Treat Depression and Lose Weight

There's a strong link between depression and being overweight or obese. It's the classic chicken-and-egg question: does depression cause obesity, or does obesity trigger depression. While it's difficult to say for sure, one thing is becoming increasingly clear. Treating depression helps patients lose weight.

Depression and obesity are common. As much as 25 percent of the U.S. population has suffered from depression. At the same time, 20 to 30 percent of Americans are obese. People who are chronically or repeatedly depressed or anxious are more likely to become obese, and the incidence of obesity is about twice as high in individuals with depression.

It's not surprising that obese people are also depressed. They are much less likely to exercise, which is well-documented mood enhancer and weight management tool. Obese people typically do not eat a healthy diet, and they consume foods high in fat and sugar. Although these foods provide a boost in mood, it is short lived. Furthermore, people who are obese often have low self-esteem and use food to cope with stress and anxiety, which contributes to overeating.

It makes sense, then, that treating depression might also help people lose weight, and researchers are accumulating scientific evidence to support this theory. In a pilot study in Australia, for example, participants who were obese and depressed took part in a three-month program of Tai Chi, a Chinese form of exercise. Without any additional calorie reduction, they reduced their weight circumference and BMI (Body Mass Index-a measure of obesity), and clinical measures of depression declined from 60 percent to 20 percent.

Physicians have also found that severely obese people who undergo bariatric surgery experience significant improvement in depression symptoms.

It's difficult to establish a causal effect between weight loss and reduced depression. Treating depression may encourage people to increase their physical activity, which leads to weight loss and improved mood. Exercise may ward off overeating and increase an individual's sense of self control and ability to be successful.

If you are depressed and want to lose weight, consider adding stress management and relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, to an exercise program. Mental health experts have also found that people who incorporate cognitive behavioral techniques, a common therapy for depression, as part of a weight loss program double the weight they lose and keep it off twice as long.


Medical News Today. "Innovative University Of Queensland Program Helps Treat Depression And Obesity, Australia." Web. 22 October 2009.

Simon, Gregory E.,M.D., M.P.H.a, Rohde, Paul, Ph.D.b, Ludman, Evette J., Ph.D.a, Jeffery, Robert W., Ph.D.c, Linde, Jennifer A., Ph.D.c, Operskalski, Belinda H., M.P.H.a, and Arterburn, David, M.D., M.P.H.a. "Association between change in depression and change in weight among women enrolled in weight loss treatment." General Hospital Psychiatry. Web. 17 September 2010.

Faulconbridge, Lucy F., Wadden, Thomas A., Berkowitz, Robert I., Sarwer, David B., Womble, Leslie G., Hesson, Louise A., Stunkard, Albert J. and Fabricatore, Anthony N. "Changes in Symptoms of Depression With Weight Loss: Results of a Randomized Trial." Obesity (17) 5 (2009): 1009-1016. Web. 5 February 2009.