Health & Wellness Articles

Antidepressants & Weight Gain

How to Get Help without Gaining Weight

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ACTION STEP: Start by carefully tracking your food intake and exercise for several weeks using SparkPeople's free food and fitness trackers to find out exactly how much you're eating and where your calories are coming from. Also start a basic journal describing anything that feels out of the ordinary to you—whether your appetite is heartier than usual, you're exercising more or less than usual, or you're experiencing food cravings that are really hard to resist. If you find that you're having a lot of trouble managing your appetite or cravings, or that your weight is going up even though you're sure you're not eating more or exercising less than before, then it's time to talk to your doctor about the situation. Bring these records with you when you go.

Should I change medications to prevent weight gain?
The side effects of virtually all antidepressant medications can potentially include weight gain. But since individuals vary a great deal in whether or how much any particular medication will cause this or any other side effect, changing medications can be an effective way to deal with this problem. There's no way to predict in advance how you'll react to any specific medication, but studies have shown that some medications are more commonly associated with weight gain than others. Among the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs commonly prescribed, Paxil seems to be associated with weight gain most often, while Zoloft is at the other end of the spectrum. The SNRI (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) drugs Effexor and Serzone don't seem to cause weight gain in most people, and Welbutrin may actually cause weight loss for some individuals. There is also evidence that combining two different antidepressant medications, or adding a small dosage of certain other medications (such as anti-seizure medications), can also reduce problems with weight gain. So, changing drugs can make a difference.

The downside of changing drugs, of course, is that this could also affect your depression symptoms. The brain chemistry of depression is extremely complex and varies from person to person, which is why some drugs work for you while others don't. It may take some experimentation to find something that will do the job on your depression without affecting your weight, and that can take some time.

ACTION STEP: Talk over your options thoroughly with your doctor, and don't stop taking a medication, change your dosage, or add any weight-loss supplements or OTC depression remedies without discussing it first with your doctor. Some combinations can be very dangerous, and others may cancel each other out.

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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

  • FOXGLOVE999
    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
  • MISSDILL
    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
  • FIREBLIGHT
    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
  • CRAZYAMY2
    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
  • CAROLVY
    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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