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Weight change & associated health problems

Mental and emotional benefits of losing weight

“I walk down the stairs and admire myself in the mirror. I think, I can’t believe I look like this now. It’s fantastic. Yeah it’s just great. It feels good. I did not like being fat.” Kate

In addition to physical health benefits, losing weight can have a big impact on mental health and wellbeing. Among the benefits that were mentioned by those we spoke to were:
  • Greater self esteem
  • Being less self-conscious
  • Feeling more assertive at work
  • Feeling happier
  • Feeling more sociable and have more fun
  • Having a sense of achievement
  • Greater self confidence

People described losing weight as “wonderful”, “fantastic”, “a real high”. Ellie said she felt “elated”.
 

Sue X says her self-esteem’s “gone through the roof” and she now has the confidence to teach a Zumba class.

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You talked also about the benefit, what do you think the benefits of having lost the weight has, means to you?
 
Well, my self-esteem’s gone, gone through the roof really because it’s, you know, I just feel so much better in my clothes and everything. I feel I look better. I feel more assertive at work. I’ve got much more energy than I had before. Yeah, I just feel, really, really good.
 
And this has been within sort of, kind of, all this new things that you are doing, it has been implemented recently?
 
The, the having the confidence to go and teach the Zumba class myself has been because I’ve lost the weight. You know, I, I kind of felt before that having a bit of fat Zumba teacher wasn’t a particularly good, good thing plus I didn’t have the energy to sustain it for an hour whereas now I’m, I’m quite comfortable, you know, I can go full pace for an hour without any problems whatsoever. As I say, I’ve got the confidence now to stand in front of the class and teach.
 

Since losing weight, Julie no longer feels so self-conscious about her appearance.

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Age at interview: 73
Sex: Female
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So there is a kind of emotional boost?

Yes.

There is a reward regarding your self esteem and…

Yes. Regarding my self-esteem, I’m not so self-conscious. I know now that if I walk into a room I’m just, I’m fairly normal. I don’t have to sort of put necessarily pull my cardigan tighter or pull my jumper further down or I don’t have to sort of check my reflection and think, ‘Oh, you know…’ I’m just normal. I don’t have to think about those things. I’m just, don’t have to think. I can go into a room and talk to you or talk to anybody and not think about those things because those little things if you’re not confident they do come into your mind. So that’s one reward is not being self-conscious, but mainly because I, I like physical activity it’s the freedom of being able to move more easily, to feel my body moving as I walk. To feel that I, you know, it, it’s just the freedom of not having all that weight round me. It’s like taking off. It’s like you being in a, in a big suit that stopped you from moving and suddenly and now you’ve taken off that suit. You’ve put it over one side, that big rubbery suit and now you can move.

So it’s the body movement that you feel…

Yes.

….. now?

It’s the body movement particularly that is rewarding for me, losing weight. Being able to cross my legs and finding it’s quite comfortable instead of, like, you know, when you’ve got fat legs or whatever. But that I feel really comfortable, you know, my knees, one comes over the other. It’s little things, that’s one little thing that I find rewarding. So it’s, it’s, it’s the bodily movements that I find very rewarding.
 

Apart from simply “feeling great”, people experienced various positive emotional effects from losing weight. Sue X said she “stopped just sort of being a couch potato” and was now “much more up for doing things”. Joan had become more outgoing since losing weight; whereas before she would make excuses not to go out to social gatherings, she was now feeling “a wee bit more confident”.
 

Tommy feels much more comfortable and less self-conscious now he has lost weight.

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Age at interview: 85
Sex: Male
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So what is your main reason for wanting to keep, to carry on with this healthy lifestyle?

Well it’s helping, physically it’s helping that. That is a good reason but also, it’s well- being. You feel better. You do feel better. There’s no doubt about it and your clothes, you know, you feel comfortable in your clothes and you appear, you know, if you’d have seen me, if I’d have realised I could have got some old pictures out there and you’d have think, ‘My God,’ you know. So, you appear so much, you feel you appear so much better.

Are you, now do you feel more able to go out and enjoy activities and join activities?

