Depression is often thought of as a mental condition, but it has many physical side effects, including changes in weight. Because each person experiences depression uniquely, the relationship between weight and depression can vary. It is common for someone with depression to gain weight. Although not as common, unintended weight loss is also a complication of depression. In addition, an overweight person has a higher risk for depression.

Depression and Weight Gain

Many people cope with their emotions by adopting poor eating habits. And a lack of energy and motivation usually leads to physical inactivity, making weight gain more likely. Weight gain is also a potential side effect of many antidepressants.  

Fortunately, one activity that helps you avoid weight gain also helps with depression. Exercise, even mild activity, is necessary to both physical and mental health. Studies have shown that a consistent exercise routine helps any prescription medication for treating depression.

Diet is also essential to managing weight. Combined with regular exercise, a low-fat diet rich in lean meats, fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and whole grains can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Diets heavy in processed foods, saturated fats, and refined sugars—all of which can cause weight gain.

Depression and Weight Loss

Weight loss due to a lack of appetite and interest in eating is a problem for some people dealing with depression. Although weight gain and weight loss seem like opposite problems, they have similar solutions. Getting help from a mental health professional, eating a healthy diet, and getting some form of exercise are the best ways to provide relief.

Another solution to weight loss might be switching antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help modulate brain activity and improve mood by regulating the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which also affects appetite. Improved serotonin levels can help improve appetite and thus lead to a healthier weight.

What the Expert Says

“Significant weight change is one of the most common symptoms of depression,” says Dr. Jacqueline Cleland, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Leesburg, Va. “Getting regular exercise and watching what you eat will help you maintain a healthy weight whether you take an antidepressant or not.”