Although some research indicates losing weight makes people healthier, many dieters don’t cite health concerns as their reason for trying to lose weight. Instead, they say they are doing it in pursuit of a more general life improvement. Now a new study, which followed nearly 2,000 people in the Unite Kingdom over four years, reiterates that people who expect weight loss to lead to a better, happier life may well wind up disappointed, and in reality, losing weight does not make people happy.
One aspect of the problem is high expectations. Weight is only one aspect of someone’s life, an a fat person with problems who slims down is likely to end up as a thinner person with many of the same problems. Moreover, weight loss is a slow and difficult process, and there are no instant results. The researchers characterized their results as meaning that dieters should not expect instant improvement in all areas.
That doesn’t necessarily mean no one should bother. In the study, subjects who had a weight loss of at least five percent were found to have significantly improved health outcomes. Fourteen percent of study subjects achieve this level of weight loss, an average of 15 pounds each, and their physical health improved, but at the cost of mental health. Even taking unrelated averse life events into consideration, the subjects who lost weight were 50 percent more likely to be depressed than those who did not.
The researchers cite unrealistic expectations, encouraged both by the culture generally and weight loss industry advertising in particular, as one factor in this linkage. Another aspect of it is the constant temptation, also encouraged by advertising, to eat unhealthy foods and foods that might impede weight loss. In fact, many of these foods are promoted as enjoyable because they are in opposition to weight loss efforts.
The researchers say their findings are relevant not only to people considering losing weight but to their doctors. They say doctors should take mental health and well-being into account when advising patients on whether and how to lose weight. Doctors should monitor patients who are losing weight to ensure that signs of depression are promptly addressed. The study only looked at the weight loss period, an it is not known if the effect diminishes or disappears once the goal is reached and the dieter can switch focus from losing weight to keeping it off.