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Depression Health Center

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Is Depression Wrecking Your Weight?

Depression and weight problems often go together. Here are tips for handling both.

Eating Yourself Blue continued...

“When you are depressed, it is much harder to get out of bed, much less pay attention to what you are eating,” says Edward Abramson, PhD, an emeritus professor of psychology at California State University at Chico and the author of Emotional Eating: What You Need To Know Before Starting Another Diet.

For doctors, it’s less important to know which came first: the patient's depression or the weight problems. The question is, which one should get the most initial attention?

“If someone comes to me who is severely depressed and overweight, the depression is going to be the primary focus,” says Abramson.

However, he continues, an eating disorder that causes a patient to binge might need to be addressed first: “If their eating is out of control, that becomes the primary focus.”

Weight Loss and Depression

Although weight gain is commonly associated with depression, weight loss can also be a problem.

“With severe depression, you might lose weight because you’ve lost your interest in food, which comes from losing in interest in pleasure,” Gordon says. Loss of pleasure is a hallmark of depression.

Depression may also accompany an eating disorder. In Heinberg’s practice at the Cleveland Clinic, patients with anorexia nervosa are often depressed.

“In patients with low body weight, the brain becomes starved and they develop symptoms that meet the criteria for depression,” she says. “Often, once you feed them, the depression goes away. It’s resolved, and it’s generally resolved quickly.”

If You Move, You Lose - Pounds and Depression

Treating depression often takes a multipronged approach that may include talk therapy and medication, as well as exercise, a healthy diet, and other lifestyle measures.

It's important to know that weight gain is a common side effect of some of many prescribed antidepressants.

Fortunately, patients who are both overweight and depressed can help themselves with the same prescription: exercise, which can help counterbalance drug-related weight gain.

“I won’t necessarily tell them to watch what they are eating at first,” says Abramson, “but I will work with them to get them to move.”

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