Health & Wellness Articles

Antidepressants & Weight Gain

How to Get Help without Gaining Weight

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 feel so sorry for the person who can think of nothing more depressing than weight gain. How about war, genocide, famine? To think that weight gain is that important, that's pathetic. While I am trying to lose weight and become healthier, it is NOT the end all, be all of my existence. How sad that it is for someone else? - 9/9/2014 2:09:36 PM
  • Oh, puh-leeze! The person who commented that losing weight is the greatest anti-depressant doesn't have a clue. I'm a behavioral health nurse, have been for 23 years, and I have depression. Anyone who knows about depression will agree that feeling a little heavy is a heck of a lot better than feeling like throwing yourself in front of a big truck. And for some folks, the depression can be so severe that the last thing you want to do is get out of bed, let alone go exercise. Medication can help you get to the point where you can begin to help yourself. Remember, depression isn't a choice or an attitude, it is a medical illness, like diabetes is a medical illness. - 7/24/2014 4:57:29 PM
  • Sweetie, walk a mile in my shoes, than post a comment about depression. - 7/22/2014 12:53:45 PM
  • I can think of NOTHING MORE DEPRESSING than taking something that actually CAUSES weight gain. So how can these things possibly work? Losing weight, all by itself, is the best depression-fighte
    r on the planet. So these meds seem like a cruel trick on the people who want HELP. - 7/22/2014 11:20:40 AM
  • i take wellbutrin, i cant tell it has effected my weight positively or negatively.
    doctors should first prescribe diet and exercise, and introduce antidep after the patient has started a healthy program.
    physical therapy as well as depression really can lead to physical pain and vice versa. - 7/22/2014 10:02:48 AM
  • JWHW606
    I gained 50 lbs when I started my medication and it doesn't want to come back off. However, mental health care is extremely important and should only be handled by a professional. Going on and off medications should only be done under the supervision and direction of a doctor. No one should encourage people to quit their medicine because of weight gain. It's hard enough to step out against the stigma that goes with being on anti-depressants/
    anxiety meds without ignorant bystanders suggesting people stop their much needed meds for vain reasons. Sure obesity is harmful to your health, but often so is depression etc... - 7/18/2014 5:22:36 PM
    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

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