There are myriad reasons why people lose weight, including medical reactions, health reasons, or for personal aesthetics. Healthy weight loss is not always an easy process, and the journey can result in physical and mental effects with both beneficial and adverse consequences.
What Happens to Your Body When You Lose Weight?
Losing weight changes the composition of your body, and may change the way your body reacts to activity, hunger, stimulus, and sleep.
Studies show that losing weight can help improve sleep by alleviating issues such as sleep apnea, daytime fatigue, insomnia, or restless and interrupted sleep. This may be due to the link between physical activity and sleep from those that are experiencing weight loss through exercise. However, there are direct relationships between weight and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when blocked airways during sleep lead to disrupted breathing and snoring. Fatty tissue or poor muscle tone around the neck can result in obstructed breathing. People that lose weight can significantly improve their sleep, or rid themselves of sleep apnea completely leading to better general health overall.
Weight loss can reduce pain not only in load-bearing joints such as knees and hips, but also in pain in the abdomen, chest, arms, jaw, and back. This can be a result of lessening stress on the body and improved comfort and energy for physical activities, as well as an increase in anti-inflammatory molecules that help alleviate pain. Weight loss can also be specifically beneficial for pain relief for arthritis and may reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of migraines by 50%.
Excess weight can often have detrimental effects on people with asthma, allergies, and those who have difficulty breathing. Weight loss can help to clear breathing canals, increase the immune system’s ability to produce antibodies, and reduce bloating and indigestion, which can make breathing more difficult. However, severe unintentional weight loss can result from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and should be addressed by a healthcare provider immediately.
Altered Clothing Size, Fit, and Appearance
Losing weight can alter your appearance in many ways, including what clothing size you wear, how your clothing fits your figure, as well as the overall look of your skin and appearance. Beloved clothing items, shoes, and other accessories may no longer fit after weight loss. Though you may not typically think of hands and feet as being major repositories of body fat, weight loss is typically distributed throughout the body resulting in a reduction in the size of feet and hands. This means that even your wedding ring may not fit the same after weight loss. Losing weight may require rebuilding a wardrobe and ring resizing to tailor your clothing, jewelry, and accessories to your body’s new shape.
The appearance of your skin may also be changed due to weight loss, which may include the increased visibility of wrinkles as the layers of fat in the skin are reduced. Loose skin may cause physical discomfort, skin irritation, and poor body image. Consuming a healthy diet that includes collagen, proteins, vitamins, and staying hydrated can help skin be at its best. Diet is often closely linked with dermatology, and the reduced intake of high fat or sugary foods can improve acne conditions.
Lower Susceptibility to Cold
The brain’s ability to regulate body heat can be affected by weight loss. The reduction of caloric intake may cause the metabolic rate to slow down as the body attempts to conserve energy. Weight loss can also decrease thyroid hormone levels which can increase feelings of sensitivity to cold or feeling drained.
Mental and Emotional Responses to Weight Loss
There can be psychological and emotional effects of weight loss that may include encountering new personal or social perceptions and interactions and varied personal feelings about your own body, health, or relationships.
A study on how weight loss improves memory and alters brain activity concluded that the performance of episodic memory — the ability to memorize or encode information — was improved after weight loss. Brain activity increased in the areas associated with the identification and matching of faces. The study also found the brain was more active in storing new memories, and did not need as many resources or energy to recall stored information.
Increased Social Attention and Relationships
Changes of the body as a result of weight loss may affect relationships including friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers. Some relationships may grow and develop in the support of weight loss, while others may feel threatened or resentful. People who experience weight loss may also notice an increase in attention that can instigate feelings of being uncomfortable, flattered, resentful, or self-conscious. Relationships may also change as new habits around exercise or eating are formed, which can strengthen relationships, or alternatively cause strain.
More Positive Self-Image and Mental Health
The psychological benefits of weight loss may include positive changes such as:
- Improved feelings of self-esteem and body image.
- Decreased feelings of depression.
- Feelings of accomplishment.
- Feelings of positivity towards the outlook of health and general quality of life.
The emotional effects of weight loss may also be negative, and may manifest as:
- A sense of being underwhelmed, or that the physical changes did not result in the expected emotional shift;
- Feelings of vulnerability or exposure from the loss of emotional protection that a larger body provided them;
- Feelings of anger towards others who may not recognize the weight loss;
- Feelings of fear or anxiety that weight might fluctuate, which in extreme cases can result in eating disorders;
- Feelings of depression.
Weight can affect fertility in both men and women. Women who experience weight loss may experience changes in their menstrual cycle. Overall, weight loss contributes to higher fertility in both men and women. In female bodies, menstrual cycles and ovulation may become more stable after weight loss. In male bodies that experience weight loss, testosterone hormones, sperm count, and mobility may increase.