Eating habits indeed have a lot to do with mood and mental health. The relationship between food and mood is complex. Sometimes, in stressful situations, you may feel like eating a pint of ice cream and junk food while other times, even the thought of food may make you feel nauseous.
In light of this connection between food and mood, this article explores the ensuing link between depression and weight gain, its causes, complications, and tips on how to manage weight gain as well as depression.
The Connection Between Depression and Weight Gain
According to the Centers for Disease Control, CDC, around 43% of adults suffering from depression were found to be obese. In addition, they state that depression is a risk factor for developing obesity. On the other hand, researchers believe obesity to be a risk factor for developing depression and anxiety as well.
Depressive anxiety disorders are characterized by their association with unhealthy eating habits, poor sleeping patterns, sedentary lifestyles, and harmful lifestyle choices which are all risk factors for obesity. In contrast, social stigma, self-esteem issues, body image, and fear of judgment among overweight people can contribute to the development of negative feelings and depressive anxiety disorders. The complex connection between the two, thus, makes it the classic mystery of the chicken and the egg.
Causes of Developing Obesity While Suffering From Depression and Anxiety
Weight gain among sufferers of depression can occur due to the following major reasons:
Loss of Interest in Everyday Activities
One of the classic symptoms of depression and most mental health disorders is the loss of interest in everyday activities as well as activities you seemed to enjoy before. This lack of interest is often due to low levels of energy that make it difficult to find pleasure in anything. Not only can this mess up your carefully knit routine, but it can also have negative impacts on mood and cause problems in completing regular tasks while disturbing social, work, and school life.
An example to understand the severity of such a condition can be, for instance, you might not even find enough energy in yourself to get out of bed in the mornings, let alone do something productive. Exercise and physical activity is thus pushed absolutely out of the equation. What that leaves you with is an unhealthy, sedentary life that is not only damaging to your physical health but also disastrous for your mental health.
Poor and Reckless Dietary Choices
Depression means low energy levels. Low energy levels mean low motivation to do anything for yourself. People suffering from depression and anxiety usually opt for packaged and unhealthy snacks that neither fulfill their cravings nor give them the proper nutrition needed to revive their energy.
To combat feelings of desolation, hopelessness, and grief, sufferers often resort to self-soothing, frequently indulging in comfort foods that temporarily make them feel better. These usually include processed foods high in sugar and fats which give them a brief spike in serotonin levels, leading to what is commonly known as a ‘sugar rush’. However, chronic depression can lead to long-term poor eating habits which can ultimately lead to weight gain.
Unhealthy Sleeping Habits
Another common symptom of depression and anxiety is sleep disturbances: Insomnia or hypersomnia. Some people may suffer from only one, some both. For example, on certain days, your insomnia may be out of control while on the low-energy days, hypersomnia might take over.
Inability to sleep, or stay awake can not only mess up your routine, but it can also mess up your hormones as well. Hormonal disturbances can in turn cause drastic mood alterations, and eating problems, along with unwarranted excessive stress. As a result, your body may have a hard time signaling hunger and letting you know when you’re full, sometimes leading to overeating.
Medications for Treating Depression
Nearly all anti-depressants share one side effect in common, which is weight gain. However, like depression is different for everyone, the side effects of medication also vary from person to person. While some people are more susceptible to weight gain due to anti-depressants, some are not. Some anti-depressant medications that are known to cause weight gain include amitriptyline, imipramine (Tofranil), phenelzine (Nardil), etc.
In such cases, if weight gain seems to be causing problems, it is best to ask your doctor whether the benefits of these medications outweigh the negatives. If they do, creating a plan to help you manage your weight, or adjusting dosage (upon consultation from the doctor) could be effective.
Managing Weight Gain Due to Depression
Depression and anxiety are debilitating mental health disorders that can not only impact mood, but also everyday life, routine, and physical health, among other things. Since weight gain and depression often go hand in hand, the best way to cope with it is to deal with both at the same time. Here are some tips on how to deal with obesity as well as depression:
Consult with a Professional Dietician
Since depression can mess up your eating routine and habits, it can be tough to maintain healthy body weight. Prolonged use of anti-depressants can have adverse effects on appetite, often increasing it, contributing to the weight gain factor associated with depression.
Since a lot of patients suffering from depression do not merely eat because they are hungry, rather they eat to satisfy themselves emotionally as well, junk food with high sugar and fat content becomes their primary source of food since it is readily available.
To regulate your body weight, consulting with a registered dietician is the best thing to do to help you manage your excessive appetite. Your dietician can help you formulate a meal plan that would satisfy your appetite as well as give you the proper nutrition required.
Ask Your Doctor if Your Medications Might be the Problem
As mentioned above, almost all of the anti-depressants list weight gain as a possible side-effect. Granted they are necessary to deal with depressive symptoms, but it is also common knowledge that obesity comes with its own set of health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke. Therefore, if you notice that you are gaining extra pounds even though your diet does not include unhealthy foods, taking a trip to the doctor’s to ask him whether it might be the medications causing these problems should be your priority.
Still, sometimes even with medications causing weight gain, when their benefits far outweigh their drawbacks, your doctor may tell you to keep on continuing the same medication. Sometimes, they might adjust your dosage, or advise you to keep your weight in check through other means, like physical activity and dietary changes.
Add Exercise and Physical Activity to Your Routine
When we speak of physical activity and exercise, the first reason that comes to mind is usually to lose weight. However, physical activity has great mental health benefits as well. One study found that people who regularly exercise experience a decline in poor mental health days each month as compared to those who don’t. Another study suggests a lesser susceptibility to developing major depression with just 15 minutes of running or an hour of walking.
Exercise doesn’t always mean lifting weights and going to the gym. Aerobic exercises, including swimming, jogging, gardening, running, cycling, dancing, and even walking can be included in the list of physical activities you can easily do to help you boost mood, stay active and avoid a sedentary lifestyle, and keep depressive symptoms at bay.
Both, depression and weight gain can be tough to deal with; with social stigma, lack of awareness, and a general feeling of embarrassment attached to both conditions. However, medications, as well as healthy lifestyle choices, can work wonders to help you overcome both at the same time.