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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Dealing with Depression

Antidepressants & Weight Gain

How to Get Help without Gaining Weight

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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For many people, depression and weight problems go hand in hand. Depression itself is highly associated with changes in weight. In fact, significant weight loss or gain is one of the symptoms used to diagnose depression. And research has shown that up to 25% of the people who take antidepressant medications may also experience weight gain. Needless to say, finding yourself in that group can be very frustrating.

While we know there is a connection between depression, antidepressant medications and weight gain, it's impossible to predict how a particular medication will affect your weight, or what other side effects it might have for you. And even if you do start gaining weight after starting on antidepressants, it will be hard to know for certain if the medication is causing the problem, or if changing it will solve the problem.

This means that, if you do find yourself gaining weight when taking antidepressant meds, you and your doctor may need to do some real detective work to figure out what's going on and what to do about it. It can be hard enough finding a medication that works well on your depression with minimal side effects, so giving up an effective medication for the chance that a different one might cause less weight gain can be a dangerous proposition.

Here's some general information that can help you do this necessary detective work, so that you and your doctor can make the right decision for you.

Why do antidepressant medications lead to weight gain?
The answer is multifaceted. Sometimes the weight gain may simply be due to the fact that the medication is actually working. For many people, depression causes loss of normal appetite, reduced interest in food, or an inability to experience the pleasure you normally get from eating. If that was the case for you, it could be that you're simply eating more food now because the medication is helping you get back to "normal" eating habits. Or maybe you're feeling a little better than normal, and eating more for the pleasure of it, without even realizing that's what you're doing. Changing your medication probably won't make much difference here. In this case, you'll just need to work on balancing your eating and exercise to get your weight where you want it to be.

But medications can have other effects as well. In some people, they can increase appetite above and beyond what's "normal," or even increase cravings for certain foods, especially carbohydrates. Sometimes people gain weight even though their actual eating habits haven't changed, so it's also possible that antidepressant medications can alter your basic metabolism.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

    I agree with the commenter who did NOT agree with those who recommend getting/staying off antidepressants. For many of us, it is an actual life saving med. I learned to go back on them when I would notice my overall mood slipping, and that prevented those really bad spells. Afetr cancer treatment, however, and some huge personal losses, I slipped into a horrible depression that went on for two years. Prozac had always worked for me in the past, but did little to help this time. My doctor suggested I try Zoloft, and I agreed, but never expected it to work. I had (and occasionally still have) bad stomach gas and pain the first two weeks - I mean BAD. Anyway, I was desparate, so I stayed on it. !5 days into it, that depression lifted. I have tried Wellbutrin in the past, and that does not work for me, but I have a sister who swears by it. Now I'm on SparkPeople to lose the weight I gained during those horrible two years, but am so happy that that is my biggest challenge now. Good luck to all of you who are struggling - never give up and the answer is probably as individual as you are! - 1/12/2014 3:30:13 PM
  • my dr put me on Paxil in 2010... and i not only ballooned in my thoracic and abdominal area I haven't been able to take any of it off... I hover around 5 lbs more of less of the weight I've been for the past 13 years even with exercise and appropriate portions... ill never use antidepressants again instead I will concur my depression no matter what and exercise my heart out! - 1/7/2014 8:31:42 PM
  • Thanks for sharing. - 12/20/2013 5:57:39 AM
    I've suffered with depression for the past two and half years or so, and a few months ago I was put on mirtazapine. Terrible, terrible medication. At first my appetite lessened, but after about a week my appetite skyrocketed and I craved nothing but sugary foods and nothing was ever sweet enough. This went on for a few months and I gained 30lbs+. A few weeks ago I stopped taking it (with doctor's blessing, of course) and my appetite became manageable again.

    I am now on fluoxetine (Prozac), which doesn't seem to have any affect on appetite, thank God.

    I don't agree with what others are saying that "you should simply stop taking antidepressants immediately! They're bad for you!" there are so many antidepressants out there and they all affect everyone differently. Rather than coming off medication altogether, my main recommendation would be to talk with your doctor and try a few medications until you find one that works for you. Unfortunately for me, fluoxetine doesn't seem to do much to alleviate the depression, but at least I no longer have to deal with the side effects of mirtazapine (lethargy due to hangover from the drug's soporific effect, and an insatiable sweet tooth).

