Losing Weight Won't Make You Happy

Being happy makes you happy.  Not a number on the scale. Not a number in your bank account. Not another person. I chased the thin=happy myth for years. I've talked about it often on the blog and new research has come out further validating my hypothesis. When I was fat I could blame so many of my problems on being overweight. I was depressed, anxious, unmotivated, and felt like garbage most of the time. While all of those things were heavily influenced by my poor diet and sedentary lifestyle they weren't the sole causes of my misfortunes.

However, in my mind, a part of me really thought that if I was at my goal weight that I would be happy all of the time. Imagine my surprise when I lost 50 pounds (BMI going from 31.5 to 21.5) and my life wasn't dramatically better. Sure, there was the honeymoon period where people kept gushing over how great I looked, but after a while the compliments stopped, and I wasn't nearly as happy as I thought I would be.

Before

I was still poor (in college), in a relationship that was making me miserable, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I never thought losing weight would make those problems go away, but I grossly overestimated the influence my pant size would have on my day-to-day life. Research has found that people are more or less born with a happiness set point. One study took two groups of people; one who had won the lottery and one who had become paralyzed after an accident. They compared their happiness levels pre-life changing incident and one year later and found that their happiness levels all returned to about the same point.

Research just released this week looked at 1,979 overweight and obese adults in the UK. People who lost 5% or more of their initial body weight over four years showed significant changes in markers of physical health, but were more likely to report depressed mood than those who stayed within 5% of their original weight. Say what?! The people who lost weight were LESS happy? That means all the slimfast and diet pill commercials have been lying to me!

The researchers hypothesized one explanation:

Resisting the ever-present temptations of unhealthy food in modern society takes a mental toll, as it requires considerable willpower and may involve missing out on some enjoyable activities. Anyone who has ever been on a diet would understand how this could affect well-being.

The first freelance article I wrote for MindBodyGreen talked about how your social interactions may become limited/different once you start working toward health goals. I can absolutely see how keeping to a strict diet, no longer drinking, and having to carve out time 5-6 days a week would lead to a bit of depression over losing social interactions. Fortunately, I have been able to make so many new friends while marathon training and blogging that in my circle I'm not a health freak, but just ... average.

I certainly don't want to insinuate that losing weight won't make you feel great. I have so much more energy and it did improve my happiness.  It just frustrates the hell out of me when every commercial I see for a diet food or fitness fad portrays it as the magic cure-all for anything wrong in someones life. What's worse is that when you are overweight you can be so desperate for a solution that you fall for it, and get caught in this cycle of fad diets and low self-esteem. Over the years I've had a lot of negative patches I had to work my way through and the one thing I realized was that you are in control of how you feel - right now. You can chose to be happy (mental health issues aside) or you can chose to let outside influences dictate how you feel.

Decide to get healthy because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself.

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Related: Size 14 Women Are the Happiest