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Psychosomatics of excess weight: why can’t I lose weight?

01.09.2020 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Being overweight is not only a result of “poor” heredity, a sedentary lifestyle or a consequence of serious diseases. Psychologists believe that the causes of obesity can be hidden much deeper. The problem is caused by the feelings and emotions of the person, their fears and complexes. The surest way to lose weight is not crash diets and working themselves up into a lather, but serious personal changes. In the article we will discuss the main psychological reasons for the rapid gain of kilograms, which are impossible to get rid of later. How to lose weight when the excess weight is caused by psychosomatics?


What is psychosomatics?

What is psychosomatics

Psychosomatics is a branch of psychology and medicine, studying the impact of psychological factors on the appearance of certain bodily (somatic) problems in humans. According to experts, diseases are very often caused not by some obvious disorders in the body, but by stresses, depression, worries and feelings.

Studies conducted at the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis have shown that the main biological processes of food consumption and the functions of the gastrointestinal tract are directly related to human emotions. Scientists analyzed the eating behavior of more than 10,000 people. It has been revealed that overeating, which causes a set of excess weight, is in most cases caused by psycho-emotional tension. Conflicts in the family and at work, domestic and emotional dissatisfaction — according to scientists, it is these factors that most often cause an irresistible craving to consume more calories. [1]

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Being overweight cannot be called a disease until a certain point. But if you let the situation go, it will get out of control sooner or later. Obesity represents a serious risk of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal diseases. Excessive weight harms self-esteem, which only exacerbates existing psychological problems. Isolation from society, depression and eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia) — these are the most serious consequences of “untreated” mental wounds, if excess weight is caused by psychosomatics.

Psychosomatics: causes of excess weight

causes of excess weight

If the appearance of extra pounds is due to psychosomatic reasons, all diets and trainings will be useless. Maybe you’ll lose weight, but soon the weight will return. Therefore, the main task in the treatment of psychosomatics is to identify the problem that provokes eating disorders, and then eliminate it.

Experts highlight several major psychosomatic causes of obesity:

1.      Food as an “antidepressant”

For many, food becomes an effective “medicine” for relieving nervous overstress. As a rule, stress is emotionally eaten away with harmful products, which leads to weight gain. Overweight is a direct consequence of the fact that a person is unable to deal with their problems in more “safe” ways than caloric food.

It’s a vicious cycle: delicious food for a short period causes an emotional uplift, but then, to get a new portion of hormones of joy, a person needs “doping” in the form of a calorie snack again. You can not get rid of the psychosomatics of excess weight if you do not learn to cope with stress.

2.      Low self-esteem

It has always been thought that low self-esteem is a consequence of obesity, not its cause. But scientists from King’s College London have found that it could be the other way around. The research began with the collection of information on the physical parameters and self-esteem of 6,500 10-year-olds. 20 years later, these same guys, only significantly grown up, were offered to pass the questionnaire survey once again. It was found that people who had low self-esteem in childhood were more likely to suffer from obesity in adulthood. [2]

3.      Low level of responsibility

The same scientists from King’s College London have concluded that individuals who tend to blame only external factors for their problems were more likely to suffer from excess weight. [2]

4.      Feeling your insignificance

The experts on psychosomatics believe that a person can eat more in attempts to become significant and visible in society. The body seems to be saying: “I want to take more space, I want to be appreciated at last.” Of course, this is not the solution to the problem of being “disliked.” An overweight person has even more complexes, which prevents him/her from achieving their goals and building relationships with people.

5.      Lack of positive emotions

When everyday life is drab, person would constantly want something tasty. Food for him/her is the only available way to get a portion of positivity. It’s not just emotional eating due to stress. A person “eats” life itself, trying to make it more sunny and interesting.

6.      Feelings of guilt and self-hate

People feeling deeply guilty subconsciously want to punish themselves. Food becomes this punishment. A person tries to assuage the guilt (often unsubstantiated) by disfiguring their body. Obesity leads to the development of serious diseases. Some think that this is a worthy punishment “for sins.” [1]

Psychosomatics of excess weight in women

It is believed that the problem of excess weight in women is often psychosomatic. They are more prone to the negative effects of stress, more sensitive to external factors, and self-absorbed.

Many women are never satisfied with their appearance. They make countless attempts to lose weight such as diets and gym sessions. This can be their only goal, which only complicates their social life. It is important to pause and understand that physiology can have nothing to do with it. As experts in psychosomatics say, all of our problems are in our head.

Psychologists believe that women often feel insecure due to certain circumstances. The layer of fat tissues becomes a kind of armor. A well-fleshed girl will be uninteresting to others (especially to men) and therefore “will be able to live in peace”. This psychosomatic obesity problem is often diagnosed in women who have experienced sexual violence. By becoming unattractive they try to protect themselves from the repetition of such situations. [3]

Excessive sensitivity is another psychological cause of excess weight in women. For those who internalize any situation, food becomes a means to relieve stress and dull negative emotions. Subconsciously, a woman wants to become stronger, so she strives to “build-up fat.”

Unresolved problems with the partner very often cause rapid weight gain. The woman gains weight to stop pathological jealousy of the spouse or “take revenge” on him (for example, for drunkenness). In both cases, the root of the problem is uncertainty. A woman does not know how or does not want to solve “crises” in relations in other ways. [3]

Psychosomatics of excess weight in men

In men, excess weight can also be caused by psychosomatics. According to experts, it is mainly a reaction to stress and the obligations assigned to them.

Some men find it very difficult to conform to the stereotypes that have developed in society about the ideal head of the household. They must be strong and successful. But not everyone manages to reach that “raised bar.” Hence the psycho-emotional overload and the excess food in an attempt to cope with anxiety.

