Psychological Costs

Unhappiness with our appearance

Stress related to unhappiness with our health

Anxiety over social situations


Someone emailed me recently and asked if I thought there were psychological costs to obesity.  I responded to them privately, but thought that the question was a very interesting one.  Are there psychological effects to obesity? And if so, how can we overcome those feelings. First off, let me say that I believe therapy is a great choice for many people who are dealing with depression, anxiety, or anything else that talking with a professional may help. I know from reading your blogs that quite a few of you have been through therapy for a variety of issues and many found it helpful. John and I went to see a Christian counselor during the third year of our marriage seeking help in dealing with an extended family relationship. That time taught us a lot of techniques to use in dealing with certain situations.

I do believe that there is a psychological cost to obesity. I’m no therapist, but I lived the obese life for a decade, and know that those years took an additional toll on my psyche due to my size. The times that I felt shunned by friends and acquaintances, overlooked by salespeople in the stores, and judged because of my size did bad things to my self esteem. I began taking on for my own other people’s perception of me. Perhaps I really was lazy. Maybe I was deficient in self-control. And perhaps I wasn’t as good as everyone else.

Lies all of these. But lies I grew to believe because I felt myself living up to them. I couldn’t seem to control my weight or my food intake. I didn’t get as much done as my thin friends, and maybe I was a little bit lazy.

I began to experience anxiety in situations I never had before. I dreaded meeting with new people and often times found myself feeling ill over the thought of having to introduce myself to a thinner person. I gave every excuse in the book to avoid parties and often succeeded in staying home. Anxiety became part of who I was. Before I gained 150 pounds I wasn’t an anxious person. I wasn’t the most extroverted person in the room but I didn’t “freak out” when I had to meet new people. So for me, obesity took a psychological toll.

The fatter I got the more unhappy, anxious, and borderline depressed I became. I tried to convince myself that I was the same Diane I always had been, but the mirror showed the truth. The psychological component to obesity is real, and the effects of obesity can be very difficult to overcome.

I still feel a little awkward walking into a room full of strangers. “Will they accept me?” I wonder. I sometimes have to tell myself to get a grip on myself, because there is no reason they wouldn’t. Unfortunately I know all too well that we are often initially judged on our appearance, good or bad.

So for me, the psychological cost of obesity was and is real. It was hard to be obese in a thin world, and my psyche took a hit during those ten years. Fortunately, not everyone who struggles with obesity feels the way I did. I always admire people who are at peace with their inner soul while still working on getting the outer body in better shape. I wish that had been me.

What do you think? Is there a real psychological effect associated with weight problems?  Diane

36 thoughts on “Psychological Costs

  1. Cammy@TippyToeDiet says:

    I can absolutely attest to the psychological side effects of obesity, many of the same ones you described. They don’t all go away with the weight loss, but losing weight does make them easier to spot. 🙂 And regardless of weight loss, doing positive things for myself (eating healthier, exercising regularly, etc.) makes me stronger, inside and out.
    .-= Cammy@TippyToeDiet´s last blog ..Time Flies: Celebrating the Second Year =-.

  2. Monica says:

    Oh yes – those you listed and more. I don’t need to be a therapist to know what I am feeling as I struggle with my weight. I’ve struggled my whole life and it definitely takes a toll on me.

    This is a great post Diane.

  3. Sara N. says:

    This is 100% right. And it’s something not very many people talk about. Sure you have trouble finding clothes and feeling accepted, but people don’t want to hear about how it makes you feel on the inside.

    My self-esteem has run the gamet from high to low depending on my weight. I too wish that I could be more confident regardless of my weight. Thanks for addrressing this issue which is not dealt with enough.

  4. Moria says:

    Yes, this is a problem for me too. I feel not as much of a person as people who are not overweight and don’t struggle. Often people judge me because of my weight and don’t seem to want to associate with me as much as they do other people.

    as I’ve lost weight I’ve realized though, that it is not other people but me who have the problem. For the most part it’s my own thoughts about what others are thinking, rather than what they actually are thinking that makes me feel the say I do.

  5. Amy H. says:

    As a person that never reached official obesity, only over-weightness (word?), I started to feel some of the things you mentioned. I especially didn’t want to go out, and last summer I HATED getting in a swimsuit to take my kids swimming because I was so worried about what other people would think.
    .-= Amy H.´s last blog ..Nobody Died =-.

  6. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    Diane, I absolutely agree with you. I do think there are many psychological side effects of obesity.. and I am with you on the ones you wrote about, especially this: “I dreaded meeting with new people and often times found myself feeling ill over the thought of having to introduce myself to a thinner person. I gave every excuse in the book to avoid parties and often succeeded in staying home. Anxiety became part of who I was.”

