“I gained so much weight this past year from my antidepressant that I no longer have a social life,” writes a reader. She goes on to say that she used to be thin and never worried about what she looked like. “But now I look at my bulging body and see how dreadful I look in jeans and feel like crying. Except for going to work and doing errands, I refuse to leave the house. I even feel too fat for the gym. My antidepressant was supposed to improve my mood, not leave me even more depressed.”
Unfortunately, this woman’s story is not unique. Millions of people are on antidepressant and related drugs for mood problems. Many of them discover, to their despair, that these drugs have a very unwelcome side effect. They find themselves unable to control their eating. And often even before their moods are improved, they find their bodies carrying unwanted and unexpected extra pounds.
“Diets were for other people,” a client told me. “I never had problems controlling my eating. When I was full, I stopped. I didn’t eat between meals and could not understand why my friends were always complaining about how hard it was not to snack. You should see me now. About two months after my divorce proceeding started, I started on the snacks. Something inside me keeps telling me to keep putting food in my mouth.” This woman, let us call her Jane, knew that she was eating her way through her anxiety but couldn’t stop. “My divorce is getting me down but what really is making me depressed is my weight.”
Whether the pounds come on because of antidepressant use or an emotionally disastrous situation, the effect may be the same: feeling depressed, hopeless and helpless at the inability to stop overeating. Telling such a person to eat less and exercise more is not going to work. It will simply make the weight gainer feel even more depressed about getting her eating under control.
It is hard enough to lose weight when everything is fine on your life. Imagine how much harder it is when you are depressed and everything seems bleak. And that is something few diet programs and fewer doctors seem to understand.
When people start on a diet, they are optimistic and hopeful that it will change their life. They are eager to lose weight because they see themselves looking and feeling better and enjoying life with a thinner, healthier body. But optimism and depression are like oil and water. It is hard to work up enthusiasm for a diet when just getting through the day is work enough.
But if weight gain is a cause for depression and depression then becomes an obstacle to losing weight, what is the answer? Actually the solution is not that difficult. The would- be dieter whose weight came on because of antidepressant-caused cravings will find it easy to lose weight once the cravings stop. After all, this is someone who never had a weight problem until the meds were started. The solution is to get the brain to shut off the urge to eat excessively. The way to do that is to get the brain to produce more serotonin.
As we point out in The Serotonin Power Diet, our brains contain their own appetite suppressant. Serotonin chemical works on specific brain cells to make us feel full and satisfied. Getting serotonin to be more proactive in shutting off our appetites is not difficult. Simply following a therapeutic schedule of eating carbohydrates will ensure that serotonin is made. In fact, the only time this brain chemical is synthesized is after we eat sweet or starchy foods without any protein.
The relief at no longer being a victim of antidepressant-induced cravings will make it easy to resume a healthy diet and an exercise regimen. And any depression over the weight gain will evaporate once the number on the scale starts going down again.
Engaging the brain to stop the munching can also help to shut off emotional overeating.
Nonetheless, emotional overeating is harder to overcome. Even if your brain is telling you not to eat, it is still possible to look at food as the only thing that gives pleasure and distraction. For emotional overeating to be overcome, the stress that caused it must be identified and ways found to diminish it. But taking the first step of relying on your brain to help you do this is extremely important. Your depression over your weight will decrease and you will find it easier to deal with the psychological components of the overeating. And eventually the pain of depression over your weight will be replaced by the pleasure in our weight loss.