Is Your Mental Health Causing You to Gain Weight (part 1) - Depression Linked to Obesity, Stress and Weight Gain

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.5 percent of U.S. adults had experienced a mental illness in the past year, as of 2013. Unfortunately, mental illness can have a negative impact on your physical health, and it can even cause you to struggle with your weight. 


Depression Linked to Obesity


Depression, a mental disorder characterized by feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and sometimes thoughts of suicide, has been linked to obesity.  Individuals who suffer from depression may experience appetite changes, alterations in their sleeping habits, and a loss of interest in activities they once found to be enjoyable. Weight changes may also be a symptom of depression.  In a review of 16 different studies, researchers for a 2008 edition of the Journal of Health Psychology found that people with depression were significantly more likely than individuals without depression were to become obese. 


In a study of adult patients with depression, researchers for a 2014 publication of Nutrition Journal found that 72 percent of participants were overweight or obese, and those who had been depressed for longer had higher weights and body fat percentages.  The link between depression and weight gain seems to be stronger among women.  In a long-term study of both men and women, researchers for a 2012 edition of Psychological Medicine found that women who experienced depression had more weight gain during the course of their adult lives than did men.


Stress and Weight Gain


If the stress in your life has become unmanageable, you may find that the number on the scale is getting bigger. A 2014 study in the journal Obesity found that people who experienced three or more life stressors gained more weight during a five-year period than people who experienced no stressful life events. People with multiple stressors were at a higher risk of gaining weight during the course of the study.  The relationship between stress and weight gain might be explained by changes in the brain's response to food. Researchers for a 2013 study in Physiology & Behavior found that women with high levels of chronic stress showed increased responses to high-calorie foods in areas of the brain associated with reward and motivation. When women with high levels of chronic stress were presented with a snack buffet, they also consumed more high-calorie foods


Post-traumatic stress disorder, a more serious stressor-related mental illness, involves hypervigilance, nightmares, and unpleasant flashbacks following a traumatic event.  This disorder has also been linked to changes in eating habits. Researchers for a 2013 edition of the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder were more likely to engage in emotional eating than were individuals without the disorder. Those with more severe symptoms were also more likely to experience emotional eating.  Study authors concluded that this could lead to weight gain over time.


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