Can Losing Weight Help Mental Health?
Max Carmody, MSc
Mental health and weight loss are both very complex subjects, with many variables. What is the relationship between them, and how does losing weight affect mental health?
Losing weight can help to improve mental health through improving self-esteem, and possibly reducing rates of depression and anxiety.
Self-Esteem is the opinion that we have of ourselves. When we have good self esteem, we feel more positive about ourselves, and about life. We are better able to deal with the ups and downs of life. When our self-esteem is low, we are less able to deal with life’s ups and downs and the challenges that life throws at us.
When we achieve goals that we have set for ourselves, we naturally feel more confident. Setting goals that work for you, and achieving them, can improve mental health. I know that personally, when I’m at my goal weight, that gives me a confidence boost.
Low self-esteem can lead to issues with depression and anxiety. This is not to say, that just because somebody is overweight, they will have low self-esteem. An overweight person can even have extremely high self esteem, depending on the person. However, if some people are much heavier than their goal weights, this can lead to self-esteem issues. Even if there are no major self-esteem issues, it just feels good to achieve goals for ourselves.
According to Good Therapy, the more your relationship with yourself is based on trust, respect, interest and affection, the better your self esteem. They claim that this means holding yourself accountable in a constructive way. And the best way to hold yourself accountable is to set goals. “Self-Esteem is enhanced when you set a goal that’s meaningful and important to you, and you follow through to make it happen”. If you want to find out if you’ll be happier if you lose weight, you can find an article here that I wrote on the topic.
Weight and Anxiety
People who are overweight experience more anxiety than people who are not. The links between this are not completely clear yet. I know however, that when I am way higher than my goal weight, that I feel just a bit more anxious and on edge than when I’m not.
There are three major types of anxiety. These are generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Generalized anxiety is about excessive worry about multiple areas of a person’s life. In social anxiety disorder it is mostly about worrying about a person’s interactions with other people. In panic disorder a person experiences panic attacks, episodes of more intense anxiety with physical symptoms.
There are some different theories for why people who are overweight experience greater anxiety. Some of these are that there is increased stigma, judgment, health problems, and lower self-esteem.
Some researchers have found a biological link between anxiety and obesity. Some people think that obesity contributes to anxiety because it throws off a persons hormones. According to cell.com, “obesity increases the incidence of depression and anxiety as a function of the extent of metabolic dysfunction”.
Diets with an excess amount of saturated fat and sugar promote mental health impairments, neuroinflammation, and metabolic dysfunction.
Although there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast evidence supporting this yet, if obesity is contributing to anxiety, then it seems to follow that reducing the weight may reduce the amount of anxiety experienced.
Weight and Depression
“One Study found that adults with excess weight had a 55% higher risk of developing depression over their lifetime compared to people that did not struggle with obesity”. There is a two-way link between depression and weight. If somebody is depressed, they are more likely to be obese. People who are obese, are more likely to be depressed.
It is sometimes difficult to pinpoint which thing came first, obesity or depression, because it is like the chicken and the egg. It seems that obesity can cause depression, but depression can also cause obesity.
A classic symptom of depression is a loss of interest and pleasure in activities. When you ingest food, it doesn’t bring the expected reward, so can lead to food addiction, in an attempt to achieve greater pleasure.
Similar to anxiety, although there is no or little direct research on whether losing weight can reduce depression, the fact that having excess weight gives you a 55% higher risk of developing depression probably means that by reducing the excess weight, you are reducing some of that %. Probably not the entire 55%, because there could be many other contributing factors, but possibly some of that 55% increase is reduced.
If you would like to read more about weight loss, you can purchase a concise e-book on the topic here for only $3.99