Help me get my sexy back.
March 25, 2012 5:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me deal with depression/stress-related weight loss and the resulting loss of body image. And how can I healthfully gain it back?

I've lived with clinical depression for ten years (done a rather good job of it too), this last month and a half I've had a pretty rough run; laid off, living in a new city with little to no close support, money related tension with family. I'm seeing a doctor and getting treatment, my family is now aware of my current difficulty coping and I think I'm past the worst of it.
What's bothering me now is that in the last month I've lost 10 pounds from lost appetite and stress. I've always been slim and now at 107 I'm not feeling so hot. Like many with depression I struggled for a long long time with low self-esteem and while I still get down on my personality or abilities I actually managed to find a positive body image the last few years, I liked what I saw in the mirror (which is really, really weird and awesome). But now I don't see myself anymore. I see pointy hips and smaller boobs and more of that awkward boyish frame I had in high school, at the height of my self-hatred. Also, there's no way being 5'5" and 107 lbs is healthy. I'm tired and sore all the time.

So my questions are: How have you dealt with changes in your body and body-image? If you lost a lot of weight and gained it back, did you look and feel like you did before?


What's the best way to gain some healthy weight? My appetite is still a little iffy, but on the mend. I like sweets and meats, but have a hard time with breads/carbs and vegetables.

posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You could try a calorie counter to make sure you're getting enough calories every day (I use it for the opposite, but hey). It keeps you accountable. Then find ways to sneak in more calories. Then it's just a matter of taste. It might help to give a rundown of what you normally eat. If you like peanut butter, you could try it on toast with honey. Or cook with vegetable oil (still healthy, but more calories). Do you like fruit? Cheese? Generally, keeping a varied diet is the best, so I'd try to incorporate a small serving of veggies -- you can put cheese on them (like steamed broccoli with cheddar) and then you won't notice the veggies as much. For carbs... granola? It never seems very carb-like to me, and tends to be sweeter, so that might work for you.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:27 PM on March 25, 2012

Whether you need to lose or gain weight, being active and working out helps body image tremendously.

I vote for healthy delicious eating and working out--yoga or Pilates would probably be perfect for you.
posted by katypickle at 5:28 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and for the body image thing: this is something a lot of women struggle with (even when they look great!). My bf compliments my body a lot, even though I am above my ideal weight and I am ruthless in noticing my flaws. It helps me to have someone else reinforce it. Then I can just look at myself in the mirror and not compare myself to someone else, or what I used to look like or want to look like, and just find things about my body to appreciate now. Look in the mirror and only give yourself compliments.

Also when I'm doing things I know are good for me I feel better about how my body is now because I know what I'm doing is changing it to how I want it to be, so I don't feel stuck.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:31 PM on March 25, 2012

also, chocolate milkshakes! chocolate milkshakes and yoga!
posted by katypickle at 5:50 PM on March 25, 2012

Westernized Indian food, particularly buffets. Lots of calories from ghee and vegetable oil and it does an excellent job covering up boring veggies and carbs with fats and meat.

I find that beef and avocado go really well together so if you're out, try ordering a burger with avocado and maybe even bacon.

Oh sweet buttery jesus this is good advice.

Also you might take a look at bodybuilding forums; bodybuilders have to pack in all the extra calories they can, and those that aren't inclined to weight gain often have to skip eating "clean" in favor of eating very calorie-dense (read: pleasure-center-activating) dishes to keep from getting too sick of grilled chicken.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:00 PM on March 25, 2012

I would concentrate making sure that you were eating enough calories everyday, preferably from healthy foods, not just high calorie foods to bulk up. As you start feeling better, your appetite will come back and you will gradually get back to your natural set point.

Try to have easy to prepare or even no prep food on hand so that you won't not eat just because it's too much trouble. Are there any veggies that you like? I ask because veggies (raw broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, celery, carrots, and/or green or red peppers) are great dipped in hummus. Otherwise similar finger food will get you to eat at times when the thought of preparing a meal and cleaning up afterwards seems like too much trouble. Greek yogurt with fresh strawberries and granola is another good quick fix. You might also want to add some sort of protein shake in between meals if you're really concerned about putting on weight.

And I'd agree that any exercise you can get in will not only help with your depression, but might also help to stimulate your appetite.

Good for you for getting help and looking for support. And if you're looking for anecdotal data, I once lost 35 pounds during a major depressive episode. I probably wasn't as thin as you were to start, but I had been a normal, healthy weight before and the weight loss definitely showed. It took awhile to get my appetite back and even once I did, the weight was a little slow to pile back on at first (then pile back on it did and I gained a few more pounds than I would have liked0, but it did stabilize. Be kind to yourself and try to focus on getting healthy.
posted by kaybdc at 6:25 PM on March 25, 2012

When I was in this position my body basically stalled and then-BAM- I got 3 months of the worst period-related issues I have ever had. So, for me, not eating was no longer an option unless I wanted to deal with those issues again. Maybe telling yourself that your reproductive health could REALLY suffer and that a host of feminine issues could be right around the corner if you don't force yourself to eat could be a good tactic.
posted by devymetal at 6:34 PM on March 25, 2012

Milkshakes/liquid food have been my go-tos when I've had depression/stress related loss of appetite. Also whole milk in coffee.
posted by sweetkid at 6:40 PM on March 25, 2012

Bananas and o.j. Simple and anecdotally they help you get appetite back.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:46 PM on March 25, 2012

I'm partial to whole grain bread with almond butter and honey; also avocados with olive oil, vinegar; various cheeses. I've had some too-low weights, these foods helped get me back to normal.

