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Does depression make you lose weight?

Does depression make you lose weight?

Reviewed by:
Caitlin Gardiner, MD
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June 22, 2024
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Key takeaways

In this article

Depression is much more than just feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. The symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) run deep and can impact all aspects of your life, including your physical health and wellness. One way depression can impact you physically is through changes in appetite and weight.

Read on to learn more about the link between depression and weight changes.  

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What’s the link between depression and weight loss?

Depression results in a wide variety of symptoms that present both mentally and physically.  

Here are a few reasons why depression could make you lose weight:

  • Decreased appetite and loss of interest in food: One common symptom of depression is anhedonia or a loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable. In many people, this manifests as loss of appetite and, in turn, weight loss.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: Depression can cause GI symptoms, thanks to the gut-brain axis. If you’re often experiencing upset stomach symptoms like nausea or abdominal pain, it can make it hard to eat.  
  • Changes in hormonal regulation: Since depression affects hormones, it may also impact the specific hormones, including cortisol, involved in reacting to food cues and hunger.
  • Increased inflammatory responses: Depression is often linked to increased inflammatory responses throughout your body, which can interfere with body functions, including appetite regulation, leading to loss of appetite and, in turn, weight loss.  
  • Medication side effects: If you take an antidepressant, it’s possible that the medication is causing you to lose your appetite. Plus, some antidepressants, such as Wellbutrin, are more likely to make you lose weight than gain weight.  
  • Co-occurring eating disorders: People with depression are more likely to have an eating disorder. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia can result in extreme loss in body weight.  

Can you gain weight when you’re depressed?

On the flip side, it’s possible to gain weight when you’re depressed. Here are a few reasons for depression-associated weight gain.

  • Increased appetite: While some people with depression lose their appetite, others have an increased appetite. Atypical depression is particularly linked to increased appetite and weight gain. Seasonal depression in the winter is also notorious for this, causing cravings for carbs and overeating.  
  • Decreased activity levels: Many people with depression experience fatigue and lack of motivation, which can make it hard to get out of bed, let alone work out or engage in any physical activity. If someone has been depressed for a while and lives a fairly sedentary lifestyle, weight gain is possible.
  • Medication side effects: Antidepressants can cause weight gain. Certain antidepressants, such as Paxil (paroxetine) and Remeron (mirtazapine,) are more likely to cause weight gain as a side effect compared to others. Taking an antidepressant doesn’t guarantee you’ll gain weight, but it is a possibility.  

What are other physical symptoms of depression?

It’s common for depression to result in various physical symptoms on top of mental ones.  

On top of changes to appetite and weight, some examples of symptoms that are a result of depression manifesting physically include:  

  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems and stomach pain
  • Low energy levels
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping excessively  

Additionally, if you have atypical depression, you might experience “leaden paralysis,” which is a feeling of heaviness in your arms and/or legs.

Depression feels different for everyone, but these are common physical complaints of people with depression.  

While depression can definitely cause physical symptoms like these, it’s always important to check with your doctor when you experience a new physical symptom to rule out any other cause.  

What are other reasons you might be losing weight?

It’s important to consider that your weight loss could be due to another physical health factor.

A few other conditions that could lead to unintentional weight loss include:

  • Hyperthyroidism: When you have an overactive thyroid, your thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. Your body’s metabolism gets faster, and you experience weight loss.
  • Digestive conditions: If you have a chronic digestive problem, your body might have trouble absorbing nutrients and calories, leading to weight loss. Some examples include celiac disease, parasitic infections, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Chronic illness: Certain chronic illnesses and conditions result in unintentional weight loss. Some examples are diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Aging: Many older adults struggle with unintentional weight loss due to a variety of factors, including medication side effects, trouble cooking for themselves or feeding themselves, lack of teeth or poorly fitting dentures, and more.

If you’re losing weight and are unsure of the cause, talk to your doctor. Make sure to report any other physical and mental symptoms you’re experiencing so they can best assess you and complete necessary testing to rule out any physical health issues.  

When to get help for depression

If you’re feeling persistently sad, hopeless, empty, worthless, fatigued, and don’t find enjoyment in things you used to enjoy for more than two weeks, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for help. Untreated depression can seriously interfere with your day-to-day functioning and quality of life. The sooner you can get help, the better.  

There are many treatment options for depression. Psychotherapy, AKA talk therapy, can be extremely beneficial to help you identify negative, unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs that might contribute to your depression. You’ll also learn coping skills and emotional regulation techniques to cope with difficult feelings.  

Psychiatric medications are also an option for treating depression. Some depression medication options are:

  • SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors)
  • TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants)
  • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors)
  • Atypical antidepressants, like Wellbutrin and Viibryd, which don’t fit neatly into the categories above

For many people, a combination of therapy and an antidepressant is the most effective for relieving depression symptoms. Lifestyle changes can also make a huge difference in your overall well-being, such as getting enough exercise, getting enough sleep, and practicing self-care.  

Additionally, if you’re struggling with changes to appetite and issues with weight management alongside your depression, you might consider working with a dietitian or nutritionist to help you build healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy weight. A psychiatrist can help determine the best treatment plan for you to help you feel better mentally and physically.

Looking for a psychiatrist to treat your depression? Consider Talkiatry.  

We’re a national psychiatry practice that treats a variety of mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder. We provide virtual, in-network services so you can get the care you need from home. To get started, complete our free online assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist.

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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Frequently asked questions

Does Talkiatry take my insurance?

We're in network with major insurers, including:

  • Aetna
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Even if your insurer isn't on the list, we might still accept it. Use the insurance eligibility checker in our online assessment to learn more.

Can I get an estimate of my visit cost?

The best way to get a detailed estimate of your cost is to contact your insurance company directly, since your cost will depend on the details of your insurance.  

For some, it’s just a co-pay. If you have an unmet deductible it could be more.  

Call the number on your insurance card and ask about your plan’s coverage for outpatient psychiatric services.

How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

Caitlin Gardiner, MD

Dr. Caitlin Gardiner is a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Dr. Caitlin Gardiner's practice is based on the biopsychosocial model and believes that the foundation of healing is in psychotherapy and human connection. She is known for incorporating therapy into her medication management practice. Typically she offers 30-minute follow-up visits for medication management with focused therapy based on individual needs.

As a known helper, Dr. Gardiner started her career with a bachelors degree in social work from Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, NY. After changing career paths she received her medical degree from SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY. She stayed at Upstate to complete her general psychiatry residency where she was chief resident during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this, she completed her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Upstate due to the high quality of training. Dr. Gardiner has completed 3 years of advanced training in Dynamic Deconstructive Psychotherapy as well as specialized training in DBT.

Dr. Gardiner is a well -rounded psychiatrist who enjoys treating youth and young adults during transitional phases of life while providing a safe and supportive environment. She believes strongly in reducing polypharmacy and providing high-quality medication management through a therapeutic and developmental lens.

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