Poor sleep, the consumption of unhealthy food and alcohol as a coping strategy, and low levels of engagement in physical activity each have a role to play in ‘joining the dots’ between obesity and mental health.

Many theories regarding this link point to increased medical problems and mobility restrictions associated with obesity. They can have a direct impact on mental wellbeing and lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical activity, sleep and alcohol consumption. They also have a substantial impact on one’s mental health.

Nutrition and mental health.
Quality nutrition is important for good mental health.  Balanced moods and feelings of wellbeing can be ensured by making an effort to eat a diet with adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, essential healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and plenty of water. More specifically, carbohydrates increase serotonin, a brain chemical that has calming effects, healthy fats help control many brain processes and protein rich foods increase the chemicals that keep us alert. In contrast, poor nutrition limits the availability of these important nutrients which can contribute to depression. Eating unhealthy foods not only adds to your waistline but also contributes to poor mental health outcomes.

The role of sleep.
Those who regularly sleep for less than six hours per night have a higher tendency to become obese. Poor sleep habits have been linked to eating a poor quality, high sugar and high fat diet. In addition to this, obstructive sleep apnoea (obstruction of breathing during sleep) is also linked to obesity and fatigue. Obesity increases the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnoea and obstructive sleep apnoea promotes the development and maintenance of obesity. Poor sleep and depression are closely linked, and treating one condition can improve the other. You are much more likely to experience poor mental health if you sleep poorly, compared to those who sleep well. It is believed that this is caused by poor mental or emotional resilience, whereas sleep helps to build your resilience. If your sleep is constantly disrupted or you do not get enough, this can set the stage for depression, anxiety, negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

Alcohol consumption, obesity and mental health.
Alcohol adds kilojoules to your diet and may encourage the consumption of extra food due to an increased appetite. Naturally, this can add to your waistline if you are eating more than you need  and if you are eating unhealthy food. In addition to this, there is increasing evidence that alcohol increases the risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. This can become a vicious cycle as some people may drink alcohol for relaxation and loss of inhibitions. However poor mental health is strongly linked with alcohol consumption. 

The benefits of exercise for your mental health.
Regular exercise plays an important role in weight management and it also helps to promote good mental health by:

  • Releasing feel-good brain chemicals that can ease feelings of depression
  • Reducing the presence of nasty immune-system chemicals that can worsen depression
  • Increasing your body temperature - this can have calming effects
  • Taking your mind off your worries - exercise acts as a distraction that can get you away from negative thoughts that feed your depression/anxiety
  • Social interaction - depending on what you do, exercise can give you a chance to interact with others. Simply exchanging a smile as you walk around the neighbourhood can boost your mood - give it a go!