9 Surprising Benefits of Weight Lossby Tracy Middleton Health Writer
Battling the scale is not anyone’s idea of a good time. And when you’re overweight or obese, the fight can feel particularly frustrating. If this sounds familiar, we’ve got some advice: Focus on your non-scale victories (NSVs). These achievements have nothing to do with the number and everything to do with the cascade of body-wide benefits that come with sticking to your weight-loss program.
When you see progress in how you feel and how you live, you know that you’re moving forward. Know what happens then? More pounds come off. You’ve got this, and we’re here to help.
As the pounds fall away, activity in the bedroom may pick up. North Dakota State University researchers publishing in JAMA Surgery in 2019 tracked more than 2,000 people who lost weight through bariatric surgery and found that people reported increased sexual desire and activity, greater satisfaction with sexual functioning, and fewer health-related limitations in their sexual activity—even five years after the procedure.
Men with erectile dysfunction often see improvements in the condition with weight loss as well, says Denver-based internist Adam Tsai, M.D., chair of the education committee for the Obesity Society in Silver Spring, MD. This is particularly true if exercise is part of the weight-loss arsenal, he says, since increased physical activity improves blood flow.
Fewer Asthma Problems
People with a BMI of 30 or more have a much higher risk of asthma than those with a lower BMI, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This may be because most people carry their extra weight in the belly or midsection, which can reduce lung volume and make it harder to breathe, says Dr. Tsai. Even losing 10 pounds can make a huge difference in asthma symptoms, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, Allergies, and Immunology.
Bonus—when you weigh less you may find it easier to exercise. And according to an asthma study published in the BMJ, people who worked out had better control of their symptoms than those who didn’t. Since exercise can worsen symptoms for some asthmatics, pick activities that intersperse short bursts of energy (volleyball, gymnastics, racquet sports) with periods of relative rest, since these are less likely to cause asthma symptoms than workouts that demand you stay on the go.
Tired of forgetting where you put your keys? Remembering names? Dealing with brain fog? MRI brain-scan research presented by the Endocrine Society found that postmenopausal women who lost weight through dieting (dropping from an average weight of 188.9 pounds to 171.3 pounds) over six months had altered activity in regions important for memory tasks. The findings “suggests that the brain becomes more active while storing new memories and therefore needs fewer resources to recollect stored information,” says lead author Andreas Petterson, M.D.
And a study published in the journal Obesity found that people whose BMI dropped from 47 to 31 two years after weight-loss surgery had significant improvements in their memory abilities compared to those who lost no weight. Bariatric surgery has also been shown to lower insulin resistance and inflammation, two factors that can affect cognitive function. Study authors are cautiously optimistic that if somebody were to lose weight without surgery, they might see some of the same benefits.
Less Arthritis Joint Pain
Dropping pounds is a drug-free way to ease arthritis joint pain. Overweight and obese adults with knee osteoarthritis who lost 20 percent of their body weight over 18 months had significantly less inflammation pain and more mobility than those who dropped just five percent of their body weight, according to a 2018 study in Arthritis Care & Research.
If losing 20 percent seems daunting, consider this: dropping just 1 pound of weight takes 4 pounds of pressure off your knees because you’re carrying that much less weight, according to research in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. Do some fast math: That means losing just 10 pounds would relieve 40 pounds of pressure on your knees.
Obese people who get these head-pounders may find slimming down eases their suffering. Research in the journal Obesity in 2017 found women who lost weight through diet changes and exercise had fewer and less-severe migraines. And in a study presented at the Endocrine Society meeting in 2019, a team of American and Italian researchers followed 475 people who lost weight either by modifying their behavior or having surgery. Although the why remains unclear, they found that weight loss was linked with significant reductions in how often headaches occurred, how long they lasted, as well as the intensity of the pain people experienced, and how disabling the migraines were.
Just why shedding pounds can help with migraines needs to be studied more, the authors say, though they speculate it may have to do with the fact other illnesses that frequently occur with obesity, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, can themselves trigger migraines. Another widely held theory: Losing weight lowers levels of inflammation in the body linked to stress, tension, and migraine.
More Predictable Periods
Losing even a modest amount of weight helps stabilize levels of estrogen, which is produced by fat cells as well as the ovaries. If you produce more estrogen than necessary because of excess weight, you may not ovulate regularly, according to the Office on Women’s Health. The bottom line: “Weight loss in women of reproductive age can help normalize periods,” notes Dr. Tsai.
Better Tasting Food
Plenty of healthy eats are already mouthwateringly good, but when you weigh less, what’s on your plate may be even more delicious. Stanford University researchers discovered years ago that overweight men had less taste sensitivity than their slimmer counterparts. The study authors suspect their taste buds had become dulled from the overuse, or that hormonal shifts that accompany weight loss may alter how taste receptors communicate with the brain.
As you recalibrate your palate, you may also discover—or rediscover—foods. “I’ve had people tell me they only liked vegetables in cream sauce, but once they let the natural flavors come through they realized how much the sauce was masking,” says Cordialis Msora-Kongo, R.D.N., a Los Angeles-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Put another way: Eat less to taste more!
Those “lose weight, feel great!” slogans are corny, but several recent studies have found significant improvements in depression following major weight loss, notes the non-profit organization Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) in Tampa, FL. For example, the organization reports that in a study involving more than 2,000 people, nearly 1 in 5 of those who had depression before the procedure no longer had related symptoms 12 months later.
The mood boost could be tied to improved self-esteem, but Dr. Tsai says that hormones and neurochemicals could also be involved. For example, people who exercise to lose weight have more endorphins, feel-good chemicals that help to regulate mood.
Here’s a perk for your body and your wallet. Some people who lose weight can transition off certain prescription drugs. Dropping pounds may get you to a place where you don’t need to rely on medications that help you manage conditions like blood pressure and diabetes, says Msora-Kongo. Take care, of course, to wait for your doctor to give you the green light before stopping any of your meds.