Losing Weight Won’t Make You Happy

August 14th, 2014 | Posted by Erica House in Life

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.

Related: Size 14 Women Are the Happiest

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34 Responses

  • Yup, so true. My outlook on life determines happiness. I think it’s so easy to compare ourselves to someone else with the grass is always greener attitude and we’re only limiting ourselves now , it’s not motivating. That’s why thinspo and fitspo are sick. Definitely only hurting people and not helping!

    While I haven’t done this with weight, it’s just as easy to do with finances and I’ve gotten caught in that for sure. But it’s the same. I can choose to be satisfied with what I have! Great message.

    • Erica House says:

      I still struggle with comparing my economic/career success with others. Especially friends I went through grad school with and are now making double what I make. I have to remember how much I love my job/s, and that outward appearances of success don’t always match what’s going on behind closed doors!

  • Jenny says:

    Great post my dear! Oh so very true.

  • Why do you think I left Weight Watchers decades ago and never came back?
    They’d sold me that bill of goods a long time ago, and despite my sister’s wanting me to reap the “benefits” of losing weight, it wasn’t gonna be that Cinderella story for me … by a long shot.

    It wasn’t even that way for her, but she’d had only a cosmetic 20 pounds to lose and was physically beautiful (symmetrical facial features) and never without a man in her life no matter what her weight.

    Also, check out http://www.care2.com//causes/lose-weight-in-order-to-feel-great-dont-count-on-it.html?tracking_action=stop&s=25-3104891

    They garnered over 200 comments from mostly New Agers who sell their own brand of millenarian hype. Don’t count on even them, not seeing through this con.

  • slimsanity says:

    This is so, so true. When I was my thinnest, I thought the same exact things, that my life would magically be amazing. In reality, not much changed except for me being afraid to eat much most days of the week. Love this message.

  • I love this post – it’s so true!

  • Domi says:

    Such a great reminder – become/stay healthy “because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself.” I made the mistake of trying to shame/punish myself into health (read: thinness) for years, because I thought that when I was finally healthy (read: thin/skinny) I would deserve the happiness that I assumed would accompany a skinnier body. Once I started focusing on health rather than thinness or “sexiness,” and treating my body well rather than punishing it, I found I was much happier and didn’t see this huge disconnect between myself in the moment and my “future self” that would have a body worthy of an “after” picture.

    On a different note, I’m not seeing your newest posts on your home page. I came to this post via the link you tweeted. Am I missing something on my end?

    • Erica House says:

      I feel like my weight loss was permanent because I finally realized I was doing it to live longer and be happier, not being caught up in this food-workout cycle of punishment. It amazes me when I see the statistics that 80-90% of people who lose weight gain it all back in a few years. I don’t know why ‘this is a permanent lifestyle’ finally clicked for me but I’m so glad it did!

      UGH on my website. The people I host with (bluehost) installed some cache thing a few weeks ago that makes my newest posts not show on my main page unless you refresh/delete cookies. Such a pain. Now I’m having issues with the site taking foreverrrr to load.

  • SuzLyfe says:

    Love it. Love the combination of research and personal experience, which, as we’ve talked about, is your rare gift and unique perspective. Be fat, thin, fit, perfect, none of that will make you happy, unless you accept yourself from the inside out. There is such truth to the sentiment that you have to love yourself in order to truly be loved, but you have to accept yourself in order to truly be happy.

    • Erica House says:

      I still struggle with accepting myself. Not for physical issues so much anymore, but other weaknesses. Life, always trying to teach me to be a better person.

  • I love this post.It’s so true. Losing weight might make me feel better about myself but it wont solve all my problems.

    • It’s also funny and I have to add that when I was single, missing my friends, living in a place I didn’t want to live, with no money as a broke college student I was at one of mysmallest weighst. Now that I’ve become happy in all other aspects, I am at my heaviest weight.

      • Erica House says:

        You are living proof that there isn’t a correlation between happiness and weight! There are SO many other variables that impact happiness in life and weight is a tiny, tiny one compared to health, relationships, work, etc.

  • Well said. And I think it’s important to add that none of those insecurities go away. You’ll find something wrong with how you look at 115 pounds the same as you will at 175. The important thing is to be content right here, right now.

    • Erica House says:

      Yep – when I was overweight I was just that, overweight. When I became thinner I could start pinpointing the areas of my body that weren’t toning up as much as everything else. It’s always something!

  • Great post, Erica. I’m 10-11 pounds heavier today than I was 2 years ago (and maybe 2 pounds lighter than last year??). I would like to say I’m not as miserable as I was two years ago and I’m happier now than I was then because my life is happier – I’m not freelancing (well… I’d like to go back to that, but my cushy paycheck and benefits are nice), I’m a priority in my S.O.’s life (was not 2 years ago) and know who my real friends are.

    • Erica House says:

      Being a priority in someones life certainly can feel amazing. Steady paychecks can feel equally nice! I swear the adjuncting/freelance career path is virtually impossible for someone who is single and doesn’t have a partner with a steady income in case you hit a dry spell.

  • Caitlin says:

    I’ll echo everyone else and say great post. I came at this question from the other end, which is that when I was at my thinnest – abusing drugs, barely eating because of anxiety and stress, smoking a lot – I was also at my unhappiest.

    If you are unhappy, being thin won’t fix that. You have to look at the underlying causes and deal with those. Losing – or in my case, gaining – weight just isn’t enough.

  • Lauren says:

    Posted a sentiment touching on this today as I was have been having a few “fat days” and have gained a few lbs recently. I’m happy, strong, and marathon training (yes, I wrote a whole post on weight gain & marathon training last year!) so cutting calories or being restrictive I KNOW isn’t the answer. My boyfriend told me this yesterday that I could be thin, stop drinking, stop going out to eat with friends, and only work & workout and be thinner but that wouldn’t be very happy. So insightful, haha. More veggies, keep sweating, and keep smiling are what I’m doing!

    • Erica House says:

      I am all too familiar with marathon weight gain! I gained about 5 lbs with my 1st last year and never really lost it again. I’ve read a lot of people say they are thinner and more toned when running less miles. I think running just puts the body into carb/water storage mode, and that’s why most of the runners I know don’t look as toned as those who almost exclusively do weight training.

      Boyfriend can be very insightful!

  • What an amazing post Erica! I was super happy 29 plus pounds ago. But I feel more confident now that I’ve lost that weight. Being healthy makes me happy. But I also know that I was happy before too. I am blessed way beyond measure in my life and that’s not due to being fat or skinny.

    • Erica House says:

      I’ve followed your amazing weight loss and it’s clear that you are just a HAPPY person regardless of how you look – and that only makes you more beautiful!

  • Love this post and every time I see the topic on your blog, I couldn’t agree more. Back when I was 16 I lost a TON of weight and like you said, there is a “honeymoon” stage where everyone praises you. And, in all honesty, you do feel “proud” of yourself and excited for the changes. However, like everything in life– that high doesn’t really last and all my problems weren’t solved because I lost the weight. It was in fact a huge accomplishment and I felt proud of myself but weight loss is not the answer to happiness. It TRULY does comes from the inside!

    • Erica House says:

      I don’t think it’s a feeling you can quite understand unless you’ve been through it yourself. Just like winning the lottery, everyone assumes it would dramatically change their lives, but at the end of the day they still have most of the same stress/life issues they had before!

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