Gay Fitness: Is My Obesity Related to My Depression?
Q: I am a 30-year-old man, 5’9" and I weigh 245 pounds. I am depressed because I am so overweight and so I eat even more. I read somewhere that the reason some people can’t lose weight is because of low serotonin levels. Is that connected to my being overweight?
A: The fact that you have reached out to me indicates that you realize you need help - and that’s an important first step. My first recommendation would be to see a physician who can give you a thorough physical examination and determine what, if any, underlying medical conditions are contributing to your obesity.
Secondly, you should seek the help of an experienced fitness professional you can help you with an exercise program and offer guidance on a healthy food plan.
There is no magic pill or diet to lose body fat. In the end it comes down to learning how to eat the right foods in the correct portions and engaging in regular exercise comprising both cardio and strength training. That’s the cold, hard truth.
Your personal trainer can calculate exactly how much fat you need to lose. For a 30-year-old man like yourself, 12-15 percent body fat would be considered good.
A pound of fat equates to approximately 3,500 calories, so burning 500 calories more than you eat each day (500 x 7 days = 3,500) will lead to a pound of fat loss in a week. Health professionals advise against losing more than 1.5-2 pounds of fat per week.
I am not in a position to make a connection between your obesity and possible low levels of serotonin, but I can address this topic in general terms. Serotonin (5-hydroxytrptamine) is a chemical produced naturally by the body which essentially helps brain cells communicate. It can help to calm anxiety, relieve mild depression, improve sleep and create a general sense of well-being.
Changes in the level of this neurotransmitter caused by excessive use of alcohol and caffeine, a lack of exercise, smoking and diabetes, among other factors, have been attributed to a number of conditions including insomnia and, yes, obesity.
Low serotonin levels adversely change our mood, so much so that drugs prescribed to treat depression and anxiety are typically engineered to work by increasing serotonin production. Americans spend $3 billion a year or more on drugs to treat depression and anxiety, according to published reports, but there are simple, inexpensive steps we can take to influence our mood naturally.
The simple fact is this: We are what we eat because what we eat affects how we feel.
Scientists have discovered that our diet influences the brain’s neurotransmitters - including serotonin - and certain foods affect the natural production of this important chemical.
Serotonin is made following a chemical reaction with tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is present in varying amounts in all protein foods. Here are a few:
TURKEY: Ever notice how relaxed you get after eating turkey at Thanksgiving dinner? That’s because turkey contains high levels of tryptophan from which serotonin is made. Turkey and other lean meats including roast beef, tenderloin and skinless chicken breasts are good sources of tryptophan.
SALMON: Wild fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines and packed with tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids which positively affect mood. A 3.5 ounce serving of salmon contains 22 grams of protein and is an excellent source of omega-3 fats. Put wild fish on your dinner table at least once a week.