Exercise as a gift to oneself

Several years ago, busy mother Julia Rosien was diagnosed with depression. Also dissatisfied with her body, she knew she needed to get back in shape. How did Rosien do it? “One step at a time.”

Now, with a healthy body and a happy outlook, she looks back and realizes, “It was about giving to myself. I didn’t have time to pee, never mind time to exercise,” she says. But by fitting a moment here or there into her already-too-full life, she found her way back to health.

She sat on the floor and did leg lifts while bouncing her toddler or playing patty-cake. “As my tummy went down, my self-esteem started to return,” says Rosien, who just a short time earlier couldn’t make it through a meal without crying. “I took charge of my life one stride at a time.”

A sense of control and participation in new activities can do wonders. That’s why Oetting’s recommendations don’t always involve diet and exercise. She gives her patients assignments that get them away from the dinner table and off the sofa, like potting plants during the week or going to a beautiful place and writing in a journal. She suggests her patients use the journal to record successes, so they have something they can refer to when they eat too much or don’t exercise.

Is weight gain inevitable?

Oetting sometimes sees weight gain as a side effect of antidepressants, usually three to four months into treatment. For that reason, she recommends seeing a dietician early and making lifestyle and diet changes before the effects occur.

Jeremy Kisch, PhD, senior director of Clinical Education for the National Mental Health Association, says patients shouldn’t accept weight gain as inevitable. “The older antidepressants are more associated with weight gain than the new ones,” he says. “But effects are individual. If you experience a problem, you need to let your doctor know, then work together to find an alternative.”