kept the flowers

The constant battle: body image and food

A woman’s relationship with her body and food is often tumultuous. I never thought mine was until recently. It all started when I took depakote and lithium, which made me gain weight.

My whole life it had been easy for me to maintain a good figure. I certainly didn’t have to try in high school and most of college. Hot dogs and calzones were the norm. In my early 20s I did karate, which definitely kept any weight at bay. But when I started putting on the pounds because of meds it only added onto my crushing depression. I didn’t realize how much my self esteem was tied to my body. I might have known it on some level, but it all the sudden became very clear.

Once the depression lifted enough for me to start doing something about the weight I started counting calories. This is definitely an effective way to eat better and avoid overeating, but it also makes you hyper-focused on everything you eat. Like my iphone, entering calories and exercise into my app is now basically an addiction. I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to eat next, how many calories it is, and how that will impact what I can eat for the rest of the day.

Of course what’s tricky about food is that we have to eat it…and it’s enjoyable. But I find that I’m constantly battling between restricting everything I eat and wanting to eat higher calorie more yummy foods. And I’ve come to realize that food consumes a lot of my thoughts each day. Not just how to keep my calories down but the things I wish I could eat—the things that I love and crave the most. As I write this I’m eating lemon yogurt instead of one of the lemon cupcakes on the work kitchen counter.

Many people eat to self soothe and comfort themselves. I realized recently that I’ve always done this. Perhaps it’s a product of experiencing the depression and anxiety that bipolar disorder can bring. But I think I’m letting food consume way too many of my thoughts. And this is something that’s hard to admit. No one wants to seem like a food-crazed glutton who only thinks about food. But I can’t seem to help it.

I know that there must be a balance between avoiding unhealthy food and indulging once and a while so that you don’t go completely crazy. People who don’t find that balance are usually doomed to fail whatever diet they’re trying to keep.

But whenever I think the weight is creeping up on me or I’m just not pleased with what I see in the mirror that day, I’ll usually start restricting myself again. But I can only keep that up so long before I just need to have pizza or fries or a sub or anything with cheese.

I’m not sure how to break this thought pattern. How do I become less focused on food? I don’t want to have to give up counting my calories, but do I need to? I’m scared to put on weight but I don’t want to be a slave to a crazy diet and these recurring thoughts my whole life. Any advice from the peanut gallery?

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