Depression and weight gain go together for many people, in a chicken-and-egg cycle that makes both harder to cope with. However, taking action to improve either side of the issues can help the other.
The Vicious Cycle Of Depression and Weight Gain
Weight gain can lead to depressed mood, which can lead to more weight gain as you try to self-soothe with food. As you see the effects of your weight gain on your physical appearance and feel a reduction in self-esteem for “letting yourself slide”, your mood can become depressed. Depression can also be the start of weight gain, as you reduce your activity, have less energy for healthy eating, may lack motivation, and again may try to lift your mood with sugary treats.
The Medication Factor
It’s also important to understand that many of the medications that are used to regulate mood and/or treat depression can trigger weight gain on their own. So when you’re depressed, the medication you may be offered by your doctor can cause significant weight gain as a side effect. That’s one reason why it’s smart to see a medical weight loss doctor if you’re struggling with stubborn weight gain. They have the knowledge to identify medication-related triggers you might not have thought of that could be causing weight gain or making it more difficult to lose the extra pounds. For example, Paxil, a common SSRI antidepressant, seems to cause weight gain in many people. Zoloft or Wellbutrin seem to be less associated with weight gain.
Does Obesity Cause Depression?
There is a definite connection between obesity and depression. Obese people are about 25% more likely than the general population to experience depression. A March 2010 review of 15 studies, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, suggested that obesity was connected to a greater risk of depression, and vice-versa. Researchers have also stated that depressed people gain weight more quickly than those who are not depressed. While the contributing factors for depression and weight gain are not fully understood, they may include:
- unhealthy food choices (poor nutrition)
- appetite disturbances
- gut dysbiosis (sometimes associated with depression)
- poor self-esteem
- low or reduced physical activity
- poor self-image
- social isolation
- lack of energy
- lack of motivation
“Depressed people with decreased levels of the hormone serotonin also have a tendency toward obesity — they tend to eat in an attempt to self-medicate and restore their serotonin levels to normal.”
Overcoming Depression-Related Weight Gain
If you are dealing with both depression and weight gain, treating the depression first is probably a good choice, as it may be possible to make progress more quickly. Of course, if antidepressant medication is used, paying attention to possible side effects can help minimize weight gain.
However, progress on either side of the issue can help the other, so getting yourself into a medical weight loss program that can help you make healthy food choices and drop weight can also give a boost to your self-esteem, which may help with the depression.
For both depression and weight gain, understanding the process of how thinking impacts feeling, which impacts behavior, which affects physical symptoms can be helpful.
Some decisions can help both depression and weight gain. Simply taking a walk outdoors for a block or more, once a day, is a good start. Gradually distances can be increased. When you see yourself taking this small action to help yourself each day, you’ll feel better about yourself, and may eventually feel up to more ambitious changes. For example, starting an exercise program at the gym can benefit both depression and weight gain in a big way – studies show that exercise can reduce symptoms of depression up to 47 percent, and while exercise is not essential to weight loss, it boosts metabolism and builds muscle. Both of those make it much easier to keep the weight off long term.