Psychological aspects of obesity

Article by  Karolina Jakiel

Obesity is defined as a state of pathological increase in the amount of fat in the body, which is also an integral component of the body. It is the fastest-spreading disease of the 21st century. It is a global problem. Both the causes and the effects of obesity have a diverse character. Obesity, in addition to physiological complications, can also lead to problems with the social and psychological basis of the individual. Scientific research shows that obese people have a negative self-image, reduced self-esteem, lower self-efficacy, difficulties with changing situation, and often suffer from mood disorders resulting in depression.

Psychological effects of obesity

Excessive body weight can lead to numerous psychological problems as follows:

Depression and mood disorders

Scientific research proves a close relationship between obesity and the symptoms of depression and between obesity and an episode of depression in an interview. Among women with obesity, higher BMI was associated with a higher incidence of depression and suicidal thoughts.

There are also cases in which depression is the cause of obesity. The reason for this may be taking antidepressants or eating too much food as a way to deal with a depressed mood. These people often reach for high-energy products such as sweets and fatty foods. Sweets cause the secretion of serotonin called the happiness hormone, however, this condition doesn’t last too long. It is followed by remors, a reduced mood, and a sense of inefficacy. Ingestion of excessive high-calorie products causes an increase in body weight, its increase causes a worse mood, the patient tries to cope with this state again by overeating, which leads to a vicious cycle.

Decreased sense of self-efficacy

Self-efficacy refers to the individual’s beliefs about one’s ability to mobilize energy and cognitive resources to meet the demands of the environment. Our own efficacy influences the making of right decisions as well as formulating and achieving goals. People with low self-efficacy are afraid to undertake new tasks and challenges. They are dominated by feelings of powerlessness and lack of influence on a given situation. The state of reduced self-efficacy impedes the process of introducing nutritional changes and adhering to the undertaken task.

Feeling negative emotions

Unsuccessful attempts to reduce excessive body weight can cause a growing sense of guilt, resentment, a sense of injustice, and a sense of shame caused by your own appearance. A negative perception of your own appearance also contributes to a lower self-esteem. In some cases, low self-esteem is additionally strengthened by negative reactions from others, lack of support and incorrect stereotypes about obese people.

A negative image of your own body

Pressure from culture and society regarding an ideal figure in obese people may cause dissatisfaction with their appearance. In addition, negative opinions of other people and comparisons with others will have a negative impact on the perception of yourself.

Obsessive thinking about food and calories

Obese people who are on restrictive diet are obsessively paying attention to food and calories. For people with obesity focusing on food is better than focusing on body weight. Trying to stop thoughts of eating paradoxically causes more frequent thinking about eating and the desire to reach for food.

Eating disorders co-occurring with obesity

Obesity is also accompanied by eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, nightly disorder, sleep-related eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and numerous addictions, including addiction to food.

Effects of diets

In many cases, the decision to change eating habits and the slimming process is an additional source of tension. People who are on restrictive diets often experience depression, anxiety, irritation, irritability, as well as frequent and exaggerated thinking about food. However, these conditions only apply to some people on low-calorie diets. In other people, weight reduction can significantly reduce the sense of anxiety and improve their mental functioning.

Karolina Jakiel – master of dietetics specialist in psychodietetics.
She obtained her master’s degree at the University of Rzeszow in Poland, completed post-graduate studies in psychodietetics at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (SWPS University) in Katowice in Poland.
During her studies, she participated in numerous courses and trainings, among others: diagnostics in the office of a dietician, insulin resistance, psychodietetics, sports dietetics, oncological dietetics, and diet for the elderly.
During her studies she took an active part in the activities of the Scientific Circle of Dieticians at the University of Rzeszow.
She is interested in healthy eating and shares her ideas through her profile in social media.

About Dr Antonella Grima


Dr. Antonella Grima M.D. M.Sc. Pg.Dip. is the founder of the Health and Nutrition Centre in Luqa, Malta. She is a Medical Doctor specialised in Public Health as well as a Registered Nutritionist. Read More >

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