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Managing your food, mood and weight when living with a mental illness

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Managing your food, mood and weight when living with a mental illness

‘Watch what you eat’ was the candid advice when first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Five years later I had outgrown three dress sizes and weighed an extra 25-30 kilos!

In my case this weight gain was due to a combination of medication, comfort food, low self esteem, mood and the frequent labelling my emotions as ‘wrong’.

After a lot of soul searching and looking at my patterns – my ‘default setting’ – I identified three key areas that had a direct influence on my weight gain and the changes I needed to make.

1. Medication

The medication I was taking was metabolic positive for me. This meant my ‘feeling full’ trigger was bypassed. I spoke to my psychiatrist to find medication that wouldn’t affect my weight and would allow me to continue to live my life to the fullest. This empowered me, we were a medication management ‘team’.

2. Eating triggers

Thinking about my eating triggers I discovered that when I was anxious or under stress I ate more food than needed and it was comfort food.

A food and mood diary can be useful. It’s as simple as sticky notes on the calendar, or an electronic note on your phone, recording the times or situations when you reach out for more food that required.

Sunday 6pm - I ate a block of chocolate just thinking about driving tomorrow night. I hate driving at night because it makes me nervous.

Reading your notes over a period of time, you may see a pattern.

3. Self-care and self-esteem

Self-esteem, stress and access to ‘personal time’ can affect eating habits. Remember you are worth the time and effort it takes to look after your mind, body and spirit.

To identify my ‘core values’ I asked myself:

  • What gives me peace?
  • What helps me relax?
  • How important is a situation, person, or occasion to me?
  • Who do I consider my tribe?
  • How do I value myself?
  • How do I invest in my wellbeing and self care?
  • Am I thriving or just surviving?
  • What needs to change?
  • Am I being myself all the time?
  • What do I keep telling myself?
  • Do I choose what's right for me?

As you reflect and write down your answers, you will see your emotional or situational triggers and what is really important to you.

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Overcoming obesity and mental health

Managing obesity is going to be different for everyone and it took me years to work out.

For me, being really overweight, I had to overcome my self-stigma and perceptions on my own terms. It wasn't just about the food and medication – although they play a big part – it was about the self worth and value (or lack of) I placed on myself. I needed to challenge my self-stigma and like what I saw in the mirror.

I needed to do something physical that I was comfortable with, I wasn't locked into, was achievable during episodes, took care of my mind and body, and made me feel good about myself.

Yoga has worked for me because it enables me to lower my stress levels, think about my triggers and be kind to my body. It encourages me to change my moves depending on the day or my mood. Plus meditating calms my mind.

It's really important that you find the best fit for you. Some ideas might include:

  • Parking away from the entrance of the shopping centre allowing you to walk a little further
  • Using the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walking with a friend (around the shopping centre, city centre, park, block)
  • Walking to the next bus/tram stop
  • Undertaking gentle movement exercise that can be done anywhere private, such as Tai Chi, Yin Yoga, or Pilates.

Researching on the Internet and community notice boards for ideas on what's available are a good place to start as is the SANE Guide to Healthy Living.

Remember, you are doing the best you can. This applies even when you feel like you aren’t! You are always worth the time and effort.

Maree is a visual artist, teacher, writer, public speaker and SANE Speaker.

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