Gay Fitness: Is My Obesity Related to My Depression?

by Peter Jackson, CPT

South Florida Gay News

Saturday June 9, 2012

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.

EGGS: Eggs are one of the best, natural sources of protein (6.3 grams per egg) and are rich in amino acids and nutrients the body needs. Forget egg substitutes and, please, eat the yolk! Scientists have now dispelled the myth that eggs yolks have a direct link to heart attacks. Dietary cholesterol found in eggs yolks are no longer believed to impact serum cholesterol which can lead to coronary disease.

BANANAS: Bananas have been called "the world's perfect food" - and with good cause. This amazing fruit is rich in vitamin C, fiber, minerals and potassium. A little known fact is that bananas contain tryptophan, and so also contributes to a positive mood.

FLAX OIL OR FLAXSEEDS: Flaxseed oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Other nuts and seeds such as peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds, walnuts and pecans similarly contain generous levels of tryptophan.

Other foods known to increase serotonin levels include asparagus, avocado, broccoli, buckwheat, cottage cheese, oats and pineapple.

SUPPLEMENTATION: A non-prescription supplement available at any vitamin shop or health food store which is highly regarded for its ability to stimulate serotonin production is called 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryphophan). This is an extract of the Griffonia simplicifolia plan native to West Africa. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the sale or monitor the claims of supplements, but it is widely believed that 5-HTP is not only safe in the right dosage (100 mg per day) but has the same effect as SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) antidepressants. It's best to take this supplement at night as its calming effect helps to induce sleep.

EXERCISE: In addition to eating balanced meals which contain protein and fats, making time for relaxation and getting sufficient sleep, it's critical FOR EVERYONE to exercise at least two to three times a week. A regimen of both cardio exercise (walking, running) and strength training are necessary. Exercise releases a hormone called endorphins which also promotes a sense of well-being.



When you perform the Leg Press, always push from your toes. This will cause your quadriceps to work harder.



Grab a dumbbell and extend your arm over your head as shown. The palm of your hand should be facing forward with your pinkie facing the ceiling. This is your starting position.

Moving only your forearm, lower the dumbbell behind your head while keeping your upper arm stationary. Pause when your triceps are fully stretched.
Return to the starting position by flexing your triceps.

Complete a set of 10 to 12 reps and switch arms.

Copyright South Florida Gay News. For more articles, visit