Mind Over Body: Are Depression & Weight Loss Connected? Can it Cause Weight Gain Too?

Can depression cause weight gain? Is there a link between depression and weight loss? In this article, we discuss how your mental health can affect your physical health.

Most of us know that depression causes mental and emotional distress. However, did you know that it can cause physical symptoms as well? Yes, depression can cause tiredness, disturbances in sleep cycles, weight changes, etc. 

So how are depression and weight loss or weight gain linked? In this article, we talk about how your mental health can affect your body weight and vice versa. We also discuss what you can do to manage your physical and mental health.


What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects your mood and causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in everyday activities. It is more common than you think; one study conducted in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic hit stated that about 43% of Indian adults were experiencing symptoms of depression during lockdown.

Despite their prevalence, depression and other mental health disorders have remained a taboo subject in the country, resulting in little to no awareness among the general public regarding these conditions.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms of depression:

  • Changes in mood and energy levels
  • Feeling of sadness, guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Memory issues
  • Unexplained changes in weight
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Unexplained body aches or pains
  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide

The symptoms of depression can vary from individual to individual. If you are experiencing more than one of the above listed symptoms or think you may have depression, contact a healthcare professional or seek immediate help.

What Does Depression Do to Your Weight?

Depression can not only take a mental and emotional toll, but also a physical one. Unexplained changes in your weight can be one of the most important but often ignored symptoms of depression. Let’s better understand how depression can affect your weight.

Does Depression Cause Weight Gain?

Yes, it can, in some cases. Depression can often cause an imbalance in the chemicals that affect the reward and pleasure centres of your brain. This can cause you to not experience gratification after completing an activity that you like or previously considered pleasurable. This phenomenon is known as anhedonia.

When it comes to food, anhedonia can affect you in two ways:

  • You may not derive as much pleasure from eating your favourite food, so you eat more in order to satisfy your cravings.
  • You may derive satisfaction only from food and nothing else, so you eat more to seek comfort and improve your mood.

Some people may also experience an increase in their appetite, causing them to consume more calories than their body can burn. This erratic and harmful pattern of eating can also lead to eating disorders.

A lack of physical activity and little to no exercise performance is also observed in most people who are diagnosed with depression. This, along with disordered eating, results in accelerated weight gain.

Does Depression Cause Weight Loss?

Yes, it can. Low mood, a lack of energy, unexplained body aches, and a loss of interest in daily activities are some of the most common symptoms of depression. These factors, combined with a loss of appetite, can cause people with depression to skip meals frequently or eat very little. This can result in rapid weight loss which may seem unexplained, nutritional deficiencies, and digestive problems like ulcers.

Weight loss in depression often goes unnoticed or ignored, as the mood changes and other physical symptoms like body aches, fatigue, nausea, etc. become more prominent.

We saw that depression may cause weight gain or weight loss in people. Does it work the other way round as well? Can weight gain or weight loss lead to depression?

Yes, it may. Studies have shown that people who are underweight, overweight or obese, are at an increased risk of developing depression and other mental health disorders like stress and anxiety. Extreme weight gain or weight loss has been associated with increased instances of bullying, body shaming, and negative comments from family, friends or peers. 

These negative social interactions can lead to body image issues, disordered eating or social isolation in people who are under or overweight, which can lead to poor mental health and disorders such as depression.

What Can You Do to Manage Your Physical and Mental Health?

Managing weight gain or weight loss due to depression can be tricky, as it requires treating both the issues simultaneously. The following are a few things you can do to manage depression and your weight better:

Seeking Counsel

Depression is a serious medical condition that can have severe repercussions on your health. If you suspect you may be experiencing depression, seek help from a mental health professional immediately.

If you are having trouble managing your weight, consult a nutritionist and a fitness expert who can help you formulate a sustainable weight management plan that can also improve your mental and emotional well-being.

Mindful Eating

This is the most important measure you can take to manage your weight. Eating healthy can not only help maintain your physical health, but it can also improve your mental health and mood.

Most people with stress, anxiety, depression and eating disorders often consume junk food or unhealthy foods that are doused in added sugar and fats. These foods offer temporary improvement in mood, but can be harmful to your health in the long term. 

Instead, switching to foods that are loaded with antioxidants, minerals and vitamins like fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy drinks like green tea, etc. have been proven to have a positive impact on mood and mental health.

Another important change to make to your diet and eating patterns is to analyse your reasons for eating, i.e., if you are eating because you are hungry or if you are eating because you are stressed or anxious. Practising mindful eating by paying complete attention to your food (not watching TV while eating), preparing your own meals, and choosing healthy ingredients can help you repair your relationship with food, with the added benefit of managing your weight.

