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Why Does Depression Cause You to Lose Weight Even Though You Eat a Lot?

by
author image Jae Allen
Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.
Why Does Depression Cause You to Lose Weight Even Though You Eat a Lot?
Depressed woman with a cup of tea Photo Credit Andrea Morini/Photodisc/Getty Images

Episodes of depression, and associated weight changes, vary greatly from person to person; some people may gain weight while depressed while others may lose weight. Because depression can affect your eating and sleeping patterns, it is possible for some individuals to eat a relatively large amount of food yet still lose weight while depressed. Depression can be a serious or even fatal illness; none of the information below should be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns about how depression is affecting you.

Symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, depression can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms which may range from mild to severe. Depression itself may be mild and temporary, or severe and persistent. Some people suffer with major depression over a period of years or decades. Some of the symptoms of clinical depression, the term used for more severe and persistent forms of depression, include persistent sadness, problems with sleeping, a loss of interest in normal activities, tiredness, suicidal thoughts and a significant weight gain or weight loss.

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Considerations

If depression affects your sleep, this may contribute to your weight loss even though you are eating quite a lot. A report in the February 1997 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association states that a greater number of calories are burned while a person is awake than when she is sleeping. In a study involving burn victims, the average daily calories burned while sleeping were 2,360 per day; while awake, the average patient burned 2,529 daily. If you are spending more time awake due to depression-related sleep disturbances, the extra calories burned during your waking hours could contribute to a caloric deficit, which causes weight loss.

Theories/Speculation

Writing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, a research team from the University of Kansas Medical Center states that many health care providers believe that certain medications used to treat depression cause weight gain while others cause weight loss. According to this article, it is commonly believed that the tricyclic type of antidepressants, also known as TCAs, increase a patient's appetite, therefore perhaps causing weight gain. It is also commonly believed that newer antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may contribute to weight loss in older adults. However, the study found that these widely-held assumptions about antidepressants and weight changes were not fully proven by scientific research. The Mayo Clinic reports that side effects of SSRIs may include insomnia, nervousness, restlessness and diarrhea. Nervousness and restlessness, like insomnia, may cause you to burn more calories overall and therefore lose weight. Diarrhea can cause weight loss as your body may not have a chance to extract energy and nutrients from the food you consume.

Expert Insight

If a friend or family member experiences significant weight loss while eating a lot of food and suffering from symptoms of depression, you might have cause for concern regarding bulimia nervosa. Also known as bulimia, this eating disorder is characterized by binge-eating followed by a purging of the body. Purging may occur through induced vomiting, laxative use or over-exercising the body. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, depression is strongly associated with bulimia.

Warning

Unexplained or unintentional weight loss could be a symptom of any one of a number of medical problems. Although depression could be a cause of the weight loss, it is also possible that the depression is masking the symptoms of a different health problem causing the weight loss. Always consult your doctor for medical advice specific to your condition and health history.

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References

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