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Depression

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Can Depression Cause Weight Loss?

Written by Klarity Editorial Team

Published: Dec 6, 2023

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Zoe Russell

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Struggling with depression can feel like walking against a relentless wind, and for many, this struggle extends to their appetite and the number on the scale. The unexpected weight loss that accompanies the emotional burden of depression is a silent symptom that doesn’t often get the spotlight. If you’ve noticed the pounds dropping off amidst a battle with low mood, you’re not alone, and there’s a reason why this happens.

This article will unpack the relationship between depression and weight loss, offering insights into why and how this mental health condition can lead to a decrease in weight. Understanding these connections is crucial, as it helps demystify the experiences of those affected by depression and emphasizes the importance of addressing both mental and physical health concurrently.

At Klarity, we recognize the unique challenges faced by individuals coping with depression, including challenges related to weight changes. Klarity’s platform is designed to help you find the right professional support, letting you choose your own licensed provider on our network based on their credentials and your needs. 

Find a provider on Klarity today who can guide you toward the depression treatment and support you need for a healthier, balanced life.

Depression and weight have a two-way relationship: the mental strain of depression can cause noticeable weight changes, and at the same time, sudden changes in weight can make depression worse. It’s a complex interplay where neurotransmitters that regulate mood also influence appetite and metabolism. 

When depression strikes, the disruption in these chemical messengers can cause appetite suppression, leading to reduced caloric intake and subsequent weight loss. This relationship is further complicated by the fact that depression can diminish the pleasure derived from eating, a condition known as anhedonia, which can suppress the desire to eat even when hunger is present.

Some individuals may find that depression leads to increased food intake and weight gain as they turn to food for comfort during low moods, a process known as emotional eating. However, for others, the overwhelming fatigue and loss of motivation make the idea of preparing a meal or even eating seem too daunting. These individuals may experience a significant drop in body weight as a physical manifestation of their mental health struggles.  

Understanding the link between depression and weight is essential for addressing both the psychological and physiological aspects of this mental health condition. As we explore this connection, it’s important to consider the individual experiences and the varied ways in which depression can impact one’s relationship with food and body weight.

Why Depression Can Cause Weight Loss

Depression’s impact on weight can occur for several reasons, ranging from emotional and physical changes to the effects of medications and alterations in brain chemistry. Understanding these factors is crucial in recognizing and addressing this facet of depression.

Changes In Mood

A major symptom of depression is a significant change in mood, often resulting in a persistent feeling of sadness that can suppress the appetite. Unlike momentary feelings of discontent, this profound sense of melancholy can extend to a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including eating. The lack of enjoyment derived from meals further lessens the desire to nourish oneself, often leading to a decrease in calorie intake and weight loss. 

Prolonged periods of emotional distress may disrupt eating patterns, intensifying the struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. This can create a vicious cycle, where the less one eats due to depression, the more one’s energy levels and mood can plummet, perpetuating the cycle of weight loss.

Physical Symptoms

Physical manifestations of depression commonly include a decrease in energy and persistent fatigue that undermines the motivation required for daily activities such as cooking or even eating. Gastrointestinal disturbances, which can range from decreased appetite to changes in digestive efficiency, also contribute to weight loss. These physical depression symptoms can make the act of eating an onerous task rather than a source of pleasure or nourishment. 

Chronic pain, another physical symptom associated with depression, may lead to decreased appetite as well. Reduced interest in self-care, stemming from feelings of worthlessness or a decreased energy level, can also result in diminished food intake and nutrient absorption, further exacerbating weight loss.

Medication Side Effects

While antidepressants are an essential tool for managing depression, they can come with side effects that influence appetite and, consequently, weight. Some medications may reduce appetite as a side effect, resulting in a decrease in the amount of food consumed. This effect, while beneficial for those who seek to lose weight, can pose a challenge for individuals already experiencing weight loss due to depression. 

It’s essential for healthcare providers to monitor patients starting new medications closely and adjust treatment plans accordingly to mitigate such side effects. Patients are encouraged to report any unexpected changes in appetite or weight to their provider, ensuring that the therapeutic benefits of the medication outweigh any adverse effects on body weight.

