Putting on weight and psychological factors

March 2017


Psychological factors play an important role in weight loss and gain and it is often ignored when people embark on a weight reducing diet.

Some people are so desperate to loose weight they can get carried away and will try anything, even the most extreme of diets, which we know result in failure.

When starting a diet, it is worth assessing your current situation and to pick a time in your life when you are more likely to succeed and to have the right support and guidance in place.

Factors to consider before embarking on a diet

  • Avoid starting a diet when stressed or anxious
  • Being tired and overworked can affect a person's success as dieting involves hard work, plenty of time to plan shopping and meals and also incorporating exercise.
  • Having hobbies and interests are helpful, it diverts thoughts to other aspects of your life. Think about joining a club or night class if you don't already do so.
  • Being self-confident, having positive mental thoughts

Psychological causes for putting on weight


For most people there are psychological components to how successful achieving and maintaining weight loss.

Stress, anxiety


Stress, anxiety and depression can increase appetite and be a cause of weight gain. However, for some it can decrease the feeling of hunger.

Many people who are constantly stressed tend to eat what makes them happy and provides comfort.

For some eating calms them down and allays anxieties.

Researchers showed that stress is a significant factor of obesity. In the case of stress, the hypothalamus, an area in the brain, produces a substance that increases fatty mass.

Loosing weight is about making life long, lifestyle changes by adopting a balanced healthy diet. Such changes are fundamental to loosing weight but it's crucial to look at how stressful our lives are and to learn how to relax and learn techniques to help us with that. Exercise is a great stress reliever and also uses up calories and aids weight loss.

Other psychological causes



If the reasons for putting on weight are not tackled, then after a period of time or when life gets stressful, very often the weight is regained.

It is important to have a grip on our feelings and emotions, know what makes us happy, sad, and those times when food becomes a comfort. Having a greater understanding and implementing measures that help to control life's roller coaster of emotions will in turn help with weight loss.


Situations and emotions that can lead to over-eating
  • Anger
  • Frustrations
  • Dissatisfaction
  • Feeling inhibited
  • Feeling bad about oneself
  • Guilt
  • Successive failures (professional life, private life)...

Personal history and childhood


The way in which we were fed during our childhood can sometimes influence how we relate to food when older: thus a child who with the best intentions was overfed by his mother, can have later on in adulthood, a compulsive relationship to food and over eat. These eating habits may be difficult to stop and certainly professional help maybe required as eating smaller portions might take some adjustment.

Psychological effects of putting on weight


For certain people, putting on weight can cause stress, anxiety, depression and a dislike of themselves. These feelings are likely to worsen when diets and weight loss fails.

For many severely overweight people they struggle with meeting other people, going swimming and often avoid situations where they will feel self conscious and guilty about their weight problem. Sadly, it appears that people who are only slightly overweight are unhappy with their image and have feelings of being undesirable and they too feel self conscious about certain social situations.

The media has a lot to answer for by using thin underweight models for advertising in magazines.

People that have an existing psychological weakness are at risk of failing with weight loss as so many diets are difficult to follow and are not practical. These people need guidance, help and structure as further failures at loosing weight could impact on their mental well being further.

Do I consult help before beginning a diet?


It is sometimes necessary to seek and accept help by a specialist (psychologist, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst) in order to unravel the psychological reasons which have contributed to weight gain.

Such help can increase the chances of being successful in weight loss..

For those who are very overweight, such help is an integral part of making life long, life style changes. The use of psychotherapy can help control impulsive behaviour and the desire to eat inappropriately.

Psychological help is intended to help those who are severely over weight, But for those with only a few kilos to loose they may not need such intensive therapy.

Never start a diet during times of stress, anxiety or poor mental and physical health. The risk of failure is high and a chance of gaining more weight after stopping a diet

Do not hesitate to get help from a doctor or a psychiatrist.

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