Can Weight Loss Improve Mental Health?

The physical benefits of weight loss include decreased blood pressure, improved circulatory system and increased cardiac health. But a new study shows that losing excess weight may also improve concentration and cognitive abilities including memory. John Gunstad, an Assistant Professor of psychology at Kent State University and lead author of the study, said, “We’ve known for a long time that obesity is a risk factor for things like Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, and more recent work really shows that obesity is a link to memory problems and concentration problems before that even begins.” Gunstad went on to discuss the motivation for the study. “If excess weight causes these problems, can losing weight help reverse them? That’s what we wanted to research.”

The study involved performing gastric bypass surgery on one group of obese subjects and comparing their cognitive skills to another group that had not had the surgery. The first group lost an average of 50 pounds after twelve weeks, and then tested at normal or above normal levels for concentration and memory. There was no noticeable improvement in cognitive ability in the group that did not lose any weight. In addition, the findings showed a slight decrease in mental acuity in those same people over the three month period.

Experts know that maintaining a healthy weight can protect people from developing other issues including depression, loss of self-esteem, and anxiety. But these new findings gave evidence to the fact that even those who are heavy have a chance to reverse adverse conditions. The researchers believe that these findings warrant further studies to determine if these same results can be achieved without surgery, but rather by using non-invasive methods including exercise and proper nutrition. “If we can improve the condition with surgery, then we can see if we can produce the same change with behavioral weight loss as well,” they said.

© 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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  • Bess

    Bess

    April 23rd, 2011 at 6:41 AM

    I will continue my crosswords for brain strength, but I will take my weight loss for feeling good about how I look. Good compromise.

  • wren

    wren

    April 23rd, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    a lot of obese and overweight people feel embarrassed of their bodies and will always have a negative body. when it comes to losing weight too,yes it does affect you because you are not being treated any different from gaining weight.

    losing weight can make you feel more self confidence and therefore make you confident in whatever you do and in interactions with people.

  • Barb

    Barb

    April 24th, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Maybe those who have lost weight are now able to focus on other things instead of worrying about what they weigh. Maybe they are better able to pay attention to other things and that is what boosts the marked improvement in memory.

  • amy

    amy

    April 25th, 2011 at 4:44 AM

    Losing weight is not the cure all that it is always claimed to be. You still can feel bad about yourself and be forgetful. You can still have an unhealthy relationship with food and be on the verge of backsliding every time you make a food choice. Losing weight does not make you have any other improvements unless you felt ok with yourself to begin with.

  • Arlene

    Arlene

    April 26th, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    I can see the weight loss helping a sour mood that stems from your body image and boosting your confidence too. And you don’t get physical fat on the brain, no matter how much you eat. Of course you’d probably die of a heart-attack well before that would be a problem anyway.

  • donna

    donna

    April 27th, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    @Arlene Some have body image problems which as I’ve seen here before are the real killers of mental health. If losing weight helps lift your depression, it makes sense that you’re going to take more of an interest in the world around you once you get yourself out of that fog of depression. Been there.

  • Cherie

    Cherie

    April 29th, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    I’ve also seen that a healthy body can result in an equally healthy mind. That saying has been around for years for a reason. Being overweight is almost never healthy, but then again neither is being underweight. Time we stopped looking at the scales and looked at our wellbeing instead.

  • Russ

    Russ

    April 30th, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    All the downsides of weight gain make me wonder why anyone would even let themselves get like that. I know some people genuinely have some issues with weight they can’t help but if you can get up and walk a mile, you needn’t be obese.

  • nigel

    nigel

    April 30th, 2011 at 6:51 PM

    That’s right, it’s just laziness IMHO. Being obese isn’t a medical condition if you can walk it off. That’s like cutting your leg off yourself then claiming you have a disability. If you have no reason to be overweight, then you’re just being lazy.

  • Shar

    Shar

    May 3rd, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    @nigel: There’s always a reason, Mr Cynic. Whether it’s down to depression or agoraphobia or abuse or self-loathing or whatever, there is always a reason underneath it all. Not always one you or I can see either so don’t jump to conclusions about laziness. You do not get obese overnight. Many obese adults have been struggling with this since adolescence and earlier and are hiding themselves behind their weight.

  • paula

    paula

    May 3rd, 2011 at 6:36 PM

    It always surprises me when I see that the simplest of things turn out to be the best cures for our modern-day issues, and the laugh is that we took years and years to discover that mind-body-connection and validate it.

  • Lillian S

    Lillian S

    October 12th, 2016 at 12:30 PM

    This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that weight loss can help with anxiety. I’ve had minor problems with anxiety for a long time, but I’ve put on more weight recently, and it’s been getting worse. Knowing that the two have a correlation, I’ll definitely look into getting help with trying to lose weight and dealing with my anxiety. Thanks for the great post!

  • Zequek E

    Zequek E

    February 22nd, 2017 at 8:00 AM

    This had some fascinating ideas. It makes sense how there is a correlation between mental health and weight loss. The thing that surprised me that most was that it could possibly help improve cognitive abilities. That’s pretty cool.

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