Yeah, I’m not as conscious of my weight, although I’m still overweight, I don’t, I don’t forget that. But I’m not as conscious, when I met people for the first time, I was very conscious of being obese, very conscious and I’m sure most of them couldn’t care less but I, I was conscious. It’s like being bald. Being bald, people think, I’ve been bald since I was twenty and people think you get used to it, but you don’t, it’s funny about baldness. I’m conscious that you see me as a bald-headed person and I’m sure that you’ve not even realised.

No.

But I feel that you have, you know, like, the baldness, sort of thing. So, I think with your weight, it’s, it’s, you want to appear, you know it makes you feel much more comfortable.

According to people like Sue X, Julie, David, Tommy, Paul and Ellie regular exercise helped them to lose or maintain weight, increasing their sense of wellbeing as well as motivating them to lose further weight. Paul Y said he felt “a good deal happier” and had seen an improvement in his mental health. He linked his sense of wellness to spending more time outside and going for longer walks with his dog. Ellie started with fifteen minute daily walks, which increased to eight miles; she said that when her weight was falling off she felt “absolutely wonderful”.
 

Daily long walks have boosted Paul’s sense of wellbeing and helped him to avoid gaining weight.

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Male
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I’m [laughs] generally a good deal happier, yeah, mental health has, has, had, has definitely improved, you know, I, I was, I love being out with my dogs. I think my dogs are a massive contributory factor to, to, to my health, both my mental health and my physical health and you know, I, I, for a while before, when I only had this little dog, I used to, I used to shorter walks. Now I’ve got a slightly bigger dog, we go further and that’s every day, you know, that’s, you know, what I’m doing, doing all the steps, so yeah.

When you said, your mental health, in which way, what did you mean by that?

Just, a sense of wellness I think is things that, I love being outside as well, any problems I have I just, you know, I’m infinitely better once I go, once I go for a walk and get some, get in the open air. I used to live by the sea. Used to go for a walk, you know, spend hours on the beach. Now, you know, it’s down a country lane but I need to be outside.
 

 

Ellie felt “elated” to find that the diet plan and walking routine were helping her lose weight and control her diabetes.

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
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And tell me a little bit about when you started it, this diet and you were losing weight, how did you feel physically and emotionally?

Oh elated, absolutely elated and the walking thing, the further I got, I kind of did the first, I used to do sort of fifteen minutes and I’d think, ‘I’m good. I’ve done fifteen minutes.’ Then it got to half and hour and then it got to an hour and then it would become slightly obsessive [laughs]. Trying to beat yourself every day and I think maybe I’ve got a compulsive personality, I don’t know, but once I start, I really go for it. And by the end of it, my sort of best one was eight miles in a day that I’d walked, and most of it was about five every day. So, and as the weight was falling off you feel just absolutely wonderful.

Okay.

Hungry but wonderful.

Okay, so your diabetes control improved?

Oh hugely. I was never really that bad. You know how they do the numbers, I was always around about 8.4 and then they got it down to 6.1 and the one that they say when you’re, you’re not diabetic anymore is 5.9 and I couldn’t get there. I got stuck at 6.1 but it became an obsession to get down, so I was trying to walk more and more and more and then this happened and it just went.
 

For some, losing weight led to positive changes in body image and a newfound awareness of being attractive to others. Sue Y described turning the heads of younger men.
 

Sue Y felt good getting dressed up, going out, and attracting men’s attention. Losing over a stone has given her the motivation to lose more.

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Female
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But how did you feel within yourself when you look at the mirror and…?

Well I felt, felt really good because sometimes I could wear absolutely fabulous clothes and I could walk, even though I’m older, if I got dressed up and made up and, you know, all like glad rags and whatnot, you understand and you could walk down with your partner in what, whatever kind of venue that you were at and men would kind of look round at you and you could see that happening even though you’re an older woman, that still happens. Unbelievable isn’t it, Maria?

But sometimes it happens now [laughs] and I’m putting the weight on. So you can’t always, I don’t know but I did feel pretty good. But I still feel okay as I am because I’m in a loving relationship and that’s such an important thing and he’s slim.

… when you realise that you have lost over a stone? How, how did it make you feel?

More positive towards losing more. It gives you a sense of achievement that you, you’ve got. It can be like small steps, but you’ve got to take the steps, otherwise you won’t get there and sometimes you could take a large step and depending on what the result of my, next HbA1c is I’m hoping it’s not a step back. So, who knows? But you’ve got to try and progress with small steps and keep going and, and keep, keep focused and positive. It’s not always easy but just try and get rid of stress out of your life, that’s a big thing.