    I think people start to feel not good enough, picked on & less than a person.

    It is a hard hole to dig out of even after weight loss. I can attest to that!
    .-= Jody – Fit at 52´s last blog ..Post Holiday Catch Up =-.

  7. Julie says:

    I feel obesity has definitely taken a psychological toll on me. The tons of sugar in my diet alone has acted as a horrible depressant. I have battled depression and anxiety for 17 years. I often feel like no one truly takes me seriously simply because of my weight. So for me, it’s not just the psychological effects of the judgement I receive for others, the things I can’t do physically because of my weight etc, but also chemically speaking, the effect that crappy food has on my brain and body that also contributes to depression. I feel so much better already and I’ve only lost 20 lbs so far.
    .-= Julie ´s last blog ..On Michaelangelo and masterpieces =-.

  8. Lynn @ ActualScale says:

    Boy Diane, you hit this one on the head for me!

    I was never the life of the party, but when I was younger & thinner I did not dread going to parties like I do now.
    My confidence in regards to my phyiscal appearance dives when I think about having to ‘dress up’ for a fancy party. Even worse when it is one of my husband’s work functions because part of me wonders if they are going to judge him poorly for having a fat wife.

    I have gotten better as I’ve lost weight & come to better terms with myself, but those negatvie thoughts still nip at my heels some times.

    Great post!

  9. Lori (Finding Radiance) says:

    Diane – this post speaks to me so much. I was an overweight child and was picked on mercilessly through school. It’s amazing that now that I am 41, thoughts of what those kids did to me still causes my face to burn. So yes, psychologic damage for sure.

    It snowballs from there, as I am sure that some of the thoughts I projected onto others of what they thought of me simply weren’t true, but much of that stemmed from how I looked at myself.
    .-= Lori (Finding Radiance)´s last blog ..2009 in review =-.

  10. brenda says:

    I almost posted YES 100%! But after I thought about that, some might have an underlying medical condition making them gain the weight. For me, it totally was psychological. I was busy taking care of everyone else in my life and not putting myself first. I was trying to ‘take care of me’ by making sure I ate. And over eating and eating the worst forms of comfort food at that. And I thought I had no time for exersice. Deep down, I was depressed. By putting myself first for once, it made a HUGE difference.
    .-= brenda´s last blog ..One little word =-.

  11. Anonymous Fat Girl says:

    I agree, some people are really good about not letting their weight bother them psychologically. I was that person publicly, but deep down it really has bothered me. I’ve always tried hard not to let others dictate how I feel about myself but sometimes you just can’t.

    And I think counseling is a great way to deal with obesity related issues. I know a lot of people have a hard time when they lose the weight because psychologically they can’t reconcile the fact that they are thin now then they gain it back. It may be safer for them to be fat and invisible, I don’t know.

    Good advice though. 🙂
    .-= Anonymous Fat Girl´s last blog ..Picture it: me ripping out a set of pull ups at the gym =-.

  12. vickie says:

    There are a few people here and there that simply need to cut calories – and can.

    But I firmly believe the majority of US have eating disorders. And I think that the vast majority of us need therapy. Specifically eating disordered therapy – by someone trained in this field.

    I see two things:

    1. I see people beating their head (not literally) against a brick wall – thinking they are weak. I think weight loss bloggers often think they have will power problems – they think ‘if only I could just stick with it’. But they just can’t seem to. This is such a vicious circle.
    And when one just can’t ‘seem to’ – I think – this is a clear sign that help is needed. (think how many YEARS some bloggers have spent in this vicious cycle!).

    2. I see people addiction transfer again and again. If you watch for it – it is pretty common. Most of the information published on this topic has to do with addiction transfer after weight loss surgery. But I do not think it is limited to surgery. I see it again and again.

    WE often blame the fat for many of our problems. I firmly believe the fat is a visible sign of inner problems/difficulties/disordered thinking. The fat is not the cause nor the cure – it is a visible sign of other challenges.

    I personally think that if one can’t seem to get on track and move forward dealing with reality (whether it is fat, clutter, relationships, money, sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships, etc) that person needs help.

    I worked with an eating disordered therapist for several years. She insisted that I also work with a psychiatrist. I am on meds. And I am doing better than I have ever done in my life.

    I think that it would have been possible for me to get all my weight off without their help. It would have been hard, but I think possible. But I do NOT think it would have been possible for me to maintain withOUT their help. And I definitely think that I needed medication to help balance me. And I do not think I am alone in this. I can very clearly see imbalance running back through my family tree. And I feel very badly about how much those women suffered all through their lives. I see how they were labeled as ‘difficult’ by their families. Their weight and their ‘personalities’ were definitely signs that they needed help. And none of them got it. I feel very bad that they were born in a time when help was not available.

