Congratulations! You Lost The Weight! But Why Are You Still Unhappy?
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
We are inundated daily with TV, print and radio commercials that tell us losing weight will make us healthier and happier. All one needs to do to have a more fulfilling, satisfying, happy life is lose weight. But are they right? A new study, published in PLOS ONE, shows that while losing weight will make you healthier, it might not make you happier.
The study examined 1,979 overweight and obese adults in the UK, finding that people who lost five percent or more of their initial body weight over a four year time period showed significant gains in physical health markers. However, these same people were more likely to report depressed moods than those who stayed within five percent of their original weight.
The researchers suggest that their findings highlight the need for clinicians to consider mental health as well as physical when patients are losing weight. In the past, clinical trials have been shown to improve weight loss participants’ mood, however, the researchers indicate that this could be more a result of the supportive environment than the weight loss itself. The mood improvement effects are seen early in such trials and are not related to the extent of the weight loss.
Weight loss does not necessarily cause depression, the authors caution, as depression and weight loss might share a common cause. The findings do show, however, that weight loss outside of clinical trial settings cannot be assumed to improve mood. They also raise questions concerning the psychological impact of weight loss.
The researchers collected their data as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) – a study of adults 50 years or older. They excluded patients who had a clinical diagnosis of depression or a debilitating illness. Standard questionnaires were used to assess mood, and weight loss was measured by trained nurses.
Of the original cohort, 278 (14 percent) lost at least five percent of their starting weight with an average loss of 15 pounds per person. The team adjusted the findings for serious health issues and major life events such as bereavement, which can cause weight loss and depressed mood. Before the adjustment, the people who lost weight were 78 percent more likely to report being depressed; after the adjustment, the odds of reporting depression remained high at 52 percent.
“We do not want to discourage anyone from trying to lose weight, which has tremendous physical benefits, but people should not expect weight loss to instantly improve all aspects of life,” said Dr. Sarah Jackson of University College London’s (UCL) Epidemiology & Public Health in a recent statement. “Aspirational advertising by diet brands may give people unrealistic expectations about weight loss. They often promise instant life improvements, which may not be borne out in reality for many people. People should be realistic about weight loss and be prepared for the challenges.”
“Resisting the ever-present temptations of unhealthy food in modern society takes a mental toll, as it requires considerable willpower and may involve missing out on some enjoyable activities. Anyone who has ever been on a diet would understand how this could affect wellbeing. However, mood may improve once target weight is reached and the focus is on weight maintenance. Our data only covered a four year period so it would be interesting to see how mood changes once people settle into their lower weight,” she continued.
“Healthcare professionals should monitor patients’ mental as well as physical health when recommending or responding to weight loss, and offer support where necessary. People who are trying to lose weight should be aware of the challenges and not be afraid to seek support, whether from friends, family or healthcare professionals.”
Professor Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Center at UCL, commented, “A recent UK survey found that 60 percent of overweight and obese adults in the UK are trying to lose weight. There are clear benefits in terms of physical health, which our study confirmed. People who lost weight achieved a reduction in blood pressure and serum triglycerides; significantly reducing the risk of heart disease. However, patients and doctors alike should be aware that there is no immediate psychological benefit and there may be an increased risk of depression.”
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