Someone asked me a little over a month ago how you know the difference between being sad and being depressed. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m sad, I know the exact reason for it, and there are usually pretty clear steps I can and am able to take to soothe myself in a reasonable amount of time. Depression on the other hand, is like being held hostage inside my own body. I am aware of everything going on around me, but I can’t connect to anything, or anyone, and I can’t find the energy or motivation to move, mentally or physically. I’m sad for reasons that lie deep beneath the surface of the superficial inconveniences that life tends to present. It’s like being in a sunken place of my own creation. Last year I was more depressed than I realized. I was on auto pilot for much of the year, just going through the motions of my obligations, until one day I just shut down. I couldn’t get out of bed for days, except to shower and eat. And eat I did.
I saw the resulting changes in my body from eating for comfort. These changes became glaringly apparent to me the more I begrudgingly posted photos from shoots. I hated it, but I just didn’t feel capable of change, because food had such a hold on me. It was a vicious cycle of feeling bad, then eating, then feeling bad for eating, and around and around. It was as if all of my meals were punctuated with self loathing. I stopped recognizing myself, and sunk even deeper into depression.
Even as I’m writing this I’m trying to recall what pushed me over the edge to seek help, and I shit you not I think it was the discomfort of my underwear being too small. Stop laughing. I’m being serious (but it is funny). I couldn’t afford to keep buying bigger and bigger underwear, so I really think that did it. It was either that, or God reaching down and saying a gentle, “Getcho shit together.” Whatever the cause, I finally got back into therapy.
Therapy is the hard part of self care that no one really talks about. You feel naked, vulnerable, and afraid of who you’ve been, and who you stand to become. If you’ve lived your whole life as a person who has bouts of depression, then who will you become without that darkness? Will you still be a good writer? Will you still be able to empathize with others? It’s hard work to become that self aware, and not hate yourself in the process, but it’s worth it. There was a very obvious correlation between my eating and my depression, but there were also outside factors. I concluded that my life would require a full change. Not just ridding myself of bad eating habits, but also bad relationships, and negative thought processes.
This meant distancing myself from people who did not affirm me. This meant distancing myself from thoughts and habits that only served to hurt me more. This meant a full lifestyle change from the inside out. And so began Whole30, something I never thought I had the willpower to complete. How could I go 30 whole ass days without the joys of carbs and sugar? Let’s see.
I feel like a Beyonce performance wig. My mood is elevated, I’m productive, motivated, and excited to try new recipes from Pinterest and Whole30 devoted Instagram pages. I have so much energy that it’s hard for me to get to sleep at night. I’m on a natural high. I have three or four accountability partners that are giving me tips, and tricks from when their previous rounds of Whole30, so I’m really feeling like I can bang this thing on out.
I can’t eat enough. I’m starving, and nothing that I eat makes me feel satiated. I am eating a lot of food, albeit whole foods, but nothing is making me feel full.
The dreaded hangover everyone kept warning me about finally crept up on me on day 10. I’m nauseous. My energy level is really low. When I first started this I had high hopes of working out and eating better, to really maximize my results, but I can barely climb my stairs. And the headache. My God, it feels like it has its own heartbeat, and it’s getting louder and faster with every minute.
Day 12: I’m a part of a mentoring group called Gyrl Wonder, and today we hosted an event called Mentoring Matters. I served as the emcee, and I was so nervous. I usually take a shot before I have to speak before a crowd, but I couldn’t, because no alcohol. Afterwards, I felt like I’d done a horrible job, and my natural inclination was to nibble on something from the candy bar or from the catered Chipotle, but I couldn’t. While everyone mingled, I found myself sitting alone, not wanting to socialize, not even feeling like myself. I brought my lunch, plus snacks, but the frustration of not eating what I wanted to sent me into an adult tantrum of sorts.
