How many times have you seen diet ads depicting people who finally lost that excess weight and are as ecstatic as can be with their new lives? Getting thin sure looks like a recipe for happiness! Alas, a new study suggests that that’s not actually the case. Not only do people who lose weight not feel happier, they often feel worse than they did before losing the weight.
Researchers from the University College London followed 2,000 overweight or obese Brits for a period of four years to better understand the interconnectivity between physical and mental health. Although the subjects who shed at least 5% of their body weight expected to be happier for slimming down, the results demonstrated that were more likely to suffer depression in conjunction with the weight loss.
Make no mistake – proper diet and exercise are fantastic ways to become physically healthier. The study also reconfirmed some long believed truths about losing weight, like that it lowers both blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. The researchers are obviously not attempting to encourage anyone to not engage in healthier activities. Rather, they are hoping to dispel the myth that life automatically gets better after losing weight.
Those who lost 5% of their weight were 78% more likely to experience depression than overweight and obese subjects. When excluding major life tragedies like the loss of a loved one, depression was still significantly higher among people who lost weight by a rate of 52%.
While the researchers are unable to say that weight loss causes depression based on their findings, lead author Dr. Sarah Jackson thinks these findings are important since they show that losing weight is not the fix-all that the media often portrays. She further theorizes that the stress of keeping the weight off becomes too much for some people to bear, contributing to a downward shift in mood.
“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,” said Dr. Jackson. “Anyone who has ever been on a diet would understand how this could affect wellbeing.”
Since the study only covered a four year period, there is hope that happiness would be easier to achieve after learning to make weight maintenance a part of one’s ordinary routine. In the short term, however, the disappointment of finding that life isn’t magically better just because someone has a more slender frame can be more upsetting than not losing weight at all.
Regardless, this topic is one that deserves further exploration moving forward.