How does Obesity affect Mental Wellness?
— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.
Physical activity on a weight loss journey is critical, but it’s also important to recognize the impact of obesity on mental, emotional, social and spiritual health.
We talk a lot about the importance of physical activity to maintain health in the weight loss journey, but as we approach World Mental Health Day (October 10), it’s also important to recognize the impact of obesity on mental wellness.
Medical issues related to obesity, such as diabetes or high cholesterol, are often the first signs of weight-related health problems. A blood test quickly and easily confirms the diagnosis and a doctor can prescribe one of many safe and effective treatment options. Diagnosing mental health is a different issue. The signs aren’t always outwardly apparent and although several medical questionnaires have been created to measure depression and anxiety, it can still take a while to get to the underlying causes of the unhappiness.
What are Misperceptions about Obesity?
Part of the problem is that it is still — inexplicably — acceptable for people to comment on other’s weight. In fact, we thrive on it! Movies, television shows, songs and even news stories promote a single image of the “right” body shape despite the fact that only about 25 percent of the population is “normal” weight! This creates an unrealistic image of what constitutes healthy and acceptable, and leads to perceptions of people who are overweight or have obesity as “lazy” or “undisciplined.”
No matter how comfortable you are with yourself, it’s hard not to be affected by unkind comments or judgmental glances. It’s no wonder that people with obesity face significant challenges with their mental, emotional, social or spiritual health. This can lead to eating disorders, which might further contribute to weight, as well as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
To be fair, many misperceptions about weight gain come from ignorance about their causes. Some people think that if you change your diet or “just get out there!” and exercise your weight will simply fall off (as if we haven’t tried that a hundred times already!). Mistaken assumptions like these come from a lack of awareness and education about the range of issues that contribute to weight gain, some of which are beyond an individual’s control. People don’t know what they don’t know.
Creating Your Own Path
It’s very hard not to be affected by stereotypes and harsh words. Becoming more aware of the many causes of obesity is a first step in enhancing your own understanding of contributing factors. This may help identify why you struggle with weight loss and maintenance. Also, be kind to yourself! Know that your efforts are moving you toward better health, both physically and mentally, even if you can’t actually see it. The only opinion that truly matters is yours, so encourage yourself and give yourself a break when you get to an obstacle. The journey is yours; make it memorable and positive!
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.