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As womens depression drops so does the excess weight

Treating obese women's depression may help them lose weight, a new study suggests. Although researchers couldn't determine which condition may cause the other, obesity and depression frequently strike together. Obese women who saw their depression lessened in a treatment program also lost more weight than women whose depression didn't improve or worsened, researchers said.

“I expect that the relationship between depression and physical activity goes in both directions,” said study researcher Dr. Gregory Simon, a senior investigator and psychiatrist at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle. “Increased physical activity leads to improvement in depression, and improvement in depression leads to increased physical activity.” “You can't prove which came first.”

The researchers evaluated 203 women, ages 40 to 65, who had an average body mass index of 38.3 at the study's start, and found that obesity increased a woman's risk of depression by 50 percent to 150 percent.

Participants were then split into two groups: one focused only on helping the women lose weight, and the other also treating the women's depression. The researchers held 26 group treatment sessions over 12 months, and checked in on the women six, 12 and 24 months after the study began.

Of those whose depression had loosened its grip — as measured by a small drop on a test called the Hopkins Symptom Checklist depression score — 38 percent had lost at least 5 percent of their body weight. Of those whose depression scores stayed the same or increased, 21 percent lost that much weight.

While the study's purpose wasn't to make recommendations about exercise, Simon said, it's advisable for people suffering from depression to seek more opportunities for physical activity. “There certainly is evidence that exercise alone is an effective treatment for depression, whether you're overweight or obese or not, or even if you're a normal weight,” he said.

The study was unusual because it focused on the sometimes-overlooked link between depression and obesity, without focusing solely on the role of weight loss, said Robert E. Thayer, a psychology professor at California State University in Long Beach who has researched how people regulate their moods with food and exercise.

“These findings suggest that, like other negative moods that motivate eating as a kind of self-medication, depression is no exception,” said Thayer, who was not involved with the study. “It's a useful addition to the scientific literature.”

Simon said future studies could focus on learning which antidepressants — many of which can bring on weight gain as a side effect — contribute most to that situation. “Losing weight can certainly have a positive effect on people's moods,” he said.

The research was published in the November/December issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

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Emotions can predict future eating disorders

To this end, the following emotional variables have been specified: those relative to emotional experience —the frequency of positive and negative emotions, anxiety, low self-esteem and the influence of diet, weight and the body shape on the emotional state—; negative perception of emotions, negative attitude to emotional expression, alexithymia —the inability to identify own emotions and to express them verbally— and the manner of controlling negative emotions.

Moreover, another variable has also been taken into account: the need for control. This variable is not strictly emotional, but has a clear emotional component, given that people with a high need for control, experience anxiety and unwellness when perceiving lack of control.

Study of women

In order to undertake the study, 433 women took part; 143 of these suffered from some kind of eating disorder and 145 in risk of contracting one. The results of the study show that, in general, the majority of the variables put forward can be used as predictive of suffering an eating disorder. The variables which, above all, alert to greater risk of developing an eating disorder are when the emotional state of the person is excessively influenced by diet, weight and body shape, when self-esteem is low, and when, in anxiety situations, emotions are not expressed and the person tends to act in an impulsive manner.

These results have important implications, above all when drawing up prevention programmes for eating disorders. With the data obtained, it can be said that many of the emotional variables dealt with in Ms Pascual's work should be taken into account when drawing up these prevention programmes.

Serious illnesses

Eating disorders are very serious illnesses that have dire consequences for the sufferer, both physically as well as psychologically and socially, and there are disorders that are evermore widespread. Much research has been undertaken in order to find out the factors involved in their development, but the role played by the various emotional variables at the onset of these disorders has hardly been investigated. This thesis presented at the UPV/EHU focused on this matter more deeply.

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