Weight & Depression: What’s the Connection?


Written by:

Picture this: You bump into a friend you haven’t seen in forever at the grocery store. You ask them how they’ve been doing, and they say they’ve just gone through a bad breakup. They’ve been depressed, making them feel tired and unmotivated for weeks.

They also tell you they’re down three pants sizes and can finally fit into their favorite old pair of Levi’s.

Part of you is concerned — after all, you know depression can be serious — but on the other hand, can’t weight loss be a good thing? And is depression weight loss even a thing in the first place?

As you might’ve guessed, the answer isn’t as black-and-white as it may seem. One of the most common symptoms of depression is weight changes, which can look like weight loss or gain.

Healthy weight loss, especially under the supervision of a healthcare provider, can be good. But weight loss because of a mental illness — even if it’s unintentional — isn’t some kind of “silver lining.” It can lead to potentially harmful consequences to your well-being if it’s not taken seriously.

Still, it’s fair to wonder, Why does depression cause weight loss?

Below, we’ll break down the connection between weight loss and depression so you can have a better understanding of why it might happen and what to look out for.

(RelatedWeight Loss Medications: Are They Effective?)

Why Depression Can Cause Weight Loss

From major depressive disorder (MDD) to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), there are many kinds of depression. Some people might experience depression temporarily — like if they’re going through a rough breakup — while others may have chronic depression.

Though it looks different to everyone, depression is typically diagnosed after you’ve had persistent symptoms for at least two weeks. 

Emotionally, depression can take a major toll, making you feel sad, irritable, helpless or fatigued, among other symptoms. It can also manifest physically, causing aches and pains, headaches and unintentional changes in weight.

2010 study showed a correlation between obesity and depression, with obese adults having a 55 percent increased risk of developing depression. Similarly, 58 percent of those with depression have an increased chance of developing obesity. 

There’s also a connection between weight loss and depression. The numbers you see reflected on the scale can be affected by: 

  • Mood changes

  • Physical symptoms

  • Medication side effects

  • Changes in the brain 

(RelatedWeight Loss Medications: Are They Effective?)

Mood Changes

Changes in mood are often an indication something isn’t quite right. When you’re depressed, you’re more prone to certain symptoms that can cause a shift in eating habits, often unintentionally.

These symptoms can include: 

  • Feeling emotionally drained. When you’re depressed, mustering up the mental energy to throw together a quick meal can feel like a Herculean effort. As a result, you might find yourself eating less simply because it feels like too much exertion. 

  • Losing interest in things you once enjoyed. Maybe you once looked forward to sharing a large pizza with your partner every Friday night on the couch while binge-watching your favorite Bravo shows. But now, you feel completely disinterested — even when it comes to cravings for your go-to comfort foods, like cheesy carbohydrates.

  • Having trouble making decisions. Making even the seemingly smallest choices can feel overwhelming. Am I hungry? Not really, but I should probably eat something. What do I want for dinner? Hmm…cooking feels too hard. Should I order in? But nothing sounds appealing. As a result of this wishy-washy mindset, you wind up feeling defeated and don’t bother eating anything at all.

Other Physical Symptoms

Other physical symptoms of depression can cause a loss of appetite. 

Not only can you feel emotionally drained when you’re depressed, but you might experience physical fatigue too. Your body may feel tired, overriding any desire to put food in your body. Nausea and stomach pains can also contribute to eating less. 

Psychomotor agitation, which involves fidgeting and pacing, is yet another physical factor that may come into play for some people with depression. By burning your energy levels, these movements can eat up calories or reduce your appetite, thereby causing weight loss.

Medication Side Effects

Some medications (including certain antidepressants) are known for side effects like weight gain. But some antidepressants are associated with weight loss, such as:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft) 

  • Citalopram (Celexa) 

  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)

  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Bupropion, in particular, has been strongly linked to small amounts of weight loss as opposed to weight gain and increased appetite.  Research shows that people who use bupropion to treat depression generally gain less weight, with others even losing weight.

