Why SSRIs Cause Weight Gain and What You Can Do About It

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Like any medication, antidepressants in the class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have potential side effects. For some people who take an SSRI such as Prozac (fluoxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline), one of these possible side effects is weight gain.

Research suggests that the amount of weight typically gained while on an SSRI is modest. While from the outside, a few extra pounds may seem like a small sacrifice to make in exchange for positive changes to your mental health, weight gain can be a bothersome side effect.

Common SSRIs & Their Effect on Weight

According to data from 2017, the most commonly prescribed SSRIs in the United States include Zoloft (sertraline), Celexa (citalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Lexapro (escitalopram). Most antidepressants are associated with weight gain, but the risk of weight gain is higher with some than others. For example, some research suggests that Paxil (paroxetine) is linked to more weight gain than Zoloft or Prozac.

Research looking at the effects of individual SSRIs on weight gain is complex. Some studies examine the short-term effects of antidepressants on weight, which can differ from their long-term effects. In fact, research has found that some SSRIs are associated with weight loss in the short term.

Not everyone who takes an antidepressant will gain weight, and some people might even lose weight.

Why SSRIs Cause Weight Gain

Experts aren't certain why SSRIs have the potential to cause weight gain, but there are some theories. It may be that the drugs trigger changes in metabolism that cause the body to use calories less efficiently, or that they affect the appetite, leading to overeating.

Another hypothesis is that weight gained while taking an SSRI may be partially due to the fact that some people don't feel like eating when they're depressed and may lose weight. Once they start taking an antidepressant, however, they begin to feel better and as a result, their appetite may come back, they may eat more, and eventually return to their previous weight.

Managing Your Weight While Taking SSRIs

If you've gained weight while taking antidepressants and it really bothers you, you may be tempted to stop taking your medication. But before you do, talk to a doctor. In all likelihood, you can get to a weight you're comfortable with without sacrificing your mental health.

It can also be dangerous to just stop taking an antidepressant. With many of them, stopping all of a sudden, or quitting "cold turkey," can lead to an array of unpleasant withdrawal side effects known collectively as discontinuation syndrome.

Here are other things you can do to manage your weight, improve your health, and help you have a healthy relationship with food and eating.

Mindful Eating

Eating mindfully can be beneficial in helping you manage your weight. Mindful eating involves focusing more on your internal signals of hunger and satiety and less on external signals. In other words, bringing yourself to the present moment, paying attention to your hunger levels, and slowing down while you eat are all examples of how to be more mindful when eating.

Notably, mindfulness-based practices have also been shown to improve the severity of depressive symptoms.

Increasing Activity

Incorporating physical activity into your lifestyle not only helps manage weight, but is good for your overall health. Consider joining a gym, taking up a sport, climbing around on the jungle gym with your kids, or walking your dog.

On top of reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and other health issues, exercise has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression.

If you're new to exercise, check with a doctor before you lace on those sneakers to make sure you don't overdo it at first.

Switch Medications

It's possible that a healthcare provider will be able to prescribe a new SSRI that doesn't cause weight gain, or they may have you try a non-SSRI antidepressant such as Wellbutrin (bupropion), a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI). Wellbutrin works differently in the brain than SSRIs do, and some people even lose a little weight while taking it. 

A Word From Verywell

While dealing with some weight gain as a result of your antidepressant medication might be frustrating, don't forget that you're taking a positive step in getting help for yourself by seeking mental health treatment.

Side effects of medications are just a reality, but you can always work with a healthcare provider to find the best antidepressant for you. Just remember that this process could take a few tries, so don't get discouraged. Along the way, focus on making healthy lifestyle choices, and be sure to applaud yourself for taking care of your mental health.

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