You may be experiencing a mental health low and notice a change in weight. Can depression cause weight loss? Can depression cause weight gain? The short answer to both is yes, but in this blog, we’ll address four reasons why depression can cause weight gain.

Depression is a mental illness that affects millions of people around the world, and causes severe mood lows along with other emotional and physical symptoms. Pronounced weight fluctuation is a cause for concern for individuals with depression.

Dramatic increases or decreases in weight can cause many other physical and mental health problems, in fact, a 2009 study found that those with depressive symptoms were more likely to become obese (and have other obesity-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease) than those without.

Unhealthy coping

Eating can be used as a distraction from emotional pain, and thus becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism for many depressed individuals. Just as some use drugs or alcohol to mask their mental pain, people with depressive symptoms can also develop an unhealthy reliance on food to mask their pain as well.

Changes in energy levels

Dramatic declines in energy is one of the most common and easily-identifiable symptoms of depression. Increased drowsiness, lethargy, and lack of motivation can make it difficult to take care of your physical health. Weight gain may occur when a wave of depression hits, the lowered energy levels making it difficult to get out of the house for fresh groceries, to exercise, or spend the time preparing healthy food. Decreased exercise (physical workouts, errands, chores, walking) is an important factor in weight fluctuation.

Weight may also decrease during this time, as some lack the motivation to feed themselves regularly or maintain muscle tone weight.


Stress can be both a negative influence on and a result of depression. Not only are family and work relationships sometimes more strained during depressive episodes, but the change from routine and added mental burden can put stress on the brain and body. In times of stress, humans have evolved to retain calories to ensure survival. Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases fat storage, and during times of stress, cortisol levels elevate, resulting in increased body fat and weight gain.

Changes in appetite

Depression can cause changes in appetite during especially low points. Individuals can experience either an increase or decrease in appetite during this time.

The depression and weight gain cycle

Depression and weight gain can fuel each other in a fierce downward cycle. Depressed individuals can experience the changes in appetite, stress, and energy levels discussed above, begin to gain weight, and then experience increased symptoms related to low self-esteem.

Weight loss and grief

Minor weight loss is common during periods of grief. It is common for those who have experienced loss to lose up to eight pounds over three months. More dramatic weight loss can be cause for concern.

Getting Help

It’s important that individuals with depression or depressive symptoms that affect their quality of life seek professional help. Research suggests that depression is highly treatable with combinations of therapy and medication, if needed. If you or a loved one is dealing with severe depression, please seek help as soon as possible. Resources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255.

Don’t know when to seek help or where to go? Call us for a free, confidential mental health assessment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 801-264-6000.