Trigger Warning for: eating disorders and Disordered Eating.
Sometimes I think a lot of people miss the fact that depression can cause other mental illnesses, like anxiety disorders and eating disorders. Mental illnesses can also cause depression too.
When I was first diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder at just 15 years old, I lost my appetite almost completely, like many people do. I lost a lot of weight, and I think I was at my lowest at 100 pounds. I barely recognized myself in the mirror. Yet the depressed mind has this way of convincing me I was still fat (before I was depressed, I wasn’t even overweight, I was at a pretty healthy weight and at an average size). I was put on medication (after the first one caused severe insomnia) and felt my appetite returning.
The problem was, my mind was telling me I didn’t deserve to eat. I only ate one meal a day, dinner, and most of the time I didn’t even eat it all. I was convinced I didn’t need it. I also didn’t see any issue with that whatsoever.
I didn’t realize how bad a problem it was until my (ex)boyfriend told me to eat a cookie in front of him. I had a massive anxiety attack and then cried for hours because I felt so lost. I didn’t realize how much I was actually hurting myself and my recovery from depression. I was literally wasting away. Probably borderline anorexic.
When I saw my psychiatrist, I mentioned the issue with food and how I was starving myself. What shocked me was how unsurprised he was. He also wasn’t concerned because I was depressed, and wasn’t pushing myself with high amounts of exercise every single day. I felt like I wasn’t listened to that day, and I think that stuck with me for years.
There’s something I found called “Disordered eating”, and it more describes the mindset behind eating than an actual disorder with the act of eating. In my last year of high school, and my first year of university, I was trying to lose weight (I know I said I had been starving myself, but once I got a lot better, I started eating a lot more, and gained a lot of weight). At that point I was overweight but not by much. I started tracking my calories and watching closely what I ate and how much I ate.
The issue here was my obsessiveness towards counting calories. I had an app that would set a daily calorie intake goal that would help me lose about 1-2 pounds a week. Weight loss is generally something you want to do slowly, so the body isn’t overwhelmed. But what I found was when I went over the calorie limit, I’d have anxiety attacks. I’d berate myself and almost punished myself for going over my limit. That went on for a while until a friend pointed out that I may be showing signs of disordered eating. Then I stopped counting altogether because I was scared.
I turned to an online internet forum asking for tips on losing weight without counting calories. I mentioned my mindset and how I thought it was unhealthy. I was astounded at how some people responded. They said my mindset was completely normal and that I should keep counting calories. I knew having an anxiety attack from going over my calorie limit was not normal. I didn’t go back there.
It’s just frustrating, y’know? Mental illness is so stigmatized that many people struggle just to ask for help. But when you do reach out for help and you’re brushed off, similarly to how I was when I was 15, it makes them not want to try again.
I’m 21 now, and still struggle with eating habits. I’m overweight, and not where I’d like to be, but the difference is that I’m more accepting of it. I’m like, “hey, this isn’t where you wanna be and that’s fine. weight loss takes time and you won’t see results over night.” Its helped so much, even though it may seem obvious to others.
I guess I just really wish there was more awareness to eating disorders in general, but also how depression, and other mental illnesses, can cause a severe problem with eating. My story is likely not unique, and I certainly won’t be the last one to go through something like this.