Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Does losing weight make you depressed?

When I saw the reports in the media that "Losing Weight Could Make You Depressed,"I thought it was just another case of media misrepresenting the findings of a study to drive traffic.  Though weight loss makes us healthier, the articles said, it might be okay not to lose weight because losing it won't make you feel better and could make you feel worse.  People enjoy studies that tell them not to do things they don't want to do.
I don't think seeing this on a scale would make me depressed, but am I wrong?

Then I clicked through to the press release on the original study (the paper itself would not open for me) and found that it said essentially the same thing.  I also found a more in-depth article in The Daily Mail that included an interview with the study's authors, who speculated that unrealistic expectations and the rigors of dieting could be responsible. 
‘Dieting requires considerable willpower and it might involve missing out on special meals and eating in restaurants. It is not necessarily the most pleasant experience for people.‘Lots of people want to lose weight thinking it will fix all their problems. But while it will go some way towards fixing their health, it won’t necessarily make them happier in the short-term.’
The study was done on adults 50 and older, four years after their weight loss. I wonder if this group is more likely to feel the isolation of missing out on social opportunities to avoid temptation.  I wonder if the findings would be different with a different age group.

People who were actually clinically depressed were excluded from the study, so these were people who reported feeling down, not people with a diagnosis of depression. Also people who had major life events like a death in the family. I would have liked to see the paper, because it would be interesting to know how many of the original 2,000 people had to be eliminated for one reason or another.

I can see the point that people who expect weight loss to solve problems, like relationship problems, that aren't really caused by excess weight, they are going to be disappointed. It's also easy for people to make weight loss the "designated issue" that is standing in the way of happiness, and to be disappointed when the pounds come off but the unhappiness is still there.  And a lot of people seem to use food as a way to not feel sad feelings, so that when that crutch is gone they may feel more unhappy.

It's hard to tell. If A (weight loss) correlates with B (reporting depression), it could be that A causes B, B causes A, A and B are both caused by a third factor. Enough people have reported feeling a letdown after weight loss (including me) that it is worth thinking about.

I'm hoping that losing weight in a sustainable, realistic way is going to be satisfying enough in itself that I wouldn't feel let down -- but I have to get there to see.

What do you think? Does this study ring true to you?


  1. Yes. Granted I was depressed before I lost weight, but my armor was gone. I felt naked. I lost the weight but was miserable and I could not handle the attention. I gained my weight back.

  2. Not for me personally. Lost 50 lbs and so far kept it off for five months. I work on a system which enables me to have larger meals / eat out from time to time by juggling calories for the week to accommodate that- certainly find the positives outweigh the negatives of dieting.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07