Losing Weight Is Depressing?

The headlines are certainly depressing:

Losing Weight Could Make You Depressed
It’s Official: Dieting DOES Make Us Depressed
Losing Weight Might Make You Healthier But Not Happier
Dieting Does Make Us Depressed
Dieting May Cure Obesity And Heart Disease, But It Also Breeds Unhappiness

Those headlines flow from a complex study that — gasp — supports none of those claims.

It was a large, complex observational study that has no power whatsoever to prove anything about cause and effect. The researchers carefully note this fact. What they did find was an association between depression and losing weight. Weight loss could be causing depression. Depression could be causing weight loss. Or something else could be causing both weight loss and depression.

What is known from randomized controlled trials is that many forms of obesity treatment result in weight loss, better cardiometabolic health, and a reduction in depression. Observational studies don’t trump controlled studies. It’s the other way around.

What this observational study highlights is the fact that the relationship between obesity and psychological health is extraordinarily complex. Major depression can cause weight loss. Psychological issues can cause weight gain that will not be automatically resolved with weight loss. And medicines to treat depression can cause weight gain.

Obesity is a complex set of many different conditions. Suggesting weight loss causes or cures depression is at best simplistic and possibly dishonest. Sometimes psychological issues result from obesity. Sometimes they lie at the root of it.

But psychological issues don’t magically disappear with successful weight loss. Thoughtful, professional care considers the whole person and their well-being.

“The groundwork of all happiness is health.” — Leigh Hunt

Click here to read the study in PLOS ONE and here to read more about it. Click here to read more about controlled studies of weight loss and resulting changes in depression.

Between, photograph © miyukiutada / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


2 Responses to “Losing Weight Is Depressing?”

  1. August 19, 2014 at 8:37 am, Luci said:

    When losing weight and trying to get healthier, it does not help that people around you continue on the path that put you in an unhealthy state. I get a little bummed every time my family insists on having family get together so based on food. Not healthy food either. So depression could come from those feelings.