People with depression or anxiety may experience weight gain or weight loss due to their condition or the medications that treat them. Depression and anxiety can both be associated with overeating, poor food choices, and a more sedentary lifestyle. Over time, weight gain may eventually lead to obesity.
About 43 percent of adults with depression are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And they say adults who’ve been diagnosed with depression are more likely to be overweight than those who haven’t.
Likewise, children who are depressed often have a higher BMI than children who aren’t. In one 2002 study, they found that children who were depressed were more likely to become obese by the time researchers’ followed up one year later.
Obesity is often associated with emotional issues, such as sadness, anxiety, and depression. One 2010 study found that people who were obese had a 55 percent greater risk for developing depression over the course of their life than people who weren’t obese.
Obesity and other weight conditions can also lead to physical health problems. This includes:
These conditions are also risk factors for depression.
Stress is absolutely a factor in both depression and obesity.
Chronic stress and anxiety, for example, can lead to depression. Likewise, stress can make someone more likely to turn to food as a coping mechanism. That can lead to weight gain and eventually obesity.
On the opposite side, stress can also lead to weight loss, or other disordered eating habits.
In adolescents, stressful life events — like bullying and weight-based teasing — have been linked to depression. This is especially true for young people who are overweight or obese.
Stress reduction is one of the first-line treatments for both depression and obesity. When you’re able to handle the emotions related to your stress and anxiety, you can more easily tackle other issues that can lead to both depression and obesity.
It isn’t clear how this vicious circle turns, but it is clear that obesity and depression are linked.
For years, researchers were hesitant to connect the two, but as study results became more clear, anecdotal reports have turned to hard science. Today, it’s well understood that obesity can increase your risk for depression, and vice versa.
In fact, many doctors approach treatment for these conditions with a multi-pronged approach. In addition to treating the condition that’s been diagnosed, many care plans include preventive measures to reduce your risk for related conditions.
The goal is to address the physical and emotional needs associated with each condition.
Many prescription antidepressants list weight gain as a common side effect.
Likewise, some weight-management therapies can lead to emotional ups and downs that can cause or worsen depression. A “diet” has a lot of opportunities for failure or setbacks. This can challenge a person who’s already dealing with mental health issues.
However, with a team of experts to guide you, encourage you, and hold you accountable, it’s possible to find a treatment plan that works for both conditions.
Depression and obesity are both chronic conditions that require long-term care and attention.
It’s important to keep an open line of communication with your doctor about where you are on your journey — regardless of whether you’re sticking to your care plan.
Being honest about what you are and aren’t doing is the only way for your doctor to understand and monitor your underlying condition.
Radical changes can compound a very delicate situation. That’s why it’s important you seek out qualified health professionals to guide you in this journey.
Sudden, dramatic changes can compound problems. They may also set you up for failure, which can worsen your symptoms.
If you experience these red-flag symptoms or side effects, make an appointment to see your doctor and review your course of treatment:
- loss of all interest or pleasure in activities you typically enjoy
- an inability to leave your house or bed
- irregular sleeping pattern changes
- feeling very tired and having difficulty functioning
- weight gain
If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or are considering suicide, know that you aren’t alone. To get help, call a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Prevention strategies for obesity and depression are different, but several do overlap. You can reduce your risk for either condition if you:
- stay active
- talk to someone
- follow your treatment plans
Exercise is a great way to boost natural depression-fighting endorphins, lose or maintain weight, and feel better overall. Some research suggests that exercising at least once weekly can have a significant impact on depression symptoms.
That being said, exercising when you’re depressed can be a challenge due to motivation. Taking small steps first — like even 10 minutes of daily exercise — may help you get in the habit of exercising regularly.
Talking to someone
Therapy can be a wonderful approach for many issues. From depression to obesity, a therapist or psychiatrist can help you process the emotional factors both conditions cause.
They can also help you embrace changes that will improve your quality of life.
Sticking with your treatment plan
If your doctor has diagnosed either condition, they’ve likely prescribed medication, dietary changes, or made other suggestions for condition management. Sticking to these guidelines — and being honest when you hit a speedbump — is the only way to minimize side effects and other complications.
Obesity and depression are both risk factors for several other conditions, including:
All of these conditions can be prevented by following a strategic treatment plan.
For example, treating depression may help you restore energy and vigor for activities. That can encourage you to move more, seek out exercise, and stay active. That, in turn, can lead to weight loss.
Your individual care plan will depend on where you are in your health journey and where you’d like to be. It may start with small changes and become more comprehensive over time, or you and your doctor may decide to incorporate one big change at once.
Getting a diagnosis and beginning treatment can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to go through it alone.
Your doctor is your best resource for information. They’ll work with you to find the best treatments for your individual needs, help you create a healthier lifestyle, and hold you accountable for the changes you seek. It will take time, but change and relief are possible. Find a doctor now.