2016 study found that non-smokers using bupropion lost an average of 7.1 more pounds than participants on fluoxetine, though cigarette smokers actually gained weight when using the drug.

Another review published in 2019 found that while the most popular medications used to treat depression caused weight gain, bupropion actually caused people to lose weight instead.

Changes in the Brain

Depression changes the chemistry of your brain, and some experts believe there’s a correlation between these chemical imbalances and weight loss. 

A 2016 study revealed that depression can increase or decrease people’s appetites, indicating that depression has the ability to make you feel more or less motivated by food as a “reward.”

In other words, just like depression can completely derail your motivation to work out or spend time with friends, it can have a similar effect when it comes to your desire to eat (or not eat).

(Related: Can Sleep Affect Weight Loss?)

Other Potential Causes of Weight Loss

Of course, depression isn’t the only reason you might be experiencing unexplained weight loss. Other factors like emotional eatingeating disorders and other body image-related issues can be contributors.

It could also be because of an underlying illness you’re unaware of. It might be due to griefstress or a side effect of a medication you’re taking — or something entirely different.

The point is, weight loss can occur for a number of reasons. Regardless, the best step you can take is to speak with a healthcare provider about your concerns. They can help get to the bottom of what’s actually going on in your body (and your mind) and come up with a treatment plan that works for you. 

People Experiencing Depression After Weight Loss

So, we’ve established that depression can cause weight loss. But if we turn the tables, can weight loss cause depression?

That depends. 

Weight loss can actually be good for your mental health — under the right circumstances. A 2021 review revealed that obese patients who followed calorie-restrictive diets experienced a decrease in depression symptoms. 

It’s important to note, though: Depression shouldn’t be seen as some kind of weight loss technique. In some instances, the weight loss itself is considered a result of malnutrition — which isn’t healthy at all. 

Additional research supports this relationship, pointing to certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies that are common among depressed folks.

If, for example, you have low levels of vitamin D, folic acid or zinc — all of which are important for helping your body function properly — it can have an impact on your mental state. As a result, your nutritional deficiency could indirectly increase your risk of developing depression. 

Understanding Weight Loss and Depression

Let’s recap: Healthy weight loss can be good. But weight loss as a result of depression is not. Depression is a mental health disorder that requires attention, so the sooner you seek help from a healthcare professional, the better.  

Fortunately, depression is very treatable. Depending on your symptoms, your healthcare provider might recommend:

  • Medication. Medications like antidepressants are highly effective for treating depression, as they work to balance serotonin and other brain chemicals. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone has different mental health needs and tolerances, so the right medication is entirely dependent upon the individual. Based on the severity of your symptoms, how long they’ve persisted and factors like other health conditions you may have, your provider can come up with the best plan for you.

  • Therapy. Therapy often goes hand-in-hand with medication. Like medication, there are many types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic approaches(aka talk therapy). There’s even online therapy if you prefer talking to someone from the comfort of your home. Not quite ready for therapy? Try opening up to a loved one, like a family member or friend. When you’re honest about your struggles, they can show up and give you the support you deserve.

  • Lifestyle changes. Certain substances can have a major impact on your mood, like caffeine, alcohol and drugs. If you’re struggling with depression, your provider may recommend cutting back on daily cold brews or Margarita Mondays. They might also suggest incorporating certain lifestyle changes into your routine, like physical activity or journaling, which are both evidence-based coping strategies for dealing with depression.

This article originally appeared on Forhers.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

More from MediaFeed:

25 Weight-Loss “Tricks” You Should Stop Immediately

25 Weight-Loss “Tricks” You Should Stop Immediately

When it comes to diet and nutrition, we all want to find “the answer” that will fix our alleged problems. As a result, we often latch onto crazy diet ideas that, in the moment, sound like the perfect solution. But these too-good-to-be-true “solutions” can hurt more than help us in our attempts to achieve weight loss and gain healthy habits.

Here are some of the most common diet myths exposed.