Losing lots of weight, like Janet did, could make people more self-conscious of their bodies. She said that the ‘baggy skin’ problem she was left with after her weight loss meant “I’m more embarrassed putting a swimsuit on now that I’ve lost the weight than I were when I were massive”. At the same time, however, she feels healthier and fitter than before and emphasised that she wanted to lose weight “for health and not cosmetic reasons”.
 

Losing weight following her gastric bypass surgery has given Janet the confidence and motivation to do all those activities she couldn’t do when she was ‘massive’.

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Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
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When I went to see the, the psychiatrist and the first question he asked me, he said, “Why are you doing this?” and I said, “Obviously for health reasons” and he said, “If there’s one thing that you want to do while you’re fat, now, that you can’t do but you think you can do when you’re thinner. What is it?” I said, “I want to run.” And I knew at that point that’s where I needed to be, and I did it. Killed me but I did it [laughs]. Think I were the last one to cross the finishing line but I did it [laughs].

My family life, I can’t say it’s changed. I just run about more with them and play with kids and, you know, like, I’ve had, we’ve had two little granddaughters since then. So, rolling about on the floor being able to get on the floor and get up. Things like that. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t play with them. I never took my kids swimming because I were too fat to go into the pool, things like that.

So, you felt embarrassed?

I were, yeah, I were too embarrassed, yeah. Yeah, I were and then I kind of got over that stage and it’s really weird I swam from being thirty-eight to being in my fifties and I never bothered putting a swimsuit on when I were twenty-two stone. I didn’t bother because we used to go all ladies, I never used to go mixed, I always used to go on a ladies’ swim and I used to swim every week. I used to swim every day. Every single day I went swimming. Thirty lengths in my twenty-minute dinner break. I used to do it every day and then I lost the weight and obviously I’ve got baggy skin problem now which is, I’m not ever going to do nothing about it because it’s, I look okay while I’ve got clothes on. But when you take the clothes off and it all droops South, I can’t go swimming now. I’m more embarrassed putting a swimsuit on now that I’ve lost the weight than I were when I were massive.

But that, that is obviously self-, that’s being self-conscious of the mess that I am [laughs]. But I can live with that because that doesn’t matter. The, skin and, the baggy skin and the overhang is fine because that’s not impeding on anything. So, I never did it for cosmetic reasons, it was just health wise.

So as long as I’m as fit as I am and as well as I am, and I can go out and do what I did yesterday. We walked for two and a half hours, up hill, down dale. Then I went and danced for four and a half hours last night. I’m quite happy at sixty-two year old to be able to say that I can do that without getting out of breath, without feeling aching, well no, I won’t say that.

As well as feeling better in oneself, losing weight could contribute to a greater appreciation of life and a more positive outlook.
 

Lina describes how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helped her on the road to healthy eating.

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Age at interview: 49
Sex: Female
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Yeah, you also had cognitive therapy.

Yeah.

So how that has helped in this kind of process?

I never thought I was going to use it. I thought, well I didn’t feel I was going to need it. I didn’t feel, what do I need to do that for? But it makes you look at your pain and how you manage it and what you can do. It’s never going to make your pain go away, so you always go in negatively because you’re thinking, ‘Well, what’s the point? You know, I’m going to come out of there. I’m still going to be in the same position I was when I went in.’ Yeah you are but what’s going to happen is your mind, it changes how you think about things. How you process what you do with your pain and so, I guess my processing of the pain is to be proactive. In fact, the more busy I keep, the less pain I feel. Obviously the less active I am, the more pain I feel, so it, it goes, for me I think that keeping myself active is part of what cognitive therapy is. Even if you’re just keeping your mind active. Just meditating, I like a bit of meditating and deep breathing and then I fall asleep [laughs]. But hey, you know, I’m meditating. I was in a place where I wasn’t in pain.

