Healthy Weight Loss

The Link Between Depression and Weight Gain

Feeling lonely and sad is a normal reaction to life’s struggles, but when these feelings become overwhelming and last for a longer period of time, they lead to depression. A sulking feeling, loss of interest in any activity, discontent, and low self-esteem are some of the signs that you may be suffering from depression.

Signs of Depression

Contrary to popular belief, sadness is not the only symptom of depression. This mental illness comes with other symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiousness
  • Trouble concentrating and remembering details
  • Trouble in making decisions
  • Feeling guilt and helpless
  • Feeling worthless, pessimistic, and hopeless
  • Sleeping too much, waking up constantly, sleeping too little, or insomnia
  • Loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Chronic digestive problems
  • Feeling empty within
  • Thoughts or attempt to suicide

If you or your loved ones experience any such symptoms, it is important to visit a doctor immediately.

What Is Obesity?

A person is often considered obese if their weight is more than what is considered healthy. It is often measured using body mass index (BMI). Simply put, obesity is a condition wherein a person carries excess weight. Obesity leads to complications such as sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, osteoarthritis, and certain types of cancers, among others.

Some people consider obesity to be a sign of depression, but this is not entirely true, as there are several obese people in the world who are living a happy and content life. However, experts believe there is a link between obesity and depression.

Depression and weight gain are like the chicken and egg confusion; you don’t know which comes first. The problem with distinguishing between weight gain and depression is that their symptoms are interlinked. Their relationship is intertwined, and the increase in one problem drastically increases the other. Simply put, if you are depressed, there is a high chance that you will gain weight, and if you are obese, you may go into a depression. It is important to note that the scenario is not common to all people. There are many people who are obese and living a happy life, and there are people who are depressed and lean.

Connection Between Depression and Weight Gain

Have you ever wondered why at times, you tend to eat more, and yet you are not satiated? You may have observed that you consume more food when you are stressed or have a personal or emotional problem that has been around for long. You may have also gained a lot of weight in a short while, especially when you were trying to get through a rough patch. Did you ever wonder why this is? What is the link between stress or depression and excessive eating?

A part of your brain called the limbic system is responsible for your emotions.  It also controls your appetite. When the emotional part of the brain is disturbed, it disturbs the appetite part as well. This happens especially in people who are suffering from depression. Furthermore, weight management is an issue on its own, which is entwined with depression. To many people, being overweight feeds into self-deprecation or self-criticism, and the thinking pattern gets tied to depression. 

Several people go into a phase where they start to dislike how they look, what they do, how others treat them, and so on. When they dislike how they look, it affects their limbic system, leading to a behavioral pattern that induces depression and weight gain parallelly. When the limbic system is affected, a person who is obese dislikes how they look and tend to have a change in appetite. A person who is depressed goes through the same problems with a change in mood, which leads to change in appetite. You may consume food more often than regularly to self-soothe, which leads to weight gain. Being overweight or obese makes a person dislike how they look, leading to depression. Depression and weight gain are not only entwined, but they form a cycle that keeps going on and on.

Both depression and anxiety are associated with poor food choices and overeating, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. The long-term effects of a sedentary lifestyle will eventually lead to obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 43% of adults who are diagnosed with depression are obese, and the other significant portion of adults who are diagnosed are likely to be overweight. Additionally, obesity can be a result of several medications, also known as antidepressants, that are prescribed to patients, which lead to weight gain and obesity. 

Obesity is related to many health conditions, such as joint pain, diabetes, and hypertension. It is also associated with emotional issues such as anxiety and sadness that lead to depression. A study conducted on people who were obese found that they had a 55% greater risk of developing depression over the course of their life.

Additionally, the sympathetic nervous system of depressed people is frequently activated, and increased fat storage is the consequence that they suffer. The stress hormone cortisol stimulates and promotes fat storage, especially when the body has progressed to a stage where it stores calories when stressed. The human mind and the body are dependent on each other in such a way that chronic stress is related to anxiety, which leads to depression and, eventually, obesity.

What Is Adolescent Depression?

Adolescent depression is often referred to as teenage depression, which manifests in many teenagers. It is a mental and emotional disorder that is similar to medical adult depression. The symptoms of adolescent depression may be a little different from those experienced by adults due to the varying social and developmental challenges faced by teenagers. The symptoms faced by adolescents include:

  • Developing bodies due to changing hormone levels
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Sports and other physical activities
  • Peer pressure

Depression can affect a teenager’s personal, school, social, and familial life altogether. It can cause social isolation and several other problems that may lead to suicidal thoughts.

