Wellbeing

Can losing weight make you a happier person?

“If I’m happy, I can lose weight.”

“If I lose weight, I’ll be happy.”

There’s scientific proof underpinning the first statement, and you can read the full article here.

But what about the second?

Browse through our amazing success stories to get a feel for how losing weight and building healthy habits can improve your mental wellbeing, from feeling happier to more confident.

For example, Penny was able to come off her antidepressants when she changed her eating habits, started running and discovered that exercising made her feel good.

Junaid is in a better place emotionally since joining WW, and Lucia went from feeling unhappy to more confident than ever. Read their stories below, then scroll down for the science.  

What does the science say?

 

But the evidence isn’t just anecdotal – the science also suggests that losing weight can improve your happiness. For example, a 2009 study by the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour found that people with depression who lost weight saw an improvement in their symptoms of depression.1 

However, a more recent study at University College London found that the effects of weight loss on mental health are less straightforward. While losing weight resulted in significant physical benefits, participants who lost 5% or more of their initial body weight over a four-year period were 52% more likely to report a depressed mood than those who stayed within 5% of their original weight. 

While the study doesn’t prove that dieting causes depression, it does show that weight loss doesn’t necessarily improve mental health.

Dr. Sarah Jackson, lead author of the study, said: “We do not want to discourage anyone from trying to lose weight, which has tremendous physical benefits, but people should not expect weight loss to instantly improve all aspects of life.” 

She added that the effect on mental health could stem from the stress of dieting, rather than a consequence of weight loss. “Resisting the ever-present temptations of unhealthy food in modern society takes a mental toll, as it requires considerable willpower and may involve missing out on some enjoyable activities. Anyone who has ever been on a diet would understand how this could affect wellbeing,” she said.2

With WW nothing's off the menu and there's no need to miss out on social events with friends and family. In fact, check out this article which shows you how to enjoy a three course meal at Nando's for just 9 SmartPoints®!

 

Can exercise actually make you happy?

 

Incorporating exercise into your weight loss and wellness plan has two major benefits.

First, a healthy diet combined with exercise results in more weight loss than dieting alone. A 2012 study observed an 8.5% weight loss among women participating in diet alone, a 2.4% weight loss among those participating in exercise alone, and a 10.8% weight loss among those participating in combined diet and exercise interventions, according to this study. 

Not only that, but studies have long suggested that exercise triggers the release of “feel-good hormones” know as endorphins in the brain.

Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University and the lead author of a recent study on exercise and the brain, said: “A single bout of exercise can change neurotransmitter levels in the brain, increasing dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—all of which have been associated with a good mood and/or pain management.

“These neurochemicals are the brain’s natural opiate.”  

Joining WW helped member Tracey find more time for her, to do the things she enjoys - including exercise. 

“Exercise helps me take that time to focus on me,” she says. Watch her video below to be inspired!

 

Does exercise intensity make a difference?

 

A 2018 study found that adults who engaged in an hour of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) experienced a significant increase in endorphin release compared with those who participated in a hour of less demanding activity.

Study co-author Tiina Saanijoki said: “Our results highlight that exercise intensity affects endorphin release and that the brain opioid system is involved in both positive and negative feelings caused by physical exercise performed at different intensities.”

However, the research found that HIIT caused negative feelings in study participants, which was also associated with an increase in endorphin release.

“At very high exercise intensities the release of endorphins appears to be linked to increased negative feelings and pain, and may be needed to manage the emotionally and physically demanding challenge,” Saanijoki continued. “However, such negative feelings may discourage further exercise.”

Following moderate-intensity aerobic activity, the participants reported feelings of pleasure and euphoria, which the team found corresponded with endorphin release.

“At moderate training intensities, the pleasurable sensations caused by the possible release of endorphins may promote habitual exercise,” said Saanijoki.

At WW, we encourage you to eat better, shift your mindset and move more. Check out our fitness hub for inspiration to get you moving!


1. Faulconbridge, L, et al. (2009) Weight loss improves mood in depressed people. Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour.

2. UCL research funded by Cancer Research UK.