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Obesity & Mental Health

Obesity & Mental Health: A Destructive Relationship

Over 42% of Americans suffer from the debilitating effects of obesity – a medical condition that is interlinked with a lot of illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, smoking, and mental health illnesses as well.

It is not an unknown fact that there is a destructive relationship between obesity and mental health disorders, mainly because the two suffer from indiscrimination, victimization, and stigmatization in society. 

For instance, people suffering from bulimia nervosa (an eating disorder) have a toxic relationship between food and purgatory responses to cleanse their bodies of the calories consumed. Contrastingly, many mental health medications such as antipsychotics aid in weight gain as a major side effect. This weight gain might contribute to obesity, which may, later on, worsen the mental health of a patient who also has body dysmorphia. 

Is Obesity Causing or Worsening Your Mental Health?

Adults with a baseline body mass index of 25.0 to 29.9 are considered overweight, whereas those with a BMI of 30.0 falls under the label of obesity. Multiple studies indicate that individuals with preexisting anxiety or depression suffered from a disproportionate increase in weight gain which contributed to obesity later on. 

Similarly, individuals suffering from obesity have a 55% more chance of developing a mental health disorder such as depression or mood disorders. Adults with similar disabilities also face a 58% higher risk of developing deteriorating mental health conditions such as anxiety and body dysmorphia. 

So, how does obesity cause or worsen mental health? Let’s take a look at some of the societal and environmental factors that contribute to the connection between obesity and mental health disorders. 

Poor Quality of Life

Extra weight might pose problems in daily functioning and is considered a pivotal disability by the sufferer. The inability to move around with ease, or to do day-to-day chores might contribute to low self-esteem as well as worthlessness. The comparison with life prior to obesity might cause depression and significant mood swings as seen in mood disorders. 

Similarly, this disability might also prevent obese people from tending to their favorite hobbies. Obesity is often coupled with excessive tiredness, chronic back pain, constipation, and in severe cases, urine incontinence as well. Coping with a number of disabilities might be difficult, especially when your quality of life is threatened. Poor quality of life is perceived as monotony and redundancy which might coax the sufferer to isolate themselves from social environments. 

Slow Metabolism

Many systemic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism can have an impact on a person’s metabolism. High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, have also been shown to cause an increase in appetite and consequently, an increase in insulin resistance as well as weight gain.

Societal Stigmatization

Despite increasing awareness regarding obesity in society, many individuals face the wrath of body-shaming stereotypes. For instance, obese people are often considered “lazy” with “poor self-control,” “low self-esteem,” and a lack of discipline. Instead of treating obesity as an illness, people with obesity are victims of self-blame and peer pressure.

This victimization leads to discrimination in society as well as in healthcare practice. From facing embarrassment in the workplace to stigmatization in the healthcare setting, obesity might be one of the leading factors behind social anxiety and unipolar depression

Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is the heightened perception about one’s body image which causes a person to focus on their body’s flaws instead of accepting them as they are. The pressure caused by European beauty standards might have a role to play in creating detrimental body issues in people with an insecure complex. 

Body dysmorphia can cause personality disorders or eating disorders in people who 

feel ‘judged for their looks’ in society. The fear of being a victim of bodily appearance that does not complement society’s sub-standards of beauty can lead to social isolation and fear of abandonment. In severe cases where body dysmorphia stems from hatred of one’s body, people might cause self-harm, which warrants urgent treatment.

Mood Disorders and Depression

Many mood disorders such as bipolar affective disorder might cause a person to look for coping strategies, one of which might be binge eating. While many might perceive binge-eating to be due to a lack of self-discipline, it is in fact a symptom of a mood disorder that requires management.

Plus, depression causes low self-esteem which prevents people from paying attention to their body’s needs or appearance. A lack of exercise and poor dietary habits might cause obesity, which in turn, will worsen depression

Obesity or Mental Health Illnesses – Which One to Blame?

Both obesity and mental health illnesses are strongly interlinked with each other. It would be quite unfair, as well as impossible, to conclude which one of the two occurred first. The root causes of either condition can be identified with the help of differentials so that the necessary treatment can be acquired. But is it even necessary?

Given that both these conditions are heavily stigmatized in society, pursuing treatment might impose a barrier, and hence, worsen the illness in the first place. We, at Manhattan Medical Arts, are highly committed to identifying your illness—be it a mental health disorder or systemic illness contributing to obesity, or the other way around. Let’s pledge to take care of ourselves starting today-book an appointment with Manhattan Medical Arts and receive urgent and non-biased medical care whenever.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 02/07/2022

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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