Why Does Depression Make You Lose Weight?

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Question:  When I feel depressed, I end up losing my appetite and losing weight without even trying.  Why does this happen to me?

Answer:  Among the symptoms of depression can be a loss of appetite, a loss of the ability to take pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed and feelings of extreme fatigue.  When these symptoms occur, people may feel too tired or uninterested in the pleasure of eating to make an effort to seek out meals.

  As a result, they may start lose weight even though they are not dieting or making an active effort to do so.

The reason for these type of symptoms is probably related to imbalances in certain neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain.  Since these various neurotransmitters play a role in both mood regulation and appetite, when they are not present in the needed amounts, it can lead to feelings of depression and changes in appetite.

When you have lost your appetite or seem to be losing weight weight without trying, it is a good idea to see your doctor for a checkup.  In addition to being symptoms of depression, changes in appetite and unusual weight loss can also be symptoms of certain serious illnesses, such as cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, heart failure, hepatitis, HIV and hyperthyroidism.  Certain drugs, both legal and illegal, can also cause a loss of appetite.

  It is always a good idea to get a checkup to rule out any illneses or medications which might be causing your symptoms.

During your doctor visit, your weight will be checked.  In addition, your doctor may ask you questions about your medical history and eating habits, such as:

  • Is your appetite loss mild or severe?
  • How much weight have you lost?
  • Is your loss of appetite/weight loss something new?
  • Is there any particular event that seemed to preceed your loss of appetite?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

You doctor will probably order lab work too, such as blood and urine tests.  He may also order X-rays, ultrasound or other testing if your symptoms seem to indicate something other than depression as the cause of your weight loss.

In the meantime, do your best to eat a balanced, healthy diet.  Avoid processed sugar, caffeine and alcohol and eat plenty of foods containing both omega-3 fatty acids and the B vitamins.  To deal with your lack of energy and motivation, keep on hand easy-to-prepare, but healthy foods.  And, if necessary, ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist so you can make sure that you are getting all the nutrients that you need.  He may also make a recommendation for supplementation to ensure that you remain healthy until your appetite returns to normal.


"Appetite - Decreased."  MedlinePlus.  U.S. National Library of Medicine.  Last updated:  August 17, 2014.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

Iliades, Chris. MD.  "Depression's Effect on Your Appetite."  Everyday Health.  Everyday Health Media, LLC.  Reviewed by:  Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

McMillen, Matt.  "Is Depression Wrecking Your Weight."  WebMD.  WebMD, LLC. Reviewed by: Laura J. Martin, MD.  Accessed:  August 28, 2015.

Schnieder, Craig and Erica Lovett. "Chapter 9 - Depression." Integrative Medicine. Ed. David Rakel. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Saunder Elsevier, 2007. Accessed: August 28, 2015..

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