Which came first?

Depression and weight gain (or weight issues) are a “chicken and the egg” conundrum. Research has shown that people with weight problems are 25% more likely to develop obesity. Yet, we also know that depression is also more prevalent in those who already have weight issues.

The CDC report, in 2014, found that 43% of depressed people were obese. The problem seems to be more common in women than men. And, among women, those between the ages of 40-59 are most effected. Men over 60 have more depression associated with weight gain.


We all know increased weight gain (or obesity) lowers self-image and self-esteem. It can lead to social isolation, withdrawal from daily life, friends, co-workers, and activities one normally enjoys. The inability to physically enjoy life due to excess weight impacts a person’s mental outlook on life.

Joint pain, shortness of breath, sleep problems (sleep apnea), all have a major influence on our mental well-being. Not being able to sit in a movie theater seat, having to use the handicap stall in public restrooms, or being unable to walk through a store can cause social withdrawal leading to more depression.

This brings us to the vicious cycle of depression and obesity. What do most of us do when we are depressed?

  • we have no motivation to exercise or be active
  • depression causes physical body pain which further leads to inactivity
  • depression causes mental and physical fatigue that promote a more sedentary lifestyle
  • some eat for comfort making the issue of weight gain a greater problem
  • depression creates a stress environment in our bodies leading to the release of cortisol
  • cortisol, in an attempt to control the effects of stress on our bodies, actually causes us to gain weight around our tummy area (for more on how stress makes us fat, read Cave Man Syndrome)
  • some depression medications promote weight gain
  • some depression meds are simply not treating our depression

On the subject of medication: reports have shown that 53% of those taking a medication for depression are STILL depressed. So, often our efforts at controlling depression are simply not working.

I urge everyone who has depression and weight gain to speak with their primary care provider (PCP) about their options. DO NOT stop taking a depression medication without talking to your PCP first.

Other ways to combat depression and weight gain?

  • Exercise: even if joint pain and decreased mobility stop you from doing much physically, water exercise is a great option as it does not cause increased pressure on our joints. You can burn up to 600 calories with one hour of water aerobics.
  • Join a support group: connecting with others dealing with the same problems not only alleviates isolation, but it also helps us with coping strategies and gives hope that there is a solution.
  • Start cognitive behavioral therapy for weight loss. Developing coping mechanisms, learning new lifestyle modifications, and understanding the connection between your mental well-being and your weight can give you tools to lose the weight, improve your depression, and maintain those changes.
  • Talk to your PCP about your depression and its connection to your weight. Ask about medications that will not increase weight gain but will help you feel better emotionally and mentally. If you are already on an anti-depressant, speak with your PCP about its effectiveness and other options for your depression (changing the medication or increasing the dose of your current medication).

Regardless of which came first, there is a connection between depression and weight gain. But, there is a way to combat it.


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