Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Weight Gain

Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Weight Gain

Depression is a complex condition with various causes, and sometimes no obvious reason why someone has it.

It can coincide with other conditions and illnesses, making these problems difficult to untangle and manage effectively.

One of these associated conditions is weight gain and obesity.

We've all been there: it's been a rough day so we indulge in a chocolate bar or our favourite takeaway to try and cheer ourselves up. The odd occasion of doing this is fine, but if someone is depressed they may frequently comfort eat, leading to weight gain. Weight gain and obesity may also be a cause in some cases of depression.

In addition to personal and social reasons, there may also be a biological connection between depression and obesity. Both the influence of depression on obesity and the effects of obesity on depression are further discussed below.

How Depression Influences Obesity

Depression is typically defined by low mood, loss of interest and enjoyment in usual activities, feelings of isolation and negativity, and low self-esteem. This can impact on behaviour, including reduced physical activity and poor dietary choices.

One study found that many of the individuals with depression had poor patterns of food intake. This included an inadequate number of meals and timing of those meals; binge eating behaviour; intake of high-calorie foods such as chocolate; and poor quality food choices. 80% of the participants did not do any exercise.

There was also a positive association with being overweight or obese, with 72% of participants classified as such.These kinds of behaviours can lead to weight gain and, in the long term, puts individuals at higher risk of becoming obese.

Cycle of depression graphic

How Obesity Influences Depression

Being overweight may lead to poor body image and low self-confidence in some individuals, particularly if this affects their social interactions or how they feel in public, and this could develop into depression. There are also physiological mechanisms underlying this link.

Recent research has suggested that inflammation plays a key role in depression. Adipose tissue (body fat) releases a number of hormones, some of which are inflammatory. The more adipose tissue an individual has, the more of these inflammatory factors that will be released.

This inflammation is thought to be a contributor to many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In this way, obesity may also be a factor in either triggering depression or in maintaining the condition.

Tips for Breaking the Cycle of Depression and Weight Gain

Treating depression and obesity is far from straightforward, and research is still needed into how the inflammation in depression can be targeted as part of treatment. However, there are changes to your lifestyle you can make which can help with both managing your weight and improving your mood.

  • Get active: Not only does this increase your energy output which can help with weight management, it has also been shown to boost your mood and energy levels. It doesn't have to be anything too strenuous – try a 20-30 minute walk each day to start with. This will also help you to keep busy and give you something to aim for, which may improve your mood.
  • Increase your intake of fruit and veg: Having a poor diet has negative effects on both your waistline and your mood. Making healthy changes to your diet can help you to watch your calorie intake and will give you the nutrients and energy you need for improved mood. Try a Mediterranean-style diet which incorporates plenty of fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, in addition to healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and fish. In addition, Omega 3 fish oils have shown some benefits for depression.
  • Cut down on added sugars: Added sugars include those used as ingredients in cakes, biscuits, sauces, sugary drinks and alcohol. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit and milk, are fine in moderation as these sources provide other nutrients. Too much sugar can cause peaks and crashes in blood sugar, leaving you feeling tired and craving more sweet food. This can cause weight gain as it may lead to overeating, and the constant changes in blood sugar can also be reflected in your mood and cause you to feel low and irritable.
  • Eat regular meals: This will also help with keeping your blood sugar levels stable, helping you manage your food intake. With depression, this can help with maintaining an adequate diet and a regular routine.
  • Modify your reactions: Yes there are many biological reasons why you might be depressed. But don't forget that there are many factors involved in depression, and our psychology is right up there too. Pay attention to how you respond to certain situations and see if there are better ways you could handle them. Ask yourself is this reaction appropriate for the situation, and could I look at the problem in a different way? Breaking things down can help them feel less overwhelming. Also, try not to use food to cheer yourself up. Instead of comfort eating when you feel down, distract yourself with something else, such as watching TV, reading or going for a walk.

Try adding these lifestyle tips into your daily routine to help break the cycle of depression and weight gain.