Antidepressants and their Connection to Weight: What to Be Aware of


Antidepressants are a type of medication used to treat depression and related mental health conditions. Depression is also a common obesity-related issue, and the two can be so interconnected that it is sometimes difficult to determine which came first – feelings of depression or struggles with weight.

How Antidepressants Affect Weight

It is first important to note that antidepressants are effective. In fact, 89% of people with depression report that medication improves their symptoms.

Unfortunately, weight gain is the 3rd most commonly reported side effect of taking antidepressants, behind withdrawal effects and sexual dysfunction. Weight gain has been reported by 65% of individuals on long-term antidepressant therapy, while only 15% of individuals reported weight-loss.

So how do antidepressants affect weight? And does going on a treatment plan involving antidepressants guarantee you a lifetime of continued weight struggles?

Length of Time

One important factor involved is the length of antidepressant therapy. The body’s response to medication can change over time, making weight gain more likely over the duration of the treatment period.

For example, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) help with depression by blocking the reuptake of serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone in the brain that stabilizes mood and promotes feelings of wellbeing and happiness. People with depression have lower levels of serotonin, so SSRIs increase their levels to help them feel better. In the short term, this increase in serotonin can make us feel full, reduce our food intake and decrease our impulsiveness. But in the long-term, the body can adjust to taking antidepressants. As a result, it can lead to new hunger and cravings for foods rich in carbs, sugar and fat that may result in weight gain.

Presence of Obesity

Another important factor that plays a role in weight while on antidepressants is whether or not you have obesity at the time of starting medication.

Take a look at those antidepressant medications which increase dopamine levels, a feel-good chemical that influences feelings of reward and motivation. Individuals with obesity tend to have decreased dopamine levels, so increasing them can help them lose weight. But in individuals without obesity, increased dopamine may cause them to gain weight. This is the perfect example of how intertwined obesity and depression can be.

Decreasing Your Risk for Weight Gain

If you are taking antidepressants and are concerned about your changes to your weight, or you are considering starting antidepressants and want to minimize your risk for weight gain, consider these strategies:

  • Communicate with Your Healthcare Provider. Tell them any concerns you have and try to be transparent about your struggles/experiences.
  • Have Patience with Medication. Finding the right antidepressant with the least amount of side effects can take time; in some cases, it can even take a few years.
  • Monitor Your Weight for Changes. Doing this after you start a new medication can help you identify patterns or trends to be aware of.
  • Combine Medication with Therapy. In addition to medication, counseling can help you work toward solutions that may be holding back your mental health.
  • Stay Active. Regular physical activity not only elevates mood, but is crucial to your overall health. It can also help prevent weight gain.

For more information about antidepressants and their effects on weight, click here for an article by the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign.

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