. By making incremental changes in my patterns of eating and physical activity, I have been able to gradually and responsibly lose forty-five pounds over an 18-month period. Today, as I write this blog, I celebrate my 63rd birthday with a weight of 185 pounds. My friends tell me I look ten years younger. The payoff in terms of health, vitality and increased longevity is priceless.
Now I would like to share my ten-step program with you so that you can have the same success that I did.
Ten Steps to Successful Weight Loss
Part 1: Set the Stage
Step 1: Determine your motivation for losing weight. Find out the reasons why you want to lose weight and then set the intention to do so.
My major motivation to lose weight was to live out my remaining years in a healthy way and to avoid the specter of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer—diseases associated with being overweight and/or depressed. This motivation got a major boost when a close friend of mine died of complications of diabetes and heart disease at the age 62 (I was 61 at the time). This was a fate I wanted to avoid, especially since I had been diagnosed as “pre-diabetic.”
Step 2: Determine what would be a healthy weight for you. Then set some long term and short-term weight loss goals.
When I began this journey on August 2, 2010, I decided that I wanted to lose thirty pounds over the next year so that I would weigh 200 pounds on August 1, 2011. This was clearly a stretch, as I couldn’t remember the last time I had been at this weight.
Once I made that decision, I decided to create a “sub-goal” of a five-pound loss. Within the first ten days, I achieved my goal and weighed the 225-pound loss. I then set my sights on continuing to lose weight in five pound increments.
Step 3: Translate the pounds you want to lose into a daily calorie intake. Then find a system that will allow you to keep track of the daily calories you consume and the calories you burn.
In order to lose weight you must burn more calories than you take in. The principle of calories in, calories out rules. Thus, tracking the foods you eat and the calories they contain is an essential component of successful weight loss. Fortunately, there are many programs on the Internet that will allow you to easily track your daily calorie expenditure.
I used a program called Dietpower. After I had input my height, weight, age and weight loss goal (usually two pounds each month), Dietpower created a “personal calorie budget” for the day. As long as my net calorie intake (the calories I ate minus the calories I burned through my daily activity) fell within my budget, I was able to shed pounds at a steady rate.
Part 2: Implement Your Plan
Step 4: Gradually shift your diet so that you eat high nutrient, low energy-dense foods.
I adopted a primarily whole food, plant-based diet, inspired by Michael Pollan’s famous adage, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Specifically, I focused on eating foods that had a low energy density — that is, they contain the lowest amount of calories per gram of weight.
It turns out that food fruits and vegetables are the foods with the lowest energy density, partially because they contain a lot of water. In addition, they possess high amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber, which protect us from a wide variety of chronic diseases. Thus, fruits and vegetables formed the base of my food pyramid. My diet was rounded out by beans, nuts, seeds and some fish and fat-free dairy.
An excellent book that describes how to lose weight while maintaining nutritional excellence in your choices of foods is Joel Fuhrman’s groundbreaking work, Eat to Live. Here is the link to the book on Amamzon.com: Eat to Live
Step 5: Create a daily activity and exercise routine that is sustainable and enjoyable.
Anyone suffering from depression and anxiety will receive two gifts from increasing their level of daily activity. First, exercise has been scientifically proven to elevate mood and works as well to treat mild to moderate depression as antidepressants. Second, participating in regular exercise (aerobic activity as well as strength training) will raise your metabolism so that your body will continue to burn calories even when you are not exercising.
Step 6: Share your goals with others who will support your vision.
As with healing from depression, social support is essential with any weight management program. Examples of support include sharing your goals with family, friends, a consulting with dietician, working with a personal trainer, taking a workout class, having an exercise partner and attending OA (Overeaters Anonymous) or Weight Watchers meetings.
My main sources of support were the fitness manager of my gym who taught me about exercise physiology and a former depression support group member who introduced me to resources that promoted nutritional excellence. I received additional moral support my partner Joan, my goddaughter Amy and her mother Ann, other friends, my acupuncturist, my chiropractor, and my bicycling buddies.
Step 7: Use other weight management and lifestyle tools to support your progress.Examples include:
- Getting enough sleep
- Managing hunger and food cravings
- Drinking plenty of water
- Not drinking your calories through the consumption of sugary drinks
- Using affirmations and creative visualization to reinforce your goals
- Decreasing time spent in front of the TV
- Learning to manage stress
Finally, an essential part of success is proper planning—planning when to buy food, when to prepare it, when to exercise, when to relax and check in with yourself.
Part 3: Use Your Tracking System to Record and
Your Daily Calorie Expenditure
Step 8: Use the tracking system you adopted in Step 3 to monitor your weight-loss progress on a regular basis.
Ideally, you want to be losing 2-4 pounds a month. If, over a three-week period, you find that the pounds are returning, you are probably consuming more calories than you are burning. Either increase your activity or reduce your food intake-- or both. Then track the results you achieve over the next three weeks.
Step 9: As you achieve each weight loss short-term goal, celebrate your accomplishment. Then set a new short-term goal— preferably a five-pound weight loss.
Do this until you reach your set point or ideal weight.
Part 4: Preserve Your Victory
Step 10: Once you attain the long-term goal you set at the beginning of your journey, continue your new lifestyle to maintain your weight within an acceptable buffer zone.
When you lapse, quickly get back on track. For many dieters, this step is the hardest of all, as the majority gain back all of they have lost. I am determined to maintain my new-found success by continuing to apply the same tools that allowed me to lose 45 pounds in a year and a half.
My maintenance plan is to weigh between 184-186 pounds over the next six months. I will continue to track my weight and my daily food intake. If my weight starts to creep upward, I will make the necessary lifestyle adjustments to get back on track and return to my maintenance zone.
To learn more about successful weight managment, please visit my website, Integrated Weightloss.