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Losing weight doesn't necessarily boost happiness, researchers report

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For people that are battling weight problems, shedding pounds may improve physical health, but it's not likely to make you happy, report researchers from University College London.

A study of 1,979 overweight and obese adults in the UK found that people who lost 5% or more of their body weight over the course of four years were actually more likely to report symptoms of depression than people who stayed close to their normal starting weight (within 5 percent).

The authors were careful to say the results don't indicate that weight loss causes depression, but that there are many unanswered questions about the psychological effects of weight loss.

"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," lead author Dr. Sarah Jackson said in a statement.

False hope?

Part of the problem, Jackson said, is that weight loss advertising might contribute to a false sense of hope about life after weight loss. Promises of "instant life improvements," she offered, could explain why study participants were depressed after losing weight - because reality didn't match their hopes and dreams.

Another possible explanation is that clinical weight loss trials may improve mood temporarily, because participants are in a supportive environment, but that upon entering the "real world," they become discouraged or depressed by the challenges they face to keep the weight off.

"Healthcare professionals should monitor patients' mental as well as physical health when recommending or responding to weight loss, and offer support where necessary," Jackson concluded. "People who are trying to lose weight should be aware of the challenges and not be afraid to seek support, whether from friends, family or healthcare professionals."

Source: University College London