You might think that dropping pounds and getting healthier would go hand-in-hand with becoming happier – but a new study turns this assumption on its head: Believe it or not, losing weight might actually put you at a higher risk for depression – at least, that’s according to a new study from the online journal PLOS ONE.
And while this isnt the first study to make a connection between weight loss and depression, its important to dig a bit deeper into these findings before you decide to ditch your weight-loss plans altogether.
For the study, researchers looked at almost 2,000 overweight and obese adults and found that those who slimmed down were 80 percent more likely to be depressed – and even after controlling for major life factors such as losing a loved one, those who lost weight were still more likely to be depressed than the people who didn’t drop a pound. Strange, right?
The study authors attribute this to the fact that many dieters slim down by depriving themselves – or the possibility that even though participants had dropped pounds, they not have reached their goal weights yet. Weight-loss expert Keri Glassman, R.D., a Women’s Health advisory board member, says this isn’t a reason to abandon any weight-loss plans you may have, though.
For starters, says Glassman, this study doesnt take into account how people were losing weight – it only looks at the fact that they lost it. This missing detail makes it impossible to distinguish whether a restrictive diet had anything to do with their elevated risk for depression – or if depression may have even caused their weight loss, says Glassman. (Study authors also acknowledged this limitation.) What’s more, the researchers didnt look into why people reported being depressed, which makes it hard to understand what issues made successful dieters more likely to be depressed, says Glassman. Lastly, the study might not have gone on long enough for the people who were losing weight to be happy with the amount they lost – an idea that the study authors also noted.
There are valid reasons why a person losing weight could become depressed, says Glassman. The people who lost weight might have been successful at losing it but became negative because they were doing it wrong, she says. Glassman also notes that some of her clients feel defeated when they dont lose weight as fast as they had hoped to. While those reasons are certainly legitimate, more research needs to be done to prove that an increased risk of depression does actually exist in those who lose weight. The results of this study aren’t a reason to not try to lose weight, but they show that we do need to better understand the implications of weight loss on your psychological wellbeing.
The bottom line: It’s still uncertain if there’s a strong connection between losing weight and becoming depressed and, if so, why that relationship may exist. That said, it follows that using extreme measures to drop pounds would bring anyone down. For a more sustainable – and happier – way to lose weight, approach it as a lifestyle change; swap out unhealthy calorie-dense foods for healthier ones you love, and start incorporating regular exercises you enjoy into your routine. Using this tactic may not provide the fastest results, but you’ll certainly be more upbeat along the way – and probably find that the pounds you drop are more likely to stay off for good.