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How to Lose Weight When Depressed


Overeating, as well as under-eating, is linked to depression. In fact, one of the diagnostic symptoms of depression is a change in eating habits. Since both anorexia and obesity are associated with depression, it isn’t possible to say that reducing depression will necessarily lead to weight gain or loss.

Although there is no direct cause and effect that applies to all patients, there is definitely a link between depression and weight. Two studies bear this out.

Two studies looked at the connection

The first, from Obesity Surgery, looked at bariatric surgery and found that those who were more depressed before the surgery lost more weight after the surgery and kept if off for a longer period.

The second study, from the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that losing weight was associated with a sustained lowering of depression scores on a standardized test. Taken together, the message seems to be that the heavier you are the more depressed you are, but the more likely you will succeed in losing weight, keeping it off and the result will be less depression.

The problem, from the patient’s perspective, is fighting depression during the weight loss. The studies mentioned used bariatric surgery to “guarantee” at least an initial, significant weight loss – something which might not be available to everyone wanting to lose weight.

Food as addiction

If food is being used to self-treat depression, e.g., “I feel better when I eat, so I eat when I feel bad,” then it properly falls into the food addiction realm. This isn’t yet an addiction recognized by the medical fraternity as separate from other abnormalities. But there are groups like Overeaters Anonymous who deal with it as an addiction and support groups online that will offer advice.

The great thing about depression when linked to addictive behavior is that when the behavior starts to change, real improvement in the depression can result.


For those wanting to lose weight, the recipe is to, “eat less, move more.” This expresses a mathematical relationship between calories in and calories used up. But when depression is in the mix, exercise becomes one of the most important things you can do. Exercise has been shown to reduce depression, whether or not weight loss is a consideration. That makes mild to moderate exercise, to the level of a brisk walk or better, a critical step.

The trick is to get out there and, like the Nike slogan, “just do it.” When motivation is flagging, blame the depression and keep at it. Exercise will help stabilize eating and sleeping patterns and improve self esteem. Think of it as medicinal and a requirement.

Anxiety and stress

Since one of the main reasons for anxiety in the obese is their weight, it’s often difficult to reduce these negative emotions that add to depressed feelings. Here is where counseling and a support group can really shine. When we can share our struggle with others, we not only help ourselves, but add our story to theirs and help them in the process as well.

Interestingly, your confidant doesn’t have to be struggling with weight or depression. The important thing is someone who cares about you and is willing to listen without being judgmental. A therapist adds another level of expertise and will have specific suggestions to offer. In some cases, medication that helps reduce feelings of anxiety is beneficial.

Professional help

It’s interesting that most of us would instantly get a personal trainer to help with weight loss if we had the means, but avoid seeing a professional when it comes to depression. Somehow, we see obesity as a condition that can be improved by taking action, but see depression as a personal flaw we can’t escape. This is, of course, bogus.

Weight loss and weight maintenance can be a lifelong struggle for some. So too, depression can reoccur periodically for a lifetime. But there is real help available. And the great thing is that any step in a positive direction shows us that improvement is possible and makes getting better believable. When professional services are warranted, take advantage of them – treat your condition with the seriousness it deserves.


Losing weight while depressed then becomes a matter of being sensitive to triggers – not only for eating excessively, but for depression. Getting enough rest is important, and exercise is the number one self-help technique for both conditions.

Most weight loss plans have some benefit, but when depression is in the mix, slow and gradual weight loss is better than any quick fix. Failure has a higher price with depression waiting to inflate the feelings of misery and defeat. When you aren’t able to move forward, or attempts at weight loss only make depression symptoms flare up – seek professional help.

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