A sound mind in a sound body.
Same as how poor mental health causes excess weight, obesity also entails physical and mental challenges, which all take a toll on one’s mental health. ‘Perfect’ images have been planted in our heads, with all the “must have’s” portrayed by the media and our norms.
Having this said, have you ever thought about how you could combat the negative effects circulating around your weight and mental health?
As we reach the end of this month, be empowered as Dr. Adrienne educates us, again, on how we can better take care of our health. Remember, change is just within reach. We are holding the key towards living the life we’ve always wanted to live.
Dr. Adrienne Youdim is a board-certified Internist and is the host of the podcast Healthy Bite. She specializes in medical weight loss and nutrition, and she is aiming to transform the weight loss narrative into one that is both empowering and compassionate – inspiring people to live more physically and emotionally fulfilling lives through evidence-based strategies that actually show results.
Through her podcast, Dr. Adrienne debunks all myths in the current weight loss culture and supports people in living the life they deserve as they work on becoming the best version of themselves.
In this episode, Dr. Adrienne discusses the connection between excess weight and one’s mental health and wellbeing as she reminds us all that change should still start from within.
What you will learn from this episode:
"What's good for the mind is good for the body, and what's good for the body is good for the mind."– Dr. Adrienne Youdim
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The Burden of Excess Weight on Your Mental Health and Wellbeing – Transcript
Welcome back, my health-inspired friends.
Welcome back to Health Bite, the podcast dedicated to providing you with small, actionable bites towards greater physical, mental, and emotional well being.
I'm your host, Dr. Adrienne Youdim. I'm so glad to be back here with you this week.
As you know and as we have said, the wellness and weight loss space is filled with nonsense and bogus claims. I created this podcast as an antidote to the noise, to provide you with no nonsense, evidence-based guidelines in the area of nutrition, fitness, habit change, and mindset that I use with my patients and clients in my medical practice each and every day. I do this to help you feel empowered for change.
And so, we are still in May. May is, of course, Mental Health Awareness Month. We've been talking about mental health all month long. And this week, we are dedicating the podcast to talk about the connection between weight, and mental and emotional health, and wellbeing.
We've talked in prior episodes about the link between excess weight and physical health, but of course, excess weight can negatively impact mental health as well.
SOCIAL STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION AROUND OBESITY: EXCESS WEIGHT'S CONNECTION WITH PHYSICAL AILMENTS, MOOD DISORDERS, AND ANXIETY
First of all, physical ailments and disease in and of themselves are potential contributors to mood disturbances, as chronic illness and pain do impact emotional and mental well being. As we've discussed, excess weight is associated with every physical ailment from head to toe – heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure, fatty liver, fibrosis of the liver, gallstones, skin issues, joint problems, osteoarthritis that results in chronic pain, cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancer – really an endless list of potential health consequences associated with excess weight and associated with obesity.
But today, we're going to talk about the mental health consequences.
And of course, when we think about the mental health consequences of obesity, frequently, our minds turn towards social stigma. Discrimination, bias, fat-shaming is rampant in every sector of our society. And studies do show that discrimination against people who have obesity is present in the workplace, affecting hiring practices, promotions, and job opportunities. It is also seen in academic settings, and unfortunately, it is also seen in healthcare.
And of course, social stigma and discrimination are risk factors for mood disorders and anxiety. It is also important to call this out because nearly 80% of the US population is considered to have excess weight.
So, I wonder. Who is doing all the shaming? Who is doing all the discriminating?
We're doing it to ourselves.
Think about that.
And so, it's time that we check ourselves, that we check the negative self-talk towards ourselves, and the judgment towards ourselves. Because as it is said, when we learn to stop judging ourselves, we can begin to stop judging others. And that is indeed the first step, I think, to getting in front of the social stigma around obesity.
And so, people with obesity do struggle with mood disorders and anxiety. In fact, one study found that adults with excess weight had a 55% higher risk of developing depression over their lifetime as compared to individuals who did not struggle with obesity. Being overweight is also associated with anxiety, panic disorder, social anxieties, and major depressive disorder.
LINK TO POOR MENTAL HEALTH: SOCIETAL NORMS AND THE MEDIA'S INFLUENCE ON ONE'S DEVELOPMENT OF NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE
So, what's the link? How does obesity cause poor mental health?
