Mind Over Weight

Hussain Minawala –  counsellor, vastu consultant, sacred geometry expert and founder, Beyond Thoughts – decodes the connection between mental health and weight loss.

Losing or gaining weight is a challenge – but sometimes we just hit a block and no matter what we do, we cannot seem to get the results we want. That’s enough to make anyone spiral and set off on a quest to find a new diet or form of exercise. But we never stop to consider that maybe the problem is all in our heads, literally.

It is no secret that the state of our mental health impacts everything we do, especially the way we cope with difficult situations and make important decisions. What many often do not pay attention to is the direct correlation between the mind and our physical health, including body weight. 

Stress test

The main culprit is stress. It can significantly impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight and prevent weight loss too. This could be a result of the surge in levels of cortisol – the stress hormone; unhealthy stress-induced behaviours like overeating or overindulging, or a combination of the two. Either way, the link between stress and weight gain is glaring.

The relationship between mental health and weight gain

There are numerous explanations for the connection between mental health conditions and weight. Starting with medication. There is evidence that several psychiatric drugs can cause weight gain. Although this factor was taken into account in a research study, those coping with mental health disorders should be mindful of how these medications affect their weight.

Apart from this, some mental health conditions boost appetite, while others lead to a decrease in physical activity or both. Depression is prime among them as overeating is a common coping mechanism. Similarly, it triggers a loss of interest in routine activities, including socialising, and can result in more sleep and less movement, a result of which is low caloric expenditure. Some mental health disorders can also impede memory, making it difficult to plan and stick to a diet. 

Anxiety, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues and symptoms can affect sleep. And poor sleep quality has been linked to a lowered metabolic rate and increased appetite. Changes in social settings and lack of support add another layer of challenges when trying to follow a balanced diet. 

Taking back control

Stress and mental health disorders take a toll but that doesn’t mean we do not have the power to change the way we act or respond. Here are a few suggestions to help take control of the situation and effectively manage weight… 

Prioritize overall health and nutrition

The release of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that controls mood, sleep and hunger – is impacted by the food we eat and digestion. Hence, eating a balanced diet could help improve mental health. This should include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat or fat-free dairy, protein – meat, eggs, nuts, seeds and soy – oils and healthy fats. Processed foods, trans fats, sodium and sugar should be consumed minimally. 

Reduce stress with activities

It is crucial to find other stress-reduction strategies rather than turning to food. The good thing is there are a plethora of activities to choose from. Talk it out with friends or family, read a book, give writing, music or art a shot, practise deep breathing exercises or simply spend time in nature. 

Try simple exercises

Exercise is crucial for maintaining both your physical and mental wellness. Regular exercise will aid in weight loss and lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. Physical activity also boosts blood flow to the brain and affects how the limbic system, hippocampus, and amygdala communicate with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis which affects mood and stress responses. Just 50 mins three days a week or 30 mins five days a week works well. Power walking, brisk cycling or even yard work are good ways to start. 

Talk it out

Talking about your feelings with friends or family can be challenging. It’s normal to worry about upsetting people or worry about how it might affect your relationships. However, those closest to us can prove to be great sources of support. When you’re ready, try these tips to initiate a conversation:

1. Decide on a communication style that feels natural to you.

2. Select a convenient time and place. There isn’t a “perfect” moment, but it can help if you’re in a calm, comfortable setting.

3. Practise what you intend to say.

4. Give them relevant details and instances.

5. Be upfront and honest. Sharing something so private might occasionally feel awkward, but describing how your sentiments are impacting your life might make it clear to others.

6. Provide options on how they can help. This can just be listening and providing emotional support, or you might require some concrete assistance.

Ask for help

When different tactics do not show results, it might be time to think about professional support. 

A qualified mental health expert can help you determine the best course of action. Effective treatments typically include counselling or a combination of therapy and medication.

Managing the symptoms of depression can be difficult when appetite and weight fluctuations have an impact on mood and energy. A therapist can provide direction and assistance with enhancing your mood, which may, in turn, help you restore your appetite.  

One step at a time

Maintaining a healthy weight is good but before stressing out your body and agonising over poor results, take a moment to look inward and assess the problem. Remember, it is okay to take things slow and figure out what’s best for you. Do what you need to do to find your way to a healthy mind and body. 

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