A combination of risk factors work together to increase the risk of childhood obesity: A high-calorie diet, lack of exercise, a family history of obesity, poor food choices at home, and emotional issues. While FitFamily has addressed ways to help you control many of the food and exercise elements that can veer this epidemic from your door, emotional issues are equally as important to address. Whether you’re a parent or a teen, don’t brush away depression and stress as additional risk factors of becoming and remaining overweight. 

Face Depression Head-on

PARENTS: Use your  purse power

You’ve stocked the fridge and pantry with healthy snacks. You go out of your way to prepare delicious, healthy meals and encourage the family to dine together as often as possible. You’re getting more active yourself and encouraging everyone else in the family to join in the fun. If you’re still not making a dent in the weight problem of one or more of your kids, you may have another, more slippery obstacle to tackle.

Emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, and social stress can trigger overeating and lethargy. In turn, those high-calorie/low activity responses can lead to deeper depression, anxiety and additional social stress. It’s up to you to help break the chain.

Especially if you or others in your family battle depression, take a hard look at the signs of it in your children, signs such as:
  • Constant irritability, anger and sadness.
  • No sense of joy in anything.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Frequent, unexplained headaches or other unexplained pains.    
  • Crying often.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Talk of death or suicide.

Step up and find help

The first step toward treating depression and anxiety is to seek treatment as soon as possible, including “talk therapy” and doctor-prescribed antidepressants. If you have trouble getting your child to open up to you about their problems, let them know there are professionals who can help – and who will keep everything confidential.  
  • Discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor and rule out any medical conditions that could be causing depression and anxiety.
  • Talk to teachers and school counselors about their perception of your child’s behavior.
  • Ask for a referral to a qualified therapist who specializes in working with adolescents and teens.
  • Enlist the help of immediate family members, teachers, religious leaders and others who have a good rapport with your child and who will encourage them to participate in treatment.
  • Consider family therapy, which can shed light on issues that you may not be aware of, and that are causing your children concern.

Be supportive

The ultimate goal of seeking professional help is to encourage your child to achieve and maintain a healthier outlook on life. The step they’re taking – seeing professional help for their depression or anxiety – is a giant leap toward improved health. Nevertheless, parents play a crucial role in building their child’s self-esteem at home, so it’s important you show support and concern without judgment or criticism.
  • Remain helpful about their need to become more active, but allow them to choose the activities.
  • Mark and celebrate milestones in their efforts by planning family activities, not meals and food treats.
  • Focus on the positive outcomes they’re enjoying – like being out with friends or able to walk farther and faster.
  • Take special time to talk and share your own feelings with your kids, setting a habit of emotional openness for a lifetime.

Always being bummed isn’t normal

Sure, schoolwork can be tough. The vast future is waiting ahead and you’re not totally set on what you’re going to “be” yet. These are normal, everyday teenage worries. That and where you fit into the social life at school.

But when you’re depressed, these problems seem to pile on top of so many other ones – and it feels like no one understands what you’re going through. Being depressed isn’t just feeling sad now and then. It’s a constant, nagging feeling of hopelessness that never goes away. No one can “cheer you up” and nothing can “make you feel better.” A lot of times, people who are depressed gain weight too – turning to food as a way to find comfort from the lousy feelings. But those extra pounds can add to a sense of loneliness when schoolmates tease about it. Other depressed people lose excessive weight, thinking that controlling what they eat can control their mood or what others think of them. Either way, depression is the real culprit – and depression can be treated.

Signs of depression

Everyone experiences depression in their own way. And everyone acts out because of it differently too. Remember, depression isn’t “sadness” but an emotional, chemical reaction in the brain. In general, you may be depressed if:
  • You always feel irritable, angry, sad and gloomy.
  • You don’t think anything is fun anymore and you don’t feel like you should even try to have fun.
  • Everything makes you cry and you cry often.
  • You feel like something’s wrong – like you’re guilty of something but don’t know what.
  • You always feel bad about yourself – how you look, how you act, how you think.
  • You feel hopeless, helpless and like you’re just taking up space.
  • You’re sleeping too much or you can’t get to sleep or stay asleep.
  • You have frequent, unexplained headaches or often feel sick.    
  • You can’t seem to concentrate in school and your grades are showing it.
  • You think about death and suicide all the time.

Fight back!

Think of depression as an army attacking your emotions – and know you’re the strongest defense against it. It won’t just go away on its own, so you have to step up and defend yourself.
1. Talk to someone. 
Speak about your feelings to a parent, teacher, preacher, school counselor or doctor.
  • You may need to talk to a professional therapist to help you talk through your feelings and thoughts. That professional may or may not prescribe medication to help elevate your mood.
  • Never take any drugs or herbal remedies without talking to your doctor first. You can’t “self medicate” your way out of depression. That just leads to bigger problems.

2. Get more exercise.
You may not feel much like getting up and doing anything, but exercise could be the first battle you win over depression. Start with a 15-minute brisk walk or bike ride. Dance to music in your bedroom. Whatever it takes, just get moving and you’ll feel better. Add some yoga or stretching and get your spirit flowing too.

3. Care for yourself with good nutrition.
Vitamins, minerals and other elements of proper nutrition can make a difference in your energy level and mood. Add more fruits and vegetables to your plate, try to eat well-rounded meals and healthy snacks on a regular schedule. Also do your best to avoid junk food filled with fat and sugars – they’ll just bog you down.

4. Talk but don’t dwell.
You may feel better about your feelings when you talk to someone caring about it. But don’t over-burden yourself or your friends with constant reminders of the situations that may have contributed to your depression. Look for a release of your feelings, an understanding ear, and an intellectual discussion of possible solutions and coping methods. This may come from a professional therapist instead of friends and family.

5. Get creative.
Draw, doodle, paint, write, sew, dance, sing, play with the cat or dog, and go to a movie. These activities free your mind and allow you to get back in touch with your fun side.

6. Find one good thing every day.
Whether it’s the crunch of a fresh apple or the smile of a passing stranger, appreciate at least one good thing every day. Then try to find or think of one more. Your overall health. Your warm bed. Your talents and gifts. It may not “cure” your depression, but it will give you a flicker of hope each day.

7. Be patient and kind to yourself.
It takes time to heal from depression. Seek help and do what it takes to get better, treating yourself to the happier life you deserve.  


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