There are a variety of practical and societal factors that can lead to mental health issues for patients with excess weight. We already discussed the big one, which is weight bias discrimination. We also discussed the second one which is poor physical health, which leads, ultimately, to poor quality of life. Poor quality of life is also impacted by poor mobility, occupational functioning, social functioning, and the ability to get around and get along with our lives with ease.
Excess weight can often result in physical challenges that get in the way of that, including physically being unable to do the things that we love to do, like travel, being active, playing with our kids and grandkids, visiting with friends and family – all of which can lead to isolation, and that, itself, leading to mood disorders, depression, and poor quality of life.
Another link between obesity or excess weight and mood disorders or negative mental health is negative body image. And weight bias is very closely linked to poor body image.
We know that perfectionism around body shape and body size is very much still a part of our society. It is something, fortunately, that we are shining a light on and becoming more aware to, but the messages remain from media, social media, cultural norms around how our bodies should look and how they should be. And invariably, these norms do, in fact, affect an individual's personal image and perception of their own body. We know that this is impactful in terms of health, such that people who internalize weight bias and discrimination have a higher risk of poor physical health and, ultimately, mortality.
That might be surprising. But it's not as surprising to consider how these societal norms and negative body image results in people feeling dissatisfied with their bodies and with their appearance and ultimately contributing to poor mental health.
And indeed, negative body image – it does contribute to poor mental health. It is associated with depression, anxiety, as well as eating disorders.
YOUR LIFESTYLE MATTERS: THE CONNECTION BETWEEN DIET AND MOOD DISORDERS
There are aspects of diet and lifestyle that can result in excess weight and can also negatively impact mental, emotional health and well being. For example, our diet can impact our mood. We did an entire episode on this earlier this month, exploring the link between diet and depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Some of the highlights included the effect of sugar, processed foods, and alcohol on mood, including depression and anxiety.
But we also talked about the flip side. We talked about the beneficial effect of diet and how it impacts our gut microbiome. We know that our intestines are the place for multiple receptors for serotonin. In fact, the highest amount of serotonin receptors reside in the gut. We also know that the gut microbes, or the bacteria that live in our gut, are very much involved in our health, including our mood and mental well being. And so, we talked about how a good diet, including B vitamins, omegas, and other good fats, pre and probiotics, impact mood in a positive way.
If you're interested in this, check out the episode for a much more in-depth overview. And of course, there are other lifestyle factors that contribute to obesity and negative mental health, like lack of physical activity and lack of sleep. We have episodes recorded on all of these, so browse through the library if that's of interest.
A REVERSE CONNECTION: CAN MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS CAUSE OBESITY, SAME AS HOW OBESITY CAUSES POOR MENTAL HEALTH?
And last but not least, the question of "does this work in reverse?" Meaning, we know that excess weight can impact mental health, but is the opposite true? Can mental health problems cause obesity as well?
The answer is yes. Poor mental health can most definitely affect a person's weight. Food is used as a coping mechanism, a way to soothe difficult emotions. We know this. And this habit is reinforced by our nervous system. Food like alcohol, drugs, scrolling on your phone, shopping – all of these behaviors do give us a boost. They give us a hit of dopamine and, therefore, momentary pleasure. But of course, this is momentary, and so, the subsequent post-dopamine crash encourages us to consume more and more, again and again, in a habitual way that ultimately results in weight gain. So, it kind of becomes a little bit of the chicken and the egg when we're talking about excess weight, mental health, and emotional well being.
So, the evidence is clear. Weight and mood, weight and emotional and mental well being, and mental health disorders are intricately linked and connected. The good news is what's good for the mind is good for the body, and what's good for the body is good for the mind.
That's all for this week. I hope that this episode was of value.
And if you loved this episode and are hungry for more, you can check out my book Hungry for More: Stories and Science to Inspire Weight Loss from the Inside Out. In this book, we explore the emotional and spiritual hungers that result in weight gain, and it is available on Amazon or on my website at www.dradrienneyoudim.com.
Please come back next week where I'll have a special guest to round out our Mental Health Awareness Month.
I look forward to seeing you all then.