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“Weight gain is a common side effect of some antidepressant medications, but there are steps you can take to mitigate it.”

Antidepressant medication may be prescribed by a family doctor or psychiatrist to help you recover from depression, depending on the severity of your symptoms.

Antidepressants can work in tandem with therapy to help restore your mental health.(1) In some cases, antidepressants can be life saving.

It usually takes 4-6 weeks to assess the effects of an antidepressant.(2) In addition to noticing a reduction in their depression symptoms, some men experience side effects from taking antidepressant medication, and weight gain is one of the most common.

Many types of antidepressant medication, including SSRIs, tricyclics, and MOA inhibitors, have been linked to increases in body weight. It’s estimated that up to 25% of people who are prescribed antidepressants undergo a weight gain of 4.5 kgs or more.(1,3)

However, drastic weight change itself can be a symptom of depression.

  • For men who have struggled with depression-related weight loss, weight gain that comes from taking antidepressants may actually be helpful as it helps them return to a more natural, healthy weight. 
  • For other men, weight gain can be a serious source of stress, affecting their self-esteem and confidence.

If you’re concerned about weight gain, it’s important that you don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor first. Your doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons of taking medication, and explain all your options.

Why do men gain weight when taking antidepressants? 

  • One explanation is that antidepressants might slow down the metabolism, causing men to gain weight. A slower metabolism means that the body requires fewer calories to function. So even if a guy eats the same amount of food that he did before starting medication, he may still gain weight.(4)
  • Besides metabolism, appetite may be subject to change when taking antidepressants. Certain medications may partially deactivate your brain’s signal that you are full, leading you to eat more than your body needs.(4)
  • For some men, weight gain may simply come from regaining their “taste for life” after starting antidepressants, which leads to an increased enjoyment of all things, including eating.(3)

Fighting antidepressant weight gain

Changes in weight may not be noticeable for some time after treatment begins. Steps to negate unintentional weight gain will have the biggest impact if they are taken early.

Here are some ways that men can fight antidepressant weight gain: 

Eat healthily

Adopting a clean and nutritious diet early in the treatment process can have huge benefits in mitigating the chances of gaining excessive weight. 

  1. Start at the grocery store: When you shop, make conscious decisions about the food you are buying. Replace processed snacks and pre-made meals with produce and natural foods. Avoiding excess trans fats and refined sugars is also very important. An occasional favourite treat isn’t a bad thing, but moderation is the key to healthy eating. 
  2. Pay attention to your plate: When making meals, pay attention to the proportions of different food groups on your plate. The Canada Food Guide recommends that you fill your plate with 50% fruits and veggies, 25% protein, and 25% grains or carbohydrates.(5) The closer you can consistently get to these ideal distributions in your meals, the better.
  3. Consult a dietitian: Trying to figure out which foods to buy and how much to eat can be a difficult process on your own. Consulting a dietitian is a great way to make an effective plan to avoid gaining unintentional weight.

For more tips on eating healthy, see our Food page. 

Be physically active

Physical activity is an important component of staying healthy and preventing weight gain. Just like eating healthy, the earlier we adopt physical activity as a habit, the more impactful it will be.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of physical activity a week (or 30 minutes a day, for 5 days a week).(6)

  • For men who are not reaching this goal, try different activities that are enjoyable and sustainable in order to develop a physical activity routine that you can stick to. 
  • For men who are already quite active, it’s good to focus on keeping physical activity consistent.

The body and the mind function in tandem. Being conscious and deliberate about eating habits and physical activity can not only help prevent weight gain while taking antidepressants, but can also help with the management of depression symptoms, leading to a healthier lifestyle and quicker road to recovery. 

More tips on how to increase your physical activity

Manage negative thoughts

Managing negative thoughts about antidepressant weight gain or the need to maintain a certain body type can be difficult. Be kind to yourself and avoid harsh self-judgement and negative self talk. If you’re concerned about changes in your physical appearance, remind yourself that working toward a healthier and happier version of yourself is the main goal, and that shifts in weight will only be temporary. 

Our article on cognitive reframing can offer some tips to deal with negative thoughts like this.

If weight gain becomes a problem you can’t control

If you notice your weight gain is becoming a problem you can’t control, ask your doctor about changing antidepressant medications. Certain antidepressants will affect men differently and it’s possible that another antidepressant may be a better fit for you. Although gaining weight while taking antidepressants can be stressful, it is important to prioritize managing your depression.


References:

  1. Serretti, A., & Mandelli, L. (2010). Antidepressants and body weight: A comprehensive review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 71(10), 1259-1272. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.09r05346blu
  2. Bhanari, S. (2021, March 8). What are SSRIs? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/ssris-myths-and-facts-about-antidepressants
  3. Bouchez, C., & Martin, J. L. (2010). Fat Pharms: Antidepressants and Weight Gain. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/antidepressants-weight-gain
  4. Nihalani, N., Schwartz, T. L., Siddiqui, U. A., & Megna, J. L. (2011). Weight gain, obesity, and psychotropic prescribing. Journal of Obesity, 893629-9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2011/893629
  5. Government of Canada. (2021). Canada’s food guide. Food Guide Canada. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/make-it-a-habit-to-eat-vegetables-fruit-whole-grains-and-protein-foods/eat-vegetables-and-fruits/
  6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). Physical activity. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm
Approved by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Medically reviewed by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk.
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