Changes In The Brain

Depression can lead to alterations in brain function that impact the regulation of appetite and weight. It can affect the areas of the brain responsible for signaling hunger and fullness, disrupting the normal cues that tell us when to eat. Changes in the balance of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, can also affect appetite regulation.

These changes may reduce the sensation of hunger but can also affect the types of food one craves, often leading to a preference for less nutritious options that may not support healthy weight maintenance. Understanding these neurological underpinnings is crucial in addressing the physical symptoms of depression and in formulating an effective treatment plan.

Noticing symptoms and suspect you have a mental health condition?Find a provider on Klarity and get affordable help in less than 24 hours.

Other Symptoms Of Depression

The symptoms of depression extend far beyond mood, often impacting various aspects of physical health, which may include changes in weight. Recognizing the breadth of these symptoms is vital as they not only signal the presence of depression but also serve as precursors to more significant health changes, such as weight loss if depression persists without treatment. 

Here are some common symptoms associated with depression that, if experienced alongside other indicators, could potentially lead to weight changes if the underlying depression continues:

  • Persistent Sadness or Low Mood: An enduring state of sadness can affect one’s appetite and interest in food, potentially leading to weight loss if not addressed.
  • Loss of Interest in Activities Once Enjoyed: A withdrawal from activities can decrease physical activity levels, which may later contribute to changes in weight.
  • Changes in Appetite and Weight: While some may experience weight gain, others might notice a reduction in appetite, leading to weight loss, signaling the need for immediate attention to dietary habits.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia or excessive sleeping can disrupt metabolism and eating patterns, possibly resulting in weight fluctuations.
  • Fatigue or Loss of Energy: This pervasive tiredness can reduce the motivation for meal preparation and regular eating, which could eventually contribute to weight loss.
  • Feelings of Worthlessness or Guilt: These emotions can diminish self-care practices, including eating healthily, and may precede unintentional weight loss.
  • Difficulty Thinking, Concentrating, or Making Decisions: When decision-making is impaired, making healthy food choices becomes challenging, potentially affecting weight.
  • Physical Symptoms: Somatic complaints like aches and digestive issues can disrupt regular eating and lead to subsequent weight loss.
  • Thoughts of Death or Suicide: These serious symptoms indicate severe depression; if accompanied by weight loss, they underscore the urgency of seeking immediate help..

Seek immediate help if you or a loved one are battling suicidal thoughts or have attempted suicide. Help is available 24/7. Call or text 988.

Other Potential Causes Of Unexplained Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss can be a sign of various underlying health conditions, some of which may require immediate attention and treatment. While it’s essential to consider mental health issues such as depression, it’s equally important to be aware of other medical causes that could be contributing to weight loss. 

Here is a list of potential medical conditions that can lead to weight reduction, each with its own implications.

  • Cancer: Weight loss is often one of the first noticeable signs of cancer. Tumors can directly affect metabolism or decrease appetite by impacting surrounding organs.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues and Conditions: Disorders like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and other inflammatory bowel diseases can lead to significant weight loss due to malabsorption of nutrients.
  • Diabetes: Unexpected weight loss can sometimes be an indication of diabetes, particularly if it’s accompanied by an increased thirst or frequent urination.
  • Eating Disorders: Conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can cause severe weight loss and require professional treatment to address both the physical and psychological aspects.
  • Grief: The emotional stress of losing a loved one can lead to changes in appetite and unintentional weight loss, as grief can affect physical health.
  • Anxiety: Chronic anxiety can increase the body’s stress response and may lead to a loss of appetite or an increase in physical activity, resulting in weight loss.

Is Weight Loss More Common With Depression Than Weight Gain?

The relationship between depression and changes in weight is a subject of ongoing research and discussion in the medical community. It is not definitive whether weight loss or weight gain is more common, as both can be symptoms of depression. This variability is partly due to the fact that depression affects individuals differently, altering appetites and lifestyles in unique ways. 

Some people may find themselves losing weight due to a lack of interest in food or cooking, while others might gain weight because of increased food intake as a coping mechanism. The prevalence of weight loss or gain can also depend on the subtype of depression. For instance, atypical depression is often associated with increased appetite and weight gain, while melancholic depression may more commonly lead to weight loss due to a decreased appetite. 

