43% of people living with depression are also obese, and other mental health issues, including PTSD and anxiety, are also linked with unhealthy body weight. When you’re working with an overweight or obese client, it’s worth taking time to examine root causes that may contribute to unhealthy dietary and lifestyle choices. The social and psychological effects of being overweight or obese can also contribute to poor self-image and poor mental health. While body weight is highly complex and can be attributed to a variety of factors, the psychological component should not be ignored. Encourage your clients to seek support, and always be ready and willing to listen empathetically.


The Impact Of Stress On Eating Habits

Dealing with the occasional stressful experience is an unavoidable part of life for most adults. However, chronic stress can have an adverse impact on all aspects of health, and contributes to obesity in a number of ways. The body’s physiological response to stress produces hormones such as cortisol and ghrelin, which stimulate appetite and cause the body to hold on to excess calories. Sugary, high fat foods also trigger reward centers in the brain that help counteract the sympathetic nervous system’s stress response. If your client lacks healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, it’s likely that they’ll turn to eating as a solution. Encourage healthier ways of dealing with stress, such as journaling, yoga and other self-care practices. 

43% of people living with depression are also obese, and other mental health issues, including PTSD and anxiety, are also linked with unhealthy body weight.

Lack Of Motivation Caused By Depression 

Feeling unmotivated is a common symptom of depression, and should not be confused for laziness. The inertia that overcomes someone affected by depression can be debilitating, and diminishes quality of life. Someone experiencing depression may want to participate in pleasurable and healthy experiences like exercise, but lack the energy, confidence or mental clarity to take the necessary steps. Lack of physical activity and depression can create a reflexive pattern; not getting enough activity reinforces symptoms of depression, and the more depressed a person becomes, the less likely they are to exercise. Overcoming the lack of motivation associated with depression is a critical first step towards better physical and mental health. Encourage clients to start with light cardio, and find out if there are any sports, games or activities they’ve especially enjoyed in the past. Classes with upbeat music, high energy instructors and a sense of camaraderie among participants can make the transition back to exercise easier. 


Strengthening The Mind Body Connection

Thought patterns and emotional states can be all-consuming, and when someone is in the throes of mental illness, they may begin to neglect themselves physically. Hygiene, eating habits and exercise cease to be a priority when mental states become extreme. Compulsive overeating can easily become a habit when someone ceases to be aware of their hunger/fullness cues and feels disconnected from their body. Mindful eating practices help to refocus on the sensory experiences associated with food, and help stop patterns of binge eating. Meditation and yoga can also help bring awareness back to the body and into the present moment.


As a fitness trainer, it’s important to view each client as a complex and multifaceted individual, and understand that everyone embarks on their fitness journey with a unique set of needs. If you’re working with a client who’s struggling with their mental health, encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional, and strategize with them to develop a fitness plan that takes their emotional needs into account. Remind them of the positive choice they have made by focusing on their fitness, and emphasize the ways in which exercise and nutrition will improve their overall mood.


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Sally Perkins

Sally Perkins is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family and travelling as much as possible.


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