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Does depression cause weight gain

Does Depression Cause Weight Gain? 7 Hidden Factors Revealed

Writen By: Huma Khan
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: September 21, 2023

Have you ever felt like you are carrying more weight than just your worries? For example, you might be wondering, “Does depression cause weight gain?” as the numbers on the scale continue to rise. Well, you’re not alone.

Depression, that heavy cloud that can hang over us, might be doing more than just affecting our mood. There exists a silent battle, one that often goes unnoticed by the world outside. It is the struggle to maintain a healthy weight, the struggle with the scale, and the nagging concern, “Does depression cause weight gain?”

Beyond the tears and the despair, there is a complex relationship between the mind and the body, one that we are about to explore. Join us as we journey through the complexities of depression and its potential impact on your weight. It’s a story of emotional rollercoasters, hidden cravings, and the unspoken battles that millions fight in silence.

So just keep reading, as by the end of the blog, you’ll have a better understanding of this often-overlooked aspect of mental health and be armed with knowledge that can make a real difference in your life.

Knowing about Depression

A common mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide is depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). This state of profound sadness and hopelessness is more than just a passing feeling; it lasts for weeks or even months. Depression can disrupt daily life, making it challenging to carry out even routine tasks.

Typical symptoms of depression include 

  • Continuous feelings of sadness, 
  • A decline in interest or enjoyment in once-enjoyed activities, 
  • Alterations in weight or appetite 
  • Fatigue,
  • Poor-quality sleep, 
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Concentration issues 
  • Recurrent ideas of suicide or death.

As per the American Psychiatric Association, about 6.7% of adults annually and 16.6% at some point in life experience depression, often emerging in late adolescence or early adulthood. Women are more susceptible, and a 40% heritability rate is observed when close family members have a history of depression.

The causes of depression are multifaceted and can include genetic factors, brain chemical imbalances, stressful life events, trauma, and other environmental influences. It’s a complex condition, and its impact can extend to various aspects of one’s life, including physical health.

To minimize and cope with depression and its impact on weight-related difficulties, it is critical to be aware of those possible impacts and get professional guidance.

Does depression cause weight gain?

Does depression cause weight gain? It’s a question that often leaves us wondering about the confounding link between our emotional well-being and physical health. The relationship between depression and weight gain is complex and multifaceted. While depression can lead to weight gain in some individuals, it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. The impact of depression on weight varies from person to person and is influenced by several factors.

For some people, depression may lead to overeating as a way to cope with emotional distress. Comfort foods, often high in calories and sugar, may offer temporary solace. This emotional eating can contribute to weight gain over time. Conversely, others may experience a reduced appetite during depressive episodes, leading to skipped meals and potential weight loss.

So, does depression cause weight gain? It’s a question that doesn’t have a simple “yes” or “no” answer. It depends on a variety of factors. Depression and weight gain are often linked, but it is not always clear which causes the other. Some research suggests that depression can lead to weight gain, while other research suggests that weight gain can lead to depression, and still other research suggests that there is a bidirectional relationship between the two.

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Does depression cause weight gain? 7 hidden factors revealed 2

What does the research say?

There is a growing body of research that supports the association between depression and weight gain.

  • A 2022 study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry examines the connection between depression and obesity over a 30-year period. The study, which included 2,251 participants, found that women with depressive symptoms typically show greater increases in BMI, waist circumference, and hip circumference over time compared to men with similar symptoms.
  • A 2018 study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that depression was causally associated with obesity, independent of other factors such as body mass index (BMI) at age 18 years, socioeconomic status, and other psychiatric disorders. This means that reducing depression could help reduce the prevalence of obesity.
  • According to a 2002 study published by PubMed, adolescents who are depressed were at higher risk for the development and persistence of obesity during adolescence, even after controlling for other factors such as baseline obesity, age, race, gender, and socioeconomic status.
  • A 2019 study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry investigates the role of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein that is important for regulating appetite and metabolism, in the relationship between depression and weight gain. The study, involving 1,317 participants, finds that people with depression have lower levels of BDNF, thus leading to weight gain.
  • A 2013 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine found that depressed youths are more likely to become obese, but obese youths are not more likely to become depressed. This suggests that depression may be a risk factor for obesity, but obesity is not a risk factor for depression.
  • A 2018 study published in the journal International Journal of Obesity examines the relationship between depression and changes in eating habits. The study, involving 11,965 participants, finds that people with depression are more likely to experience changes in their eating habits, such as increased cravings for unhealthy foods and a decreased desire to eat healthy foods.

These studies provide strong evidence that depression is a risk factor for weight gain, especially in women. So, does depression cause weight gain? The exact mechanisms underlying this relationship are still being investigated, but it is thought that factors such as changes in appetite and eating habits, changes in metabolism, and the effects of stress hormones and inflammation may play a role.

In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the mechanisms at play and explore how individuals can manage their weight while dealing with depression.

