Obesity can take a toll on not only one’s physical health but also mental health. Medical experts also recommend evaluating one’s mental health while addressing obesity concerns.
Many research studies and articles have established the association between mental health issues and obesity. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal, Frontiers in Endocrinology, points out that people with severe mental illness (SMI) have a high prevalence of obesity and higher odds of developing obesity than the general population.
Studies also show that people with obesity have a 55 per cent risk of developing depression over time.
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Dr Brij Mohan Makkar, the founder of Dr Makkar’s Diabetes & Obesity Centre, New Delhi, says, “There [it] is a two-way relationship. When somebody is obese or overweight, they are more prone to developing mental health issues.”
There are also mental health issues which can lead to obesity. Someone with stress or depression may have the tendency to overeat or binge eat, which leads to weight gain. Dr R Vasanth, a psychiatrist at Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai, says, “It is called emotional eating. To overcome stress, anxiety or depression, some people tend to utilise high-calorie foods like packets of chips or tubs of ice cream as alternatives or for pleasure and indulge in binge eating. It activates the reward pathway in the brain, which releases dopamine to make you feel pleasure.” And that extra weight gain due to overeating can further cause depression and stress. It is a perpetual and vicious cycle, say experts.
Obesity can be caused by medical conditions or improper lifestyle and diet. Dr Makkar says that hormonal changes in the body could be a leading factor for both depression and an increase in weight. He cites an example. “Some people may have hypothyroidism, which promotes weight gain, which can further lead to depression.”
Psychological effects of obesity
Experts say people with obesity are prone to developing the following mental health conditions:
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Mood disorders, especially depressive disorders
Studies also show an association between obesity and severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. There is no causative link between the two, according to experts, but they say the association could be due to a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. A person with these disorders may not be motivated to follow the instructions of the doctor, lead a healthy lifestyle and indulge in physical activities.
Dr Makkar says that people with obesity could also develop issues like depression, low self-esteem, lack of confidence and unwillingness to socialisation. “They don’t want to interact because they feel they will not be able to make good friends. If they are of marriageable age, they worry about their looks and finding the right partner. All these factors affect their mental health.”
Dr Vasanth says, “By simply delving into exercise or other corrective measures will not solve the problem. It is important to resolve the core issue.” He also advises people to seek professional help because it can help them deal with issues like panic attacks and severe symptoms of depression.
Chemical imbalances, genetic and environmental factors
Obesity also has an impact on the neurochemical balance of the body. “Chemical imbalance leads to a plethora of symptoms, which vary from one person to another. The mental illness that one can develop also depends on the combination of neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin and other psychological factors,” says Dr Vasanth.
Dr Makkar points out that some people may be genetically predisposed to developing mental health issues and obesity. “There could be environmental factors too. A person working in a stressful environment may develop a lot of stress, which can lead to depression and overeating. It can in turn lead to more weight gain,” he says.
According to Dr Vasanth, positive dietary habits should be inculcated from childhood to help both mental and physical health. “Parents may use junk or high-calorie food as rewards for kids for completing a certain chore. That is wrong,” he says.
Ways to manage obesity and mental health
- Maintain a proper work-life balance
- Follow a balanced and healthy diet
- Do regular exercises as they release happy hormones
- Get an adequate amount of sleep
- Avoid substances like alcohol and high-calorie sugary foods
- Seek proper professional help
- Studies show people with obesity have a 55 per cent risk of developing depression over time.
- It is a two-way relationship. Obesity could lead to mental health issues and vice versa.
- Obesity could lead to depression, anxiety, emotional eating and other mood disorders.
- Multiple factors like medical conditions, genetics and environment could be the cause of obesity and mental health conditions.