Depression and Obesity Come Together, Make Treatment Difficult

Undergoing therapy to address depression may make a weight loss program more effective, and conversely, weight loss may make depression treatment more effective as well. This insight comes from a new report published by University of Washington, Seattle researchers in General Hospital Psychiatry. The group monitored over 200 women with obesity for a full year. Half of the women went through a weight loss program, and the other half went through a combined program of weight loss and clinical treatment of depression. By the treatment’s halfway point (6 months), 38% of women whose depression had decreased had lost 5% of their body weight, while just 21% of the women whose depression was stable had lost that same amount of weight.

What’s more, the women who underwent combined treatment (weight loss treatment plus depression therapy) had much more success keeping the weight off by the year’s end, and for at least a full year after the treatment. They were also less depressed. Therapists and researchers in charge of this study weren’t able to discern the exact relationship between obesity and depression: it seemed to be reciprocal. People who were depressed were prone to staying in and being less active, which discouraged weight loss. At the same time, people who were overweight were less likely to pursue physical activity, which can improve a person’s mood.

Since depression and weight seem to have a chicken-and-egg relationship, it makes sense that treating the two simultaneously would have the greatest impact on a person’s well being. This recognition of human complexity has been a part of many therapists’ practice for some time now. It’s not uncommon for a therapist or counselor to recommend that their patients pursue yoga, meditation, T’ai Chi, hiking, biking, or exercise in general as a supplement to therapy. To empower an individual to find balance and healing in all aspects of their life, it’s beneficial to acknowledge those aspects together, rather than pretending they are isolated from one another.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Martha Jennings

    December 14th, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    It’s like a vicious cycle isn’t it? You feel depressed because you are obese and that very depression prevents you from being treated properly!
    But as in many other cases psychotherapy can really rescue a person!

  • Iris

    December 15th, 2010 at 5:37 AM

    And given the fact that so many anti depressant medications can cause weight gain too I can easily see how sometimes a person who is facing both issues can see no way out.

  • Leslie

    December 16th, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    Treating this combination of illnesses would be difficult because you would have to go pretty far back in a person’s life to determine which came first, and even in many cases this would be a challenge. There are some people for whom these two things have always gone hand in hand.

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