Why Depressed People Should Not Skip the Carbs

Amy Kuras

pills on a plateHere's a weird little irony: If you suffer from depression, the drug that's keeping you functional can have one extra-depressing side effect: weight gain.

All of the most effective mood-boosting drugs can cause weight gain in people taking antidepressants: between 15 and 40 pounds. Worse yet, people taking drugs for bipolar disorder can gain between 75 and 125 pounds. (Whoa! That's a small-ish adult person!) I've seen this problem over and over in people I know. One friend ballooned by like 90 pounds in a year ... although I must say I can't blame my own weight gain on my own antidepressant usage.

The problem, just like in depression itself, lies in brain chemistry, and the answer is surprisingly simple.

The problem is serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of satisfaction and calm. Depression is caused by a lack of it, and most of the common drugs used now allow your brain to use it more efficiently. It would seem, then, that people on antidepressants would eat less, but the exact opposite is true. For reasons no one really understands, the drugs seem to block the serotonin released by eating, which makes people on antidepressants hungry all the time. No matter how much they eat, that "enough" signal in the brain never gets switched on.

Judith Wurtman, PhD, and founder of a weight-loss program at Harvard University's McLean Hospital, tried an approach that had worked with other obese patients: carbohydrates. Carbs stimulate serotonin production, unless they are eaten with protein. If that happens, amino acids in the protein stop the main building block of serotonin from entering the brain.

Patients were given a carbohydrate-rich beverage that they drank between meals, and lo and behold, it worked. People reported feeling more satisfied and full, and had a much easier time sticking to a diet because they weren't constantly wanting to eat.

Surprised? I was. Almost every diet out there recommends limiting carbs at least somewhat, because they're very calorie-dense. I've been attempting a half-assed carb limitation myself in my latest weight loss attempt and find I'm less hungry, despite the bupropion I down daily.

Wurtman has a book that details the diet called The Serotonin Power Diet. I think it's worth a shot if, like me, your much happier mood overall is tinged with despair that your Cute Jeans will ever, ever fit.


Image via EpSos.de/Flickr

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