Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, loss of pleasure or interest in activities, and even thoughts of death or suicide. Some estimates indicate that depression and other mood disorders are more common among people who are obese--affecting about 25 percent of this group. A new study suggests that a weight loss program could improve their mood.

"This research is novel because clinically depressed individuals are not usually included in weight loss trials due to concerns that weight loss could worsen their depression," said Dr. Lucy Faulconbridge, lead author of the study. "These concerns, however, are not based on empirical evidence, and the practice of excluding depressed individuals from clinical weight loss trials means that we are learning nothing about this high-risk population."

Fifty-one people with and without depression were involved in the six-month weight loss study. People with depression lost eight percent of their initial body weight, and after six months, their depressive symptoms significantly improved. Added benefits included significant improvements in bad cholesterol, glucose, insulin and triglycerides.

"Depression and obesity are independently associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and so reductions in both body weight and symptoms of depression are likely to improve long-term health outcomes," said Faulconbridge.

How to Achieve Weight Loss When You Have Depression

The symptoms of depression--such as lack of interest in activities, fatigue and sleeplessness--may prevent you from exercising or eating a healthy diet; the conundrum is that both of them can improve your symptoms. So how do you get started?

Psychological Counseling

When an illness such as depression is responsible for weight gain, you've got to target it directly. Psychological counseling is a good starting point, especially because depression is a serious illness in which the brain plays a significant role. You shouldn't try to tackle it on your own.

Similarly, weight loss isn't just a physical issue; it's emotional and mental as well. The average person has a difficult time with losing weight, and many turn to diet coaches, weight loss and fitness counselors. If you have a mood disorder, you could do with the additional support too.

To find a mental health professional, get a referral from your family doctor, or visit the American Mental Health Counselors Association website and click on the link "Find a Counselor."

An Effective Medication Program

Besides counseling, medications are effective treatments for depression. They help to control your symptoms, which may make you less likely to fill up on unhealthy foods or to avoid exercising or playing sports - choices that can prevent weight loss.

The National Institute of Mental Health recommends taking your medication for the length of time prescribed by your doctor. You shouldn't stop taking it because you feel better, or you could suffer a relapse. Also, stopping your medications suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms.

A Holistic Program

A holistic approach to treating depression may be more effective than just counseling and medications alone. It takes into account that the mind, body and spirit are all connected. Several studies show that exercises such as running, weight lifting, yoga and tai chi can benefit people with depression--and the benefits can be maintained over a long period of time.

Consider choosing a counselor who takes a holistic approach to treating depression and incorporates physical activity and exercise. It won't just improve your mood and outlook; it will also promote weight loss.


Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviors press release, "Weight loss improves mood in depressed people."

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, American Mental Health Counselors Association