Although excess body weight is considered a physical problem, there’s also a link between obesity and mental health.
The relationship between these two factors is now well established, as most medical experts agree that excess weight and mental health issues impact each other.
In this article, we present you with the facts about the mental effects of obesity and how mental health problems can lead to weight gain.
Mental health and weight gain: How are they related?
Let’s start by looking at how mental health issues lead to weight gain. A study published in 2010 found that people diagnosed with depression had a higher risk of becoming obese – and the risk was significant at nearly 60%.
Other mental health problems are also linked to higher chances of being obese, as is the case of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Similarly, being exposed to constant stress or not knowing how to manage it can cause weight gain. This happens because excessive mental stress causes an increase in the amounts of cortisol, a hormone that plays a key role in regulating the metabolism. It’s believed that high cortisol levels slow down the metabolism, which means you burn fewer calories.
Sugar consumption, a consequence of stress caused by being overweight
There’s also evidence that spikes in cortisol production cause sugar cravings, which would explain why many people snack on sugary foods when they’re stressed. This is the triggering mechanism of the so-called emotional eating, one of the main psychological reasons for weight gain. Over time, an excessive sugar intake causes weight gain and an increase in belly fat.
Low serotonin levels (which are common in depressed individuals) have a similar effect. For many years, researchers have known that low serotonin causes spikes in carbohydrate cravings and create the conditions for emotional eating.
Lastly, although no mental illness causes obesity directly, it’s important to be aware of the fact that some medications taken to treat mental health issues can cause weight gain. This is the case of certain anti-depressants, and especially at high dosages.
The psychological effects of obesity
So far we’ve seen that mental health issues can cause weight gain, but the connection between obesity and mental health is also evident the other way around. Being obese or overweight can affect your psychological well-being and eventually lead to mental health issues.
Various studies have confirmed the mental effects of obesity. For example, some researchers observed that obese individuals had a 25% increase in odds of developing mood and anxiety disorders.
In the United States, researchers have found a correlation between obesity and disability, which in turn has a negative impact on mental health.
We also know that being obese can interfere with people’s quality of life, as these individuals face physical limitations that stop them from doing what they enjoy.
Moreover, obesity is still surrounded by stigma. This, coupled with a poor body image and low self-esteem, may lead to social isolation and to feelings of powerlessness, which in turn can trigger more serious mental health conditions.
Also, overweight or obese individuals often lack the energy or motivation needed to stick to a regular exercise routine. Physical inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle are known risk factors for mood disorders like depression and anxiety, which could reinforce the vicious circle between excess body weight and mental health problems.
The path to mental and physical well-being
Obesity and mental health issues share similarities in risk factors and habits:
- Disruption to sleep patterns.
- Poor eating habits.
- Sedentary lifestyle.
This gives us a clue as to how addressing these areas can help improve both conditions.
With the right approach, it’s possible to lose weight and improve your overall mood, even if you have a mental health condition. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are the key to a healthier weight and a brighter mood.
It’s worth remembering that food is not an enemy. In fact, it’s a great allay, helping improve psychological mood and at the same time achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Some people may also benefit from non-surgical weight loss devices and from professional support in their path to better well-being. If obesity and mental health concern you, don’t hesitate to seek help. Find more on our website and try our solution for weight loss.