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Improving psychological health may help losing weight

Posted October 8, 2015

Nowadays looking good is very important as we are keen to show ourselves on social networks, media is promoting healthy lifestyle and obesity is spreading like a disease. However, most overweight people decide to lose weight on the basis that they will feel better when they are skinnier. But this may not be the case, as scientists at the University of Adelaide now suggest that the opposite may be true. New research demonstrates that happiness may help lose weight.

People think that after losing some weight they will be happier. However, the opposite may be true – taking care of psychological health and increasing happiness may help people to lose weight. Image credit: o5com via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

People think that after losing some weight they will be happier. However, the opposite may be true – taking care of psychological health and increasing happiness may help people to lose weight. Image credit: o5com via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Most of us have been there – sitting job, lack of time, fast food and general laziness leads to gaining weight, which, for some, ruins mood for a long time. Then we start thinking that losing weight would help boost confidence, which in turn would make us happier. However, scientists now are suggesting people should take the opposite approach.

New research has shown that there is in fact a correlation between obesity and a lack of mental well-being as many people believe. But scientists say that it is quite different than what we may expect – focusing on improving one’s happiness, rather than just diets and digits on the scale, may actually help losing weight.

Sharon Robertson, PhD candidate and clinical psychologist, author of the study, explained methodology of the research: “our preliminary research looked at happiness and well-being in people who are obese. We used a national sample of 260 adults, separated into five categories according to their body mass index (BMI): normal weight, overweight, and obese classes one, two and three.  We found that those who were obese were more likely to be depressed and experience less positive emotions than the normal and overweight groups, and this lack of well-being may be contributing to weight loss failure”. In other words, people who have a lot of extra weight are less happy and this lack of positive emotions is one of the obstacles in losing weight.

However, stating these results is not very useful in itself. Therefore, Robertson focused on the impact of positive psychology techniques on weight loss as well. This is rather a simple idea – some psychology techniques may help people feel happier and promote positive thinking. These positive emotions will work as a motivation and can promote weight loss behaviour, like exercising or sticking to the diet plan. Researchers tested this idea on a small group of women.

During a four-week period scientists used psychology techniques to improve hope, personal strengths, gratitude and general happiness of the participants. Sessions never focused on weight loss, but a significant portion of participants did in fact lose weight. Around half or the women from the group lost weight over the course of the intervention. Furthermore, about three quarters of the participants had lost additional weight when checked at 12-week follow up.

Of course, this is only very early stages of the research, but Robertson herself believes that positive effects of promoting positive psychological health on losing weight can be proved. She notes that there really is no joy in losing weight as there have to be many efforts put into it. Therefore, focussing on losing weight does not bring happiness, especially if the person fails to achieve significant goals right away.

Scientist is also stressing that this research is not aimed at negating effectiveness of traditional weight loss techniques. Instead, it is arguing that in some cases, especially for those people who have had little success so far, improving psychological health may be the key to successful weight loss. This means that traditional programs could benefit from including a positive psychological approach to improve happiness and motivation.

In short, we all should at first focus on our personal problems that are not visible for others. It is important to find a way to be happy with whom you are and this could be the motivation to put even more efforts into bigger goals.


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