It is being constantly claimed, upheld and emphasized that being overweight or, even worse, obese, possesses many and severe health hazards. Overweight and obese people are being repeatedly urged to lose weight. That not losing excess weight is harmful for health seems certain.

However, there seems to be one more factor, which, admittedly, comes from my experience in the form of the observation of people surrounding me. Namely, I'd put a hypothesis that working to lose weight causes considerable strain on the psyche. I know a person who had been calm and happy… before she started dieting frantically to lose weight. She managed to lose most of her excess weight and works very hard to keep it that way, nonetheless seeing her as nervous and tired and humorless as she is now and comparing to how I remember her before makes me question if her efforts are worth it. Another example comes from a newspaper article (which, again, I can't now find to link it) about a talk-show host. The article snidely remarked that with her excess weight the host lost all of her funniness she had been esteemed for. Finally: I also read a newspaper article (which I, again, can't find now...) that seemed to confirm my anecdotal and intuitive observations: namely, it claimed that both hunger itself and conscious attempts to suppress hunger and restraining the urge to eat cause considerable stress and lower one's mood.

Still, in cases when both weight and stress are discussed together, it seems that it is usually in the context of excess weight causing stress because overweight people tend to have low self-esteem and they tend to be ostracized by their peers. I would, however, ask about this relationship from a different angle:

  • Can working to lose weight, as opposed to neglecting this, cause considerable stress?
  • Since chronic stress is also widely recognized to be a health hazard, can the costs of being more stressed outweigh the costs of not losing weight? Assume absence of other egregious lifestyle-related risks – that is, our overweight person does not smoke, has some moderate physical activity, is not being bullied for being overweight, does not mostly eat junk food, etc etc.
  • 1
    I think the answer to both questions is going to depend on the individual and the second question is a matter of opinion.
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 18:01
  • @CareyGregory There certainly are studies that look at side effects of dieting which can include increases in stress. I think it's an answerable question as long as the answer focuses on health outcomes rather than opinions about personality.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 18:56
  • @BryanKrause I don't doubt dieting can cause stress -- in some people. What I doubt is that the comparison the question asks for can be made. What measure do you use to determine which is more harmful and in which patients?
    – Carey Gregory
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 20:25
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    I think the second question may be answerable if it asks for comparison between physical harmful effects of obesity and physical harmful effects of stress associated with weight loss. By physical I mean diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. Because it is not convenient to compare the risk of diabetes in an obese person with stress of dieting. Stress by itself is not necessary bad after all.
    – Jan
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 7:39
  • Yes, @Jan's comment is along the lines of what I was thinking...comparisons of physical outcomes that are associated with weight/BMI but also associated with chronic stress.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


Can working to lose weight, as opposed to neglecting this, cause considerable stress?

Not necessary, according to the following review.

Diet-Induced Weight Loss Has No Effect on Psychological Stress in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (Nutrients, 2018)

This systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials showed that weight loss induced by dietary restriction in adult overweight and obese men and women does not have a beneficial or detrimental effect on self-reported psychological stress.

Still, an obese person who tries to lose weight from wrong reasons (to please someone or to reach some theoretical health goal) or in a wrong way (too fast or by some annoying method) can lose the peace of mind.

What is the association between obesity, weight loss and health, according to studies?

(Categorization of increased weight based on the body mass index or BMI (weight in kg/height in m squared): overweight = 25-30, grade I obesity = 30-35, grade II obesity = 35-40, grade III obesity = >40.)

Obesity as a risk factor for chronic conditions:

Intentional weight loss and a decreased health risk:

Most studies about weight loss are observational, so it may be difficult to differ between intentional and unintentional weight loss - the later is typically associated with a disease. This is why in several studies weight loss is not associated with health improvement or is even associated with an increased risk of disease (The Journals of Gerontology, 2007 ; International Journal of Obesity, 2010).

The risks of intentional rapid weight loss:

Can the costs of being more stressed outweigh the costs of not losing weight?

It seems that trying to lose weight to improve the quality of life can be more beneficial than just remaining obese.


There a none and the reason may be that it would be a hard study to design in a way that would answer the trade-off dilemma. Some answers are so individual that designing a general population study is so difficult that it is not done.

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