August 1, 2019
People experience depression for a multitude of reasons. The causes vary so greatly from individual to individual that we couldn’t possibly cover them all extensively in one blog post. For this month’s post, we’re focusing on just one potential cause that’s a concern for many people: obesity.
Not everyone who’s obese is depressed, of course, and not everyone who’s depressed is obese. However, a 2010 study found that those who suffer from obesity are 55 percent more likely to have depression than those who are not, and those who are depressed are 58 percent more likely to be obese. That’s just one study, of course, but it’s far from the only evidence.
In a 2011 paper authored by researchers at the University of Texas-Southwestern, it was found that patients’ felt their depressive symptoms lessening when physicians administered them prescriptions for weekly exercise sessions. It wasn’t the mere act of thinking about being more physically fit, either. The sessions were supervised at the Cooper Institute in Dallas or at the patient’s home. When they exercised, they felt less depressed.
And yet another study, this one conducted in 2009, found that there was a strong causal relationship between being obese and being depressed.
Still not convinced? Well, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 43 percent of people with depression are obese. This isn’t a coincidence. The CDC also states that only about 33 percent of non-obese individuals have depression.
Beyond those studies, the Mayo Clinic recommends that healthy adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week spread throughout each week. Further, the Clinic recommends strength training for all major muscle groups at least twice a week using weights or other resistance heavy enough to tire your muscles out after 12 to 15 repetitions.
It’s long been established that a healthy diet combined with regular exercise has a host of health benefits, such as weight loss and lowering your risk of certain diseases. But many in the medical industry are now finding that losing weight can also majorly improve your mental health.
Historically, literature on the matter has not established any sort of connection, but studies like those mentioned above are beginning to change minds and make doctors and their patients rethink the potential connection and what can be done about it.
Increasingly, doctors are realizing that it nearly impossible to successfully treat one side of this equation while ignoring the other, for those who suffer from both. If someone wants to lose weight, they need to depression treatment, and if someone wants to feel less depressed, they need to lose weight – again, assuming they suffer from both.
Unfortunately, both conditions are chronic diseases that are very challenging to address. It isn’t easy to suddenly lose weight, and it’s not easy to just not be depressed. Both take motivation, dedication, support and intelligent treatments. And even then, results, unfortunately, do vary from person to person.
Attempting to treat both at once further complicates things, since you’re now talking about trying to overcome not just one but two difficult-to-beat conditions. This is one reason why dual treatments are often avoided, but doing so is likely to not be in the best interests of the individual who is suffering. They are unlikely to ever truly get better without having both treated.
Four years ago, leading doctors’ trade group the American Medical Association labeled obesity a disease, but many insurance providers unfortunately still don’t fully cover the necessary treatments for it. Some experts believe that more specialized healthcare (such as that provided by nutritionists and dietitians) could make a more meaningful impact if more providers covered them. Further compounding the issue is that some anti-depressants can cause some patients to gain weight.
The reality for both depression and obesity is that neither have quick fixes that can be administered once to magically fix the problem. Because these diseases are chronic, continuous treatment is needed over the long-haul. Sadly, the problem is also compounded by social stigmas around both weight gain and mental disease. This can cause patients to be less likely to seek out help for either.
Finally, too many people misunderstand the role diet versus exercise plays in being healthy. We see fit, muscular people working out at gyms and in yoga studios and feel the burn of physical activity ourselves and tend to assume this means exercise is the most important and difficult part of being fit. But that’s really not true.
Yes, you should absolutely exercise every week, but that alone isn’t enough to ward off obesity. No one can outwork their diet. An examination of 700 studies found that while exercising does lead to weight loss, dieting alone leads to more and diet plus exercise leads to more still.
Eat right, exercise often and get treatments for your depression and your mental health and waistline will both thank you.