Losing weight won't necessarily make you happy

Aug 12 2014 - 5:26pm
Dieting

If you are overweight losing weight is essential for good physical health but it won't necessarily make you happy. The catastrophic increase in cases of obesity has created an epidemic which is undermining the health of people. Losing weight may in fact help your physical health while surprisingly leaving you an emotional mess.

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There is no evidence of psychological benefits of weight loss.

Taking part in weight loss programs is generally associated with improved wellbeing alongside decreased cardio-metabolic risk. However, studies have shown no evidence of psychological benefits of weight loss reported PLOS One. However, this could be due to the inclusion of healthy-weight individuals. Researchers therefore investigated cardio-metabolic and psychological changes after weight loss in a group of overweight and obese adults.

Proportion of participants with depressed mood showed a greater increase in the weight loss group

The researchers found that the proportion of participants with depressed mood had a greater increase in the weight loss than weight stable or weight gain groups. The proportion of participants with low wellbeing also showed a greater increase in the weight loss group.

Meanwhile hypertension and high triglyceride prevalence were observed to decrease in weight losers and increased in weight gainers. It was concluded that weight loss over four years in initially healthy overweight or obese older adults was associated with decreased cardio-metabolic risk but no psychological benefit. The need to investigate the emotional consequences of weight loss has been highlighted by this study.

Weight loss significantly improves physical health

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Research at University College London (UCL) funded by Cancer Research UK found that weight loss significantly improves physical health but the effects of weight loss on mental health are less straightforward reports UCL.

In this study of 1,979 overweight and obese adults in the United Kingdom it was observed that people who lost 5 percent or more of their initial body weight over four years showed significant changes in important markers of physical health. However, these people were more likely to report a depressed mood than those who remained within 5 percent of their original weight.

Questions about the psychological impact of weight loss have been raised

The results of this study do not mean that weight loss necessarily directly causes depression in view of the consideration that depression and weight loss may share a common cause. However, the study does show that weight loss outside the clinical trial setting cannot be assumed to improve mood. This raises questions about the psychological impact which weight loss has.

In the study the people who lost weight were found to be 78 percent more likely to report depressed mood. Lead study author Dr Sarah Jackson says she and her associates do not want to discourage anyone from attempting to lose weight, which really does have tremendous physical benefits. However, it should not be expected that weight loss will instantly improve all aspects of life.

Aspirational advertising by diet brands could lead to unrealistic expectations about weight loss

Jackson says aspirational advertising by diet brands could lead to unrealistic expectations about weight loss. Instant life improvements which may not be seen for many people are often promised. Showing the willpower to resist the temptations of unhealthy food in modern society is really difficult and may be associated with missing out on some activities which are enjoyable. This could have a negative effect on a sense of wellbeing. However, it appears mood may improve once the target weight is reached and the focus turns from weight loss to weight maintenance.

This study presents us with a perplexing paradox in dealing with weight loss. There are clearly health benefits associated with weight loss which are essential for good health. Yet a depressed mood may initially be seen with weight loss. It would therefore appear wise for health care professionals to carefully monitor the mood of people who are dieting and work with them to help improve their mood.

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Comments

First, there seems to be an assumption that weight loss should improve psychological health. One article subsection is titled, "There is no evidence of psychological benefits of weight loss". Another article subsection title dramatically states, "Questions about the psychological impact of weight loss have been raised." Perhaps some of the confusion arises from the fact that the author seems to use "improved well-being" and "psychological benefits" interchangeably - when speaking this technically, those terms should not be used interchangeably. Further, weight loss, at least as conventionally approached, involves changes in nutrition and physical activity. Psychological health is largely a function of thought patterns and belief systems established during our formative years. In fairness, it's conceivable that one might experience "improved well-being" from weight loss, but why would one experience "improved psychological health" from dietary changes and weight loss when no psychological work has been done? In summary, psychological context (that created by the thought patterns and belief systems mentioned above) certainly impacts the weight loss / weight management experience in powerful and diverse ways. In my opinion, highly trained psychological specialists should be involved in every weight control program. For instance, there are reasons that a "depressed mood" is sometimes seen with weight loss. Generally speaking, an individual who experiences a depressed mood is someone who was not psychologically ready to be without the weight. Unfortunately weight loss programs are not typically capable of this type of screening. This is someone who should begin the process by making some psychological adjustments (tailored to the individual) so that she is psychologically prepared for the weight loss when it comes.