drawing of epressed looking women standing on scales

The Depression and Body Weight Connection

Your Wellness

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Does obesity lead to depression or does depression lead to weight gain? It's a chicken and egg relationship.

The mind-body connection is often complex, with our thoughts, memories and emotions influencing physical conditions and vice versa. This is certainly true when it comes to weight issues. Researchers have yet to definitively say whether one causes the other, but study after study supports a link.

Anyone who experiences depression likely has feelings of hopelessness, and over a prolonged period this could lead to self-neglect, including giving up physical activity and healthy cooking. In addition, if you feel despondent, you may turn to food for comfort, and comfort foods are generally not healthy foods.

While it seems plausible and intuitive that depression could cause a person to lose energy and motivation to follow good health habits, some research seems to show that excess body fat may influence depression.

Fat is not an inert substance. It plays a number of biological roles in the body related to metabolism, hormone production and gene function, among others. In obese people, fatty tissue contains increased numbers of macrophages that consume pathogens in the body. While that sounds like a good thing, they also release hormones that cause inflammation, according to a review published in the journal Psychiatric Annals. And inflammation is believed to be a factor in most diseases, including two of the biggest killers, diabetes and heart disease.

Because inflammation is linked to depression, researchers believe that these macrophages may be the underlying mechanism connecting obesity and depression.

If you are overweight and depressed, it would be natural to feel that the link between your mental and physical state further compounds your poor health, and it does, but it also suggests a way out by breaking the cycle: You can eat healthier foods and become more active.

Proper nutrition and cardiovascular activity have long been shown to benefit both the body and mind, especially in cases of clinical depression and obesity, according to a report in the Medical Journal of Australia. Yet, health care providers often fail to discuss beneficial lifestyle changes that could help you break the cycle. They may first recommend therapy or pharmaceuticals.

So, what does this mean for you?

If you have been dealing with depression and weight gain, discuss all options with your health care provider to find the treatment best tailored to you. There are a range of treatments that might work for you, from lifestyle changes to group or behavioral therapies to drugs and surgical treatments including lap band and gastric bypass surgery.

It's best to start with the least invasive therapies first, so you may want to ask your primary care physician for a referral to a dietitian or other specialist. Whatever the course of action, it's important to do something to make a change. That first step you choose could be the one that helps you break the obesity-depression cycle.

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