If you have been heavy your whole life (or most of it), you may believe that your main problem is getting your body to a healthy, more comfortable weight. You may be convinced that your life will be dramatically different when you’re at your ideal size and that you can then kick back and enjoy life. If you are so obese that your size restricts mobility and activity, you may find that life does vastly improve when you reduce your size. Being more comfortable in your body and able to do more may be enough to change how you feel about yourself and put your life back on track.

However, even if you lose the weight, you will still have many issues to deal with. My concern is that people who loose a tremendous amount of weight are not changing enough of themselves to become emotionally healthy. It is certainly easier to blame your weight for your unhappiness. If I’m thinner, you may think, I’ll get out and socialize more and have better relationships. But the fact is, you can be social and active at any weight, and focusing exclusively on taking off pounds may be drawing you farther away from the underlying issues you really need to address. In fact, your current weight may be a protection against examining your fears—of people, of risk-taking, of failure.

In this case, taking off the weight won’t correct your underlying problems. Sure, it may make you more relaxed in social situations, get you out to more places, and cause people to interact with you more positively. But reducing your weight will only take you so far in promoting well-being if you ignore your other, hidden problems. Maybe you have a fear of rejection or abandonment; perhaps you’re depressed and anxious in social situations. You may have low self-esteem and not believe you deserve happiness. Moreover, you may be in an unhealthy relationship which will keep on bringing you down no matter what you weigh.

Although shedding pounds may be part of your problem, if you stop there, it is likely that the weight will creep back on. People who keep weight off do so, in large part, because they have resolved underlying psychological problems which get hidden in their fat. I am not saying that everyone who is heavy has major psychological problems. I am saying that if you have been overeating and overweight for most of your life, there may be issues you will need to address along with eating and weight to bring you happiness. Everyone has leftover baggage from childhood and thin and average-weight people have to deal with them too. The difference is that they don’t suffer the stigma of being fat and don’t have the job of getting to a healthier weight on top of all their other issues.