The Link Between Mental Health and Obesity

October 1-7 is Mental Health Awareness week. This information from Clinical Advisor provides more understanding of the mental health/obesity relationship.

What part does mental health plays in the rise in obesity seen over the past 20 years? “We have more emotional issues than ever to deal with,” explains Phillip Ballard, MD, a family practice physician and psychiatrist with Colorado Springs Health Partners (CHSP) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “We have more than any other society has and we feel guilty that we’re not happy.” According to Dr Ballard, these negative feelings fuel depression, and people often use food to self-medicate their emotions. Food is seen as nurturing; consider how we frequently turn to our “comfort foods” that remind us of feeling happy or cared for.

Family dynamics and stress play an integral role in mental health. Extended families are not as geographically close today as in the past. Adult children are leaving home later, and their greater dependence on their parents contributes to more problems for everybody involved.

Studies have found depression to correlate with the onset of obesity and obesity to correlate to the onset of depression. Depression can contribute to poorer success with weight loss, but successful weight loss may help improve symptoms of depression. Taking a well-rounded approach and addressing the many factors that contribute to mental and physical health, is the most successful strategy.

In addition to anxiety and depression, a recent study indicated a strong relationship between PTSD and obesity, with a 32.6% rate of obesity found among PTSD patients (Obesity 2009)

Women with less-than-positive emotional health are reported to have a significantly greater risk of weight gain (Obesity 2008). Michele Bartels, MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Colorado Springs, says that many of her patients with severe obesity have a history of sexual trauma in childhood. “They believe their weight protects them as a shield or a defense against others.”

Stress can independently increase cortisol levels, which contribute to fat storage. Some individuals with obesity describe having little to no hunger for breakfast. Sometimes, this can be a sign that they’re overeating at night, resulting in minimal eating in the morning with hyperphagia (consumption of at least 25% of daily calories after supper) during the evening and at night. Night-eating syndrome was found to be unique in that it often represents the coexistence of an eating disorder, a sleep disorder, or a mood disorder (Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003). Thus, addressing the whole person – mental, physical and emotional health – is the more successful strategy for weight management.

You may wish to speak with one of our surgeons to determine if a bariatric procedure could be of help to you in your overall journey to better physical and mental health. Call us today for a free consultation with a SmartShape surgeon to learn more – (888) 278-7952.