For a long time, losing weight has been touted as one of the sure-fire routes to a better life. We have media advertisements and nosy friends and family to thank for constantly drumming the fact that “thinness leads to happiness” in our ears. This might make it sound like achieving a smaller size is the key to becoming a new and improved version of yourself with a healthier body and a generally happier life.
Surprisingly, losing weight does not always translate to a happier life. In fact, the opposite effect is what happens in some cases. You will be surprised to discover that there is a connection between feelings of depression and losing weight. But does weight loss cause depression?
According to a recent study published in PLOS ONE, an online journal about weight loss, there is a connection between weight loss and depression. Interestingly, this is not the first time such a claim is being made. There are other unrelated studies that point to the possibility of weight loss leading to depressive symptoms.
It is important to note before we proceed, that losing weight can indeed lead to a better and healthier life. It reduces the risk of various conditions including heart-related diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Losing weight can also improve your social and personal life which can result in an improved mood, lower stress levels, and a general improvement in your mental health. However, some factors may counteract these effects and lead to negative consequences. These factors can predispose individuals to depression when they lose weight whether intentionally or unintentionally.
One possible explanation for the possible connection between weight loss and depression is unrealistic expectations. The pressure to become slimmer and achieve a positive body image is the major motivating factor why some people opt for a weight loss regime. However, when the rate of weight loss is too slow or they’re unable to achieve their expectations, it could lead to feelings of hopelessness, discouragement, and frustration. These can negatively affect your mood and general outlook on life and lead to depression.
Another similar scenario is when one sets unrealistic expectations about the impact of weight loss on other aspects of their life. Being overweight may be connected to relationship issues, workplace challenges, and family problems. However, in many cases, these problems won’t simply disappear after you lose weight. They will continue to trouble you and may even get worse when you realize that your weight loss does not solve them. These personal difficulties are best addressed as separate issues and solved either independently or alongside your attempt to lose weight.
Malnutrition and depression
There is also a likely medical explanation as to why weight loss can lead to depression. There is a potential link between malnutrition and depression. This explains why many individuals suffering from eating disorders often struggle with depression too.
Not losing weight the right way can lead to depression even when the weight loss goal is achieved. Some of the unhealthy methods people follow to lose weight include intentional starvation, fasting, severe calorie restrictions, extreme exercise, and taking diet pills.
However, when your body is starved of the nutrients it needs, your brain does not get the energy it needs to function properly. So while weight loss may be achieved through these unhealthy habits, it usually comes at a cost of fatigue, low mood, and even depression.
This is why the best approach to weight loss remains a combination of a healthy weight loss diet and regular physical exercise. Losing weight healthily requires time and effort. Attempting to speed up the process of cutting corners will tell on your body and mind in the long run. It is possible to lose weight without skipping meals or severely restricting your calorie intake. A healthy approach to weight loss like this is recommended to avoid possible side effects.
The link between weight loss and depression is a two-way street. One of the likely consequences of poor mental health is weight loss. This may be a result of poor feeding habits due to mood changes, low energy, and fatigue. Some medications for depression may also cause weight loss especially during the first few months of use. For instance, antidepressants like bupropion (Wellbutrin) and fluoxetine (Prozac) might cause weight loss due to reduced appetite, diarrhea, stomach upset, and other side effects that have been associated with them.
However, this might kick off a cyclic chain of effects in which depression leads to weight loss, and the resultant worry about losing weight further contributes to the feeling of depression. This is typically the case when weight loss is not intentional. It could lead to a negative body image that can exacerbate existing psychological issues including depressive tendencies. It is recommended that individuals on medications should be made aware of the possible side effects of such drugs. Also, taking anti-depressive medication should be accompanied by counseling and other forms of psychological help that will help patients understand their situation and solve the underlying issues.
While it is clear that there is indeed a connection between weight loss and becoming depressed, the extent of this connection and why this is the case is not very clear. However, we know for a fact that trying to use extreme measures to lose weight can have adverse effects which may include poor mental health. Similarly, setting unrealistic expectations and failing to deal with underlying issues can also bring someone down when the level of success achieved does not match the expectations.
A more sustainable and happier method to losing weight is always recommended. This includes making healthy lifestyle changes such as swapping unhealthy calorie-dense food in your diet for healthier alternatives and exercising regularly. This will ensure a steady but safer weight loss which more consistent results and long-term benefits to your body and mind.