There are plenty of reasons to go on a diet, even if you could care less about how you look in a bikini: Maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, among other big health benefits (like being able to comfortably walk up the stairs without wheezing, or even just getting better sleep). And new studies show that weight loss could also improve memory, concentration, and problem solving — but for most of us, this doesn’t mean we should start forking over our money to Weight Watchers.
The study followed 150 participants, about one-third of which underwent weight loss surgery, and repeatedly tested their cognitive skills before and after surgery. Before surgery, many of their performances were impaired, but 12 weeks after surgery, their performance improved. Dr. John Gustad, the neuropsychologist who led the study, explained that: “A lot of the factors that come with obesity – things such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea – that might damage the brain are somewhat reversible,” Gunstad said. “As those problems go away, memory function gets better.”
The study indicates great things for anyone who needs to lose weight, and we could all use reminders that even if we feel like our health has gone off the deep end, it’s possible to turn it around. But the flip side of studies and headlines like these is that they can encourage weight loss for those who may not even need it. If your weight is within a normal range, this study doesn’t indicate that losing weight will boost your job performance or start scoring big at trivia night. In fact, anyone who’s cut too many calories on a diet knows that it’s more likely to turn you into a zombie than a walking Watson.
So if you feel like your weight has started to effect more than just your dress size, then take heart: You’ll feel better, think better, and live longer if you get some help and lose weight. But if you’re just looking for an excuse to obsess over five pounds? You’re better off playing memory games than toying with your body image.