How Does Depression Cause Weight Gain? Exploring the Factors Involved

Understanding how depression and weight gain are intertwined requires a closer look at the intricate mechanisms at play. While it’s not a straightforward cause-and-effect relationship, several factors contribute to this connection.

1. Emotional Eating as a Coping Mechanism:

One of the primary mechanisms is emotional eating. Depression often triggers intense emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, or loneliness. In an attempt to find comfort, individuals may turn to food. Comfort foods, typically high in calories and sugar, provide a temporary sense of relief. Over time, this pattern of emotional eating can lead to weight gain.

2. Hormonal Changes:

Depression can disrupt the body’s hormone balance. Stress hormones, like cortisol, are often elevated in individuals with depression. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with increased fat storage, particularly around the abdominal area. This hormonal imbalance can contribute to weight gain.

A 2017 study published in the journal Obesity found that higher levels of cortisol, insulin, and chronic stress were each predictive of greater future weight gain. This suggests that stress and stress hormones may play a role in weight gain.

3. Altered Appetite Regulation:

Depression can cause fluctuations in appetite. While some people may overeat as a response to emotional distress, others may experience a reduced appetite and skip meals. These irregular eating patterns can contribute to weight disturbances.

4. Side Effects of Antidepressants:

It’s worth noting that some medications prescribed for depression may have side effects that promote weight gain. These medications can alter appetite or metabolism, making it easier to put on extra pounds.

A 2017 study published in the journal Epidemiology Research found that SSRI antidepressant use is associated with weight gain, especially in people who also have unhealthy lifestyles, such as a high intake of Western diets, sedentary activity, and smoking. 

According to WebMD, among antidepressants, SSRIs are generally comparable in their weight gain risk, with paroxetine (Paxil) being the most likely to cause it. In contrast, bupropion (Wellbutrin) is the least likely to lead to weight gain, while mirtazapine (Remeron) is often associated with weight gain as a side effect.

5. Reduced Physical Activity:

Depression often saps a person’s energy and motivation, leading to a decrease in physical activity. A lack of exercise can result in decreased calorie expenditure, making it easier to gain weight, especially when combined with changes in eating habits.

6. Social Isolation:

Depression often leads to social withdrawal and isolation. This isolation can limit opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating. Emotional eating may also become a way to cope with loneliness and boredom.

7. Disrupted Sleep Patterns: 

Many individuals with depression experience disrupted sleep patterns, such as insomnia or oversleeping. Poor sleep can disrupt the body’s hunger-regulating hormones, leading to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods, which can contribute to weight gain.

A 2020 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that shorter sleep duration and greater sleep variability were each associated with a higher BMI. This suggests that sleep is an important factor in weight management and that people who are not getting enough sleep or have irregular sleep patterns may be more likely to be overweight or obese.

These mechanisms underscore the complex interplay between depression and weight gain. While depression can be a contributing factor, it’s important to recognize that weight management during depression is multifaceted. In the following sections, we’ll explore strategies for managing weight while dealing with depression, aiming to empower individuals to take control of their physical and emotional well-being.

Other Causes of Weight Gain

Here are some common factors other than depressive symptoms that can lead to weight gain:

  • Medical Conditions: Weight gain can result from certain medical conditions that affect metabolism, such as hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Medications: Some medications, like certain antipsychotics and steroids, may cause weight gain as a side effect.
  • Age: As people get older, their metabolisms tend to slow down, which makes it simpler to put on weight.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors can influence an individual’s predisposition to gain weight.
  • Stress: Chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol levels, which may promote weight gain, especially around the abdominal area.
  • Emotional Eating: Stress, anxiety, or boredom can trigger emotional eating, leading to calorie overconsumption.
  • Lack of Portion Control: Consuming larger portions than necessary can contribute to excess calorie intake.
  • Social and Environmental Factors: Social situations, such as frequent dining out or workplace snacks, can lead to unhealthy eating habits and weight gain.
  • Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake is high in calories and can contribute to weight gain if not moderated.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy-related weight gain is common, as the body undergoes changes to support the growing fetus.

These are factors that can contribute to weight gain in addition to depressive symptoms, and it’s important to consider these variables when addressing weight management concerns.

Why is it Vital to Maintain a Healthy Weight for Overall Well-Being?

Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t just about aesthetics; it plays a pivotal role in your overall well-being. Your weight can have a big impact on a lot of different aspects of your physical and mental health. Here’s why it’s important to aim for a healthy weight:

1. Physical Health:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers.
  • Reduces the strain on your joints and bones, improving mobility and decreasing the risk of joint-related conditions like osteoarthritis.
  • Contributes to better cardiovascular function, reducing the strain on your heart and decreasing the likelihood of heart-related issues.
  • The quality of your sleep can be enhanced, and sleep apnea can be relieved by maintaining a healthy weight.

