**Disclaimer: Being overweight is not directly related to a person’s health**
Do people feel badly about their bodies because they’re overweight, or are they overweight because they feel badly about their bodies? This question reminds me of that unsolvable quip involving the chicken and the egg. Does anyone actually have an answer as to which came first?
In a study by the Department of Psychology at Old Dominion University, over 100 female college students with a wide body mass range, were given a 19-item assessment in a span of three weeks. The findings showed a link between negative body image and poor quality of life.
In addition, a 2013 study published by the Journal of Obesity, found no link between body weight and the way we feel about ourselves. Yet, the findings show a link between how we feel about ourselves and the healthy activities we engage in. Meaning, the better we feel about our bodies the more likely we are to take care of them by eating well and being active, allowing us to create a positive cycle. Likewise, dissatisfaction with our bodies can discourage us from taking part in certain activities, eating properly to fuel our bodies, and can eventually lead to weight gain.
That’s where the confusion lies. Many overweight people have a negative body image, but it may have started before they were overweight. I would imagine the same to be true for average or underweight people as well.
So how do we combat this? Maybe the answer is to focus on mental health and body image from a young age rather than body mass index and weight. Weight gain is a symptom (sometimes) of negative body image, and should be tackled separately. For many patients, it can be frustrating when doctors treat only what is tangible to them: weight, when they should be focusing on the greater concern: mental health.
Haley Convertino is the Marketing and Community Relations Specialist for Walden Behavioral Care’s Amherst and Worcester Clinics. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer, and enjoys traveling and learning new ways to live a healthy and happy life.