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Does depression make you gain weight?

Whether it’s from antidepressants, or the lack of motivation to get up and get moving, people with depression certainly do report gaining weight. Some medications warn of weight gain as a side effect; depression as an ailment has been known to affect how people eat, make choices, and move their bodies.


When Rae-Anne was diagnosed with depression at the age of 26, she put on 25 lbs. in a matter of months – a surprise to the trained jazz dancer.


“People have this idea that people who work out don’t get depressed, because depressed people are told to work out, work out,” says Rae-Anne. “I’ve been dancing since I was three. I’m pretty sure I’ve had depression since I was 14, even though I didn’t get diagnosed officially until I was in my 20s.


“I’ve been dancing every day all my life, but I still ended up with depression. And in the thickest of it, I put on a lot of weight.”


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that approximately 43% of adults with depression also struggle with obesity. Adults with depression are more likely to be overweight than adults without this mental health disorder. Kids, too, are at risk – children who are depressed have a higher body mass index than kids who aren’t depressed.


Obesity is linked with emotional distress, and it’s also associated with other physical health problems like diabetes, hypertension and joint pain, as well as gastrointestinal issues. The symptoms of such ailments can further exacerbate the feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and pain that people with depression experience.


Certainly, stress is a factor; when people are chronically stressed, they’re at risk for depression. Many people turn to consuming larger amounts of food as a response to stress, which can lead to weight gain. And the cycle begins.


For Rae-Anne, food become a source of comfort. “I was telling myself, ‘Well, I work out, I dance, I’m moving my body, I can eat,’” she admits. “The first time I went up a size and didn’t fit into a costume for a major show, I was so upset that I threw my hands up and ate more. And when I didn’t lose that size, I cried. And I ate more.


“Plus I was on medication that I definitely think added to the issue, so I think I was like, ‘Okay, this is my new body. I guess this is my new reality.’ So much of my identity is in my physicality and I had a lot of pride in how strong my body was and how well it moved and how much I controlled myself for so long that yeah, it really hurt when I felt like I lost control of all of that.


“Eating would numb the pain, but eating also caused the pain. So that cycle people talk about with depression and weight gain is real.”


If you’re depressed and experiencing extreme weight gain, take comfort that while both are chronic and serious conditions, they can both be managed and minimized with the right kind of attention.


Make sure you stay active – exercise is definitely a very helpful tool to combatting depression. But it’s not the only solution. Talking to a professional and sticking to a solid treatment plan designed in partnership with a professional is a great way to help you restore your health and vitality.

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