Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

A Healthy Mind and Body: The Psychological Aspects Weight Loss

Image of Marines with 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, participate in a regimental run to celebrate St. Barbara’s Day at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 13. Marines with 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, participate in a regimental run to celebrate St. Barbara’s Day at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Jan. 13 (Marine Pfc. Adeola Adetimehin, 1st Marine Division).

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Weight Management for Lasting Health

Nutrition is a key component to maintaining a healthy body weight. 

But experts say it’s a mistake to fixate solely on your diet. 

There are a host of mental and psychological factors that impact weight, and getting those aspects of your lifestyle and fitness program on track can make all the difference in your long-term success.

Dr. Natasha Schvey, assistant professor of medical and clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, says the best approach to improving your health is one that takes into account both mind and body. 

How can your mental health impact your weight management efforts? 

“I actually think it’s more important to focus on addressing some of the other possible targets of weight management rather than weight loss specifically – things like physical activity, addressing disordered eating attitudes and behaviors, such as crash dieting, reducing body dissatisfaction, and trying to improve ‘intuitive eating,’ which is essentially re-learning to eat according to your internal hunger and fullness cues,” said Schvey. 

Addressing these items is an essential part of weight management, she explained. Although they may not change one’s weight specifically, they can reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and generally improve well-being and physical health, even in the absence of significant weight loss, she added. 

“Long-term weight loss is incredibly difficult, if not virtually impossible, for many,” said Schvey. “We really want to be clear that being unable to lose significant amounts of weight and sustain it does not reflect a lack of mental strength or resilience.” 

There is often the misconception that weight loss is a reflection of willpower or discipline – basically, that you can’t lose weight because you don’t want to or you’re not trying hard enough. 

“It’s really important to realize that significant weight loss is very, very difficult to maintain psychologically and physiologically,” she said. “Even the best treatments aren’t particularly effective in the long run. That being said, even small amounts of weight loss can be accompanied by tangible and important health gains and benefits.” 

Schvey explained how one of the best ways clinicians can support weight management is by helping clients to improve their body image and acceptance, and by helping them to address any underlying problems with eating behaviors. 

“The number on the scale doesn’t really tell us a whole lot. It doesn’t tell us about the quality of our diets. It doesn’t tell us about our fitness. And it doesn’t tell us about our overall health.” 

It’s important to take a holistic approach to weight management programs, she said. 

How can people take a mentally healthy approach to their weight? 

“Reframe the approach.” 

Individuals often adopt weight management plans or programs with an “all or nothing” attitude. 

“Rather than thinking, ‘I’m on a diet,’ or, ‘I’m off a diet,’ or, ‘I’m going to start a diet on this particular day’ – instead try to adopt approaches that are more sustainable in the long-term,” Schvey explained. “Also remember that weight is something that is largely controlled by factors that may not be within our control like genetics.” 

Environmental factors also play a huge part in our health. Individuals should take into account things like sleep and sedentary behaviors like watching TV or spending time on their phone or computer. 

“Also remember that any one, two or even three meals or snacks among roughly 35 eating opportunities per week are not going to derail you or cause you to gain significant weight,” she said. 

Many helpful strategies are irrespective of weight – like increasing physical activity, getting more social support, setting realistic, sustainable goals and making fitness a series of additions rather than subtractions from your daily life. 

“What can I add on to what I’m already doing? Can I drink more water? Can I cook more meals at home? Can I download a yoga app?” 

Subtractions, she explained, would include cutting out certain food groups or reducing time with your family in order to work out. Integration is key. 

How can losing weight make you feel better? 

“There are obvious physical components to this, but weight can be a very fickle friend or foe,” said Schvey. 

“If our goals are tied to the number on the scale then losing a couple pounds might make us feel ecstatic, but what does that say about us when the weight creeps up a little bit?” 

Some of the benefits of healthier behavior include enhanced cognitive functioning, improved mood, better self-esteem, stress and anxiety reduction. It can also lower the risk of depression. 

“On the other hand, with weight gain – especially for someone who is trying really hard to lose weight – it can feel very discouraging and they may interpret it as a reflection of themselves, their discipline, or their shortcomings as a person,” said Schvey. 

“We know that weight loss is determined by a lot of other factors.” 

How should people judge their success? 

“On the clinical side, we have people who come in and they’ll say, ‘This is the number I want to be,’ and it’s even more complicated in the military because there are these ‘magic numbers’ and proportions that people need to obtain,” Schvey said. 

She said a good way to assess a fitness goal is to evaluate whether it is, “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound, or SMART.” 

Why is this important to the warfighter? 

“Obesity is the largest medical disqualifier for people interested in military service,” said Schvey. “Additionally, body weight does affect one’s military career and those who repeatedly fail their (weigh-ins or physical fitness tests) risk separation from the military or don’t qualify for opportunities for additional training or promotions.” 

As a result of these semi-annual assessments, Schvey said they see a lot of what they refer to as “situational” eating disorders. 

“These can be very problematic and very harmful for one’s health and can result in weight rebound – regaining and even exceeding the weight that you started out at, not to mention the impact to one’s mental health.” 

According to Schvey, the military services have recently started to reevaluate some of their assessments and the possibility of associating their standards with an individual’s job duties, rather than their service branch as a whole. 

