Weight Loss Monday May 23, 2016

How Mental Health Can Affect Your Weight

Obesity is condition in which the body weight of an individual is more than a normal healthy weight. Health experts determine this excess weight with a measure, BMI (body mass index). It is regarded as the most accurate measurement for determining fat levels in the body.

There is a lot of evidence out there that suggests there is a clear link between an individual's weight and mental health problems. This is an area that is considered to be rather unrecognised amongst nutritional experts. However, over time more and more evidence has surfaced to further prove that mental health has an affect on weight and vice versa. There are a number of mental health issues that are proven to be very influential when it comes to weight gain and obesity.


Depression is a psychological problem that develops due to low self-image or self-confidence. Depression can give rise to many other psychological problems. It is being linked to obesity by researchers. So, it is very important to treat psychological problems as and when these develop to avoid further complications.

Individuals who are classed as obese may have an association with depression and those who normally remained depressed are likely to become obese. This has been the revelation of researchers who carried out a study to find a relation between the two serious conditions.

"Obesity is the norm with depression, so it is pretty hard to separate the two. It is akin to saying that people who are depressed have more marital problems and people with more marital problems have more depression. You would need a pretty sharp knife to separate the two."

Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, Seattle psychiatrist

The 19-year study

A 19-year study conducted by study researcher Mika Kivimaki, PhD, of the University College London followed over 4,000 British civil servants between the ages of 35 and 55 when they first enrolled in the study during the mid-to-late eighties. The study looked to discover if there was a link between mental health disorder (including depression) and obesity. The study found that the participants who showed symptoms of one or more mental health disorders three times during the course of the study were twice as likely to be classed as obese during the final screening.

Mika Kivimaki, PHD followed this conclusion up by stating that; "The more times mental health symptoms were reported, the greater the risk for becoming obese by the end of the study. This points to a dose-response association between mental disorders and weight gain."

However, it can be difficult to decipher if it's depression that can cause obesity, or if it's the other way round. This is because there are very plausible explanations to support each theory. Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, a psychiatrist from Seattle, has supported this by suggesting "There are very plausible reasons why depression could increase the risk for obesity and very plausible reasons why obesity could increase the risk for depression. I think it is likely that both of these things are happening." He went on to say that an increase in appetite and less exercise are known symptoms of depression that can cause obesity, while on the other hand the stigma that goes hand-in-hand with obesity can cause depression.


The general treatment for obesity or depression can be changes in lifestyle, including more regimens of physical exercise, which considerably promote feel good factors in the body. There are also some effective treatment drugs for treating obesity, such as Xenical or Reductil, among people. However, researchers are of the view to integrate the treatment for both conditions. They said, "The treatment of depression and obesity should be integrated."

Binge Eating

Comfort eating is something we all do. If it's a bad day we might eat something sweet to cheer ourselves up, and although we describe this behaviour as a binge, binges are actually something much more severe.

The U.S. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, has classed binge eating as a 'disorder' along with bulimia and anorexia, and it's expected that NICE will soon follow suit.

According to the NHS binge eating is when 'a person feels compelled to overeat on a regular basis'. This means an individual who consumes a large amount of food in one sitting, even if they are not hungry.

Studies estimate that 1.3 million Brits turn their sweet treats into binges, which suggests an even larger number of people may suffer from it.

Men and women are equally affected, and that's a challenge to established eating disorder statistics because it's usually women who are treated for bulimia and anorexia.

Why Do People Binge Eat?

Some researchers believe it's a reaction to stress and emotional upset, others think it may be a genetic issue, whilst some believe it's due to how easily available food has become.

Binge-eaters may suffer from the following triggers.

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of stress, anger, boredom or loneliness
  • A past history of stressful or traumatic events
  • A family history of eating disorders
  • Dissatisfaction with their body

Why It's Not Healthy

  • A food binge turns into a vicious cycle where blood sugar runs amok and bingers try to use more food to counteract the lows.
  • The extra calories lead to excess weight and potentially type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, heart disease, and high cholesterol problems.
  • If you are binge eating as a reaction to distress or upset, you are not addressing the issue. This can lead to stress, lack of sleep and depression.

Episodic memory

We know that obesity is bad for the body as it contributes to heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, but a new study shows that it's bad for your brain too. Not only will your self-confidence take a tumble if you are obese, but research has shown that your memory worsens, especially in comparison to the thinner peers.

All About the Study

The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, didn't find that obese people are less likely to remember general knowledge, because that aspect of memory was unaffected. It was more specific than that. The obese study participants had worse episodic memory - which is the ability to recall past experiences. Researchers suggested that the worse episodic memory may lead to overeating - because the person can't recall their most recent meal as easily.

50 participants with body mass indices (BMIs) ranging from a healthy 18 to a very obese 51 took part. They all performed a memory test that asked them to hide objects on a computer screen at differing times and scenes. Later on they were asked to recall where they had hidden their objects. The obese participants performed worse - their scores were 15% lower than the people with healthier BMIs.

Researchers from University of Cambridge concluded that a higher BMI was having an impact on the 'vividness of memory' but it wasn't causing amnesia. What it might reveal is that obesity may have a weaker memory of recent meals and be unable to regulate how much food they consume as well as thinner people can.

The study didn't say if a weaker episodic memory was present from birth and led to overeating, or if people arrived at obesity by other means and then find themselves stuck in an overeating cycle. It's still early days as to why obesity affects the brain this way.

Are There Any Other Studies?

It's already known that concentrating on food intake slows us down and brings on feeling of satiety earlier, that we comfort eat when sad, scared or upset and that eating a TV dinner can distract us to cause overeating, so perhaps a study that shows a link between memory and obesity isn't so surprising.

Other studies have also shown that obesity perpetuates itself differently to those within a healthy weight bracket; if you are obese, you will perceive distances as further and slopes as higher - meaning there's less motivation to exercise. Test on rats found that the fatter they became, the worse they performed in memory tests.

Why Is This Important?

The kinds of studies mentioned above are helpful because they begin to uncover the mechanisms that create and maintain obesity, which is rising year by year not only in the UK, but around the world. It's become such a problem that the World Health Organisation (WHO) calls it 'an epidemic' and our own government is starting to tackle the problem by taxing fizzy drinks. Around 60% of UK adults are obese with the figure predicted to rise to 70% by 2034!

If psychological reasons are found to be one of the causes of obesity along with hormones, attitude, and education, then quality of life and the NHS obesity-related financial burden can be tackled from all angles - the more knowledge we have, the better because right now we're heading in the wrong direction.

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