The protein-pushing keto craze sure makes it seem like carbs should be avoided at all costs. But do grains deserve their bad reputation?

“People often say that carbs are fattening,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. “But complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, are not ‘fattening’ foods.’”

In other words, avoid refined carbohydrates like white bread, rice and processed snacks, but keep those whole grains for a healthy balance.

Getty Images | Sean Gallup

While diet sodas may be a better alternative than their full-sugar counterparts, medical studies are starting to show that the artificial sweeteners may actually cause us to eat more calories later in the day. If you want to keep the fizz and ditch the artificial sweetener, try flavored carbonated water instead.

Getty Images | Scott Olson

Like carbs, the type of fats we eat makes a difference. That, in combination with how many calories we eat each day, determines our body weight. Trans fats, typically found in many fried foods, can cause cardiovascular disease. However, saturated fats do not have the same effect and can, in fact, help keep us satisfied longer, leading to fewer calories consumed.

Getty Images | Lisa Lake

Maybe you’ve only been eating the egg whites to avoid raising your cholesterol. Well, maybe you don’t have to anymore.

“Unless you are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease, eating the eggs AND yolks can actually help you,” says Darin Hulslander, CEO and owner of DNS Performance and Nutrition. “For one, yolks are high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Egg yolks also elevate high-density lipoproteins, which are the ‘good’ proteins that can help remove plaque from the arteries.”


If you count calories, you might think losing weight is as simple as staying under a certain number every day. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. You can eat 200 calories of lean protein or 200 calories of chocolate, but the body processes each differently. Depending on what you eat, your body can store or burn more calories. So, use those calories wisely!

Getty Images | Joe Raedle

Reading headlines such as “red meat could lead to cancer” is frightening. And while some studies indicate there is an association with red meat consumption and cancer, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean it causes cancer. Eating red meat in moderation is not dangerous.

Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

The American Heart Association recommends that people consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium (salt) each day. Excessive sodium can lead to high blood pressure. However, this doesn’t mean we have to eat bland food. Use salt in moderation and, if you have high blood pressure, talk with your doctor on the best guidelines for your individual needs.

Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

Sure, peanut butter is a good source of protein and fat. However, you need to be careful about what kind you put in your pantry. Many national brands of peanut butter are filled with extra sugar, fats and preservatives that counteract any health benefits. Check the label and pick up a jar with as few ingredients as possible to get the healthiest version of this favorite snack.

Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

Calories can’t tell time. The time of day of when you eat only matters if you tend to overindulge at the end of the day and eat too many calories. If you happen to eat a late dinner or snack but stay within your normal calorie range for the day, it should all even out in the long run. However, many people mindlessly eat at night because they are bored or tired, and this is what leads to weight gain.

Getty Images | Robin Marchant

This is the one case where all calories are pretty much alike. Multiple studies show that eating the same amount of calories in either a few larger meals or more frequent smaller ones have the same outcome on the body. In other words, this is a case where 1,000 calories in a day are the same, no matter how often you eat during the day.

Getty Images | Steffi Loos

With labels like “Lean Cuisine” and “Healthy Choice,” it’s easy to think that pre-packaged frozen meals are not only convenient but also a better choice to help us in our diet goals. This isn’t always the case. Many of these pre-packaged meals contain too much sodium, which can lead to water retention and bloat. Also, many offer too few calories, which can lead to hunger later on in the day. Check the labels carefully and make sure you’re making the best choice.


When looking to avoid processed carbohydrates, many people reach for wheat or multigrain bread over white. But be careful! Make sure you’re picking up 100% wheat or whole grain bread. Otherwise, you could be just be getting mostly white bread with a little wheat flour mixed in — or even just food coloring to make it look brown!

Getty Images | Spencer Platt

This nutrition myth has been around forever, but it’s just not true for most people. Medical studies show that among extremely active people such as marathon runners and skiers, taking at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C every day can possibly cut the risk of getting a cold in half. But for most people, taking daily vitamin C did not seem to actually reduce the risk of getting a cold.