I read that this is really common, and it’s likely due to sugar withdrawal, and not eating enough. Now my appetite has started to change such that it takes less for me to feel full, or I just don’t want to eat at all. So, sugar detoxing, low blood sugar, and self-doubt create the perfect storm for sadness that would otherwise be assuaged with salt, sugar, carbs, and chemically processed foods. I have no choice but to face my insecurities.
Day 13, I want to quit. I woke up with an even worse headache, and I’m just not sure this is even worth the trouble. Week 1, I saw the benefit of denying myself certain foods, because I felt amazing. In week 2 I feel like I’m giving up my favorite foods just to feel worse. Not only am I fatigued, and in pain, I am also slightly constipated, so shit just got real (see what I did there?).
Who. The. Fuck. Keeps. Bringing. Candy. To. The. Office?! Is this a setup? It is well after Christmas, so why is there a Harry Potter level feast of sweets in the kitchen?! Who are you helping you bastards?! Insert very dramatic slide everything off of a dresser and scream scene here.
I am irritable, and sluggish. The gym is completely out of the question for me. I can’t figure out how to manage my appetite. The past couple of nights I’ve made really good dinners, but have a hard time finishing, or even starting them. The same with my lunches at work. I now require less food to feel full, but I need to eat more to stop the headaches (per the message boards and my Whole30 vets/accountability partners).
As soon as I get home, I reach into my bag of shame. What is my bag of shame you ask? It’s a bag of about ten dresses I can no longer fit, because I was too cheap and lazy to take them to the dry cleaners when they did fit. I pull out a wool pencil skirt my mom bought me when I first graduated from college in 2009. We had high hopes that in spite of the recession, I would still need a full work wardrobe. That was cute, because I ended up working at H&M for two years. Anyway, I stepped into the skirt full of apprehension and dread, and to my surprise, it fit. I was able to fully zip it, and still breathe! Maybe this is worth it, and I can stick it out.
FOUND: Sugar free pork bacon. God has smiled on me. I can do this. I can do this.
I would also really like some pizza, and a chili cheese hot dog, and some fries. I mean God in Her infinite wisdom gave us elastic waistbands for a reason, no? No.
My underwear fit! Oh em gee they fit. My gut isn’t rolling over the top, and I don’t have a crease in my ass cheeks giving me the appearance of four whole asses. And my back rolls!
Yes, back rolls. They haven’t gone, but they are much less pronounced. Okay, I’m gonna go to Trader Joe’s and re-up on some stuff to make new recipes. As an aside, I have a real beef with these social media chefs coming up with recipes that require the most obscure ingredients. What even is arrowroot powder?! Reading food labels doesn’t seem labor intensive, until you factor in the rage that comes from realizing that sugar is in everything! Rage takes a lot of energy.
I caught myself looking at Instagram food accounts like porn. I think I actually drooled and let out an audible “Oh yeah, that’s it,” at my desk. Life is bleak. I am walking in a dull haze, and maybe it’s worth it to be broke and overweight and die a premature fat-related death if it means I can have some pad thai.
My co workers are being very encouraging. Saying they notice a real change, and to keep going. They don’t know my life though! January is the longest month I have ever lived. When will it end? Will I ever again know the joys of spreading jam on a hot biscuit? Or looking at a burger, and thinking there’s no way I can bite that, I need a fork and knife? Will the salty goodness of french fries never again touch my tongue?
Day 29: Oooooohhhhh Popeye’s. What’s one day? What if I only do Whole29? Is that not an accomplishment? No, no it isn’t. I wonder what’ll happen if I just get some potatoes and gravy.
We made it! We made it! I feel accomplished, and much more knowledgeable about the way food affects me both mentally and physically. Without relying on food for temporary relief, I’ve had to be much more present, and much more careful with myself and who I allow to take up space in my life. Staying committed for the entirety of the program took up what little energy I had, so I’ve been much more intentional about who gets my energy, and how much of it they get. I can’t believe I really committed to this and saw it all the way through. I feel like a Drag Race contestant.
Now comes the hard part: continuing to improve and remain consistent. Stay tuned.