Depression feeds weight problems

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 11:27 AM

Lavinia Rodriguez

Being depressed can make any task more difficult. Dealing with weight issues while suffering from depression can be especially hard.

Some people lose weight when they are depressed, often because they lose interest in food.

But many people gain weight when they are depressed.

Then the excess pounds can add to the depression.

Here are some reasons why:

-- Eating urges. Depressed people often report urges to eat compulsively, particularly sugary, starchy foods. Seeking comfort and distraction from painful feelings are common explanations for this.

-- Medication side effects. Some antidepressants have been associated with weight gain.

-- Sedentary behavior. Depressed people tend to be sedentary due to low energy and lack of interest in activities.

-- Low nutrition. A depressed person may eat poorly because of problems with appetite or feelings of hopelessness and poor self-esteem. For some, poor nutrition means weight loss. For others, it means binging on low-quality foods that add sugar, fat and calories, but not much else.

-- Poor self-image. Depressed people tend to view themselves critically. If a person doesn't feel good about himself, he is not likely to take good care of himself.

-- Other psychological problems. A depressed person may not realize she is using her weight as a shield against emotional issues she is afraid to face. Extra weight may be difficult, but not as painful to a depressed person as facing buried problems.

Losing weight and keeping it off requires a positive attitude and sensible approach. That's a tall order for somebody coping with depression, who will need extra help and compassion to shed the weight. Some tips:

-- Get professional help for depression. Putting the priority on treating the depression will bring more success with managing weight in the long run.

-- Set smaller goals. Adjusting goals by making them smaller will make them more achievable. It's important to be happy with achieving smaller goals when going through a tough time.

-- Increase activity. Exercise helps to alleviate depression as well as minimize weight gain. But that knowledge may not be enough to get a depressed person moving. Using a positive and kind approach eliminates the pressure that criticism and high expectations create. It's better to take things slowly rather than quit out of frustration.

-- Eat more nutritiously. The body can be a friend during tough times if it's treated right. By focusing on high-quality, nutritious foods, the body will get what it needs to help fight both depression and overeating.

-- Set realistic expectations. If trying to lose weight feels overwhelming, just focus on not gaining. Being stressed about losing weight can actually create weight gain. Just maintaining while you're depressed is an impressive achievement.

-- Work on self-acceptance. If a person believes he is inadequate, it would be inconsistent for him to do things that show self-care, self-acceptance and self-love. Binging may be destructive, but it's also logical for a person who dislikes himself. That's why working on self-esteem can help with weight management. Remember that we are all fallible. It's human to make mistakes and go through tough times. We're all in this together.

Depression should always be taken seriously and obtaining professional help for the depression is the best first step.

Weight then becomes a secondary issue to be dealt with in a way that won't produce undue stress.

Fortunately, many lifestyle changes that help with weight also help with depression, particularly eating nutritiously and exercising. The key is seeing these steps as a means to helping yourself, rather than focusing solely on weight.

(Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa, Fla., clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. She can be reached through her website,

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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