How To Lose Weight Gain Due To Antidepressants

Depression is a serious illness that can affect many people. Around 13% of Americans over age 12 were prescribed antidepressants between 2011 and 2014, and in 2019, 7.8% of American adults were diagnosed with major depressive disorder¹ ².

One of the mainstays of treatment for depression is a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). These are highly effective in depression management but, unfortunately, one of the side effects can be weight gain.

If you are struggling with weight gain as a result of antidepressant medication, read on to find out how you can limit or reverse this problem.

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Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are among the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the US. They are used to treat moderate to severe depression and are generally safe and well tolerated³.

SSRIs increase serotonin availability in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries messages between the neurons in your brain and is necessary for your brain to function optimally.

Examples of widely-used SSRIs are:

  • Lexapro

  • Zoloft 

  • Prozac 

  • Paxil 

  • Celexa

Weight gain is a recognized side effect of long-term SSRI use⁴.

Different SSRIs cause varying degrees of weight gain, but a review of multiple studies found that most SSRIs (Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil) caused, on average, weight gain of around 4.5lbs during clinical treatment⁵.

The reasons for SSRIs causing weight gain are not clearly understood, although there is some evidence that they may stimulate appetite⁶. In addition, Citalopram has been shown to cause carbohydrate cravings, which can lead to weight gain⁷.

Weight gain may not always be entirely due to SSRI treatment. One of the symptoms of depression can be decreased appetite and resulting weight loss. Once the depression is treated, appetite returns to normal and weight can return to what it was. Some people might inaccurately attribute this weight gain to the medication instead of the fact that their depression is resolving.

How to lose weight after antidepressants

If you have gained weight after taking antidepressants, it’s very important that you don’t just stop your treatment. It can be dangerous to suddenly stop taking SSRIs rather than gradually weaning off the treatment. Untreated depression is also dangerous. Instead, consider one of the following options: 

1. Change medication

Some antidepressants aren’t linked to weight gain. It may be possible for your doctor to prescribe an alternative one, if appropriate. If your weight gain is really bothering you, talk to your doctor about trying a different brand.

2. Look at your lifestyle

One study on SSRI use and weight gain found that weight gain was more likely in people who also had a Western diet, were sedentary, and smoked⁸. Making some changes to your lifestyle could limit the weight gain caused by your antidepressant.

Western diets are characterized by a high daily intake of saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. Interestingly, a Western diet has also been suggested to cause symptoms of depression through its disruption of the gut microbiome⁹.

Switching to a Mediterranean diet - one which includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fish - may not only reverse the weight gain caused by your antidepressant but also help to treat the symptoms of your depression.

3. Get active

Starting an exercise routine may have a double benefit: not only might it help you get rid of any extra weight, but it might also help manage your depression.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 225-420 minutes of physical activity per week to achieve clinically significant weight loss and 150-250 minutes per week to prevent weight gain¹⁰. Aiming for these exercise goals while you are on antidepressant medication may help to negate the weight gain side-effect of your medication.

Exercise not only benefits the body but also benefits the mind. A 2011 review found that exercise is equivalent to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression. It has also been shown to improve depressive symptoms when used in conjunction with antidepressant medications¹¹.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

Chronic sleep disruption has been linked to weight gain and obesity¹². Practicing good sleep hygiene and focusing on getting eight hours of good quality sleep each night will help to ensure that you don’t pack on extra pounds.

Since sleep disruption has been linked to depression¹³, getting a good night’s sleep will not only help you with weight control but also with managing your depression.

The lowdown

Depression is relatively prevalent in the US and is commonly successfully treated with antidepressant medication.

The most widely prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs. Unfortunately, mild to modest (average 4.5lbs) weight gain has been associated with the use of SSRIs.

You can limit the weight gain side-effect of SSRIs by following a healthy diet high in unprocessed foods, keeping active, and getting a good night’s sleep.

Have you considered clinical trials for Weight management?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Weight management, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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