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The Link Between Weight Loss and Mental Health

weight loss and mental health
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Written by Andrew Le, MD.
Last updated April 20, 2024

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Understanding the connection between weight loss and mental health is crucial as societal pressures and unrealistic body standards dominate our screens. Sometimes, people may turn to extreme dieting or other unhealthy weight loss methods to conform to these unrealistic expectations.

Research has demonstrated that the relationship between weight loss and mental health is bidirectional, meaning one can affect the other. Individuals with obesity are 55% more likely to experience depression than their non-obese counterparts.

In this article, you will learn about the connection between weight loss and mental health, its benefits, and strategies for prioritizing mental health during weight loss.

🔑Key Takeaways

  • Weight loss can impact mental health bidirectionally, with individuals facing increased risks of depression and anxiety, and stress and emotional eating being common challenges during the weight loss journey.
  • Achieving even a modest weight loss of 5-10% can lead to notable mental health benefits, such as improved self-esteem, body image and a reduction in symptoms of depression.
  • Weight loss surgery has been shown to positively affect mental well-being, contributing to an enhanced mood, increased self-esteem, and an overall improvement in the quality of life. However, surgery does carry potential risks and complications, and the mental health response to surgery may vary.
  • Creating healthy habits, prioritizing sleep, maintaining a positive attitude toward exercise, and adopting a lifestyle approach rather than a restrictive diet are crucial strategies to ignite weight loss and improve mental health.
  • Mental health and weight loss retreats offer specialized programs, including therapy sessions, physical exercise, and group support, to help individuals develop healthy habits and achieve sustainable lifestyle changes.
  • Recognizing the interconnectedness of mental and physical well-being is essential for long-term weight loss success, emphasizing the importance of addressing mental health through stress management, counseling, and self-care strategies.

What Are The Mental Health Impacts Of Weight Loss?

Losing weight is often considered a positive change for our physical health, but it can also significantly impact mental health. Some people might find it stressful and anxiety-provoking to maintain weight loss, leading to obsessive thoughts and behaviors around food and exercise.

Rapid weight loss can cause hormonal imbalances that might affect mood and energy levels, further exacerbating mental health issues. Therefore, it is crucial to approach weight loss healthily and sustainably, considering the potential impact on mental health.

Below are some of the key mental health impacts of weight loss:

1. Stress and Emotional Eating

Stress and emotional eating are closely linked factors that can significantly impact an individual's physical and mental health. Stressful situations can trigger the release of hormones that increase appetite, leading to the consumption of high-calorie foods.

On the other hand, emotional eating is a coping mechanism used to deal with negative feelings, which can result in overeating, weight gain, and other health issues.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), chronic stress may lead to unhealthy eating habits, such as high-calorie comfort foods.

Studies indicate that thirty-three percent (33%) of adults who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress do so because it helps distract them from stress. Meanwhile, twenty-seven percent (27%) of adults say they eat to manage stress.

2. Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety can significantly impact an individual's physical and mental health. Studies have shown that those who suffer from depression have a 58% higher risk of developing obesity.

This is a concerning statistic as obesity can further exacerbate these conditions, leading to a vicious cycle. Furthermore, individuals who experience depression and anxiety may be more vulnerable to weight gain, which can further deteriorate their mental health.

3. Social and Peer Influences

Studies have shown that societal beauty ideals can pressure people to conform to certain body types, leading to body dissatisfaction and potential mental health decline.

Women, in particular, feel compelled to conform to a slim beauty standard, while men are expected to have a muscular physique. The impact of societal beauty standards is greater on women than men, and it can have far-reaching effects on their overall well-being.

4. Eating Disorders

People who engage in extreme measures to lose weight, such as severely restricting their calorie intake or overexerting themselves through excessive exercise, can risk developing eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. These disorders are generally characterized by a distorted body image, obsessive focus on weight and food, and a range of physical and mental health aspects.

More specifically, anorexia nervosa involves severe calorie restriction, often leading to an abnormally low body weight, and can result in a range of physical health problems, including anemia, heart problems, and osteoporosis.

Bulimia nervosa, on the other hand, involves periods of binge eating followed by purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, or excessive exercise.

Both conditions can have severe mental health consequences, including depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal, and require specialized treatment to address the underlying psychological and physical issues.


Buoy’s medical team has identified the most effective treatments for your mental health and symptoms. Home treatments may be recommended initially, but you may also require a virtual or in-person consultation with a healthcare provider, prescription medication, or other treatment options.

What Are The Mental Health Benefits of Weight Loss?

Studies have shown that shedding as little as 5% to 10% of your body weight can positively impact your mental health while reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. Some of the mental health benefits associated with weight loss include:

1. Improved Self-Esteem and Body Image

Weight loss can have a positive impact on self-esteem and body image. When individuals lose weight, they often feel more confident in their appearance and have a greater sense of accomplishment. This can improve overall well-being, including better mental health and increased physical activity.

A study on obese women revealed that their perception of their bodies drastically improved after undergoing a weight loss program. The women reported feeling much better about their bodies after losing weight.

Before the treatment, the participants who had a positive body image exhibited higher levels of self-esteem, less distress, and fewer attempts at dieting in the past. After 24 weeks of the weight loss program, there was a significant improvement in body image. However, a minor weight gain from week 24 to week 48 led to a slight decline in body image.

Nonetheless, after 48 weeks and an overall weight loss, the women reported a significant improvement in their body image compared to their initial perception.

2. Reduction in Symptoms of Depression

Weight loss is beneficial for physical health and positively impacts mental health, particularly in reducing symptoms of depression. The psychological benefits of weight loss stem from various factors, including improved self-esteem, increased physical activity, and changes in hormone levels.

