When a client comes to Lifexcel for a free consult they fill out paperwork with a medical history. I would estimate 75% of my clients list depression and most are on medication for it. This rate well exceeds the general population. According to the National Institutes of Health, 3.3% of the US adult population has chronic mild depression while 6.7% have major depressive disorder. What, if any, is the link between the two? Does depression cause weight gain or does weight gain cause someone to be depressed? While researchers are not yet sure, what they do know is that depression and weight gain go hand-in-hand.
Certainly, increased appetite, reduced activity and weight gain can be symptoms of depression. People with depression are more likely to binge eat and less likely to exercise regularly. People who are overweight typically have poorer overall health and suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, joint pain, heart disease and a plethora of other diseases. It’s also known that being sick contributes to depression. Both depression and obesity have strong genetic links, so children of people with either or both problems are more predisposed to have them as well. Children who are obese are more likely to be depressed. Social isolation, teasing, poor body image, and poor self-esteem appear to contribute to their depression. In addition, many prescribed antidepressant medications cause weight gain as side effects.
One recent study found that overall, obese individuals have a 20 percent elevated risk of depression, and specifically for Caucasian college-educated people with obesity, the depression risk rises to as high as 44 percent. Although females with obesity have previously been found to suffer more depression, this study showed that there were no differences between sexes.
So what’s the solution? If you are overweight/obese and suffering from depression all hope is not lost. Recommendations following a 2008 review of study outcomes in the Journal of Clinical Psychology cautioned that dieting, which can worsen mood, and anti-depressants, which can cause weight gain, should be minimized. The authors also recommended that exercise and stress reduction, which have been shown to be effective treatments for both diseases, should be considered first line defense. Here at Lifexcel we agree with this approach. Our nutrition program focuses on making lifelong sustainable changes in what and how much you eat, not going on a diet. We recommend exercise for all our clients. Our behavior coach Kimberly offers therapy for depression and stress. It’s possible for some to quit taking their anti-depressants eventually.
Sherri Clarke, MS, RD, LDN, NASM CPT