Depression – one of the most common mood disorders – often manifests itself in physical changes as well as the mental condition. Changes in body weight occur in most patients suffering from mood disorders, and weight loss from depression is common. Depression also brings with it the risk of weight gain, though the loss of weight seems to indicate the need for professional medical help based on the implications. Losing weight is a sign that the body is not nourishing itself to appropriate levels of sustenance, which will cause additional negative effects that can amplify the initial depression. Weight loss from depression can also be indicative of other conditions that spawned as a result of the disorder.
Depression is a condition affecting the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin – the chemical most related to happiness – is one of the neurotransmitters thought to be affected heavily by depression. Combined with changing levels of dopamine and epinephrine, a fluctuation in serotonin will affect the body’s desires to eat, sleep and exercise. Though much of the research surrounding depression still focuses on the exact causes of the disease, the scientific community agrees that these 3 chemicals and neurotransmitters are affected from those experiencing the symptoms.
Depression can lead to problems sleeping and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which contributes to the weight loss. When a body is not maintaining a regular sleep schedule with stretches of activity, it will experience heightened levels of cortisol. This hormone has a role in regulating metabolism and blood pressure. Cortisol is linked to the emotions surrounding stress, including anxiety. Losing sleep regularly inhibits activity during the day or work hours, which causes an individual to feel anxious about their productivity and compounds the initial depression by affecting metabolism. Generally, an individual will react in one of two ways to these chemical changes. Most suffering from mild depression will gain weight and eat more as a means of comfort. Those suffering from more severe or specific depressions may try to regain control of their life or battle anxiety by not eating enough through the day.
Severe depressions can also lead to eating disorders. These disorders are then attributed to weight loss from depression as the first condition promoted the secondary disorder. Anorexia and bulimia are commonly attributed to an underlying depression. These conditions are present symptoms of complete undernourishment or a gluttonous eating event followed by purging. Anorexia and bulimia do massive, sometimes irreversible damage to the body and must be addressed professionally. Therapy and positive reinforcement have shown effective results when applied in a closed environment to patients of these eating disorders.
Weight loss from depression is specific to the individual and their diagnosis. There is no precise therapy for anyone suffering from such symptoms, and individual results may vary. Changes in weight that parallel a period of depression may not be the result of an additional eating disorder. Less severe changes in weight that reflect a decrease in appetite can often be reversed with medication, behavioral therapy and an increase in activity. Increased activity and positive reinforcement often come with the added benefit of restful sleep. The combination of these positive drivers results in an overall improvement in well-being.