Shocking Psychological Changes Following Weight Loss in Overweight Adults


Sarah Jackson and her colleagues at University College, London, found some startling results when they studied obese people who lost weight. They tracked the results of almost 2000 dreamstimefree_6342896 dancing girlhealthy, overweight and obese adults (average age of 50) for four years, and found a reduction in cardio-metabolic risk but no psychological benefit, even when changes in health and life stresses were accounted for. Wow, not what most of us would have expected. Many people assume that participation in successful weight loss programs will bring  improved wellbeing as well as reduced cardio-metabolic risk. Maybe not. Importantly, Jackson gathered data from adults who were free of long-standing illness or clinical depression and who had been in the weight loss program for 4 years. People were grouped by losing ≥5% weight, gaining ≥5%, and stable weight.

The results will surprise you.

  1. The percentage of participants with depressed mood increased more in the weight loss than weight stable or weight gain groups.
  2. The proportion with low well-being also increased more in the weight loss group, but not by much.
  3. Hypertension and high triglyceride prevalence decreased in weight losers and increased in weight gainers

 All effects persisted in analyses after they adjusted for illness and life stress during the weight loss period. So, maybe getting skinny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on, “If I lost weight, my life would start, I would be happy, I would …” People also probably found themselves restricted from activities they enjoyed, such as going out to eat or drink. We all have to have some relationship with food; we cannot give it up like smoking or drinking. I’ll keep my eyes open for more studies about the connections between well-being and weight.

Source: Jackson SE, Steptoe A, Beeken RJ, Kivimaki M, Wardle J (2014) Psychological Changes following Weight Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Prospective Cohort Study. PLoS ONE 9(8): e104552. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104552

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