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Obesity and depression: What is the link?

Written by Debjani Arora |Published : April 24, 2018 2:55 PM IST

Overweight and obese people aren t the gloomy and sad every time of the day, as people love to believe. But they are also juggling with their emotions to balance their every changing mood, just like most of us. Even as I make this statement I cannot rule myself out of the overweight category and I have a firsthand experience of how mood swings at times get the better of me. However, a chat with Dr Manish Motwani, Obesity surgeon at Aastha Healthcare Hospital Mulund made me realise that a dip in your mood levels and your weight might have a connection. In fact, people who are clinically obese are more at risk of depression.

Obesity and depression are two major public health problems faced by people in large numbers in India. Both obesity and depression are prevalent and associated with numerous health complications like hypertension, coronary heart disease, and increased mortality. Here is why you should stop romanticising depression and look for a solution for your problem.

Studies have shown that obese people are about 25% more likely to experience a mood disorder like depression compared with those who are not obese. Obesity can cause low self-esteem and social isolation, poor self-image. Also those who are obese can find themselves stereotyped an ostracized. The extra weight carried around with obese people can result in chronic joint pain as well as serious diseases like diabetes and hypertension. All these are linked with depression. Here are eight modern-day signs of depression that you should know.

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What is the link between obesity and depression?

Obesity and depression go hand-in-hand and is more prevalent in adolescence. In fact, adolescence is a time when a lot of people experience a change in their dietary patterns and lifestyle. Studies suggest that during adolescence there is an increased vulnerability towards developing both obesity and depression. In fact, there are many studies that indicate that obesity and depression can be a trigger for each other. Adolescents, who are depressed, may change their appetite and dietary patterns resulting in weight gain or loss and are more inclined to favour carbohydrate-rich foods which provide pleasure or comfort, increase sedentary activity make them vulnerable to disordered sleeping, binge eating et al. These factors may lead to an increased risk of obesity. On the other hand, adolescents who are obese may experience stigmatization, suffer from poor body image and low self-esteem increasing their vulnerability to depression [1]. Here are eight signs of teenage depression that you should know.

A 2010, study proposed that since obesity and depression are interlinked, it is important to acquire insights to both the conditions, (even if a person shows the tendency to have either of them) for better treatment and prevention purposes. The study concluded that obesity increased the risk of depression and depression, in turn, was predictive to developing obesity [2]. Here is why sugar is your biggest enemy.

Can weight loss help in dealing with the dual trouble?

According to Dr Motwani, people who underwent bariatric surgery for their obesity found that as they shed some pounds they also got a control over their mood swings and there were reduced episodes of depression. A year after the surgery patient might experience 77 percent loss of excess body weight and an accompanying 18 percent reduction in symptoms of depression. Younger people, especially women who experience better results in the context of weight loss were more likely to feel less depressed. Here are things you need to know about bariatric surgery.

What triggers obesity and depression together?

Some factors apparently can trigger both obesity and depression inactivity, binge eating, genetic predisposition can be few known triggers. In fact, if you are overweight and suffer from mood swings or experience depressive episodes, be watchful of what you eat. Foods can also serve to be a trigger for escalating both the conditions. So, always be mindful of what you eat. Here are foods to avoid when you are depressed.

What you can do?

If you are obese talk to an expert to know how you can rein control over your diet. If you are unable to control your weight through all the possible means dieting, exercising, correcting sleeping habits your doctor might suggest you go under the knife. However, if you feel depressed and gloomy all the time it also helps if you visit a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to treat your condition as one of the symptoms of depression is also unexplained weight gain.

Apart from this, here are few tips by Dr Motwani to help you deal with the bi-lateral conditions:

Take it slow: People with depression often feel overwhelmed in life, so having small incremental weight management goals is important. For instance, if you drink sugary drinks for a day, try eliminating them on your goal for a week. Then move on to cutting out fried food for coming weeks. And plan one thing at a time to get your weight under control.

Get moving: Most people suffering from depression and weight gain have reduced their amount of physical activity. It may not be obvious, but if you sit for four hours watching TV when you are feeling depressed is worst and your metabolic rate also drop. Every bit of physical activity helps start an exercise regimen to boost you out of a rut.

Take small steps towards exercise: The low energy associated with depression can be debilitating. So start by stretching for a few minutes in the morning and make that your goal for four or five days. Then add walk around the block. Over the time you will feel more in control and have a positive outlook and become more motivated to exercise.


[1] Mannan, M., Mamun, A., Doi, S., & Clavarino, A. (2016). Prospective Associations between Depression and Obesity for Adolescent Males and Females- A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies. PLoS ONE, 11(6), e0157240.

[2] 1: Luppino FS, de Wit LM, Bouvy PF, Stijnen T, Cuijpers P, Penninx BW, Zitman FG.Overweight, obesity, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;67(3):220-9. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.2. Review. PubMed PMID: 20194822.

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