    I think my therapist and my psychiatrist and my meds combined to get me on my own two feet and able to DEAL. They – all three – empowered me. I feel like I am able to move forward, snails pace, but moving forward all the time.

    I write this sitting here at goal and able to maintain. And those are outward signs that I am EVEN internally. The same way that the fat was a sign that I was UNeven and in need of help.

    And my immediately family (ironically, all with medical backgrounds) was not able to see that I needed help. They thought that me was just how I was. It was blogger friends that told me there was something wrong. And they empowered me to find help for myself. It did not magically appear at my door. I am very thankful.
    .-= vickie´s last blog ..Protein – Peanut/Peanutbutter Topic =-.

  13. Diane says:

    Wow- you have entered into alien territory for me ! I have been overweight my whole life, and if I ever let it become a psychological stumbling block , I would have never done anything in my life. As an overweight person I have dated, joined groups, done public speaking, acting, preforming, dated and a lot of things that now embarrass me to think about as a mom and a borderline old person. I think two things helped me- first was my birth mark. Even if I was rail thin I would still have that , and it causes a lot more stares, comments and awkward moments than my weight ever has. Something about it’s permanence has eliminated ANY body issues that I could have. Second was my father , who wanted sons but had 4 girls before a son, and put up with no body issues, self esteem issues or any such thing. You may WANT to wallow in self doubt, but he would say something like snap out of it, force you to do the thing you dreaded, and afterwords you realized not only did you live through it, but you actually enjoyed the experience.I do know that a great many overweight people struggle with self esteem and psychological issues, so I would say for the majority of people it indeed is a factor. However there are exceptions to every rule , and as one who does not carry that baggage, it is both fascinating and heartbreaking to get an insight into those that do. Hugs !
    .-= Diane´s last blog ..Lazy day discovery =-.

  14. Susan says:

    So strange, because I was never “obese” but struggled with social anxiety over my weight as well. I always say that one of the best things about losing my weight is that my pudgy tummy is no longer on the forefront of my mind when in a room full of people. Life is SO much easier when I can even walk through a mall not worried about if I’m the biggest one in there… Great thoughts as always Diane!
    .-= Susan´s last blog ..Blogging About Bloggers =-.

  15. Sunny says:

    Funny, Diane, I think it’s the exact OPPOSITE: psychological problems cause our obesity. I truly believe it. I’ve read more than a few books on the subject, and Laurel Mellin’s Pathway to Health has revolutionized my life.

    Once a person can go within, and conquer their inner demons (with or without professional help), only then can they stop using food to self medicate and/or hide behind.

    Here’s but one of the posts I have written because of what Laurel taught me:

    We have to figure out what’s wrong in our lives, emotionally, and once we do, and fix it with nonfood ways, THEN we can begin to eat to live, instead of live to eat. 🙂
    .-= Sunny´s last blog ..Three types of people: slugs, hamsters, & hummingbirds =-.

  16. Tony says:

    I definitely think there is a psychological cost to being obese. It pretty much shaped who I am. Being fat made me have extremely low self-esteem, anxiety, the feeling of being of lesser worth than others. I am still having trouble with these issues even after having loss a lot of weight.
    .-= Tony´s last blog ..Ate Too Much. Feel Like Crap. =-.

  17. Leah says:

    I do think that there can be a true psychological effect of obesity on people. Some of us just hide it better than others.

    I haven’t always had low self esteem as far as anyone else knew. I was fun, happy and just joked about things a lot. I managed to be outgoing even as heavy as I’ve been and I do thank God that he helped me to not lock myself away because of how I looked. I know deep inside though I’ve battled thoughts that were linked to my weight and how I didn’t fit in some ways because of it.

    I plan on staying happy, fun and joking sometimes, but from now on without the inner turmoil that comes from carrying around the extra weight.
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..Letting Go =-.

  18. Fran says:


    Marcelle asked me to let you know she’s in the hospital. She’s had trouble with her eyes (as you might know) and the doctor has admitted her for 5 days. They want to run some test if she might have had a stroke, or has a tumor, or that her blood is not good.

    I’ve spoken to her on the phone just now and she’s doing okay. She’s going to have a scan tomorrow. H. will make sure she’s got internet access in the hospital so she should be online tomorrow night or Wednesday.

    As the two of you have a lot of contact she’s specific asked me to inform you.

    xxx Fran
    .-= Fran´s last blog ..A year in my life: 2009 =-.