By shedding extra pounds, individuals can gain a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence, which can help combat the sadness and hopelessness often associated with depression.

Studies have indicated that behavioral weight loss interventions can significantly reduce depression symptoms in the short term, with reductions of up to 5%. This suggests that weight loss can have a significant psychological impact on individuals and can lead to improved overall

🗒️ Related Articles

According to WHO, depression affects around 3.8% of the population, with 5% of adults experiencing it (4% of men and 6% of women) and 5.7% of adults over 60 years old. Globally, approximately 280 million people suffer from depression. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities characterize this mental health condition.

To learn more about depression, check out some of our articles:

How Does Weight Loss Surgery Improve Mental Health?

Weight loss surgery, or bariatric surgery, has had a positive impact on mental health. Studies have shown that many patients who undergo weight loss surgery experience an improvement in their overall mood, self-esteem, and quality of life.

This is likely due to a combination of factors, including the physical changes after surgery and the psychological support often provided to patients before and after the procedure. By achieving significant weight loss, patients may feel more confident and experience a sense of accomplishment, which can help to improve their mental well-being.

Additionally, the lifestyle changes required after surgery, such as adhering to a healthy diet and exercise regimen, can positively impact mental health.

Important to note however, is that bariatric surgery is a significant medical intervention, and like other medical procedures, carries potential risks and complications. These must be carefully weighed before engaging in surgery to ensure it is the best option. Not all individuals will experience the same mental health benefits post-surgery, and understanding this will be helpful with strategizing short and long-term care.

How Can You Initiate Weight Loss And Improve Mental Health?

People with serious mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia, are 50% more likely to develop obesity than the general population. Although proper diet and exercise should be a priority for mental healing, it is often neglected.

If you are determined to overcome cravings and lose weight, you should prepare your mind and body. Here is how to conquer the mental aspect of weight loss:

1. Create Healthy Habits

One effective strategy is to set rules around eating habits. For instance, you can establish a rule prohibiting eating after 8 p.m. If you tend to snack frequently, consider making a rule never to eat carbs alone and instead opt for more protein or healthy fat options in your snacks.

2. Make Sleep a Priority

Getting a good night's sleep is equally important for maintaining a healthy weight. Not only does quality sleep improve mental health, but it also helps the brain function more effectively. When the body is deprived of sleep, sugary and fast food options become more attractive due to the lack of energy. To avoid these temptations, prioritize getting at least seven hours of quality sleep every night.

3. Stay Positive About Exercise

Exercise is another key component of weight control. It helps build motivation and overcome obstacles and releases "feel good" endorphins that improve mood and provide relief from stress, anxiety, trauma, depression, and ADHD. If you don't enjoy certain physical activities like running, don't force yourself to do them. Instead, try working out with friends or joining a class you enjoy. This will help you stay motivated and view exercise as an enjoyable activity rather than a chore.

4. Ditch the Diet

Labeling your healthy lifestyle as a “diet” may sound dreadful and often demotivating. Dieting is often related to a quick fix or a minor meal plan to lose weight. However, once you quit your diet and finally lose weight, you might return to your poor eating habits. As a result, you will ultimately regain the pounds you once lost.

Once you accept to improve your health and overall well-being, you will consider this as a lifestyle rather than a diet. Pure willpower will help you overcome cravings and develop a healthier relationship with food. These changes will improve how you eat and think about your overall health.

What Are Mental Health and Weight Loss Retreats?

Mental health and weight loss retreats are specialized programs designed to help individuals improve their mental health and achieve their weight loss goals. These retreats provide a safe and supportive environment where participants can engage in various activities, including:

  • Therapy sessions
  • Physical exercise
  • Healthy meal planning
  • Group support
  • Wellness activities

These retreats aim to help individuals develop healthy habits, build self-esteem, reduce stress, and achieve a sustainable healthy lifestyle. The retreats are led by experienced professionals who guide participants through the program and provide personalized support to help them achieve their goals.


Mental health can significantly impact weight loss, as those who struggle with mental health issues may experience challenges in maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine. Stress, anxiety, and depression can lead to emotional eating or a lack of motivation to exercise, hindering weight loss.

On the other hand, achieving a healthy weight can positively impact mental health by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, improving self-esteem, and promoting a more positive body image. Prioritizing mental and physical health for long-term weight loss success is essential.

Addressing mental health alongside weight loss can be achieved through stress management, counseling, and self-care strategies. These strategies can help individuals cope with weight loss challenges and improve their well-being.

FAQs on Mental Health and Weight Loss

How does weight loss impact the risk of developing an anxiety disorder?

Weight loss can lower the risk of anxiety disorders, reducing stress levels and fostering better mental resilience.

Does weight loss have any cognitive benefits?

Weight loss has been associated with improved cognitive function, including better memory and problem-solving skills, although research is still ongoing in this area.

Can weight loss enhance social interactions?

Indeed, weight loss often leads to better social interactions and a more active social life, reducing feelings of isolation.

How does losing weight influence your mental health?

When people lose weight, they often experience an improvement in their self-esteem and body image. However, it's worth noting that the root cause of being overweight could stem from psychological factors such as emotional eating, depression, or food addiction. These conditions can often be alleviated with the help of a mental health professional.

What type of doctor should I see for weight loss and mental health concerns?

For a holistic approach to weight loss and mental health, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional specializing in both fields. Consider seeking guidance from a Bariatrician or an Obesity Medicine Specialist who can address weight-related issues. Additionally, a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist can support mental health concerns.

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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Le obtained his MD from Harvard Medical School and his BA from Harvard College. Before Buoy, his research focused on glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer. Outside of work, Dr. Le enjoys cooking and struggling to run up-and-down the floor in an adult basketball league.

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