Exercise is also good, there's something about having a strong flexible body that transfers over to mind/emotion.
posted by mareli at 6:50 PM on March 25, 2012

Do you have any childhood comfort foods? Sometimes that works well for me when I've lost my appetite but really need the calories. When the food is emotionally appealing, it really helps.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 7:49 PM on March 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you still losing weight or has your weight stabilized? First of all, grab a daily multivitamin (and perhaps a little extra vitamin D in addition if you're not getting a lot of sun). If you've been eating poorly for a while, there are several micronutrient deficiencies that may be contributing to nausea and/or a loss of appetite. Also, are you getting enough fluids?

You're clearly underweight but if you're not losing more weight anymore, things aren't necessarily totally alarming. Meaning, I'm studying nutrition and dietetics and if someone's undernourishment is dire, we're pretty much told to resort to "add cream, butter or sugar into everything and snack on cheese, chips and chocolate or really whatever the hell you can stomach", but if you're at a stable weight and on the mend, you can pay a bit of attention to how healthy your weight-gaining diet is, too.

Fats are a standard way to increase your caloric intake. And you do need protein as well to keep your body from cannibalizing its own muscle tissue (since meats aren't a problem for you, this should be covered already). But I'd really try to get some carbs into your diet as well, because ketosis can suppress the appetite, too. Basically, the two main things are increasing the frequency (snacks, no skipping meals) and increasing the energy density (calories/meal).

Make an effort to eat regularly and frequently, even if it's just small amounts at a time. Muesli bars, fruit smoothies or shakes with a dollop of nut butter, sandwiches with double toppings, coconut pancakes, avocados, an extra spoonful of olive oil mixed into whatever dishes you prepare... Drink fruit juice or milk with your meals, snack on nuts and dried fruits... it's a bit hard to come up with concrete suggestions since we don't know what you usually eat. As to veggies, they're good for your overall (and mental) health but low on calories. I'd recommend starting with legumes, potatoes, pumpkins and other starchy stuff. Add calories with e.g. mayonnaise and other sauces and dressings. BTW, check out peanut sauce (satay), it's delicious and very energy dense.

A little bit of physical activity may increase the appetite and your overall well-being as well, but start slow and don't go overboard with it (obviously). As to what dipping into underweight territory and then gaining the weight back does to your body composition... It depends. If you've lost a lot of muscle tissue and then gain the weight back quickly, the result will be a higher fat percentage than you started out with. Which is still better than remaining underweight, and you can work on that later when you feel up to it. But if you want to avoid the skinny-fat stage, look into steadily increasing your level of physical activity after you've started to gain weight.
posted by sively at 1:05 AM on March 26, 2012

I was in your place once. I had depression, coupled with chronic migraines, and at one point I was 20lb under my "happy" weight, which is itself about 10lb under my "ideal" weight according to doctor's charts.

How did I deal with the changes in my body and self-image? I didn't really, because I knew that it was temporary. I never struggled with body image, so I don't think I have a useful answer for you there. But, honestly, I think you're being a little too hard on yourself. You made your peace with the body you had before you lost weight, which undoubtedly had flaws (as no one is perfect). The body that you have now also has flaws. That's okay. You're human. And the flaw you see in it right now is a symptom of an illness that you are starting to manage.

When I gained the weight back - yeah, I did look pretty much the exact same as I did before. I don't think you need to worry about looking different.

As for the actual gaining back, that came from two things. The biggest was managing my depression. That gave me more energy to take care of myself and more of an appetite. It sounds like you are beginning to climb out of the dark patch, and so, the same may happen to you.

The other thing is having nutritious foods on hand that are easy to prep. When I'm really down, I might not think it's worth it to cook dinner, and so I'll nibble on something to settle my stomach and go to bed. That's not good! But if I have something on hand - a can of nuts, fruit, whole milk and breakfast shake mix, microwavable veggies (like those steamer bags, then you put butter on), cans of soup, frozen leftovers, peeled hardboiled eggs, cheese slices - then I can eat that. It doesn't all have to be healthy items of course, you can have ice cream and hot chocolate and whatnot, as long as you eat other things too.

If you're up to cooking there are a lot of easy meals that you can learn to make, that don't take all that long. But I think that we'd have to know more about your tastes/abilities/inclinations in order to make real suggestions along those lines.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:13 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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