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Physical Fitness: Who Cares? Answer: Because Being Fat Makes You Depressed, and Being Depressed Makes You Fat

Obesity and depression are strongly linked. (The quoted study can be found here.)

“Obesity, Luppino and colleagues found, increases the risk of depression in initially non-depressed individuals by 55 percent and depression increases the risk of obesity in initially normal-weight individuals by 58 percent.”
[…]
“Nearly one out of four cases of obesity is associated with a mood or anxiety disorder.”
[…]
Being obese, Luppino told Reuters Health, not only increases the risk of depression, but is more likely to fuel the onset of clinical depression, rather than merely depressive symptoms.

Executive summary: being fat makes you depressed, and being depressed makes you fat.

Now we tackle the interesting question: why?

Luppino (who is Dutch) makes a weak, tentative speculation about body image ideals and how Americans are more shallow than Europeans—but even if that were true, it still begs the question. Why are our body image ideals of athletic people, not obese people?

An important clue can be found here:

Being overweight [but not obese -JS] increased the risk of depression in initially non-depressed individuals somewhat, but depression did not increase the risk of being overweight over time.

In other words:
1) The fatter you get, the more likely you are to become depressed.
2) Being depressed doesn’t cause you to become merely overweight…either you stay thin, or you blast right through to obesity.

The explanation, of course, is evolutionary.

If humans had been selected to sit in an office chair and fill out TPS reports or play video games all day, we would be sessile brains with little nubs to type and move the mouse, and obesity would be a non-factor. But we have only worked office jobs for perhaps sixty years, even in industrialized America, which is not enough time to assert significant selection pressure.

In reality, humans have been selected over millions of years—since long before we were technically even human—for our ability to run down big animals and kill them with spears we made ourselves. When you have a body capable of doing that (even if you’ve never hunted so much as a squirrel), you feel good about yourself, because that’s what you are for, and you know that at a very deep, cellular level. And when you let yourself become fat and lazy, there is a dissatisfaction with yourself that you will never overcome, because your body knows that it’s no longer capable of providing for itself, let alone your family, in the Pleistocene environment to which we are adapted.

Personally, I can’t stand gyms or “working out”. I need to go outside and do things. Ride my bike, run, ski, climb…there’s a reason people pay big, big bucks to live someplace they can be active in nature right out their door. It’s because that’s what we have been selected to do.

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS

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13 comments

Permalink: Physical Fitness: Who Cares? Answer: Because Being Fat Makes You Depressed, and Being Depressed Makes You Fat
  • TheHyenaGoesChomp

    I sure am happy that my daily life involves hard physical labor. It is pretty bizarre watching this country get fatter and fatter. It’s slightly depressing.

  • Darren

    “It’s slightly depressing.”

    i prefer the term “delicious”

  • Kit Perkins

    Is there any chance it goes as the following?

    1. Poor diet leads to obesity.
    2. Obesity leads to desires for losing weight.
    3. Desires for losing weight lead to low-fat diets (FDA Approved!).
    4. Low-fat diets lead to depression.

  • Kit:

    That's an entirely plausible contribution to the effect!  There are also the known hormonal effects of having lots of fat mass.  It's difficult to disentangle causality in such a big, complex feedback loop.

    JS

    PS: Kit's blog is engrevo.com.

  • gollum

    The drugs they are legally allowed to give to the “mentally ill” have all sorts of funny effects, from nervous system damage to moobs and obesity

  • “Personally, I can’t stand gyms or “working out”. I need to go outside and do things. Ride my bike, run, ski, climb…there’s a reason people pay big, big bucks to live someplace they can be active in nature right out their door. It’s because that’s what we have been selected to do.”

    Nor me … I’ve never been in a gym. Now that I am taking the rest of my life seriously, I don’t think I ever will – I have nature, I have wide open spaces right there on my doorstep. My playground :)

    Funnily enough, the houses on our road are very cheap by comparison. We have a small cluster of former industrial dwellings in our hamlet and a few larger houses.

    Nature is the key. Get out into nature to walk, run, climb … be challenged. Push outside your own boundaries and see where it goes!

    From a very sedentary decade through my 30s where I have been heard to say, “I hate being alive!”, since learning to live I have been heard to say, “I love being alive! I’m going for a walk!” and coming back full of life, vigour and colour … even when it is lashing down with rain.

  • gollum:

    I believe weight gain is a known side effect of SSRIs, among others.

    Paul:

    Exactly.  Humans are supposed to be outside.

    JS

  • rob

    Two of the three pics are of Jugalos … I think even skinny Jugalos are depressed on account of they are freaks of nature with no purpose for living.

    Being fat probably contributes to being depressed but I don’t think it is being fat per se but just in general “being very unattractive,” if you are skinny and look like crap there is a good chance you will be somewhat depressed too.

  • rob

    I think people who hate to work out are probably well on their way to being ugly (or have been camped out there for a long time already) so don’t think the “being outside” is going to save you, if you look like crap, going outside to look like crap isn’t an improvement, you look just as bad outside as you do indoors.

  • 9:30 and 10:30 class

    […] Physical fitness: Who cares? […]

  • rob:

    There are many contributing factors to depression, which I won't attempt to disentangle.  But it's interesting that being fat is apparently one of them.

    As far as Juggalos, I've got sympathy for misfits who get together to celebrate their misfit-ness.  Frankly, I'd rather hang around freaks than hipsters, because I don't enjoy the self-consciousness necessary to care so much about looking like I don't care.  And if you've made it out of your 20s without doing a bunch of things you'd rather not be reminded of, you've wasted a lot of opportunities.

    JS

  • Training and nutriti

    […] for killing millions of people via the consequences of obesity—diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer, dementia, stroke, osteoarthritis, and a host of other totally preventable […]

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