On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

Why You Might Be Struggling with Weight Loss and Depression

Chasing weight loss in pursuit of happiness? Learn why tipping the scale may not always lead to a positive emotional outcome.

Why You Might Be Struggling with Weight Loss and Depression

Have you ever heard yourself saying, “I’ll be happy when I lose the weight?” Do you feel like your happiness and weight loss depends on losing a certain number of pounds? Struggling with weight loss and depression can make the two seem tied. 

Keep reading to find out more about depression and weight loss, including how to lose weight and feel better. 

Does Weight Loss Make You Happier?

If weight loss makes you happier, why do studies show that some people have an increased risk for depression, self-harm, and suicide following bariatric surgery? 

Often, with weight loss, it comes down to one word: “expectations.” What do you expect with weight loss? 

Happiness doesn’t automatically happen because you lose weight, but can be a key part of your pursuit for happiness. Developing a weight loss plan that supports your “why”—like more energy to play with kids or grandkids—instead of an arbitrary result—such as losing a certain number of pounds—can help keep you motivated. 

Depression and Weight Loss

A recent study involving women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) illuminated two important factors when dealing with weight loss and depressive symptoms: 

1. Lifestyle modifications 
2. Cognitive-behavioral therapy

PCOS is a condition linked to weight gain and insulin resistance, and this study found that therapy combined with lifestyle modification proved more successful than lifestyle changes alone. 

In other words, weight loss isn’t just about the number on the scale. It’s about what you are doing to feel good mentally and in other areas of your life, too. Holistic measures, which take into account the whole person and not just part of your health journey, can have a greater potential to improve your quality of life. 

Symptoms & Side Effects 

Keep in mind that medications for both weight loss and mental health may increase the risk of depression. It is important to fully understand the side effects of a medication before including it in your wellness regimen. Additionally, some medications can change your appetite, making you more prone to under- or over-eating. 

Symptoms of depression may also overlap with disordered eating or an eating disorder. For this reason it’s important to have a multidisciplinary healthcare team. This means that your health care team is made up of different medical professionals that can address your physical, mental, and emotional health by communicating with one another. 

Remember, weight loss isn’t a singular solution. It often involves an intervention of the mind and body to address deep-seated issues (like depression). Success is possible and sustainable when you work with qualified health care professionals (i.e. therapists, doctors, and dietitians) to maintain a healthy weight and find solutions that work for you.

Reworking Rewards

Both disordered eating and depression deal with the reward mechanisms of the brain. The good news is that you can “rewire” your brain to better cope with struggle. What may seem difficult today in your weight loss journey (i.e. healthy eating and exercise) can become second nature when you learn more about how your brain and body operate. 

How to Lose Weight and Feel Better

Weight regain is common after bariatric surgery, suggesting that not all weight loss treatments are created equal. Learning skills and healthy habits are among the more sustainable treatments, and often have greater potential for increasing quality of life. 

Don’t know where to start? Set the foundation for success and happiness in your weight loss journey by starting with the following interventions. 

Get in the Mindset for Weight Management

A good mindset is key when it comes to weight loss. A recent study showed that the neural pathways of historic dieters and people who have never dieted are different. Those who have dieted may be more susceptible to weight gain or prone to ignoring hunger and satiety cues (the “feel full” signals in your body). 

Eating slowly and being more mindful about mealtimes can help your body (and mind) create healthier habits around food. Becoming more intentional about eating can make weight management more fun and feel less like a chore . 

Support Exercise With a Healthy Diet

Diet and exercise go hand in hand. The goal of exercise shouldn’t just be to burn calories. Instead, make movement enjoyable and support your exercise with a healthy diet plan that supplies energy.

An eating plan that involves healthy fats—such as fatty fish and olive oil—and plenty of fruits and vegetables while excluding ultra-processed foods can help you feel full without overeating. 

Consult a Mental Health Professional

Including a mental health professional in your journey, especially if you’re undergoing bariatric surgery or experiencing eating disorders, can help you identify warning signs.

A mental health professional can also help you navigate deeper issues at the root, like body image, weight-related stigma, or emotional eating.

The Bottom Line on Weight Loss for a Happier You

Basically, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for weight loss and happiness. In general, it’s recommended that you work with a mental health professional to define what success means to you.

Then, working with other professionals (i.e. doctor, dietitian, personal trainer) can help you find sustainable habits for healthy weight maintenance. 


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