Treatment of psychosomatics of excess weight in men is often complicated by the fact that they do not have any desire to turn to psychologists for help. The reason is the same stereotypes: a man should be able to solve his problems himself, using willpower and perseverance, and not by “soul-searching.” [1]

Psychosomatics of excess weight in children

Excessive weight in a child is not always associated with heredity problems, hormonal disorders or an abundance of sweets in the diet, as many parents think. In some cases, it comes as a consequence of deep psychological problems.

A child, like an adult, can “emotionally eat” the stress and self-doubt. Problems in the family such as lack of attention, criticism of parents or harsh restrictions may be the cause of excess weight. Beliefs instilled in the child, such as that good girls and boys need to eat more, also have a negative impact. Insecure kids tend to meet expectations of adults, so they eat everything from the plate, even when they are no longer hungry. Over time, overeating becomes a habit. [3]

Excessive weight is often caused by an attempt to attract attention of adults. In adolescents, psychosomatics of overeating and excess weight can be caused by rebellion against “everyone and everything”. It’s like teenagers are saying to the world: “Only I decide when and how much I should eat.”

Parents’ example is a serious cause of the overweight psychosomatics in children. If a cult of food is created in the family as the only leisure activity, then the child will adopt such a behavior pattern with a high probability — they simply won’t learn to get pleasant emotions in another way.

Excess weight in different parts of the body: psychologists’ theories

psychologists' theories

Many works of a scientific and near-scientific nature are devoted to the problem of psychosomatic manifestations. The specialists include foreign and domestic doctors.

For example, Dr. V. Sinelnikov writes in his book “Love Your Illness” that it is impossible to find a miracle pill in trying to lose weight. On order to treat psychosomatics of excess weight, first it’s necessary to identify the cause of the problem, turning inwards, to assess one’s psycho-emotional state as objectively as possible. [3]

American psychologists Louise Hay and Liz Bourbeau put forward their very popular theories, despite the lack of scientific evidence. They suggest taking into account the relationship between where the extra pounds are located on the human body and the psychological causes of obesity. According to their theory, different localization of excess weight speaks of the following psychological problems:

1.   Lower legs. A person has chosen the “wrong” way in life or has no opportunity to develop for one reason or another.

2.   Hips. There is an opinion that psychosomatics of excess weight in the hip area is caused by the inability to stand up for themselves and express their displeasure directly. A person constantly escapes from conflicts, restraining emotions. It is the self-doubt that is the reason for such problems.

3.   Hip bone. A person tries to restrain the fears and prohibitions associated with their sexuality. It is important to deal with complexes to start living fully, without trying to “restrain” the desire.

4. Abdomen. It is believed that psychosomatics of excess weight on the abdomen is caused by an acute deficiency of pleasant emotions. People who are not satisfied with their lives have excessive fat in this zone.

5.   Shoulders and arms. This is a problem zone of those people who try to keep everything under their control. Most likely, as a child, a lot was required from such a person. The desire for control exhausts them, and emotional tension does not allow them to enjoy life.

6.   Cheeks. A fat face is an “identification sign” of too trusting people who are unable to make their own decisions. They often face betrayals, which greatly affects self-esteem.

7.   Double chin. This is a kind of protection from others. The problem is typical for people who are afraid to start relationships with others.

8. Neck. Fat deposits in this area are a consequence of a deep sense of guilt. A person cannot forgive themselves something and believes that they are constantly doing the wrong thing. [4], [5]

How to beat the psychosomatics of excess weight?

As you may have understood, people start talking about the psychosomatic causes of fattiness or obesity when the problem of excess weight is not a consequence of real diseases (e.g. hormonal ones). However, no matter what careful analysis of personal root causes you did, it will not help to change the fact of emotional eating or overeating. It is best to work out these sustainable behaviors and transform them. By changing your habits and behavior pattern, you will stop looking for what to eat as soon as possible in a stressful situation. You will stop trying to hide from the world behind the fat layer. In this aspect, the excellent effect is shown by working with negative behaviors. The 7Spsy behavior modification technique is one of the new methods. This is a patented course based on the theories of I.P. Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, A.A.Ukhtomsky, etc.

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The training is designed for up to 6 weeks. The course will help to look at many life situations from new side, relieve increased anxiety, find other ways for overcoming crises. It is a big step towards stopping being guided by your fears and complexes by “emotionally eating” a wide range of problems. The acquired positive mindset is also suitable if you are simultaneously undergoing treatment for obesity. A healthy behavior model will help to become more confident — these are serious changes that will contribute to normal interaction with others without fears and negative emotions.

The 7Spsy behavior modification course takes place in a convenient remote mode. You perform independent home training, as well as daily communicate with a psychologist by phone, e-mail or through online chat. The training is confidential, which means that if necessary, you can keep it to yourself that you’re working with a psychologist.

All the advice posted on this site is advisory, and the face-to-face visits to the doctor could still be necessary. The information posted on this site cannot be used for self-treatment and diagnosis.

Information about possible treatment outcomes, even if backed up by examples from medical practice, is not a promise that such results can be achieved on a case-by-case basis, and does not guarantee the user of the site receiving such results in the described treatments.


1.   «Psikhosomaticheskaia meditsina. Printsipy i prakticheskoe», 2002 g., Aleksander F.

2.       «Childhood emotional problems and self-perceptions predict weight gain in a longitudinal regression model», Andrew Ternouth, David Collier & Barbara Maughan (https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-7-46).

3.   «Vozliubi bolezn svoiu», 1999 g., V. V. Sinelnikov.

4.   «Istseli Svoiu Zhizn», 1987 g., Luiza L. Khei.

5.   «Slushai svoe telo: ono tvoi samyi luchshii drug», 1987 g., L. Burbo.