While depression itself does not stop you from losing weight, your weight loss goals will be affected if you cope with your depression by reaching for unhealthy foods
While depression itself does not stop you from losing weight, your weight loss goals will be affected if you cope with your depression by reaching for unhealthy foods.
Many people with depression may feel hungrier than usual or seek foods loaded with fat, sugar, and salt that may provide instant comfort or satisfaction. However, such foods can not only cause more emotional distress in the long run, but it can also lead to weight gain.
Studies suggest that depression and obesity are connected. People who are depressed are more likely to be obese, and people with obesity are at higher risk of depression. Both affect each other and make each other worse.
While it is normal to eat more or less on some days due to depression, clinical depression can result in drastic weight loss or gain.
How does depression affect your weight?
- Less motivation: If you are depressed, you are less likely to feel the need to exercise and are therefore at risk of gaining weight, especially if you are also eating processed or sugary foods.
- Loss of interest: Depression can make you lose interest and pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed. Depression can affect the part of the brain that processes pleasure, such as the taste of sweets. This can make you eat more to try to experience pleasure.
- Problems with impulse control: For some people, depression can affect impulse control. Studies suggest that people with depression may resort to risky behaviors such as drug abuse. This behavior can make you indulge in unhealthy eating practices, such as binge eating, anorexia nervosa, or bulimia.
- Cortisol levels: Stress releases cortisol in your body and can initially decrease your desire for food. However, persistently increased levels of cortisol triggers the production of insulin, which can heighten your cravings and make you less likely to lose weight.
- Social and environmental factors: According to some studies, a troubled childhood, traumatic divorce, parental neglect, abuse, and major financial issues increase your risk of developing depression and obesity. Living in areas where junk food is abundant and fresh produce is expensive may also make it difficult to eat healthy.
8 tips to stop depression from causing weight gain
If you suffer from depression and are trying to shed excess pounds, treatment should address both of those problems. Here are a few tips to make sure your mental state doesn’t get in the way of your weight loss efforts:
- Practice mindful eating: Be mindful of what you eat, and pay attention to how much you eat. Instead of using food to make you feel better during a depressive episode, view food as something that nourishes and fuels your body. Find other ways to deal with your depression instead of resorting to unhealthy eating.
- Take small steps: Making drastic changes to lose weight can be daunting and discouraging. So start slow and take small steps. Try to limit calorie-dense and unhealthy foods slowly over several days and replace them with healthy foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
- Be strategic: Keep your cabinets and refrigerator filled with nutritious snacks, and get rid of junk food in your house so that you can’t reach for it when tempted.
- Find healthy alternatives: If you still crave sweets, try baking at home while using fruits instead of sugar or almond flour instead of refined flour.
- Exercise: Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in your brain that help combat depression. Even 30 minutes of exercise a day can also help you burn calories.
- Be patient: There is no need to rush your weight loss journey. Be patient and try to accept that losing weight will take time and consistent effort.
- Ask about your medications: Many medications prescribed to treat depression can cause weight gain. Consult your doctor if you are trying to lose weight. Your doctor can change medications if necessary.
- Talk to a certified nutritionist: If you are unable to lose weight and struggling with depression, seek the help of a certified dietitian or nutritionist. They can devise a diet plan that works for you and help you stick to it.
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Medically Reviewed on 3/10/2022
The Complex Link Between Depression and Weight. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/depression-and-weight-connection
Luppino FS, de Wit LM, Bouvy PF, et al. Overweight, obesity, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;67(3):220-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20194822/
Yau YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013;38(3):255-267. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24126546/