We hear it all the time: If you’re stressed or feeling down in the dumps, nothing is better than a workout. Whether it’s a short walk around the block or an intense group class that leaves your legs feeling like Jell-O, experts are always saying that physical activity is the fastest way to improve your mood.
And to some extent it’s true. Physical activity does encourage the release of endorphins, so called “happy hormones” that can turn your frown upside down in the time it takes to watch an episode of your favorite reality show while jogging on the treadmill. However, new research indicates that losing weight, or more specifically dieting, can actually cause or increase the effects of depression.
Fewer Pounds, But More Bad Moods
How many times have you heard stories in TV commercials, magazine articles or just when hanging out with friends, about how life changing weight loss can be? Think about the TV commercials for popular weight loss products. We usually see someone, significantly overweight, looking sad and pathetic in the before pictures — and then, as soon as they shed the extra pounds, suddenly enjoying life. They’re hiking in the mountains, going out dancing with friends, randomly dancing in a field of wildflowers. The message, of course, is that as soon as you lose your extra pounds, all of your troubles and cares will be lost as well. Research from the University College London shows, though, that losing weight doesn’t automatically lead to an increased desire to dance in public. The study of almost 2,000 overweight or obese individuals monitored their physical and mental health over four years. Not surprisingly, those who lost at least 5 percent of their body weight saw significant benefits to their physical health, including lower triglycerides and overall cholesterol levels.
However, those same people were also 52 percent more likely to report depression than those who did not lose weight, lost less weight or even gained weight over the four-year study period. While the researchers were quick to point out that losing weight does not necessarily cause depression, the fact that losing weight does not always improve one’s mental state indicates that we need to be more realistic about expectations when it comes to dieting and exercising.
Why Dieting Makes Us Grumpy
The lead researchers in the British study attribute the increased likelihood of depression among those trying to diet to several factors.
Many people who start a diet do so with enthusiasm and a specific goal in mind. Often spurred by the promises of diet products that purport to help users shed pounds fast, many find that losing weight is hard work and the pounds rarely come off as quickly as one hopes. For some people, weeks and months of dieting just causes frustration and discouragement — and depression.
Researchers note that some of the people who tried to lose weight did so by unhealthy means: Skipping meals, severely restricting calories and relying on diet products that cause fluctuations in blood sugar, for example. These methods are proven to increase stress levels — and low blood sugar alone can influence mood — which increases the likelihood of depression.
Feelings of deprivation
Losing weight requires major lifestyle changes, and in some cases doctor intervention and prescription weight loss aids (check out a Canadian pharmacy to see affordable options). Even with help, though, some people go into a sort of “mourning” for their previous lifestyle, and feel deprived when they cannot eat the foods they love, and this causes depression.
No significant change to their lives
Some people embark on a weight loss plan with the expectation that their lives will change for the better as soon as they lose weight. Perhaps they expect to find love, get a better job, have more friends, better relationships, etc., but instead find that the only change is that even though they look and feel better, all of their problems are still there once the pounds come up. Losing weight doesn’t fix every issue, and some people get depressed when they discover this.
Addressing the Issue
While losing weight can lead to an increased risk of depression, doctors and researchers are quick to point out that the risk is not a reason to remain overweight or not diet at all. The potential health risks of being overweight or obese are far greater and more severe.
However, before you embark on a weight loss plan, you need to have realistic expectations about what you can accomplish and what the overall effect on your life will be. Talk with your doctor about the best way for you to lose weight and how to do it healthfully. If you find that you’re having trouble with your mood once you start losing weight, talk with your doctor about some strategies to help improve your outlook. Working with a mental health professional as well may help you pinpoint the cause of your depression and determine whether a prescription antidepressant may be in order.
If you are overweight, losing the extra pounds is one of the best things that you can do for your health. If you find that you are feeling down, focus on the positive steps you are taking for your health. You may never climb a mountain or twirl in a field of flowers, but you’re less likely to have a heart attack or diabetes — which is a much better outcome.