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The Surprising Effect of Art Therapy on Weight Loss

The positive effects of talk therapy are well-established, involving the ability to articulate one’s thoughts and feelings. However, such a straightforward method may not be for everyone: In one survey, 50% to 75% of people report some benefit to therapy, while at least 5% of clients got worse. Most notably, the remainder of clients don’t report any apparent benefit. First-timers to therapy may experience heightened vulnerability when talking pointedly about emotions in this way, especially for something as deeply personal as one's own body. For some, particularly those on a weight loss journey, a form of therapy that is centered around creation—a more indirect expression of innermost emotions—could be the key to helping unlock the complex emotions related to pursuing certain health goals.

Weight loss struggles

Many decide to lose weight once they realize both the physical and mental impact of excess weight. Overweight and obesity have been associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety, which could be caused by societal weight discrimination. In one evaluation, obese patients were found to be 55% more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than the non-obese population.

Of course, well-known physical effects are affecting everyday function, such as joint pain and breathing difficulties. The severity of one’s weight condition can also lead to drastic health outcomes. There is a vast difference between overweight and obesity in terms of health risks. For instance, more dangerous health conditions are associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Managing such difficult conditions can take a serious physical, mental, and emotional load, so addressing excess weight is vital before one’s situation reaches this level.

But for those who are visibly overweight or have obesity, stepping into a gym or seeing a doctor can bring about understandable feelings of guilt or shame. No one should have to feel shame when they’re trying to better themselves. This is why art therapy can be a less threatening way to face these difficult emotions. They take the focus away from one’s weight and zero in on an individual’s personal perception of their body.


Art therapy for the body and mind

At the core of the issues faced by some living with overweight and obesity is a conflict relating to body image. For instance, in severe cases of obesity, some patients can feel a loss of control, mainly when limited mobility means they cannot even touch or see some parts of their body. This can disrupt natural feelings of connectedness to and ownership of one’s own body. Art therapy creates a safe space for exploration, allowing those on a weight loss journey to gain insight about themselves during and after the creative process.

Through seemingly simple mediums like paint or pencils, people can enhance their emotional intelligence by using colors, shapes, and textures to give life to their inner narratives about their bodies. In one study, art therapy resulted in significant positive changes in BDI-II scores, which measure the severity of depression. And, in the absence of language, which can carry triggering words, this new method may reveal feelings they could not identify before—feelings that could be informed by traumatic experiences relating to their physical selves.

When combined with proper nutrition, adequate physical activity, and support from family and friends, art therapy can be a powerful way to let go of preconceived notions about one’s body. Reframing one’s mindset from critical to compassionate can help lay the foundation of self-esteem and self-love needed to pursue weight loss goals healthily and sustainably.


Popular Forms of Art Therapy 


Art therapy is a versatile approach encompassing a variety of popular forms, each offering a unique channel for emotional expression and self-discovery. Visual arts therapy, such as painting and sculpture, empowers individuals to externalize their inner experiences using colors and shapes as symbolic representations. Writing therapy, through journaling and storytelling, fosters introspection and empowerment, providing a structured means to process complex emotions, which can be particularly valuable for those on a weight loss journey, addressing not just the physical but also the emotional aspects of their journey.

In contrast, music therapy taps into the power of sound and rhythm, allowing participants to explore and confront complex emotions. Dance therapy encourages non-verbal expression through movement, offering a safe space for individuals to reconnect with their bodies and release physical tension, which can be especially beneficial for those who find it easier to express themselves physically than verbally. Drama therapy engages participants in theatrical activities, including role-playing and improvisation, leading to insights into personal experiences and perspectives while enhancing self-confidence and empathy. These diverse art therapies offer a range of creative outlets to help individuals connect with their emotions, enhance self-awareness, and embark on journeys of personal healing, which can be instrumental in supporting one's weight loss goals.

The beauty of art therapy is its ability to cater to different preferences and comfort levels, making it accessible and effective for those seeking meaningful ways to express their inner worlds, particularly when navigating the challenges of weight management. Whether it's through the strokes of a paintbrush, the flow of written words, the rhythm of music, the movements of dance, or the roles played in drama, art therapy equips individuals with a toolbox of methods that not only facilitate personal healing but also assist in their weight loss journey, fostering a holistic approach to well-being.