“I guess I never really connected the two, between sadness and trying to make yourself feel better with food,” Thomas said.
Anderson helped Thomas learn to redirect his focus when he was depressed from food to activities he enjoyed — like playing his guitar, or riding his bike.
“‘This too shall pass’ I learned,” Thomas said, “and that if I stick to what I’m doing, the urge to eat really does dissipate. It’s wonderful.”
Depression and obesity influence one another
Obesity is an ongoing epidemic in America — nearly 40 percent of adults are obese, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Research shows that depression and obesity can influence one another. Between 2005 and 2010, 43 percent of American adults who suffered from depression were obese, and adults with depression were more likely to be obese, according to the CDC. And a 2010 study from the American Medical Association found that obese people had a 55 percent increased risk of developing depression over time, while those who suffer from depression had a 58 percent increased risk of becoming obese.
Anderson, author of the popular weight loss book, “The Anderson Method,” who once struggled with obesity himself, says many of his overweight patients secretly suffer from depression.
“They’re not all so depressed they can’t get out of bed, but they do have some symptoms that they are usually treating — like self medicating with food,” he says, “and conversely, being overweight is an awful thing, and that does not help us in terms of not being depressed.”
But Anderson says many avoid seeing a therapist because “there’s a stigma attached to getting counseling or mental health.”
Deborah Beck Busis, LCSW and director of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Weight Loss and Maintenance Program at the Beck Institute, an international non-profit that provides cognitive behavior therapy training and resources in Pennsylvania, says she works directly with people who are chronic dieters.
She says more people in the last decade have begun to turn to therapy for help, but says many still believe they should be able to lose weight on their own “whether or not that’s realistic for them long term.”
“Even though all the new research shows that obesity is a chronic problem, multi factorial, way more complicated than people realize,” Busis says, “a lot of the rhetoric still seems to be ‘eat less, exercise more,’ and that sounds simple enough, but people really think ‘This is something I should be able to do on my own.’”
How the way we think influences the way we eat
Busis says advertisements pushing weight loss “miracles” convince us we can rely on willpower to shed the pounds on our own.
Willpower may work well with most disciplines, like saving money or studying for an exam, Busis says, but not with food. And while people may have some success with dieting, she says many will ultimately regain the weight they’ve lost. She says the key to losing weight and keeping it off is to learn how to deal with “sabotaging thoughts.”
“Anybody can white-knuckle it through no sugar for three or four weeks,” Busis says, “but if she doesn’t know how to respond to her sabotaging thoughts when she comes into contact with sugar when she’s had a really bad day, or when she’s at a wedding and everybody else is eating it or something, then she’s going to be off track and she’s back in that all-or-nothing cycle.”
Busis says calorie counting is ideal because it allows you to continue eating foods you love, but in moderation, which she says is much more realistic for long-term weight management.