The link between depression and weight loss including weight management tips for depressed people

  • PublishedDecember 28, 2020

Depression episodes and weight changes go hand in hand and vary from one person to another. Some people gain weight during the depression while others lose weight to unhealthy levels. All this is because depression influences eating and sleep patterns.

Depression and weight changes are like the egg and chicken challenge; which came first? Sometimes depression follows weight loss or weight gain or the reverse can happen where weight loss or weight gain can lead to depression

In this article, we are going to look at the link between depression and weight loss, weight management tips for people with depression, supplements for depression, and other treatments for depression and weight loss.

But what is a depression in the first place?

According to the mayo clinic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.”

Depression is a common problem. In fact, a study by Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2013 to 2016 showed that 8.1% of American adults especially those at 20 years and above had depression in any given 2-week period during the time of the study.

Some of the signs and symptoms of depression include; depressed mood, reduced interest once enjoyed events, loss of sexual desire, changes in appetite, unintentional weight loss or gain, and changes in sleep patterns.

Weight loss and depression; are they related?

Although the common case you see with depression is weight gain, weight loss can also occur. During severe depression episodes, many lose interest in food which is a result of losing interest in pleasure. During this starvation, the body will instead burn fats and muscle for fuel, leading to worrying weight loss.

Depression may also accompany an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa. People with this condition always have fear of being overweight even when they are slim. In the end, they end up starving themselves leading to severe weight loss. This starves the brain, leading to depression symptoms.

What mental illness causes weight loss?

Mental illness is most likely going to make the patient overweight or obese rather than lose weight. According to the study by the national institutes of health, over 80% of patients with serious mental illnesses are overweight or obese: leading to a 3times death rate of the overall population.

What mainly causes obesity is unhealthy eating habits, lack of body activity, the medications (antipsychotic medications) meant to control mental illness symptoms. These medications raise appetite and consequently weight gain.

In fact, weight loss through lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise can help patients with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression

Can depression cause weight loss and fatigue?

Live we explained above, severe depression can cause weight loss due to loss of interest in food, resulting from loss of interest in pleasure. This can also lead to extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion (fatigue).

Weight management tips for people with depression

Since depression and weight variation move hand in hand, it is important to target both of them when you are looking to have a healthy weight. In fact, the same strategies for weight control should apply if one has depression. Calorie counting physical activity is can help to manage both obesity and depression.

The tips to help weight management in depressed people include;

Know the relationship between your depression symptoms and food

When you understand the feelings you have about your weight and how depression makes you feel about food, you find a way of dealing with your weight during the depression. Rather than looking at food as a way to off Set depression, look at food as a source of nutrition for your body.

Take it slow, set realistic goals

Do not feel overwhelmed with life. Set small but achievable goals. This will psychologically motivate you to persist and achieve more weight loss goals. You can begin by cutting out sugary foods, and once you have achieved that, you can move on to fried foods.

Learn how to set realistic and achievable goals from our article here.

Get off the couch and get moving

People with depression and weight gain have limited physical activity. Instead of sitting and watching TV thinking that it may help depression, get involved in some activity that will make you burn some calories however small it may be. Every bit of physical activity makes a difference; start today.

Consult with your doctor about the effect of your depression medications on your weight

Over time, depression medications have been known to cause weight gain. This is because they increase your appetite and make you overeat. If this is the case with the medication you are having, talk to your doctor for other alternatives. You may change medication or add a medication to counteract weight gain effects.

Talk to a registered dietitian

Talk to a registered dietician in your local area or find one online. These will advise on different strategies of how to manage weight with depression: including what to eat when to eat, and various exercise tips.

Have a positive attitude

We all know that success begins with your mind. If you have a mindset of a winner, you are most likely to succeed at your weight management goals. We know weight management can be hard for people with depression: but stay focused and always communicate with your doctor for help.

Supplements and herbs for depression and weight loss

Folic acid

This is a synthetic form of folate (vitamin A). It is found in fruits, leafy vegetables, and other foods. Depressed people who don’t respond to antidepressants have folate deficiency. In one study, patients who received folic acid responded better than those who received other medications.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

GABA can be in form of a capsule, pill, or powder. Research has linked depression and anxiety to low levels of GABA. GABA supplements have a relaxing effect on brain waves. The supplement supports a positive and calm mood according to research.


This is an organic, glucose-like compound found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat, and other foods. People with depression normally have low levels of inositol. This supplement facilitates the transmission of serotonin and other neurotransmitters.

According to a study published in 1995, it was found that taking 12 grams of inositol a day improved depression symptoms more effectively than a placebo.


These are polyunsaturated fatty acids essential to brain function and cardiovascular health. Depressed people normally have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that countries such as Japan that eat a lot of fish have lower rates of depression.


This is a spice from dried stigmas of flowers of crocus plants. It is used in cooking and in traditional medicine to treat symptoms of depression and other health conditions.

In a series of controlled experiments in Iran, 30-milligram doses a day have been successful treating mild to moderate depression better than the placebo. Saffron has demonstrated an antidepressant effect comparable to Prozac and imipramine.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

For many years, SAMe has been sold in the US as an anti-depressant. It is a natural compound that affects neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine. Depressed people have always been found to have low levels of SAMe.

According to a 2002 review conducted by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, it was found that SAMe was more effective than placebo at relieving the symptoms of depression and no better or worse than tricyclics.

St. John’s wort

St. John’s wort, also known as Hypericum perforatum, is a flowering plant in the family Hypericaceae. This herb has been used as an alternative treatment for depression for many years. You can get St. John’s wort in form of a capsule, tea, or liquid extract.

In several studies, St. John’s wort has outperformed many antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac), imipramine, and Celexa in treating people with depression.

Kava kava (Piper methysticum)

This is a tall shrub native to the South Pacific. For many years Kava roots have been used to help increase relaxation and reduce anxiety. Kava may not treat depression or its causes. Instead, it may help depressed people to feel more relaxed and calm.

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

This is the chemical the body makes from L-tryptophan, a protein building block. Like SAMe, 5-HTP may help raise your brain’s serotonin level to help ease symptoms of depression. Since the body does not have 5-HTP, it uses tryptophan to produce this compound.

Food sources rich in tryptophan include; turkey, chicken, milk, seaweed, sunflower seeds, potatoes, and pumpkins.

Other treatments for depression and weight loss


Speaking with a therapist can help you cope with negative feelings or symptoms of depression and overweight.

Light therapy

Exposure to white light can help regulate your mood and improve symptoms of depression.


30 minutes of physical activity 3 to 5 days a week can help both depressed and overweight people. With exercise, the body’s production of endorphins, the hormones responsible for improving mood increase.

Avoid alcohol and drugs

Drinking has short-term relief.  In the long run, it can make depression and anxiety symptoms worse.

Learn how to say no

Sometimes the treatment of depression and overweight symptoms lies within your mind. Refuse defeat and don’t feel overwhelmed. When you give in to defeat, you can worsen anxiety and depression symptoms.

Bottom line

Weight changes and depression episodes go hand in hand. Depression episodes can cause weight change or vice versa.

Depression and weight gain are like a chicken and egg phenomenon. It is hard to determine which comes after the other. In the same sense, sometimes depression follows weight gain or weight gain follows depression.

Severe depression may cause weight loss due to loss of interest in food resulting from losing interest in pleasure.

Treating depression and overweight requires multipronged approaches that may include talk therapy and medication, exercise, a healthy diet, and other lifestyle interventions.

Related articles:

The link between weight loss and stress

How to lose weight and keep it off permanently



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