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Weight Loss and Psychology 

Weight Loss: From a psychological perspective:

Issues of weight loss and weight control have always had a strong basis in psychological and behavioral science. Frequently, weight loss is handled on a relatively superficial level without considering underlying issues related to emotional concerns such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and relationship concerns. Also, behavioral issues come into play in many aspects of our weight loss experience, without our understanding of what is taking place or what we may do about it.


Weight Loss and Psychology:

Psychologists have long recognized that weight loss may be incredibly difficult without considering an individual’s state of mind. While there continues to be much debate as to which comes first obesity or depression, it is an undisputed fact that there is significant comorbidity (both exist together) between the two. Young women with a poor body image have been found to be particularly susceptible to depression. While the link between depression and severe obesity is unclear, Dr. John B. Dixon and colleagues from Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia, have recently written in the current issue of the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine, about a recent study in which they had 487 severely obese people, scheduled for stomach-banding surgery to help them lose weight, complete a standard questionnaire designed to spot depression. They completed the Beck Depression Inventory before the surgery and at yearly intervals after the surgery. Before the surgery, the Beck Depression Inventory average for symptoms was at a level of 17.7. A year after the surgery, scores have fallen significantly to 7.8, and were still at a level of 9.6 as much as four years after surgery.

Weight loss may also be difficult without considering the effect of anxiety on efforts to lose or maintain body weight. Many individuals eat when they are anxious without considering the effect on their continuing physical and psychological health.

Weight Loss and Behavioral Science:

In order to truly understand weight loss we have to look at some of the ways we have learned to reinforce our behaviors and thinking. One of the most basic theories associated with behavioral science is that of reinforcement theory. According to reinforcement theory we reward behaviors that we want to increase or maintain, and remove rewards from behaviors which we want to extinguish. As children, many of us were reinforced for our good behaviors by giving sweets or other “food rewards“. As adults we come together on holidays and other special occasions to be with those whom we love and “to eat”. If we’re unable for any reason “to eat”, we feel severely deprived, and “yearn for the day” when we will be able to truly enjoy ourselves and the company of our friends and loved ones, while “we eat“. These associations which we have learned and relearned over an entire lifetime may become very solidified, making it very difficult to have long-term weight loss and/or maintenance without feeling deprived. Make no mistake about it, there is nothing wrong with eating. I’m only making some observations about several of the psychological issues which undermined long-term weight loss. It is great to see that psychologists are now beginning to recognize the contributions that they may make in helping others to deal with weight loss from a holistic perspective, including understanding the psychological components along with the physical and nutritional aspects.

By Paul Susic Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist  

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