Join us for an exclusive AiT interview with psychologist and nutrition expert Dr. Sherry Pagoto and learn about the impact of weight and mental health.
Ait: What interested you in the area of weight and the psychological connections that go along with it?
SP: In my clinical practice, I have found that about 60% of people coming for weight loss counseling had a psychological disorder, with the most common being depression, binge eating disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These patients also have more difficulty losing weight. I began to conduct research on these populations and discovered that the psychological disorders themselves are related to the development of obesity in many cases, and also represent barriers to treatment. Successful weight loss often involves addressing the psychological issues.
AiT: What are some of the trends you are seeing between overweight youth and depression and other mental illness?
SP: The relationship between depression and obesity is bidirectional. On the one hand, depression can lead to behaviors like sleeping too much, overeating, and low activity levels, which in turn can lead to weight gain. On the other hand, obesity can lead to feelings of depression especially to the extent that the individual experiences stigma around their weight. In youth, bullying can be an issue among kids who struggle with their weight and this can further contribute to depression, low self-esteem and body image issues. It becomes a vicious cycle. The best treatment is one that addresses all of these issues, i.e., “the whole person,” not one that simply puts a child on a diet.
AiT: What advice would you give for teens who want to get on the right path to healthy eating and exercise?
SP: Now is the best time to do it. I would suggest that they talk to their parents about getting healthy choices into the home and get involved in a sport or active hobby, which can be anything from joining a team to walking or running by oneself. Simple habits like giving up soda and juice, limiting fast food and sweets, and getting some form of exercise each day can go a long way. It may be helpful for teens to identify an adult in their life who leads a healthy lifestyle and seek advice from that person, looking to them as a mentor in health. Sometime this may be a parent, but it could also be a different family member, teacher, or coach.
AiT: What should and/or shouldn’t a parent do to be helpful in helping their child get on the right path?
SP: Parents should avoid judgmental language when addressing their child’s weight. Weight is a highly personal issue that brings up a lot of emotions for people. The most important things a parent can do is create a healthy household that does not include unhealthy choices, engage in physical activities with children on a regular basis, and role model healthy behavior.
Dr. Sherry Pagoto is a licensed clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Her expertise is in health, nutrition, fitness, weight management, depression, stress, cancer prevention, and type 2 diabetes. She blogs at www.FUdiet.com and on Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shrink and can be found on Twitter at @DrSherryPagoto