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Weight Gain and Depression – How Connected are They?

by Andrea M. Darcy

Feeling depressed that you’ve gained weight lately? Or is it really that you were already a bit depressed, and that’s why you turned so easily to food? Weight gain and depression can be closely linked.

Did gaining weight make me depressed?

Yes, it can feel defeating to realise none of your clothes fit. 

But if our mental health was good before a bit of weight gain, it’s unlikely to throw us into a proper depression. We might feel annoyed with ourselves and have a good moan with friends. But if we still have a healthy BMI, then we will get over it. If there is an issue, we’ll make a plan to get back on track and get on with it.

Weight gain and depression

But what if we really are depressed? Unless weight gain is from a medical or hormonal issue, like menopausal weight gain, our depression tends to be for more complicated reasons.

The weight gain has triggered low self-esteem issues or control issues we already had. Or, it’s happening because it’s come hand-in-hand with stress, challenging times, or old issues coming to the surface

So the reason we are depressed can be partly attributed to our weight. But it is also because we’ve taken too much on at work and lost our life balance and time to exercise, we’ve turned to junk food after a breakup or bereavement, or we’re overeating to numb out memories of our traumatic childhood.

(Note that if you aren’t just overweight but are clinically obese, then it’s a different story, see below).

Am I stressed or depressed online quiz

Can depression cause weight gain?

On the other hand, yes, depression can directly cause weight gain. Depression can make people socially avoidant, meaning they are less active. It means certain parts of your brain ‘dim down’, which can lead to feeling exhausted and heavy-limbed, making motivation to exercise harder.

And depression often affects eating habits. Some people actually lose their appetite and lose weight, but many people find themselves overeating.

Gaining weight on antidepressants

If you decide to treat your depression with antidepressants, then there is a risk your medication will cause weight gain. An antidepressant that does not cause weight gain it the magical unicorn everyone seeks, but there is no perfect answer here. There are some antidepressants that are less prone to cause a weight difference, but they might not be suited to you. As each person’s body metabolises things differently.

Taking antidepressants and maintaining your weight is not impossible. Some people just have a makeup that means it’s not much of an issue,  although they might suffer other issues altogether, like a lowered sex drive or insomnia. And others take steps like take getting support to stay on track with healthy eating, or upgrading their fitness, and don’t see much of a difference. 

Obesity and depression

The link between obesity and depression is stronger than the link between general weight gain and depression.

To clarify the difference between the two, the World Health Organisation (WHO) gives the guideline that a BMI between 25 and 29.99 indicates you are overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is considered obesity.

Obesity and depression statistics originally suggested that depression raises your risk of obesity by 18 per cent. The research that came up with this statistic was an analysis of over seventeen other studies, and found that the link was more common in depressed females than males. And that it was an issue for women no matter what age they were or what continent they lived in.

Another overview of research looked more closely at the difference between depression and weight gain versus depression and obesity. The result was that it has raised these statistics substantially higher. While making it clear that “evidence of a biological link between overweight, obesity, and depression remains complex and not definitive”, it still proposes- 

–that obese persons have a 55 per cent higher risk of depression, and depressed people have a 58 per cent chance of becoming obese.

Childhood obesity and depression

Again, it’s not a cut and dried situation. Overweight children also experience bullying and ostracising, which can cause also anxiety and depression.

But statistics do show a strong connection between depression and obesity in children and teens.

An American study of almost ten thousands adolescents in grades 7 through 12 found that if a young person was depressed, it gave them an almost 50 per cent higher chance of being obese a year later. 

Depressed about weight gain? What now?

The more depressed we are, the harder it can become to care about our eating choices, or to get out and exercise. But these things are not impossible. It becomes about really zoning in on what works for you, instead of what works for those around you.

[Read our article on “How to Exercise Even if You are Depressed”.]

Can therapy help me lose weight?

It can certainly contribute to the process. It helps you:

  • process the emotions that lead you to overeat
  • learn to hear and question your own thoughts about food and eating
  • change those thoughts before they turn into unhealthy actions, like overeating
  • set achievable goals and actually reach them
  • raise your self esteem and self-care.

While any sort of talk therapy helps you raise your sense of self and your esteem, CBT therapy is most often recommended for binge eating and obesity. It helps you gain control of your negative thinking and become more balanced.

Acceptance and commitment therapy can be another option. It guides you to recognise the choices you do have, step into your personal power, set achievable goals, and then actually commit to making them a reality over constantly setting yourself up for failure.

Ready to stop letting your moods sabotage your health? We connect you with a team of top talk therapists in central London locations. Or use our booking site now to access a wide roster of UK-based therapists and online counsellors that match your budget. 


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Blog Topics: Depression, Eating Issues

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