Getting skinny will solve all our problems—at least, that's what all the diet ads say. But a new study reports that not only does losing weight not make people happier, it may increase the risk of depression two-fold.
For four years researchers at the University College of London followed 2,000 individuals who were overweight or obese but otherwise healthy. All participants had been instructed to lose weight to improve their health, and at the end of the four years, 14 percent of participants had lost 5 percent or more of their body weight while 15 percent gained more than 5 percent of their body weight. The remaining 71 percent remained at their original weight. Researchers then measured the participants' depression, overall well-being, blood pressure, and triglycerides to get a picture of their psychological and physiological health.
The results were surprising. Although participants were healthier physically, those who lost weight were twice as likely to be depressed as those who gained or maintained weight. They also reported a lower overall well-being. This held true even after researchers accounted for demographics, health conditions, and psychological variables.
Why would someone be sad if they lost weight? Sarah Jackson, Ph.D., lead study author, says that while they can't determine cause, from correlation it appears there is something about the process of losing weight that makes people unhappy.
"Although dieters may feel a sense of satisfaction in seeing the numbers of the scale go down, each pound lost requires considerable willpower and sacrifice to achieve," Jackson says. "It is easy to see how restricting food intake, resisting temptation, and, in some cases, even avoiding social occasions that center around food could take a toll on well-being."
Jackson says she hopes people will take away the understanding that weight loss may not instantly improve all aspects of life.
"They should be prepared for challenges and willing to seek help from friends, family, or healthcare professionals should they begin to struggle psychologically," she says, adding that likewise, health professionals should monitor their patients' psychological well-being as well as their physical health when recommending or responding to weight loss, and offer psychological support where required.
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