So, you know, I think that mindfulness and being mindful of what you do and how what you do affects others that’s another part of it. Being nice to yourself, you know, I wouldn’t of, years ago I wouldn’t have thought having a massage, ‘What do I want a massage for? I’m all right. I’m fine.’ Just having little things, massages, you know, I bought myself a little foot spa thing. It wasn’t expensive, but it’s just nice to buy the little things and sit in, you know, just be kind to yourself, you know. Be kind to yourself, be mindful. Be aware of what you do and how you treat others, because as I said, you can be very nasty. I’ve seem some very nasty people on the steroids. It an actually make you quite aggressive and I never really realised that until I was in hospital and I saw a patient, she was horrible, horrible, horrible. But it was like a switch, when she was talking to me, she was fine but when they were, you know, when the nurses were trying to be, she was just so horrible and I thought, I looked at that and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s, I hope...’ When she went they were all just like, [sighs], you know, they can’t say anything negative, but you could see by their faces, you know. She upset, they, she was upsetting and everything and I just thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to let steroids do that to me [laughs]. Oh, no way. ‘

No, so you are using, it’s like you are using a kind of package…

Yeah.

…..where you have been, you are including all this little, all these big and little elements

Yeah, that’s right. It and it’s almost as though yeah, it was like a, it was like a fruit bowl, you know, and…

Yeah, that’s a better one.

…where you can, people don’t realise how many fruits there are in the world. You know, we just knew there were apples, oranges and bananas when I was a kid, [laughs] you know. We’ve got guavas, pomegranates, oh my god there’s so much fruit. Pink grapefruit. Red blood oranges. There’s so many fruits that you just don’t realise and in that context, there’s so many different things and you’ve got to try it, try it and see if you like it. If you like it, you keep it up here. If you don’t like it, you get rid of it and you move on to the next thing, but, don’t hang on to, just try not to hang onto ‘the dark side,’ I call it.
 

 

For Meeka, food is tied up with emotions and appreciating food makes her happy.

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Age at interview: 66
Sex: Female
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And I’ve also learned picking up bits of advice that I’ve done from all over the place to concentrate on my food, to appreciate it. Eat more slowly. When I was working, I used to eat very, very quickly and I used to eat watching the TV. Just try, try and get it down and then I’d carry on with some work in the evening from work while smoking cigarette. So if you’d asked me at 9 o’clock what I had for my dinner, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you because I was just, you know.

So it is. Now I’m retired, I slowed down appreciate my food. I look, I try and eat the rainbow. I know that perhaps sounds a bit silly, but I love different colours on my plate. So, I will have different colours peppers and fish and salads, so it looks appetising. So, I appreciate how it looks and I’ll eat slowly and appreciate the different. I like different textures. So, I’ll have a nice crunchy salad leaf and I’ll have some salmon with it or maybe even a small piece of ham with it, so there’s different textures. I may sprinkle a few crushed walnuts on the top to give it a crunchy feel and then I’ll take my time and appreciate it, which, so that’s, it is tied up with emotions and that makes me happy. It really does make me happy. I’ve always loved food, sometimes the amount of food. Now is not the amount. It’s everything else, the taste the smell that is good. It makes me feel good inside and it’s also now we’re both retired, we’ll both cook together in the kitchen.

Losing weight could lead to a sense of achievement and provide the momentum to keep losing more. June X reflected on the amount of work involved in losing a substantial amount of weight and concluded “that is the most staggering achievement”.
 

Weight loss is “one of life’s victories” for Paul Y.

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Male
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What is your goal regarding weight?

I think if I could get below 95 kilos again, I’d be, I’d be happy, so…

Now you are 110?

No, I think I’m, I could run upstairs and jump on the scales but probably about 103.

Is there any emotional impact to weight gain or to weight loss?

To, to weight loss definitely. Yeah, yeah.

In which way?

Just, it’s, it’s, it’s one of life’s victories isn’t it.

You feel happier?

Get the weight down feel happier. Just think, yep, yep,….

Yeah.

….I’m winning [laughs].
 

Not everyone was so positive about losing weight. Christine said, “I lose weight because I’m not on any antidepressants. As soon as you go on them, you’re a lot happier mentally but then you pile the weight on, so you can’t win.” Although Jim felt physically better after losing weight, it affected his mood, “I don’t want to be miserable for weeks and weeks and weeks because I’m denying myself… you feel down”. Alan Y agreed “I don’t actually enjoy that what I've... the change of regime isn't enjoyable, so what do you do for the rest of your life – do you want to stay with, you know, an eating regime you don’t like?”  
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