Published on December 1, 2021
(c) SergeyNivens Fotosearch_k31471401
Many people who are overweight or obese suffer with depression. Of those, for many who suffer from even mild depression, the extra burden of being overweight during the year-end holiday season only makes things worse.
In my experiences with clients, the larger one gets the smaller their world becomes. The feelings of isolation and loneliness, then, are more profound during the season of “cheer.” It’s hard to be cheerful when you have fewer or no friends, less social invitations, and when your physical size or ailments or medical issues prevents you from traveling to see family or friends or joining in the activities of winter.
Even if you are looking forward to seasonal get-togethers, it’s hard to be cheerful when you are anxious and worried about how much more weight you’re going to gain from all the unhealthy meals and treats and alcohol that will be offered at all the holiday celebrations and on display in the work place and elsewhere.
I’ve been asked numerous times for my opinion: “What comes first—depression or obesity?”
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In my experience with clients, the answer is ‘both.’
Obese people are more likely to become depressed. Severely overweight people may be more likely to become depressed because they are dissatisfied with their appearance, as well as may experience stigma and discrimination, causing obesity to be accompanied by low self-esteem, low self-worth and guilt. This creates a chronic stressful state, causing significant physical dysfunction, which predisposes individuals to depressed mood.
The physical toll obesity takes on the body is discouraging, and it is difficult to deal emotionally with chronic diseases that are caused and exacerbated by being overweight. Therefore, obese people are more likely to become depressed as they experience poor health.
People suffering with depression are more likely to become obese. One of the symptoms and consequences of depression is that too often those who suffer with it have difficulty taking good care of themselves.
Regardless of which comes first, depression or obesity, the commonalities are: Negative thinking takes hold; then poor sleep leads to fatigue and lack of desire to prepare regular meals. That brings on a craving for “comfort foods” that are very high in fats and sugars to improve moods (to, in a way, ‘self-medicate’), but only briefly and then the cycle is repeated; which is followed by overeating and weight gain.
From my experience working with overweight clients who suffer from depression, I know first hand that reducing weight also reduces levels of anxiety and stress. Eating correctly improves body chemistry, which helps to lift one’s mood and make a person feel better. Those who have always used food as a comfort can be taught how to choose better comfort foods, which won’t leave them feeling deprived or guilty. I have seen clients who suffer from depression lose significant amounts of weight, many for the first time in their lives … and have anti-depressant meds lowered because of it.
If you are severely overweight and suffer with depression and are taking prescribed medications to control it, remember: Your meds do what they can control; you need to do what you can control:
If you’re overweight or obese and suffer from depression, try to make a commitment to treat your body well this holiday season. Give yourself credit for small victories (a sliver of pie at Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of second helpings, for example), and that will lead to positive thoughts. Positive thoughts will lead to the new year where you can make goals for other small victories, one at a time, leading to more and more positive experiences . . . including experiencing all the “cheer” of next year’s holiday season.
(1) Depression and Obesity in the U.S. Adult Household Population