Maintaining a healthy weight is the key to health, but is it also a key to happiness? You would think so, and Daily Health News has been a great source of information about why weight management is so important and how to do it. But there is more to happiness (and weight management) than just shedding pounds. In fact, losing excess weight might even make you less happy, according to accumulating scientific research. Here’s why—and how you can avoid that odd side effect if you are on a diet.
MEASURING WEIGHT AND JOY
You would think that shedding extra pounds would be a cause for joy, but two large studies done a few years ago found that weight loss, even among people who want to lose weight, doesn’t necessarily promote that feeling. In one study of older people who were already depressed, no reduction in depression was seen among women who lost weight and men became slightly more depressed. The other study, which also looked at correlations between weight and depression in older people, found that those who lost 5% or more of their body weight over a three-year study period had a 51% greater risk of depressed mood compared with those who had no weight change.
Now, a new study has more closely explored the link between depression and losing weight by tracking mood and weight in obese and overweight adults.
This study measured blood pressure and triglyceride levels, depression and life satisfaction in about 2,000 people over the course of four years. The researchers also controlled for other variables related to mood and weight, such as major life events (death of a spouse or parent or divorce, for example) and whether a person intended to lose weight. At the end of the study, participants were divided into three groups based on whether they had lost or gained 5% or more of their weight or not. About 53% of people in each group had intended to lose weight.
The results: Although the people who lost weight became the physically healthiest, they were the least happy or satisfied by the end of the study. Even though incidence of depression actually increased for all three groups, the weight-loss group, which had the lowest incidence of depression (6%) at the beginning of the study, had the highest incidence of depression—24%—at the end. Meanwhile, incidence of depression rose from 8% to 16% in the stable-weight group and rose from 8% to 14% in the weight-gain group. As in the earlier study that included people of all weight ranges, intention to lose weight among this study population of obese and overweight people did not impact the results.
Feelings of satisfaction with life also sank the most in those who lost weight.
In grasping for answers about their findings, the study’s researchers questioned whether weight loss causes depression or vice versa…or whether weight loss and depression might both be results of a common cause. The answers await discovery through yet more studies, but it seems reasonable to think about whether lack of proper nutrition or even lack of self-indulgence influences depression…or maybe weight loss simply isn’t the all-purpose emotional problem-solver that some people expect it to be.
COVER ALL BASES
Maybe the real nugget to chew on here is that, if you are making efforts to lose weight, also take steps to prevent a sagging mood just in case the two do somehow naturally go together. And by understanding that losing weight is not likely to produce feelings of euphoria or make every other aspect of your life all right, you can set more realistic expectations, congratulate yourself for meeting the challenge of weight loss and improving your health and then fearlessly face the next challenge, whatever it may be.