Obesity is a complex disease that involves excess body fat. It can affect not only a person’s physical health, but even their mental health as well. Obesity can invite mental health problems, as well as heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver and kidney problems, and sleep apnea. Likewise, having any mental health issues may also affect a person’s weight. Obesity and mental health issues both go hand in hand. It is important to follow a healthy lifestyle to manage weight and mental health issues.
How can Obesity Affect Your Mental Health?
Some studies have found that body size may be associated with mood and anxiety disorders. This means that if you are larger, you may be more likely to have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.
The relationship between body weight and mental health varies from person to person. For some people, emotional distress may lead to irregular eating patterns. It is natural for the human body to crave the comfort of food to cope with stress. This also means that if someone is in a constant stressful situation – which is common for people with larger bodies – this can lead to weight gain.
Emotional impact of weight
Negative societal attitudes toward larger body sizes can also lead to mental health problems. Overweight people often encounter judgments or stigmas from other people. They may often hear the message that heavier people are:
- Lazy and irresponsible
- Ugly and undesirable
- Responsible for high healthcare costs
- Part of an “epidemic,” in which their body has a “disease”
Not surprisingly, these discriminatory beliefs about larger people lead to negative feelings about one’s self. These experiences can lower self-esteem and lead to other mental health symptoms.
Fat people also experience other forms of size discrimination that increase the risk of mental health conditions. It is not uncommon for larger people to earn less than smaller people. Larger people are also less likely to be promoted or hired. And income insecurity is a strong predictor of mental health problems.
What’s more, larger people may find that certain activities are out of their reach, which may make it more difficult for them to cope with negative emotions. For example, amusement park rides have seats that are designed to be too small for people of all sizes. Or, an obese passenger who encounters difficulty fitting into an airline seat risks being denied a flight because of his or her size.
Can Mental Health Problems cause Obesity, too?
The link between obesity and mental health is not a one-way street. While it is clear that being overweight can negatively affect a person’s mental health, mental health disorders do affect a person’s weight as well. Here are some examples of how:
- Chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder can also lead to poor dietary choices, which in turn can lead to weight gain.
- Serotonin deficiency is associated with depression, sleep disturbances and anxiety, and it is associated with carbohydrate cravings and weight gain. In other words, people who are deficient in 5-hydroxytryptamine may self-medicate through food.
- People who are depressed may lack the desire to exercise or do any other activity. A sedentary lifestyle may lead to weight problems.
Tips for Improving Your Physical and Mental Health
Regardless of your weight, there are many steps you can take to help protect your mental health. By making certain lifestyle changes, you can improve your mental and physical health.
Eat for good health
Your diet plays a vital role in both your physical and emotional health. Eating a nutrient-rich diet will help you maintain a strong immune system that fights off common diseases and infections. Limiting your fat and sugar intake will also help you maintain a healthy body mass index, reducing your risk of diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Staying in good physical shape will have a positive impact on your mental health. Nutrient-rich foods also support good brain health, improving your mood and energy levels. Nutritionists recommend that you should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This should ensure that your body gets the nutrients and minerals it needs to maintain good health. You should try to avoid processed foods and limit your intake of fat, sugar and salt.
Increase healthy movement
Exercise is an important activity for your physical and mental health. Regular exercise can decrease your risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Type 2 diabetes
Professionals recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which can be spread out over several days. For example, you could do 50 minutes of exercise three days a week or 30 minutes five days a week.
Moderate intensity exercise includes power walking, bicycling at a moderate pace, and doing yard work.
If you are doing strenuous exercise, such as running, swimming or competitive sports, then it is recommended that you do at least 75 minutes of exercise per week.
At the end of the day, the exact type of exercise is not as important as getting physical activity that feels enjoyable and appropriate for your body.
Make time for relaxation
Life can be stressful, and daily stress can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. Relaxation allows your mind and body time to heal and repair itself. Making time for relaxation is fundamental to maintaining good physical and mental health. Everyone should schedule some downtime into their day. Look for enjoyable activities that help you relax and relieve feelings of stress. This may involve spending time with friends, doing a hobby you enjoy, or just relaxing at home. Taking time to relax will make it easier for you to cope with stress and overcome any problems in your life.
We used to think that poor sleep habits were caused by mental health disorders, but recent research suggests that poor sleep may be the cause of, or make worse, mental health problems. Following a healthy bedtime routine can make you feel happier, calmer, and better focused throughout the day.
Community and Relationships
Whether that support comes from family, a partner, friends, co-workers, or even pets, feeling connected to the people around you can increase the sense of purpose and love in your life. Find ways to create community.
Weight and mental health overlap. While weight itself may contribute to the development of certain mental health conditions, the effects of weight discrimination and restrictive weight loss attempts are also powerful risk factors for mental health problems. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your health that can have a positive impact on your mental health