How Excess Weight Influences Depression
Statistics show that almost half of American adults diagnosed with mental health problems also qualify as obese. As a matter of fact, several studies have explored this link and discovered that various obesity-related factors, like visceral adipose accumulation, further aggravate depressive states. This creates a complicated situation in which one condition impacts and worsens the other in a seemingly endless cycle.
As such, health officials and wellness practitioners are making it a priority to address the connection between weight and depression. Addressing the problem begins with understanding the nuances and layers that make this connection difficult to overcome.
The truth of obesity and being overweight
Far too often, the general public labels others as obese or overweight without understanding the medical requirements to be called such. When many consider overweight vs obesity in weight classification terms, they assume that there’s no great difference between the two. In actuality, a qualifier determines which category a certain weight falls under.
Though controversial, measuring BMI (body mass index) is the most common way to know whether someone is overweight or obese. Instead of measuring fat, the BMI is revealed by comparing an individual’s height to their weight. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9
Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight. This doesn’t necessarily signify being unhealthy, as some people, like athletes, may have a higher BMI due to more muscle mass. This is usually considered as the step that is pre-obesity.
A progression of being overweight – reaching a BMI of 30 or higher – is obesity. Getting to this level is considered a medical concern. Classified as a chronic disease by health experts, it makes an individual more susceptible to conditions like insulin resistance and infertility.
Between the two, obesity has over 200 associated disorders, including depression.
Weight’s negative impact on mental health
The effects of excess weight on mental health are complex and layered. There are many unique experiences caused by obesity that lead to the deterioration of mental health. Listed below are some examples.
Obese people experience discrimination daily due to weight stigma, which refers to how being obese influences how others treat you. This manifests in negative ways like the lack of accessible transportation options, bullying, harassment in public, or even unequal treatment in healthcare settings.
These restrictions all contribute to making obese people feel different and isolated, which is a common trigger for depression. Research shows that people who experience helplessness and loneliness are 80% more likely to develop depression and suicidal ideation. Facing these roadblocks daily can lead to lasting mental health issues and damage to self-worth.
Regarding appearance and the self, studies have determined that having a higher BMI negatively correlates with self-esteem. Heavier people tend to suffer from poor body image, as they perceive themselves as less attractive than their thinner peers.
This often causes insecurities and low confidence, which may hinder an obese individual’s social relationships. This negative internalization of the self becomes a risk factor for depression and may lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits. Disapproving of their own looks prompts obese people to feel regularly unsatisfied and unhappy.
Besides societal effects, an obese individual’s mood can be heavily swayed from within. Almost 75% of obese people develop metabolic syndrome, and research states that having metabolic imbalance worsens mood disorders.
The body’s metabolic rate determines the speed it burns the body’s fat and the amount of food converted into energy. A person’s regular cognitive skills are disrupted if their body inadequately provides their brain with the fuel it needs. Due to dulled thinking and processing, an individual is more likely to suffer from extreme mood swings and behavioral shifts.
How to combat weight-related depression
With how detrimental obesity-caused depression can be, it’s important to find ways to combat this. While it’s not easy, there are slow but sustainable solutions that can help. Here are some of them:
Intentionally observe self-love
Beginning from within, obese people are more likely to suffer from an inferiority complex: the feeling of being less valuable than the people around them. The next time you catch yourself wallowing in negative thoughts, challenge that thinking. Take the reins back by practicing intentional self-love through positive affirmations and appreciating what you can do.
Engage in physical activity
The second step to fighting these negative feelings is to get moving. Starting with easy exercises like walking for long distances can alleviate mood disorders, and it contributes to helping you lose weight. In fact, brisk walking for 30 minutes a day can help you burn up to 150 calories while also releasing endorphins.
Try a new diet
Your diet not only affects your weight, but it also impacts your mental health. Eating lots of sugar and processed food has been proven to heighten mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Instead, load up on fruits and vegetables as a great source of vitamins and minerals which promotes a healthy mental state.
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT
Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.
Last updated: May 29, 2023