Mood low, weight loss slow? 

By Jade Chan, Psychologist

Sometimes in the process of losing weight, people can get so caught up in strict rules and expectations that it becomes stressful and may impact negatively on mood. Interestingly, this can actually be counterproductive because studies show that low mood and stress can often contribute to difficulties losing weight and keeping weight off. People who have high levels of depressive symptoms lose significantly less weight than those with average mood in both surgical and non-surgical weight loss programs. One reason for this might be that low mood often comes hand in hand with feeling lethargic and unmotivated. You might even feel helpless and hopeless to make healthy choices for yourself. It’s much harder to push ourselves to make lifestyle changes when we’re feeling flat. There is also evidence for a two-way relationship between depression and poor diet, meaning that if your mood is low, you might be more likely to make unhealthy food choices and vice versa.

That’s why during this process of weight loss, we encourage you to focus more on just having a healthier lifestyle for both your physical and psychological wellbeing. Don’t think only about your physical health – make sure you work on your mental health as well! So what can we do to look after our mood?

Adopt healthy lifestyle habits – including sleeping well, eating well, and being active!

There is ample research to demonstrate that good quality sleep is associated with better mood. Try your best to get regular and sufficient sleep. As much as possible, go to bed and get out of bed around the same time every day (even on weekends). Most adults require about 7-9 hours of sleep for optimum energy levels. Eating well has also been shown to have benefits on mood. While making healthy choices is important, this doesn’t mean sticking to a rigid diet all the time. Instead, make choices that are good for your body and mind – which can mean a little bit of chocolate or chips sometimes! Be sure to get out and get your heart pumping – exercise has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants for mild depression.

Do things you enjoy and find rewarding

It’s important that we engage in activities that bring us enjoyment as well as things that give us a sense of achievement. Often when people are struggling with low mood, they tend to do less – including fun things, social things, and important things. In turn, this makes them feel worse. One of the simplest ways to tackle this is by doing more meaningful activities – psychologists call this “behavioural activation”. There’s no need to think big – even small enjoyable activities like meeting a friend for coffee, sitting in a park, or taking a bubble bath can be enjoyable. Likewise, cleaning your room or sending off those emails you’ve been avoiding can also be considered “achievement” activities. Make sure you schedule a few of those things in each week – and remember, you need both enjoyable and achievement activities.

Check your thoughts

Often our emotions are affected by the perspective that we take on situations. Notice the way you’re thinking about things in life – see if your thoughts are 100% true or if there is another way to look at it. Often the more helpful thought is less extreme or less self-critical. For example, rather than “I am never going to be good at my job”, perhaps you could be thinking “My job is pretty challenging but I am learning new skills that will make it easier over time”.

Remember – don’t get so caught up on “losing weight” that you forget to take time to enjoy your life. After all, happiness and quality of life is what we’re all aiming for.

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