“We want to ensure military readiness and fitness for duty but, at the same time, we want to make sure we’re not promoting dangerous behaviors or attitudes about what it means to be in shape.” 

You also may be interested in...

Considering supplements? Stay Informed

Video
6/22/2022
Considering supplements? Stay Informed

Stay informed when considering supplements to help you reach your performance and fitness goals with this video from Operation Supplement Safety, the #DOD dietary supplement resource at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. #PerformanceNutrition #FueltoFight #OPSS #USU

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Nutritional Fitness

6 Essential Nutrients

Video
6/22/2022
6 Essential Nutrients

Are you getting the right nutrients from your diet? Check out this overview of the six essential nutrients to optimize your performance and fitness from Human Performance Resources by CHAMP at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. #PerformanceNutrition #FueltoFight #USU #HPRC

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Nutritional Fitness

What should I eat after a workout?

Video
6/22/2022
What should I eat after a workout?

Ever wonder how to fuel up post-workout to maximize recovery and support your fitness? Check out these tips from the Human Performance Resources by CHAMP, part of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences to enhance your performance! #PerformanceNutrition #FueltoFight #USU #HPRC”

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Nutritional Fitness | Physical Fitness

Managing Burnout

Video
5/19/2022
Managing Burnout

Burnout is really a state of extreme exhaustion caused by chronic overwhelming stress. Lt. Col. Catherine Callendar, Air Force Deputy Director of Psychological Health, gives some advice on coping with burnout. Learn more at health.mil/mentalhealth.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | Psychological Fitness

MHS Minute | April 2022

Video
5/3/2022
MHS Minute | April 2022

The MHS Minute highlights some of the outstanding work taking place across the Military Health System, including major milestones, events, notable activities, and much more. Help us get the word out about all of the unique, meaningful, and fascinating work taking place across the MHS by watching and sharing the video, which you can download from DVIDs: https://go.usa.gov/xuy7M. This month’s topic is mental health awareness. Check out the entire playlist: https://go.usa.gov/xtAAq

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Toolkit | Psychological Fitness

Anger

Video
2/11/2022
Anger

A brief introduction on anger. How Anger can impact your life and the people around you.

Recommended Content:

Anger | Psychological Fitness

Heart Health Month 2022

Video
2/11/2022
Heart Health Month 2022

Love letter from your heart. Happy Heart Health Month!

Recommended Content:

Heart Health | Total Force Fitness | Heart Health Toolkit

Bod Pod

Video
1/31/2022
Bod Pod

Short video advertising BodPod, which is a body fat measurement, available at Wellness Centers. After a BodPod analysis, an exercise specialist will design a workout program based on what your goals are.

Recommended Content:

Weight Management for Lasting Health

Safe and Effective Weight Loss

Video
1/5/2022
Safe and Effective Weight Loss

If you're resolving to lose weight in 2022, make sure to do it safely by avoiding crash and yo-yo diets. Talk to your doctor to make a plan for the safest and most effective way for you to manage a healthy weight in 2022. Visit tricare.mil/weightmanagement for even more tips.

Recommended Content:

Weight Management for Lasting Health | Nutritional Fitness | Physical Fitness

Quality of Life

Video
1/5/2022
Quality of Life

Nearly half of people making resolutions for the new year are resolving to lose weight. While there are several long-term benefits to losing weight - avoiding or managing other chronic health conditions among them - losing just a little bit of weight right now can have immediate effects on your quality of life. From less joint pain to more energy to better sleep, you can start seeing and feeling the benefits of healthy weight loss nearly right away. Visit tricare.mil/weightmanagement to learn more.

Recommended Content:

Weight Management for Lasting Health | Physical Fitness | Nutritional Fitness

PTSD: Help is Available

Video
6/24/2021
PTSD: Help is Available

PTSD can happen to anyone. The Military Health System can help you get diagnosed and provide you with evidence-based treatment so you can get your life back. If you're struggling with PTSD, reach out to your local military hospital or clinic and make an appointment today. Learn more at health.mil/ptsd.

Recommended Content:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

4 Ways to Cope with Survivor Guilt

Video
6/23/2021
4 Ways to Cope with Survivor Guilt

When a fellow warrior dies or is injured in battle, it’s common to have feelings of shock, regret or guilt. This is known as Survivor guilt. Learn how you can stay psychologically fit.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Real Warriors Campaign

4 Facts About PTSD

Video
6/23/2021
4 Facts About PTSD

Learn about PTSD symptoms, the benefits of seeking care and get connected to confidential, 24/7 resources.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Real Warriors Campaign

Depression: Know the Signs and Options for Care

Video
6/23/2021
Depression: Know the Signs and Options for Care

Depression is treatable and treatment works. Learn the signs and options for getting care.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Depression | Real Warriors Campaign

Know the Signs: Preventing Prescription Misuse

Video
6/23/2021
Know the Signs: Preventing Prescription Misuse

Prescription drug misuse can lead to challenges staying psychologically and physically fit. Learn the warning signs of prescription drug misuse to stay mission ready.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Substance Abuse | Real Warriors Campaign
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 3
Refine your search
Last Updated: January 28, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.