For many, weight is not just felt physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Connections between depression and obesity are well documented, and many people who are dangerously underweight suffer from psychologically-rooted eating disorders. Society places a lot of value on self-esteem, so when many people think about weight, we think of it as impacting self-esteem above all else, assuming that other mental health problems are just an offshoot of that low self-esteem taken to its extreme. We may suggest that a friend or family member find a psychotherapist or counselor, or go on a diet to lose weight.
But it’s not so simple as that. What does the connection between weight and mental health look like—and feel like—on a day-to-day basis? The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) conducted a study of middle-aged Australians to find out. Those participants who were obese were “more likely to report that emotional problems had affected their work or social activities, and were less likely to have felt calm and peaceful in the month prior to the study.” That’s a lot more serious than just feeling low self-esteem when glancing in the mirror; it’s a pervasive, perhaps constant blend of feeling both depressed and anxious at home, at work, and among friends.
This is why mental health is so important. It colors everything we do. It affects our mood toward ourselves, our surroundings, our social circles, our abilities, and our futures. In influences how we treat others (in this case, shying away from social activities) and how we treat ourselves (self-care, self-respect, etc.). The take home message from this research is not that we should all lose weight to feel better about ourselves, nor is it that a person’s psychological struggles are all tied to his or her weight. Plenty of research has connected mental and physical health, but this study fills in more of the picture, providing insight into the day-to-day struggles and quality of life issues that people can feel if they’re not happy with the way they look. It’s important to address any element of your life (weight or otherwise) that is detracting from your overall well-being. This may mean you find a therapist, a nutrition counselor, a personal organizer—whatever you need to better the moments that make up your day, and thus, the days that make up your life.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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