Physical Activity

People experiencing stress, anxiety and depression often become physically inactive due to low mood or energy. The other physical symptoms of depression like body pains and digestive issues can also make exercising uncomfortable.

Experts cite regular exercise and physical movement as the best thing you can do to improve your mood. Exercise also has other benefits like helping in weight management, preventing or controlling diabeteshigh blood pressure, heart diseases, etc.

If you are trying to exercise regularly to improve your mental health, start slowly with about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day. These activities include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc. Also, try exercising in open spaces like parks instead of in enclosed rooms, as studies suggest that fresh air and proximity to nature have a positive impact on your mood.

Stress & Anxiety Management

Constant stress and anxiety can lead to an imbalance in your hormone levels, which can affect your appetite, sleep and the normal functioning of your body. Increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to an increase in appetite. 

Long-term stress can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge eating, alcoholism and smoking, which can further damage your mental health and cause fluctuations in your weight.

Thus, stress and anxiety management is a crucial part of improving your mood and maintaining a healthy weight. Relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, gardening, socialising with loved ones or practising your favourite hobbies can help you manage your stress in a healthier way.

A Good Night’s Rest

Most people ignore the role sleep plays in their overall health. Sleep can directly affect your appetite, energy levels, cognition, digestive system, and much more.

A lack of sleep can cause you to eat more the next day, as sleep helps curb the activity of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Sleep can also reduce your anxiety and stress levels and promote positive changes in your mood. As such, a good night’s sleep can go a long way in improving your mood and managing your body weight.

Depression can often cause people to either sleep too much or very little. Try practising good sleep hygiene and maintaining strict timings in order to develop a structured sleep routine. Contact your doctor if you have been experiencing trouble sleeping for over a month.

The main focus of weight management should always be improvement of overall physical and mental health. Dieting and exercising that is solely focused on weight loss or weight gain can be damaging in the long run. Being accepting of your body and developing a positive self image can be a significant factor in improving your mental health.

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Depression is a serious mental health disorder that can negatively affect your physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Depression can affect your appetite and the way you perceive food, leading to either weight gain or weight loss.
  • Emotional or stress eating in depression, along with a lack of exercise can lead to weight gain.
  • Reduced appetite, low energy and lack of motivation to eat can result in skipping meals and reduced food intake, which may lead to weight loss.
  • People who are underweight, overweight or obese are more likely to experience depression due to bullying and body shaming that they could experience.
  • Seeking professional counselling for depression, practising mindful eating, being more physically active, managing stress, and having a regular sleep schedule can help you improve your mental and physical health.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading nutritionists and dieticians to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Check out our store to order healthy treats, weighing scales, fitness bands, and more! We also have a Weight Management Program which provides 360º care. Start your weight management journey with Phable.

Friendly Asked Questions

Can depression cause weight loss and fatigue?

Yes, mental health conditions like depression, stress, and anxiety can cause weight loss as they can affect your appetite and sleep cycles, leading to reduced food intake. This can lead to a lack of energy or fatigue. Depression and stress can also cause mental and emotional fatigue.

Does depression cause weight gain?

Yes, depression can lead to weight gain. This is because, in some people, depression can lead to binge eating, as food releases “feel good” chemicals that temporarily improve mood. Depression may also negatively affect the desire for physical activity and thus promote weight gain. 

Does anxiety cause weight loss?

Yes, anxiety can cause physical symptoms like nausea, diarrhoea, stomach pain and discomfort, all of which can lead to a loss of appetite. Anxiety can also cause low mood, lack of energy, and a loss of interest in daily activities, which can contribute to skipping meals. Thus, anxiety can lead to weight loss.

Is weight loss a symptom of depression?

Yes, unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of depression. Depression can lead to a loss of appetite, a feeling of low energy and a lack of interest in activities like cooking, which may result in reduced food intake and thus weight loss.

Can you lose a lot of weight with depression?

Possibly yes. A common symptom of depression is a loss of appetite. This can lead to unintentional weight loss. If left unaddressed, depression may lead to severe weight loss and malnutrition.

How are depression and weight loss related?

Depression can lead to decreased appetite, a lack of energy and low mood, which can contribute to skipping meals, leading to weight loss. On the other hand, weight loss may also lead to depression. Some studies have found that people who lose more than 5% of their body weight or undergo rapid weight loss are more likely to experience depression.