Getty Images | Jack Taylor

Wouldn’t it be great if there were such a thing as a negative-calorie food? You know, the kind that burns more calories when we eat it than it has? Sadly, there is no such thing, even when it comes to something as healthy as a piece of celery.

“Regardless of the [calories] in the food, you’re always going to be able to get something out of it,” says Stephen Secor, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama.

Getty Images | Sean Gallup

Organic is simply how ingredients are grown, usually pesticide-, herbicide- and insecticide-free. An organic label does not mean it’s healthier than non-organic foods. Even things like sugar, granola bars and boxed mashed potatoes can be organic. So, don’t rely on an organic label to tell you if something is automatically better for your diet.

Getty Images | Sean Gallup

While cutting out gluten from your diet can help if you have celiac disease, it isn’t really a factor in weight loss.

“Unless you suffer from celiac disease, there’s not much scientific support to back the claim that eating gluten-free is healthier or a smart strategy for weight loss,” says Ashvini Mashru MA, RD, LDN. “Cutting gluten out of your diet most often leads to a reduction in overall calories, simply due to the sheer amount of grain-based foods that we eat on a regular basis.”

Getty Images | Jason Kempin

Fewer calories consumed means weight loss, right? Not so fast!

“In fact, studies have proven it to be the opposite: skipping meals promotes weight gain,” says Cheryl Forberg, RD, nutritionist for “The Biggest Loser.” “When we skip a meal, by the time we eat, we’re so hungry we consume too much, too fast and choose the wrong foods.”


Foods like asparagus and lemons are known as natural diuretics. And while these kinds of foods may not hurt when it comes to holding onto excess water, eating large amounts of them will not help get rid of belly bloat or weight.

Getty Images | Miles Willis

Your daily cup of coffee may give you a good dose of caffeine, which is a stimulant to your body. However, that caffeine jolt does not boost your metabolism enough to be a weight loss cure-all. Also, depending on what you add to your coffee (cream, flavorings, sugar), you could be adding extra calories to your day. So if you love a cup of joe, keep it basic and black, if possible.

Getty Images | Bryan Thomas

This is a short-term fix with many long-term problems. By severely cutting daily calories for extended periods of time, your entire metabolism can change to actually hold onto weight! Also, your body needs adequate nutrition to stay healthy. If you want to lose weight and keep it off forever, you need a modest calorie restriction plan that you simply continue and never stop.


You cannot outrun a bad diet. It’s as simple as that. Exercise is great for our cardiovascular health and for building good muscle tone. And yes, it does help regulate our weight. But the amount of exercise you have to do to counteract a few extra slices of pizza isn’t sustainable or reasonable. So work in a healthy diet plan along with your regular workouts for optimal results.

Getty Images | Hagen Hopkins

In a pinch, these convenience items are helpful in maintaining a healthy diet. But things like shakes and nutrition bars are not meant to be long-term replacements for healthy meals. Check the ingredients for artificial sweeteners if you buy these items. Your best bet: Make these at home and use them occasionally.

Getty Images | John Sciulli

Yes, some people should probably cut back on sugar in order to make their diet healthier. But naturally sweet foods such as fruits are sources of important vitamins and minerals. The sweets to avoid are those with added sugars and syrups.

Getty Images | Scott Olson

Good news! While fresh vegetables are always a healthy option, so are most frozen varieties. Over time, fresh vegetables can lose nutrients, while frozen ones can retain them longer. Make sure you pick up frozen vegetables without added sauces, cheese or sodium to keep them as close to fresh as possible.

Getty Images | Sean Gallup

Can you imagine life without ice cream, cookies or cake? You don’t have to in order to follow a healthy eating plan. In fact, planning to have some of your favorite treats occasionally can ensure you don’t feel deprived and end up splurging later on.

This article originally appeared on TheDelite and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

Getty Images | Monica Schipper


Featured Image Credit: fizkes/Istockphoto.