High weight often equals low mood

Let’s face it: We live in a world where we are judged by our appearance. Women, especially, are constantly bombarded with unrealistic standards of “beauty” in the media, from magazine covers to TV ads and carefully curated Instagram images.

So, it’s not surprising that people who are obese suffer from a lower sense of self-worth determined by their weight status. A growing body of evidence is showing the toll that obesity can take on mental health. 

A new study in Human Molecular Genetics, using data from  a mental health questionnaire of 145,000 people, found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) increases the likelihood of depression. In fact, obesity and depression have a two-way connection—having obesity appears to cause depression and vice versa. There’s also the fact that many antidepressants list weight gain as a side effect.

This points to the threat of increasing rates of depression in people around the world. Obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the World Health Population. More than 40% of adults with depression are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and depressed children often have a higher BMI than children who aren’t depressed. 

There isn’t just one cause for either depression or obesity. Both can be influenced by social and environmental determinants, such as childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, chronic stress and poverty. And both conditions are risk factors for other health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain and sleep problems.

In terms of prevention strategies, here are 3 strategies to reduce your risk for both depression and obesity:

  1. Keep active

Regular exercise helps release mood enhancing endorphins and  keeps weight in check. However, most depressed people aren’t motivated to exercise. Taking small steps of even just 10 minutes a day can help kickstart a regular exercise routine. 

  1. Seek therapy

Talking to a professional can help address issues such as emotional eating, binge eating and food addictions. For those who are depressed, understanding the causes of their low mood and the available treatments can be helpful. It’s important to process the emotional issues that both obesity and depression can cause.

  1. Have a plan

 If you’ve been diagnosed with either obesity or depression, or both, your health care provider will have provided you with a treatment plan that might include medication, dietary changes, referral to a therapist or other suggestions to manage your condition(s). Doing your best to stick to this plan — and informing your health care provider when you run into difficulties — is your best chance to minimize side effects and complications and put yourself on a path to better health.