  19. Dr. J says:

    As you say, Diane, there are many psychological effects from being obese. It is an unfortunate, multi-faceted complex. There are the effects on the individual from mean spirited others. There are the effects that the individual suffers on them self, and there are the reactions in the individual against those that come from the outside. I wish it were different.

  20. TLEstrogen says:

    For me, most of my weight gain was caused by stress and psychological issues in my life. It wasn’t until I started dealing with these issues that I was able to start correcting my weight problem. That’s where I am now. I’m no therapist either but I seem to remember in college about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The basic gist of it is that the bottom levels of the pyramid need to be completed before the top. Self-esteem and self-actualization (contributing greatly to weight issues) are way at the top of the pyramid–after physical, safety, and love/belonging areas.
    .-= TLEstrogen´s last blog ..Weighing a Ton =-.

  21. Deb Willbethin says:

    (Caution: Please read this thru before you form an opinion of this comment.)

    Speaking as one who was once 120 pounds overweight–and am still 60 pounds overweight–the answer is “Yes!” No one–and I mean NO ONE–can weigh 100 pounds more than they should and claim that they have no psychological baggage. They had baggage BEFORE the weight gain and they have added more baggage afterwards.

    Before you throw tomatoes at me, tho, please hear this:
    EVERYONE–even lean people–has psychological baggage. Ours just shows on our hips for all the world to see. Ain’t no one come thru this life unscathed.

    So, discover your sore spots; deal with your issues; search out what caused your wounds; and allow the Lord to heal you. BUT know, it’s not just because you’re overweight that you have stuff–it’s because that’s a result of living in a fallen world among imperfect people.
    .-= Deb Willbethin´s last blog ..Highway to Thin Photo Tour =-.

  22. Mia says:

    Yes, being overweight was a huge blow to my self-esteem. And no wonder with a family that judged people by their looks. To this day, though my weight is within the normal range, I still have days where I feel fat and ugly. When ever I get together with my parents and siblings (like Christmas time!), I am always careful to look my best. To me, it is like putting on armor to protect my vulnerable inner self!


    • Lori says:

      I think it is really hard when you have a family that is judgemental. My mom is extremely judgemental (though she has loosened up a little as I’ve gotten older), but a lot of my adult issues I’ve struggled with are connected back to being judged so much growing up! It’s amazing how much your family can affect you.
      .-= Lori´s last blog ..The week in Review… =-.

  23. Lori says:

    For me, I was extremely unhappy growing up b/c of being overweight, and it wasn’t until I started going to a Christian Counselor 2 years ago, that I started understand how to deal with it. I battled depression, even suicide, and it was partially due to my battle with my weight and low self-esteem. The counseling has helped me a lot, and in fact, I’m still seeing her, and each time I go, I learn more and more about myself.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..The week in Review… =-.

  24. Gina Fit by 41 Maybe 42 says:

    Unhappiness, Stress, Anxiety, Depression…U-SAD. Very clever, Diane!

    The psychological cost for me and my state of unhealth is my inability to love to the degree I want to…to love myself, my spouse, family, Father in Heaven, fellow beings.

    I have love, but it just feels so empty at times. There’s definitely a capacity to love more.
    .-= Gina Fit by 41 Maybe 42´s last blog ..Just Feel It =-.

  25. Stacy @ Moderate Means says:

    Wow. This post sums up something I think about a lot. Being obese really changes the way I live life. It’s not the big things that are hard, it’s the little details. Things like buying clothes for a funeral, going to holiday parties with a room filled with skinny people, dreading restaurants because I think booths are uncomfortable… A huge impact on me has been at work, though. I really think that I could find a similar job that paid more and would have a schedule that better fit my family, but I’m afraid to try because I don’t want to be weight-judged and have to endure the unknowns of a new company as “that fat girl they hired.” My weight is actually limiting my life.

    It’s just so hard…

  26. Kat says:

    Yes, I do believe there are psychological costs to obesity. Getting my head clear and my mind healthy has been just as much of a challenge as losing the weight. I believe it is all connected and needs to be addressed from an holistic standpoint. I have yo yo’d with my weight most of my adult life and I am so ready to release that pattern.
    .-= Kat´s last blog ..A little down time can do a world of good….. =-.

  27. Taryl says:

    Yes, there are absolutely psychological costs to obesity, and in my case self esteem issues were foremost. I didn’t realize how many social events I felt uncomfortable in and avoided until suddenly I felt like a figurative weight was lifted off my chest with the literal weight loss, and I no longer had those same feelings. Being obese is such a heartbreak!

  28. Hanlie says:

    Oh definitely! I am only really starting to appreciate how being morbidly obese has changed me and the way I relate to others and feel about myself. I have been going through a very rough patch emotionally these last few months and may still opt for some kind of therapy in the New Year. Anything to feel better!

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