It’s important to note that certain medications used to treat depression can affect metabolism or appetite, leading to weight changes. It’s crucial for individuals to monitor their weight and discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider, as both weight loss and weight gain can have significant health implications.

Can Weight Gain Cause Depression?

The link between weight gain and depression is also nuanced. For some individuals, gaining weight can lead to or exacerbate feelings of depression. This can be due to a variety of factors, including negative self-perception, societal judgment, and the physical discomfort that may come with being overweight. Additionally, obesity is linked to several chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, which can compound the stress on an individual’s mental health.

It’s essential to approach the issue of weight changes and depression with sensitivity and understanding. Whether depression leads to weight loss or gain, the key is recognizing that weight fluctuations are a symptom of depression, not a personal failing, and effective depression treatment may help stabilize weight. This underscores the importance of holistic care in treating depression, where mental and physical health are both addressed in tandem.

Can Depression Make It Harder To Lose Weight?

Depression can indeed create significant hurdles for those trying to lose weight. The condition often leads to a decrease in motivation and energy, which makes it challenging to maintain regular physical activity or adhere to a healthy diet—key components in weight loss.

Additionally, depression can disrupt sleep patterns, which can lead to hormonal imbalances that increase cravings and appetite, particularly for high-calorie, sugary, or fatty foods. This cycle of poor sleep and poor dietary choices can make weight management increasingly difficult.

Depression is also associated with changes in the brain that may affect the ability to make decisions and resist impulses. This can mean that even with the best intentions, individuals may struggle to choose healthier food options or stick to a weight loss plan. Plus, certain antidepressants can have side effects that contribute to weight gain, which may demotivate individuals who are working toward weight loss.

Managing weight loss associated with depression requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both mental health and physical well-being. It’s essential to tackle the root of the problem while also taking practical steps to stabilize and improve weight. Strategies that encompass dietary adjustments, lifestyle changes, physical activity, and social support form the cornerstone of a holistic recovery plan.

Prioritize Nutrition 

Nutrition plays a crucial role in managing depression-related weight loss. Individuals should aim to consume a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that support both physical health and mental well-being. It’s essential to focus on regular meal times and to include a variety of foods in your diet, particularly those high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lean protein, which can aid in mood stabilization and weight maintenance. 

Incorporating foods like salmon, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens can contribute to improved energy levels and overall health. To support weight maintenance or gain, consider incorporating calorie-dense foods that are also nutritious, such as avocados, quinoa, and legumes, ensuring you meet your daily caloric needs without compromising on quality. Staying hydrated is crucial, as dehydration can often mimic or worsen symptoms of depression. 

Consulting with a dietitian can be invaluable in creating a personalized nutrition plan that considers your specific caloric requirements, ensuring that dietary changes promote both mental and physical well-being and are manageable over the long term.

Focus On Small Changes

Adopting new eating habits can be a gentle yet powerful way to counteract depression-related weight loss. Starting with small, manageable dietary changes can lead to sustainable habits over time. For example, keeping ready-to-eat snacks and pre-prepared meals in the house can reduce the burden of cooking when energy and motivation are low. Opting for nutrient-dense options like nuts, yogurt, or whole-grain crackers can also make a positive impact. 

Additionally, utilizing grocery delivery services or seeking help with shopping can ensure a steady supply of healthy food choices, making it easier to maintain a nutritious diet without the stress of regular store visits. Establishing these minor yet consistent changes can boost nutritional intake and gradually rebuild a healthy relationship with food.

Light Exercise

Incorporating light exercise into daily routines can have a positive impact on both mood and weight. Physical activity releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting properties, and it can also stimulate appetite in those who have lost interest in eating. Activities like walking, yoga, or stretching can be a good start, especially for those who have been physically inactive. 

The key is to find an activity that is enjoyable and sustainable in the long term. Moreover, exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to be effective; even gentle forms of movement can help improve sleep quality and energy levels, both of which can be adversely affected by depression. Building up a routine gradually encourages consistency and provides a structure that can be beneficial for mental health.

Talk To Family and Friends

Open communication with family and friends about struggles with depression and weight can provide a support network that is crucial for recovery. Social support can not only offer practical help, such as assistance with meal preparation or reminders to eat, but it can also provide emotional support and encouragement. Being surrounded by people who understand and care can make a significant difference in managing depression-related challenges. 