2. Mental Health:

  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can enhance your self-esteem and body image, leading to better mental well-being.
  • A healthy weight is associated with a lower risk of developing depressive symptoms and other mood disorders.

3. Overall Well-Being:

  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can increase your self-esteem and enhance your general sense of wellbeing.
  • A healthy weight can assist in balancing hormone levels, which will enhance general bodily functions.
  • supports a strong immune system, increasing your body’s resistance to disease.
  • It results in more energy, enabling you to participate fully in daily activities and hobbies.
  • A healthy weight can help one live longer and in better health, free from the burdens of diseases brought on by obesity.

Maintaining a healthy weight involves a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and overall self-care. It’s a holistic approach to well-being that is beneficial not only for your physical health but also for your mental and emotional health. Your life will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilling if you try to maintain a healthy weight.

Treatments for Weight Gain in Depression

Medication management: 

  • Modifying antidepressant dosages to reduce the negative consequences of weight gain.
  • Looking at other drugs with lower risks of weight gain.

Nutritional Advice: 

  • Consult a certified dietitian to create a well-balanced, nutrient-rich eating plan.
  • Using mindful eating and portion management approaches.
  • Including healthful foods while consuming fewer refined or sugary items.

Exercise regularly:

  • Exercising frequently to support losing weight and general health.
  • Engaging in pleasurable activities like cycling, dancing, or strolling.
  • Consult a trainer or medical specialist to develop a safe and efficient exercise regimen.

Seeking therapy:

  • Considering therapy or mental health treatment to address emotional eating patterns and create healthy coping skills.
  • Recognizing emotional eating and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Supportive Community: 

  • Participating in support groups or seeking peer help to obtain inspiration and exchange experiences.
  • Taking part in programs or activities that encourage healthy living choices.

Sleep hygiene:

  • Establishing a regular sleep pattern and adopting healthy sleep practices.
  • Establishing a sleep-friendly climate to increase the duration and quality of sleep.
  • If necessary, treat any basic sleep issues with medicinal therapies.

Stress Reduction:

  • Finding and using stress-reduction methods like yoga, meditation, or mindfulness
  • Reading, bathing, or listening to calming music are relaxing and rejuvenating activities.

Tracking Progress:

  • Monitoring your weight and noticing changes will help you gauge how well your treatment works.
  • Keeping a diet and mood journal to spot trends and apply educated changes to the treatment plan
  • Recognizing little wins while remaining patient and realistic about weight loss progress

Frequently asked questions

Is weight gain mental?

No, gaining weight is not just a mental issue. Several variables, like nutrition, way of life, hormonal changes, heredity, and underlying health problems, can contribute to weight gain. Even though mental health conditions like emotional eating or stress can cause weight gain, it’s important to remember that weight gain is an intricate process affected by many things other than the mind.

Does loneliness cause weight gain?

No, loneliness does not directly contribute to weight gain. However, it may indirectly result in weight gain because some people use emotional eating or dietary choices to deal with their loneliness.

Does weight affect the brain?

Yes, weight affects the brain. Research has shown that obesity is associated with a number of negative changes in the brain, including reduced brain volume, decreased white matter integrity, increased inflammation, and altered brain structure and function. These changes can lead to a number of cognitive problems, including memory impairment, attention problems, slowed processing speeds, and difficulty with decision-making and problem-solving

Can weight changes cause depression?

Yes, weight changes can indeed trigger or exacerbate depression in some individuals. According to a 2006 study published by the NIH, there is a significant association between depression, anxiety, and body mass index (BMI). Both men and women experiencing extremes in BMI, whether underweight, overweight, or obese, are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Moreover, sudden or significant weight gain or loss can lead to body image issues, lower self-esteem, and social anxiety, all of which are risk factors for depression. Additionally, hormonal and biochemical changes associated with weight fluctuations can influence mood and contribute to depressive symptoms.

Is weight gain reversible?

Yes, weight gain can usually be reversed with a good diet, regular exercise, and a persistent dedication to broad lifestyle changes.

Which brain controls body weight?

The part of the brain primarily responsible for regulating body weight is the hypothalamus. It plays a central role in monitoring hunger, fullness, and metabolism, helping to maintain a balance between energy intake and expenditure.


In our exploration of the question, “Does depression cause weight gain?” It’s evident that depression and weight gain share a strong correlation. This intricate relationship is influenced by various factors, including emotional eating, reduced physical activity, and disruptions in hormonal balance triggered by depression. Additionally, stress-related elevations in cortisol, a hormone associated with weight gain, may also contribute to this connection.

While depression itself may not always directly lead to weight gain, its symptoms and their impact on individuals’ lifestyles can often lead to unhealthy behaviors and subsequent weight increases. To effectively address weight gain in individuals suffering from depression, it becomes imperative to tackle both the physical and emotional dimensions of the condition. In a nutshell, weight gain can be considered a potential side effect of depression, emphasizing the importance of a holistic approach to treating both conditions for the best possible overall health.