Why Does Depression Make You Gain Weight?

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Question:  Why does depression make you gain weight?

Answer:  While some people with depression may lose weight, many will have a tendency to gain.  One of the reasons for this weight gain may be excessively high cortisol.

In some studies, chronically high levels of cortisol have been linked to depression.  While cortisol serves a very useful purpose in the body by mobilizing energy reserves and preparing the body to cope with stressful situations, when it stays high for long periods of time it can cause problems, including weight gain.

  The reason it creates weight gain is that the biochemical changes it triggers also stimulate appetite, causing people to crave high-calorie, carbohydrate-laden foods with low nutritional value and to eat them in excessive amounts.

Another reason that people may gain weight while depressed is the medications that they are taking to treat their depression.  While antidepressants do a great job in helping people with depression, they, like many other types of medications, have certain undesirable side effects, such as weight gain.  Not all antidepressants will cause weight gain, however, and many will either not affect weight at all or they may even cause a modest drop in weight.  If you believe that your antidepressant is causing you to gain weight, it's a good idea to express your concerns to your doctor.  She may be able to switch you to another antidepressant which will not cause you to gain weight.

If you have experienced weight gain, either due to your depression or your medication, there is, unfortunately, no magic bullet that will help you lose weight.  Like any other weight gain, it will be necessary to eat a healthy diet and increase your activity level in order to lose the weight.

While there is no particular diet that is currently recommended as being good for people with depression, there are some general guidelines which may help both your mood and your waistline.

  First of all, eat a good, well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.  Avoid processed sugar, caffeine and alcohol, as all have been associated with depression in clincial studies.  In addition, certain nutritional factors have been associated with depression, such as low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins, so a diet rich in these may be helpful.  Finally, make sure to keep on hand easily-prepared, but healthy, foods so that you won't be tempted to reach for sugary, high-calories foods when cravings strike.

Although getting more exercise may feel difficult when you are feeling down, studies show that it can give real and measurable benefit to those with depression.  By starting out slowly, finding activities that you enjoy and making exercise a part of your daily life, you will be able to reap the benefits of exercise without overwhelming yourself.


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