Adolescent Depression and Obesity

The relation between obesity and depression in adolescents is the same as it is with adults: they are both interrelated. Children who have depression have a BMI greater than those children who do not. In a study conducted on children, it was found that children who were depressed were more likely to become obese within just one year.

Children who are depressed show signs and symptoms that must be watched for to ensure that no harm is caused to them in the long-run. These signs are similar to adult depression symptoms, with a few additional ones like:

  • A decrease in energy
  • Regular complaints of boredom
  • Reduced performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends and school activities
  • Change in weight

As a parent, it is important to look out for the symptoms to ensure the safety of your child. Most parents ignore these symptoms, citing it as teenage behavior. If depression is not caught on early and treated, it can lead to chronic eating as a coping mechanism and lead to obesity. Obesity, in turn, leads to several health concerns, with one of them being depression.

The depression and obesity cycle adversely affect teenagers more than it does to adults. Teenagers are subject to ridicule for being overweight, or for any reason. Most adults are mature enough to handle criticism, but when an overweight teenager is ridiculed for their weight, it leads to depression. Most depressed children tend to cope with it by eating more, and the cycle continues.

Depression and Weight gain: The Gender Gap

Did you know that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men? Taking several aspects of life into consideration, men are more likely to face severe health conditions, such as heart attack or cancer. But depression affects women more than it does men. What causes this gender bias is unclear, but it is believed that it is due to the combination of genes, environmental stressors, and hormones.

Depression is a medical condition that can occur at any age. Normal hormonal changes can affect a person’s feelings and cause mood swings, anxiety, anger, and feelings. But hormonal changes alone cannot cause depression. Other factors include personal life experiences and circumstances, inherited traits, and several other biological factors that lead to depression.

What causes depression in women? Some of the factors that are responsible for depression in women that do not affect men include –

Premenstrual Problems

Premenstrual syndrome or PMS symptoms, such as bloating, irritability, headaches, breast tenderness, and such, may be minor and short-lived. But to many women, these symptoms disrupt their lives when they become severe, which leads them to a type of depression called a premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Pregnancy

The hormonal change during pregnancy is dramatic and can affect a woman’s mood in such a way that it may lead to depression. Other issues related to pregnancy that can cause depression include miscarriage, unwanted pregnancy, infertility, change in lifestyle, relationship problems during pregnancy, and lack of support among others.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a common form of depression, as many new mothers experience several emotions, such as anger, irritability, and sadness. Sometimes called the baby blues, these emotions can become more serious in the long run and can lead to postpartum depression. It is a serious medical condition that occurs in 10-15 percent of women. It is associated with problems such as breastfeeding issues, poor support, added responsibility, change in looks, medical complications, and such.

Perimenopause and Menopause

Perimenopause is a stage of transition to menopause. The risk of depression is high during this stage due to fluctuation in the estrogen levels, interrupted sleep, stress, anxiety, high BMI, and weight gain, among others.

Culture and Life Circumstances

Biology alone is not the reason behind depression in a woman. Cultural stressors and life’s circumstances, such as unequal power status, work overload at the office and at home, and physical, emotional or sexual abuse also cause depression.

Depression is a condition that can affect both men and women, but women are more prone to it. The condition leads to weight gain and other health problems associated with obesity. Depression is one of the major causes of obesity in women, which is higher than it is in men.

Depression and Weight Gain vs. Depression and Weight Loss

Depression is associated with weight loss as much as it is associated with weight gain. When a person has depression, the appetite-controlling center in the brain can get thrown off into any direction. While some people with depression have a problem with weight gain, others suffer from weight loss.  Whether you gain weight or lose it depends on your body’s coping mechanism and the unique biology of the human body.

Depression and weight gain, as well as depression and weight loss, can happen with the same person. Your body acts in response to different instances of depression. The type of symptoms you experience also determine whether you shed or gain weight. For example, a person with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may become lazy, sluggish, and gain weight during winter and shed weight during spring. On the other hand, a person with anxiety and depression may tend to pace a lot, leading to accelerated metabolism and weight loss.

Experts say that people suffering from depression don’t lose so much weight that they put their life at risk. But that’s not the case with depression and weight gain. People who gain weight due to depression become obese. An obese person develops several health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, among others. An increase in weight that is caused by depression has to be addressed immediately before it is too late.

An Intertwined Battle

Depression and obesity are chronic conditions that require long-term care and attention, especially in the case of adolescent depression. The relationship between obesity and depression is tangled and complex. There are several ongoing pieces of research that establish the reciprocal relationship between the two. In other words, there is definitely a biological link between the two. A person who is obese has an increased risk of going into depression, and a person with depression has an increased risk of becoming obese.

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