How Does Obesity Affect Your Mental Health?

Obesity is a growing problem in the United States and around the world. Obesity has been found to cause, or significantly contribute to, many serious diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers – not to mention its impact on mental health.

There are still plenty of misconceptions when it comes to obesity and what causes it, but we’re here to help you sort through all of that!

What does “obese” mean?  

An individual is considered obese if they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m2.

BMI measures your weight relative to your height; for example: If you weigh 180 pounds and stand 5’9″, then your BMI would be 27 kg/m2 (180 pounds divided by 69 inches multiplied by 5.5).

This is not a direct method of determining obesity, however, the BMI of over 30 kg/m2 is used as a classifying factor for obesity. The higher your BMI, the more at risk you are of contracting the disease and experiencing problems with mental health.

What causes obesity?

There are several different factors that contribute to obesity. Our lifestyles and environment certainly play a large role in whether or not we become obese and stay that way. Obesity causes, or is caused by:

  • Lack of exercise (less than 30 minutes per day)
  • Eating too much fat and sugar/drinking sugary beverages
  • Not maintaining proper portion size
  • Unbalanced diet (not enough fruits and vegetables)
  • Lack of sleep
  • Taking certain medications/drugs

How does obesity affect your mental health?

People often think that obesity is strictly an issue of physical health, but it also contributes to mental illness as well. Obesity has been shown to be a cause of or exacerbate mental health issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Eating disorders (such as anorexia and bulimia)

How do you know the difference between “fat-shaming” and health concerns?

Health concerns are rooted in facts, physiological processes, and the scientific method.

Fat shaming is rooted in subjective opinion, personal anecdotes, and misconceptions about obesity.

Health concerns are based on health risks associated with being obese. Fat shaming is saying that someone shouldn’t be fat because they shouldn’t look or act a certain way.

Is obesity a serious problem?  

Yes. In the United States, 35% of adults are obese and 17% of children/adolescents aged 2-19 years old are obese. Even if your BMI falls within the “normal” range (between 18.5-24.9 kg/m2), you’re still at risk for many health problems, especially if a lot of your daily activity is sedentary in nature.

This is why it’s important to fight obesity on all fronts- physical and mental health.

Is it possible to lose weight?  

Yes! Weight loss can be achieved through diet and exercise. The best way to start losing weight is to set reasonable goals that allow you some wiggle room if you struggle with motivation.

Take small steps and start today, not tomorrow!

Here are a few quick tips from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast every morning
  2. Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes (walk, dance around your living room, do squats or pushups during commercial breaks)
  3. Replace sugary soft drinks with water
  4. Make an effort to eat more fruits and vegetables every day
  5. Limit your TV time- once you’re done watching a show, get up! Instead of sitting on the couch for an extra hour after work, go for a walk or shoot some hoops
  6. If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, schedule an appointment today!

Losing weight starts with making better choices and gaining control of your life.

How can I help someone who is struggling with their mental health?

If someone is having a difficult time coping with their illness, avoid making any sudden changes to your conversations with them. When speaking with a loved one, avoid asking questions that might make them feel judged or ridiculed – this includes using language such as “obese” and/or “fat.” Instead, try to use supportive and encouraging statements such as:

  • “I’m here for you if you ever want to talk.”
  • “I love you and I’m here for you no matter what.”
  • “You’re capable of making positive changes in your life. Don’t give up!”

If someone is encouraging me to change my lifestyle, are they being “fat shaming”?

No. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or your doctor, they’re trying to encourage you in a positive light and may even recommend that you seek help from a professional.

Fat shaming is when someone uses rude or abusive language in an attempt to shame another person for their size, but there’s no excuse for that kind of behavior!

If someone wants to discuss your lifestyle with you because they’re concerned for your health, let them.

What can I do if obesity is making me feel depressed or anxious?

If you think that your mental illness might be exacerbated by obesity, make an appointment to see a doctor. You may need professional help in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, antidepressant medication, or other treatments in order to feel 100% again.

Don’t be afraid to seek the help that you need – your health and happiness are worth it!

What can I do if a fat-shaming friend or family member is making me feel depressed or anxious?

If someone close to you has been mean about your weight, you might start wondering how much they care about you.

If you can, try to speak with this person in a calm and respectful manner. Tell them that their comments are hurtful and ask them not to talk about your weight anymore.

It might be a difficult conversation but it’s worth having if they truly care about you! Sometimes people don’t realize how harmful their words can be until you show them.

Who can I speak to about my struggles with obesity and/or mental health?

There are so many resources out there for those struggling with mental health. The best way to find what you need is to ask your friends, family members, or doctor if they have any recommendations.

You could also check out online communities or healthy living forums to see if anyone has experienced similar challenges.

If you don’t know where to start, the National Health Service in the UK is an excellent resource for free online counseling and treatment programs.


Obesity can have a major impact on your mental health. Research has shown that obesity, especially the type of chronic obesity which is caused by overeating and lack of exercise, leads to depression or anxiety in many cases.

Although it’s not yet known what causes these mood disorders, some studies suggest that hormones released during periods of starvation may be responsible for changes in brain chemistry.

Not only does this affect our emotional well-being but also our overall quality of life as we are less able to do tasks like grocery shopping or taking care of children due to fatigue and pain from carrying extra weight around with us all day!

The good news is there are plenty of resources out there for those suffering from an eating disorder – whether you want help starting a healthier lifestyle or you’re looking for therapeutic help, there’s no reason to suffer needlessly.

Go out and find the help that you need – your health is worth it!

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