Many overweight people describe themselves as depressed, even to the point of being suicidal. However, often they are not taken seriously because their depression isn’t “classic”, meaning that it doesn’t fit the textbook definition of the illness and depression is truly an illness.
In classic depression, loss of appetite and weight loss are expected symptoms, along with deep disinterest in life, constant crying, inability to carry out normal activities, and so forth.
Many overweight people suffer from “atypical depression” meaning that increased appetite is often present along with other symptoms, most of which are not nearly as severe as those present with classic depression.
Indeed, most overweight people function in the world quite normally, have families and jobs, and are involved in the world. They may carry around a deep sadness about their weight, but they generally live at least fairly normal lives. This suggests that eating is a form of “self treatment”, a way to lift mood as well as handle frustration.
However, it is possible that people crave foods, such as chocolate, that contain chemicals that are “precursors” to key neurotransmitters, meaning that the chemicals combine with others chemicals to produce these substances. One important chemicals is found in chocolate. It is no wonder that eating chocolate seems like self medicating it could be that is is!
Rather than having a character flaw, one patient mentioned, may be self medicating in the most basic way by eating foods! Eating foods that will help produce a neurotransmitter in the brain that she needs to “treat” this atypical depression.
We refer to this as “reduced mood”, and it is often characterized by increased cravings for chocolate, suggesting that the body is attempting to get the precursor it needs to produce serotonin. The mild mood alternation may also be experienced as part of the frustration phenomenon, which also leads to cravings for comfort foods. Sweet foods, particularly those containing chocolate, are often high on the list of comfort foods.