Psychology of Weight Loss: How Obesity Affects Mental Health



Obesity feels like a strong word, but it is a common complaint. Considered a disease, obesity is what a doctor will diagnose when someone has excessive fat on their body. In general, obesity occurs when someone eats more than they need and moves less than they should. However, this is not the only cause, and the overeating, under moving problem often has hidden depths, rather than a superficial easy fix of eating less and moving more.


Research tells us that with obesity comes a significant psychosocial burden, and that individuals with obesity often struggle with self-esteem, mood, quality of life, and body image.


Depression and Weight Loss


depression weight lossAlthough historical research shows no link between obesity and depression, more recent studies show an association between depression and obesity. Some studies even show multiple links between the two. One study concluded that people with obesity problems are 55% more at risk of depression.


Obesity related depression might have social stigma at its cause, but there is another more scientific hypothesis. Obesity can cause chronic inflammation in the body. When the body suffers with inflammation, there is suppression of serotonin. This in turn causes depression. Added stress in the way causes the body to create cortisol, which also causes depression and suppresses serotonin. It is not always clear which is the symptom and the cause, as some parts of the cycle move in both directions. For example, obesity causes inflammation and inflammation causes obesity, likewise stress causes depression and depression causes stress.




Obesity and Self Esteem


Obesity affects self-esteem in different ways. Some employers will treat obese people unfairly, and socially obese people have a greater chance of social discrimination. There is a greater risk of bullying at school or in the workplace, and it feels harder to make friends and form relationships. Education creates changes, but we’re not fully there yet. Even without external bullying, many obese people will bully themselves every day. This reduces confidence and leads to further complications as they hold themselves back from participating in society.  


Psychology of Weight Loss


diet cultureFrustratingly, the overwhelming choice of diet plan does not help with weight loss. I speak with so many people who jump from one plan to another. Some plans work for a short time and then stop, others don’t work at all. The biggest problem for most is the recognition that they need a plan for life. Your life plan may adapt as your life changes, and it will evolve as your knowledge grows. When you set the goal to focus on your health, to be the healthiest you can, rather than holding a strong focus on weight loss, you have a greater chance of success.


Before you make any changes, I urge you to speak with a nutritional therapist or read some of Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s work to truly understand what your body needs nutritionally. A lifetime of flitting from one plan to another squashes and confuses your food related intuition. A diet plan that works is one that focuses on your overall health and nutritional needs with a focus on the foods your body – not your thoughts – crave each day. The natural foods that your ancestors once foraged from their doorstep or produced in their small community. Although life today prevents this wholesome way of life for most, you can still buy the foods from the supermarket or local producers. The biggest challenge is carving your way through the mass produced, processed foods, all designed to keep you wanting more.




Combat Obesity


To fully combat obesity, we know through the psychology of weight loss that you need to make lifestyle changes that extend beyond your food choices.


Daily meditation will help you regain control of your choices. Mindfulness practices will help you remain in the present moment non judgmentally, so your focus is on permitting and accepting feelings, rather than suppressing with food. When you find an exercise plan that is enjoyable, rather than a slog, you wake up each day raring to go. By creating healthy sleep habits, you wake up each morning before the alarm, feeling fresh and ready for the new day. Self-care generates a feeling of kindness towards yourself, which makes losing weight a by-product of self-care, rather than your sole focus.