London: Up to 72 per cent of women and 61 per cent of men are dissatisfied with their weight or body image, according to a U.S. study. Globally, millions of people attempt to lose weight every year with the hope that weight loss will have positive effects on their body image, health and quality of life.
However, these motivated individuals often struggle to maintain new diets or exercise regimens. The rise of medications such as semaglutides, like Ozempic or Wegovy, might be viewed as an appealing “quick fix” alternative to meet weight loss goals.
Research led by our team and others suggests that such attempts to lose weight often do more harm than good, and even increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
Weight loss and eating disorders
Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions primarily characterized by extreme patterns of under- or over-eating, concerns about one’s shape or body weight or other behaviours intended to influence body shape or weight such as exercising excessively or self-inducing vomiting.
In eating disorders research, the state of maintaining weight loss is referred to as “weight suppression.” Weight suppression is defined as the difference between a person’s current weight and their highest lifetime weight (excluding pregnancy).
Despite the belief that weight loss will improve body satisfaction, we found that in a sample of 600 men and women, weight loss had no impact on women’s negative body image and was linked to increased body dissatisfaction in men. Being more weight suppressed has been associated with the onset of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
One proposed explanation for the relationship between weight suppression and eating disorders is that maintaining weight loss becomes increasingly difficult as body systems that reduce metabolic rate and energy expenditure, and increase appetite, are activated to promote weight gain.
There is growing awareness that weight regain is highly likely following conventional diet programs. This might lead people to engage in more and more extreme behaviours to control their weight, or they might shift between extreme restriction of food intake and episodes of overeating or binge eating.
Of dieting & drugs
The growing market for off-label weight loss drugs is concerning, because of the exacerbation of weight stigma and the serious health risks associated with unsupervised weight loss, including developing eating disorders. Researchers and health professionals are already raising the alarm about the use of GLP-1As in children and adolescents.
Popular weight-loss methods, whether pills or “crash diets,” often mimic symptoms of eating disorders. For example, intermittent fasting diets that involve long periods of fasting followed by short periods of food consumption may mimic and increase the risk of developing binge eating problems. The use of diet pills or laxatives to lose weight has been found to increase the risk of being diagnosed with an eating disorder in the next one to three years.
People who are dissatisfied with their weight or have made multiple attempts to lose weight often feel pressured to try increasingly drastic methods. However, any diet, exercise program or weight-loss medication promising a quick fix for weight loss should be treated with extreme caution. At best, you may regain weight; at worst, you put yourself at risk for much more serious eating disorders.