We can counter this protective mechanism not only by restricting the calories we eat, but also by increasing the calories we burn. This doesn’t mean that we have to run a marathon every day: taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking up the escalator instead of riding, walking to the next bus stop before catching your bus, even parking in the far corner and walking across the car park. All these require that our muscles do the work rather than a machine, and the more work our muscles do the more calories we burn. Five minutes exercise a day is better than none.
Not only does exercise burn the calories, but it also releases neurotransmitters from around the spinal cord. One of these in particular, Gamma Amino Butyric Acid (GABA), is released when the nerves controlling our muscles are stimulated. The link between low levels of GABA and depression is widely accepted, and it’s also well known that depressed people gain weight faster.
If we are stressed at work or home, lonely, upset or angry, the disturbance in our emotions can lead to altered body weight – perhaps because our Paleolithic ancestors who gained weight when they were stressed about dwindling food resources were more likely to have descendants.
Unfortunately, gaining weight can make us more depressed, leading to further weight gains, but it’s rarely the weight gain that comes first. Everyone has something in their life that they are unhappy about, be it their boss, their salary, their relationship, their family. Most of the time, we can learn to accept what we can’t change, but occasionally this is not possible: the sad feelings develop into a ‘depressed mood’, possibly leading to seeking the advice from a professional.
The pressures of modern life, such as an uneven work/life balance, longer working hours, unpaid overtime, shift pattern disruption, can lead us away from the community we need in order to thrive. Man is a social animal, historically this was for safety from predators, but now it serves the purpose of an informal support group. By receiving regular updates about the events in our friends’ lives, we reinforce the feeling of ‘connectedness’ – the feeling that we are not alone in our suffering. Catching up with friends allows us to share gossip and vent our frustrations, but also enables our friends to give us an alternative perspective on our situation. When we become depressed, we have a tendency to want to pull the duvet overhead and hide away from the world; it can be a real struggle to force ourselves to go out and meet up with people, but the end result is worth it.