Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy to Manage Depression and Obesity Concurrently

The reciprocal link between obesity and depression can throw individuals into a cycle of self-loathing and sadness. Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy, you can learn to resolve the thoughts and emotions that lie at the root of your mental and physical health issues and change them for the better, allowing yourself to break free from the cycle holding you back from living your life to its fullest.

Obesity is a worldwide problem that continues to increase, with more than 600 million adults over the age of 18 obese in 2014. Despite being a physical health problem, obesity can also take its toll on your mental health, and exacerbate or create other disorders. One such disorder is depression, which currently affects approximately 121 million people around the world. Together, these two health problems can feed off of the negative effects of each other and leave you feeling helpless and trapped in a cycle of isolation, negativity, and hopelessness.

My weight continued to grow, and before I knew it, the person I saw in the mirror was someone that I despised. I felt hopeless, lost, and the only way that I could make myself feel better was to continue eating.

Karen fell into the vicious cycle created by obesity and depression, and without proper treatment or support she was unaware of just how much each problem was influencing the other for the worse. Many suffer from these health issues without understanding the scope of the problem, and quickly find themselves swallowed by despair, unable to accept who they are and envision a positive future for themselves.

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Research suggests that people with obesity are 25 percent more likely to suffer from a mood disorder, such as depression, compared to individuals who aren’t obese. Given the focus on body image in the modern world, it’s no surprise that obesity can distort the perception that you have of yourself in a negative way, dragging down your self-esteem and pushing you into a state of depression.

Other studies suggest that depression is predictive of developing obesity. Depression paints your world into a single shade of gray, leaving no hope for happiness in the future. Falling into this state of mind can sap you of all of your energy and make it difficult to focus on making the proper lifestyle choices, such as exercise and healthy eating. Research also highlights the possibility that those with depression overeat in an attempt to provide themselves the enjoyment needed to bring their serotonin levels—which are lower in depressed individuals—back to normal.

At the neurological level, depression and obesity are rooted in similar regions of the brain. Joseph Hullett, a doctor from OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions, believes that this overlap is why they are so connected.

The part of the brain responsible for emotion—the limbic system—also controls appetite. When this emotional part of the brain gets disturbed in someone who is depressed, appetite gets disturbed as well.

Another contributing factor to this dysfunctional relationship is the fact that most antidepressants prescribed to control depression pose weight gain as a possible side effect. Medication is a very effective way to stabilize the serotonin deficiency that underlies depression, but if these medications also contribute to your obesity, it is important to understand the relationship that it has to your mental illness. With the proper treatment, you can ensure that your obesity and depression are kept under control, and avoid falling back into the negative, depressive thoughts that stem from your illness.

Resolving Your Thoughts and Feelings Using Dialectic Behavioral Therapy


Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a treatment that can act as both an alternative and supplement to traditional medication-based treatments for depression. Using this form of therapy, you can better understand the thoughts and feelings that underlie your depression and overeating, allowing you to take control of them and prevent them from feeding into your disorders.

DBT is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that is typically used to treat Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Throughout the process of DBT, individuals are encouraged to resolve the opposing feelings and thoughts that underlie their mental illness in order to promote recovery. Accepting the thought processes in your head is important in DBT, but just as important is understanding that you need to change these thoughts in order to overcome the problems you are faced with. DBT uses elements of mindfulness to help individuals become aware of the present moment in combination with other strategies that promote proper emotional regulation in order to change the emotions and feelings that underlie your disorders.

Using DBT can help you become aware of the negative thoughts that cause your depression as well as those that lead to the overeating behaviors that cause obesity. Through this awareness, you will learn to accept that these thoughts will come into your mind. However, with the right tools you can change your reactions to them.

Once Karen sought treatment for her obesity and depression, she was able to learn how to pinpoint the thoughts that caused her depression and the emotions linked to her overeating. Ultimately, she was able to understand the triggers for both disorders, prevent herself from succumbing to them, and take control of the dysfunctional relationship between the two to ensure that neither regained control over her life. Indeed, research has supported the effectiveness of DBT for treating both obesity and depression, making it an ideal tool to help you accept and resolve the thoughts that are feeding into your weight gain and mental state.

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Breaking Free from the Cycle


The reciprocal relationship between depression and obesity can be extremely difficult to break free from. Falling into depressive thoughts can make eating seem like the simplest way to break free from them, while at the same time overeating can reinforce the same negative thoughts that you sought to escape. Without the proper help and guidance, pulling yourself out of this state can seem impossible.

Using DBT in the context of a residential treatment program provides you with comprehensive, concurrent treatment. In addition to DBT, other evidence-based and holistic therapies will be employed, and the healthy meals and exercise classes provided can help you start on the path to establishing a healthier routine. The vicious cycle of depression and obesity can be difficult to treat because each feeds into the other. Understand that the thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing can be changed, and treatment can shed light on the numerous positive paths toward recovery that lie in front of you.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive residential treatment for individuals suffering from both obesity and depression, as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse, or process addictions. Contact us to learn how you or your loved one can break free from the grips of weight gain and unhappiness holding you back from experiencing what the world has to offer.

Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Joshua Ness