depression and obesity

Depression and Obesity: The Vicious Cycle of Mental Health and Weight Gain

Originally published on January 27, 2023

What Are the Connections Between Depression and Obesity?

When we talk about depression and obesity, we usually treat them as separate health concerns.

However, many studies are beginning to look into the possible connections between one’s mental state and weight, such as this research article on PubMed Central exploring body weight and its positive bidirectional relationship with depression.

And while countless personal, social, and environmental factors influence depression and obesity, both conditions nonetheless share some of the same determinants, like unhealthy eating habits, low physical activity levels, and sleep disturbances.

That said, it would still be an oversimplification to claim that people diagnosed with depression are more likely to gain weight or that the prevalence of depression is higher for those struggling to maintain a healthy body image. Thus, to push for better health outcomes for all, we must work out the complicated relationship between these two conditions.

The Complex Link Between Depression and Obesity

Technically speaking, depression is a mental health issue, while obesity is a physical one. Yet, as previously discussed in a post about ‘The Mind-Body Connection,’ the stress and frustration we regularly encounter can manifest as pain and tension in our bodies. This harrowing physical experience then prolongs said stress and worsens our mental health in a vicious-cycle-style fashion.

In the same vein, people who are depressed can experience symptoms that affect their eating patterns or cause them to binge on unhealthy foods to lift their mood, which can, in turn, lead to weight gain. And while not all people who fall prey to such a phenomenon are dissatisfied with how they look, societal, body-image-related stigmas can still take their toll and contribute to or worsen depressive symptoms.

But there’s even more to the depression-obesity connection than psychosocial factors. For example, this Nature article discusses the biochemical factors that tie both conditions together. In it, journalist Benjamin Plackett states that those struggling with obesity produce an overabundance of cytokines, which are common biomarkers for depression. Yet, regardless of one’s body weight and physique, higher concentrations of said biomarkers can cause insulin resistance and increase the risk of weight gain, further strengthening the momentum of this vicious cycle. 

Breaking The Cycle

Though it goes without saying, both depression and obesity can improve or abate when we practice healthy eating — and that’s true regardless of whether we leverage self-directed efforts or the guidance of a dietitian or program.

And while many of us feel wary about diet plans, WeightWatchers shows that weight loss programs need not be restrictive to have a positive, long-term impact. In fact, when we have meal plans tailored to our lifestyles and nutritional needs (a feat that is indeed achievable), we’re far more likely to reach a positive body image and healthier weight (in time).

Another great way to foster the mind-body connection is to focus on mindfulness practices. For example, for those experiencing depressive symptoms, the mobile app Calm helps with sleep disturbances through guided meditations and other helpful exercises. And when it comes to obesity, yoga can be of great benefit since its poses and routines center around the mind rather than the body, which helps us relax and stay aligned physically and mentally.

Lastly, it helps to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the treatment of both depression and obesity. So, if you’re unsure where to turn next or what plan to adopt, talk to your doctor; he or she will help you craft a strategy that addresses both your mental health and weight issues instead of treating them as independent struggles.

In time, that plan may even help you break this vicious cycle — a critical accomplishment for not only your physical and mental wellness but also your overall quality of life. And though we’ve presented a few ways to achieve such a thing in this post, we’ve got plenty more useful tactics and perspectives across the Get Out of Your Head website. So, if you feel inclined, kindly take a look at a couple more or reach out to us below with questions or comments.


**Above image designed and owned by Brian Sachetta ©2023

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