For Mental Health, Weight Influences More than Just Self Esteem

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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Linda

    Linda

    January 25th, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    I’d also like to add that overweight people are sometimes ridiculed by others and this can result in stress and tension. And because there is a certain prejudice regarding weight issues,overweight people may think people pre judge them even if the opposite person is not.

  • rene t

    rene t

    January 25th, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    I would jut hit that with the listen working skong kettle it…someone who gave and half a roughy time to turn of you…

  • Justine

    Justine

    January 25th, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    It’s funny how some people with weight issues make absolutely no attempt to fix it by either hitting the gym or eating less than usual. It’s not that hard to lose weight. You could lose all your excess weight with a walk to the store and back if you did it often enough on a regular basis and cut out all the junk food. You don’t even need fancy equipment or gym memberships, just a good pair of tennis shoes.

  • juanita

    juanita

    January 26th, 2011 at 5:36 AM

    Because being overweight makes you feel depressed, plain and simple. I know that there are people at a healthy weight who also experience depression but I would be willing to bet that there are more overweight people who are depressed. It makes you feel bad about yourself and it has such an influence on how you feel physically too.

  • mathew r

    mathew r

    January 26th, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    I have to agree with what you’re saying,Linda.there sure is prejudice.
    and the problem due to this is that when an over-weight person is interacting with someone and that other person says something or asks something,the overweight person may interpret this as a comment directed towards him/her being overweight,even if it wasn’t so.this would only lead to the overweight person feeling a mental ‘weight’ because of this and this may well lead to depression,something of a rabbit-hole!

  • Nic

    Nic

    January 27th, 2011 at 5:45 AM

    My mom was chronically overweight and she was never happy. How can you be happy when you feel like people are staring at you and making fun of you every time you leave the house? people can be so mean and my mom was never able to get past that.

  • Cason

    Cason

    January 28th, 2011 at 5:47 AM

    I would love to read more on this issue, about what comes first, the depression or the weight? Memoirs would be great. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  • Diane

    Diane

    February 3rd, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    I was thin all my childhood and pre-teen years. After being sexually molested at 8 years old and raped at 14, this caused some serious issues about my body self image. In the following years I married an abusive man who would with-hold food from me and verbally abuse me about my weight. That relationship terminated 18 years ago and my love affair with food began. I weighed 320 lbs by comforting myself with food. This issue is deeper than going to the gymn, working out and dieting. Depression, absolutely came first, then the weight problem. By the way I have lost 120 lbs and still am deemed overweight. I suggest that if anyone has a history like mine, the best gift you can give yourself is professional psychotherapy.

  • Chelsea

    Chelsea

    February 7th, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    If losing weight were nothing but hitting the gym and eating less, there would be a bunch of thin, happy people populating the country. When a person has emotional reasons tied to their eating habits, or an eating disorder, the answer is NOT hitting the gym and giving Jenny a call. It’s way more complicated than that.

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