Furthermore, discussing these challenges can alleviate the sense of isolation that often accompanies depression, fostering a communal approach to tackling both emotional and physical health issues. This shared journey can lead to discovering new coping strategies and maintaining a positive outlook even during difficult times.

Get Depression Treatment

Addressing the underlying depression is vital for managing associated weight loss. This may involve therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps to change negative thought patterns, or medication that can adjust chemical imbalances in the brain. Treatment should be personalized and might also include mindfulness practices, stress-reduction techniques, or other therapeutic approaches. 

It’s important to consult with a mental health professional to determine the most effective treatment plan. As part of a comprehensive treatment strategy, regular check-ins with healthcare providers can help monitor progress, adjust treatments as necessary, and provide continuous support, reinforcing the importance of a multifaceted approach to managing depression and its physical manifestations.

Types Of Depression Treatment

When it comes to depression treatment, understanding the available options is crucial for finding the right path to wellness. Effective treatment for depression is multifaceted, often incorporating various methods tailored to an individual’s needs. It’s about finding the right balance between professional healthcare guidance from a therapist and personal daily practices. 

From therapy sessions that delve into cognitive behavior to medications that balance brain chemistry, each treatment type offers its own advantages. Self-care routines and complementary treatments, such as meditation or acupuncture, can also play vital roles in a comprehensive treatment plan.

Therapy

Depression therapy remains a cornerstone of treatment, offering a space for individuals to work through emotions, behaviors, and thoughts with a trained professional. Here is more information on the different types of therapy for depression below:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a highly effective therapy modality for depression, focusing on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors. It empowers individuals to develop healthier thinking habits and coping mechanisms, addressing issues such as self-doubt, hopelessness, and other destructive patterns that contribute to depression.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

IPT is a short-term therapy that concentrates on improving interpersonal relationships and social functioning to help alleviate depressive symptoms. It helps individuals identify and address problematic relationships that may contribute to or exacerbate their depression, improving communication skills and building social support.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT combines traditional cognitive therapy techniques with mindfulness strategies. It is particularly effective in preventing relapse in individuals who have experienced multiple episodes of depression, teaching them to focus on the present moment and recognize early signs of mood changes.

Medication

Antidepressants can be pivotal in the treatment of depression if deemed appropriate by your provider. They work by correcting imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain, which are often at the root of depressive symptoms. It’s important to work closely with a healthcare provider to find the right medication and dosage, as well as to monitor side effects and effectiveness.

Self Care

Self-care strategies are essential in managing depression. They encompass a range of activities and lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, engaging in physical activity, and practicing stress-reduction techniques. These daily habits can significantly influence overall mood and well-being.

Complementary Treatments

Complementary treatments can enhance traditional depression therapies. These can include acupuncture, herbal supplements, yoga, and massage therapy. While they should not replace primary treatment methods, they can offer additional relief and promote overall health. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any complementary treatments to ensure they are safe and appropriately integrated into your treatment plan.

Find A Provider On Klarity Today For Depression Treatment

Taking the step toward managing depression is a significant one, and finding the right provider is key to embarking on a successful treatment journey. Klarity offers you the flexibility and convenience to pick your own board-certified provider on our platform who specializes in depression treatment.

You can find licensed mental health care providers on Klarity’s network who are dedicated to delivering personalized care, whether it’s through therapy, medication management, or a combination of treatments tailored to your unique needs.

Find a provider on Klarity today, and don’t let depression hold you back any longer.

Sources

“Can Depression Cause Weight Loss? Here’s What to Know.” Crystal Raypole. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/weight-loss-depression

“The Complex Link Between Depression and Weight.” Monique Brouillette. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/depression-and-weight-connection

“The link between depression and weight changes and how to manage.” Beth Sissons. MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/depression-weight-gain#the-link

“Why Does Depression Sometimes Cause You to Lose Weight?” Ciara Lucas, RRCA, CPT. LIVESTRONG. https://www.livestrong.com/article/330360-why-does-depression-cause-you-to-lose-weight-even-though-you-eat-a-lot/

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