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Losing weight will significantly improve an obese person's health, but will it also make them happy? A new study reveals that weight loss may actually lead to low mood, perhaps because advertising creates unrealistic expectations.

ould you like to lose weight? Chances are that you're hoping to do it to feel happier as well as to improve your health. A new study reveals that weight loss will not necessarily improve your mood, however. 

We constantly hear about the "obesity epidemic", and with good reason. Increasing numbers of people all around the world are overweight and obese. There is no doubt that this is worrying, both on an individual and societal level. The other epidemic confirms that the world really is weight-obsessed, and it might be just as concerning. You know the one I am talking about — let's call it the "weight loss craze". 

In real life, on the streets, we see bodies of all shapes and sizes. Magazines are, however, dominated by thin and often underweight people who may have achieved the current notion of physical perfection through dieting or with Photoshop. Thin privilege is real. Overweight people may be shamed for their weight in public, pay higher insurance premiums, have trouble finding beautiful clothes that fit properly, and even get turned down for jobs that are instead offered to thinner peers. It's easy to start believing that life will improve immensely once you reach your target weight, but that is unlikely to happen.

Losing Weight? Watch Out For Depression

The study, conducted by researchers from University College London in the UK and published in the journal PLOS ONE, followed 1,979 obese and overweight Britons. Fourteen percent of participants lost five percent of their initial body weight or more, making the mean weight loss 6.8 kg per participant. People who lost five percent of their initial body weight or more were — unsurprisingly — found to be significantly more physically healthy.

Participants that lost five percent or more of their original weight were also, however, more likely to report a low mood than those who remained at a similar weight.

Indeed, the research team found that those participants who lost weight were 52 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression, even after they adjusted to exclude health issues and life events that might cause depression. 

Weight Loss Doesn't 'Instantly Improve All Aspects Of Life'

Lead author Dr Sarah Jackson from University College London's Epidemiology and Public Health department explains that "aspirational advertising by diet brands" might set people who are planning to lose weight up for unrealistic expectations. Advertising could lead people to think their whole lives will magically improve once they lose weight. This study makes it clear that weight loss is certainly no "cure all". 

Does that mean you shouldn't try to lose weight? That's not what Dr Jackson and her team are saying at all, she says: "

We do not want to discourage anyone from trying to lose weight, which has tremendous physical benefits, but people should not expect weight loss to instantly improve all aspects of life."

Being realistic about weight loss could be the key to avoiding depression, she adds: "Resisting the ever-present temptations of unhealthy food in modern society takes a mental toll, as it requires considerable willpower and may involve missing out on some enjoyable activities. Anyone who has ever been on a diet would understand how this could affect well-being. However, mood may improve once target weight is reached, and the focus is on weight maintenance. Our data only covered a four-year period so it would be interesting to see how mood changes once people settle into their lower weight."

From a clinical point of view, this study suggests that people losing weight may require mental health support as well as advice about nutrition and physical activities. 

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