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Psychological Consequences Of Being Overweight

Harry Mills, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 10th 2016

Psychological consequences of being overweight or obese can include lowered self-esteem and anxiety, and more serious disorders such as depression and eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia and anorexia. The reasons for why this is so aren't hard to understand. Modern culture worships youthful slim, toned bodies. With rare exceptions, only thin, proportional bodies are considered sexy. Obese or overweight people are looked down upon. It's easy to feel bad about one's self, to become depressed or anxious or to develop obsessions around eating control when one's culture makes it clear that the way one appears is completely undesirable.

self-esteem street signOne doesn't have to be overweight to get into psychological trouble with eating, either. Eating is pleasurable, and because this is true, all manner of people (fat and thin both) end up using eating as a ready source of emotional comfort when they are feeling stressed out. It comes as no surprise that such stress-induced eating leads to weight gain, which in turn leads many people to feel still worse about themselves, motivating still more stress-based eating and additional weight gain. All too often, stress-based comfort eating becomes a vicious cycle and downward spiral.

Loss Of Energy and Joy For Life

If the negative health and shame aspects of being overweight aren't enough, overweight people also tend to have less energy than their normal weight peers. Because it takes them more effort than their peers to be active, they tend to gravitate towards low-activity lifestyles and become sedentary. An unfortunate circle develops wherein the less active people become the greater their risk of gaining still more weight, and the more weight people gain, the less likely they are to become more active. Life stresses seem more overwhelming as exercise (which could begin the process of reversing this downward spiral of decreasing energy levels) is avoided and a major opportunity for the reduction of muscle tension, stress and anxiety is lost. Over time, even ordinary tasks of daily life like going up a flight of stairs can lead to exhaustion and a sense of premature aging.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

In Response to Michelle - Maria - Apr 10th 2010

I understand where you are coming from. I have had some issues with the same thing people discussing my body in public or at places in front of people which annoys me dearly. I have lost close to 200 lbs and since then, people stare at me like I am a stranger. My family is having issues with it, I thought this would be great if I lost this weight, but some people have not been supportive, or like when they say you lost SO much weight, what they mean is wow, you used to be SO fat, or at least thats how it certainly feels to me. (even if they dont mean it like that, it tends to come across that way). So I am out here, and I feel what you feel in that regards.

Depressed as ever - Tanya - Jan 23rd 2007
In 2002, i was extremly fat, and dicided to take bioslim products and now i am over fat and very frastrated. I wish to motivate myself that i am still beautiful but hey its so difficult, and worse my boy friend does not want me to loose this horrible wait

A response to Michelle - Crystal - Aug 24th 2006
This is a comment to Michelle: Hi, my name is Crystal and I am a Los Angeles native but live in Mississippi now. I have been having the same problem as you regarding my weight loss. In March of 2005, I was 183 lbs, now as of August 2006, I am at my goal weight of 115 lbs and plan to keep it off for life. I am really happy about my accomplishment. Others have been excited about my weight loss as well - FOR A WHILE , ANYWAY. When I first started losing, people would give me compliments, which I loved, but then when I started to get closer to my goal, people I know everywhere, particularly at work, started telling me that I didn't need to lose anymore weight, but I wasn't satisfied with where I was. I still get good compliments even now on how good I look, but I wanted to get to "MY" goal weight, not the weight where they wanted me to be. I started getting comments like the ones you were receiving," You're not still on a diet, are you?", and "You don't need to lose any more weight." So I definitely know where you are coming from. It really does feel uncomfortable at times. It even got to a point where I would feel uncomfortable to eat in front of others because I felt as though they were watching my every move and everything I was eating. When I would bring my lunch to work, everyone would ask me all the time, "Crystal, what did you bring for lunch today?", which was okay at first, but eventually it got to be very, very annoying. I am so glad that I didn't let anyone stop me from achieving my goal of 115 lbs. If I would have listened to everyone, I would not be where I am today. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that a person shouldn't listen to advice because people do mean well most of the time when they give you advice, but sometime listening to others will hinder your success. So my advice to you and all others who are winning the battle of weight, "Go for it!" " Whatever weight goal you have set for yourself, don't give up until you have reached it." Don't let others discourage or persuade you otherwise.

the "stress" of being "normal" after obesity - Michelle from Oakland, CA - Jun 20th 2006
Hi, I have lost 90 lbs. during the last year using weight watchers and walking 4 to 5 times per week. I lost an average of 8 lbs per month over 12 months and am keeping it off. I am 5'6" and now weigh 135 lbs., which is a normal weight according to the AMA, the websites from health insurance carriers, etc. So far, I have continued to exercise and "count points" according to the weight watcher maintenance program and I have kept my weight under 140 lbs. I realize that I look very different and people notice and frequently comment about the weight loss. Certainly I enjoy it when someone says, "Gee, you look great!" However, there is also a tendency for some people to assume that it is OK to make rather personal comments about my body size and weight (previous and current), even in front of other people. I find this overly personal, particularly at work. I am beginning to feel anxious and uptight when people make any comments about my weight loss because I never know how intrusive or embarrassing the comments are going to become. In particular, it is very uncomfortable to hear people say "Oh my God, you've lost SO much weight!" or "You aren't trying to lose any more, are you?" or "Are you STILL losing weight?" or "How much weight have you lost?" - "you look SO different". It sometimes feels that I have very little privacy about my body, even at work, which is a professional setting. The comments are beginning to feel hostile, rather than supportive. I have begun to ask some of my co-workers not to comment. Generally, once I say something, a light seems to go off and people usually understand that discussing another person's body might be inappropriate. I have been looking on-line for comments or research about this to see if other people who have lost weight have this problem. I don't want to whine about acheiving an important goal, but it does seems like our culture is so obsessed about weight and being fat, that people just can't believe it when someone actually does lose all the weight. I am not anorexic, nor do I believe that I have any eating disorder or that there is anything wrong with me. I have done a lot of research about what is a healthy weight and I believe that I am now a normal weight. My husband is very supportive and believes that I am healthy. I feel healthy. However, some of the people who have known me for a long time seem to be having difficulty getting used to the way I look now. I would like to know if this is a phenomenon that your group is familiar with. Thanks for listening. Michelle

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