    TL;DR work with your doctor to find a medication that works for you. You might have to try a few, but you'll get there eventually. - 12/18/2013 5:38:58 AM
    The initial link to the article mentioned "choosing between curing your depression and battling the bulge". Poor choice of words. Long-term Depression isn't something you can "cure", it's something that can be possible to manage. As a person who has been struggling with depression for 22 years, I would love to have the option to "cure" this. - 12/9/2013 7:15:52 AM
  • I think its irresponsible to say that one always gains weight because of being on antidepressants, I have been on a few over the years with varying effects to my waist line (Elavil was disastrous) - 12/8/2013 8:40:18 PM
  • For the people screaming: It's probably your thyroid making you depressed!!!!111! Not for everyone. I've had my thyroid, adrenals, and everything else under the sun checked yearly since I was little, chronically depressed since age 8. I am now 34 and struggle with intense anxiety/misophoni
    a/and feeling upset almost all of the time. I had a complete blood panel done a couple of months ago - everything normal. I am on Paxtine now and if anything...I am losing weight because it's making me not want to eat anything. I've been off and on anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and anxiety meds since I was 19...I never gained weight because of them. I gained weight because I went out for pizza or whatever, every few days; snacked obsessively at home...etc... All medications do different things for different people. You are not going to necessarily start gaining massive amounts of weight just by taking an anti-depressant. Yes, some people might, but not everyone will. Personally I would rather be obese than feel like I want to die to escape how I feel because of the anxiety/depressio
    n. - 12/8/2013 6:08:59 PM
  • I'm a pharmacist who has also struggled with weight issues and depression, this is such a great, well written article. Very pleased as always with the quality of research going into the articles on this site! - 12/8/2013 5:55:47 PM
    I am on the anti-depressant Paxil, and it has caused me to gain weight. My eating is not any different than before. In fact, I eat less now and have still gained weight! BUT the medication works so well for me, I am not willing to give it up. I was severely depressed, not even able to get out of bed in the morning. Now things are much better. I guess I will just have to put up with a few extra pounds. - 12/8/2013 4:37:21 PM
  • GET OFF THOSE ANTI DEPRESSANTS. THEY ARE DEADLY. READ DR. HOTZE BOOK ABOUT HYPOTHYROIDISM. Low thyroid can cause depression and many ailements are relieved by getting thyroid under control. You can get this $25 hard back free by going to http://www.hypoth
    com/freebook !!! You just pay shipping. This book will blow your mind away how drug companies use us to make money. Read what illegal drug they copied to use for those anti depressants. My weight went down, my cholesterol went down, carpal tunnel went away, fibromyalgia relieved, migraines gone all with getting thyroid back to MY NORMAL..not their crazy lab values! They might say you are in the normal range but that doesn't mean it is being used in your cells to help you. I have so much energy at 62 I can to two hard SPIN classes back to back and do 50 mile bike rides in the country. Also care for an almost 3 year old grand baby since 4months. This new book also comes in the audio cd version I listen to in the car. - 12/8/2013 3:24:58 PM
  • I have had a lot of experience in this area. You have to make sure you as your doctor for an antidepressant that is "weight-neutral." I have been on many different ones, and have found the one that works for me and does not make me gain weight. I have been on it for about 3 years now and it does not have any negative side effects that I can see. The worst one is Seraquil. Stay away from that. EVERYONE who takes that gains weight. I gained 25 pounds in 3 months it was a living nightmare. I was obsessed with eating and when the next time I would be able to eat again was. I have never been this way in my entire life. When I googled "seraquil" and "Weight Gain" the response was absolutely overwhelming. I am not talking about gaining 5 or 10 pounds either. - 12/8/2013 1:46:11 PM
  • By the grace of the good Lord i didn't get it. It run heavy in my family on both side. - 12/8/2013 11:58:20 AM
  • I gained 60 lbs in 6 months on antidepressants--
    and I exercised DAILY & ate strict vegetarian! Antidepressants are terrible--they made me depressed! Once I was off the meds entirely, I started to lose weight & enjoy life again.

    Life is supposed to have highs & lows--you're not supposed to live numb, unable to be happy or sad. You should feel sad, and angry, and excited, and passionate. Exercise daily--it's an all-natural antidepressant that makes you feel great physically & mentally! And without the awful side effects of medication! - 12/8/2013 11:55:09 AM
  • Depression seems to be a genetic thing in our family through many generations. My doctor listened to my concerns that my prior meds and dosage caused me not only to gain weight, but to be extremely tired, and put me on a very low (5mg) dosage of Lexipro. It did the trick. No side effects with so little in my system, but enough of it to overcome my genetic imbalances. I am a very happy camper! - 12/8/2013 11:07:37 AM
  • i did gain a couple of pounds when i started prozac BUT with a proper diet and excersie ive not only lost those but 2 more! - 12/4/2013 7:35:42 PM