Does a focus on weight loss enhance well-being? Or does it distance us from what matters most?
As we’ve discussed in previous articles, the weight loss industry is massive. While there are benefits to be derived from weight loss in certain circumstances, it has been upsold to us as a panacea for improved health and wellness; a rite of passage to unbridled happiness and success.
While most of us have been trained to believe that achievements like weight loss are what lead to happiness, what if the opposite is actually true? Could achieving success with health and well-being actually be predicated on the foundation of first being happy?
This article will provide insight into the following:
- The Statistics around Weight Loss and Happiness
- What actually makes people happy?
- Suppressing Well-being with Stress Mismanagement
- The Power of Happiness
- How to build more joy into your life
The Statistics around Weight Loss and Happiness
If you’re like most people reading this article, you probably have thoughts about losing weight on a regular basis. According to Ipsos, more than 50% of people are currently trying to lose weight. As a Nutrition Coach, I can confirm this: Almost every single inquiry that I receive is initially for weight loss.
When we look beyond the initial inquiry however, weight loss is rarely the most important factor for exploring change; It just happens to be a thing that we feel we can concretely quantify, influence, and feel obligated to address. More honestly, most of us are seeking feelings of joy, acceptance, energy, ease, strength, confidence, and vitality to name just a few. Successful marketing campaigns have created the illusion that weight loss is the path to all of these things; research says otherwise.
Regarding happiness, about 30% of the population in the US has historically claimed to be ‘very happy’. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, that already low number has cratered to just 14%. People are currently less happy than ever, meaning more and more of us will be looking for solutions. Weight loss is perceived as a simple solution and one that we should all strive to achieve, but is this truly the path to follow?
What actually makes people happy?
Is it really sex, money and rock and roll? Despite what movies may lead you to believe, statistics paint a more wholesome picture. Again according to Ipsos, the Top 5 sources of happiness worldwide are listed as:
- Health/physical well-being
- Living conditions
- Personal safety/security
- Having a feeling of meaning in life (aka, having purpose)
This list is telling. A lot of the things that have surface value in society do not lead to true happiness. Fancy possessions and indulgent meals- while often seen as important for ‘status’- are fleeting. Landing that big promotion at work or winning the big game are moments that undoubtedly provide joy. However, the inevitable realization is that even more work and pressure will be required to sustain that success. Even the sense of pride from accomplishing personal goals lasts only until the next moment of daily stress.
Put simply: If you don’t feel happy, the answer isn’t to search for a short-term fix or to chase that next shiny goal. Instead, aiming to derive more joy from day-to-day life is the likely key to fulfillment and enhanced well-being over time.
Suppressing Well-being with Stress Mismanagement
What do the things on the Top 5 list have in common? When life is consistently lacking in these areas, it is stressful. In turn, what’s the simplest way to boost mood and ‘manage’ stress in our modern environment? Through consumption of indulgent convenience food and screen-based content. All too often, we eat when we’re not hungry and manage our feelings by watching screens at all hours.
This brings our conversation full-circle to weight loss. While not all weight gain is caused by the use of food and screens as coping mechanisms, my professional experience has taught me that they are big pieces to the puzzle regarding the pursuit of well-being (aka, wanting to feel better). Less joy and more stress creates a powerful combination that increases the odds of reaching for quick fixes to fill the void. In turn, these actions separate us further from the health markers and feelings that we’re actually seeking to improve.
Being actively involved in seeking out moments of joy in our days gives us a greater ability to manage stress; happiness is both a practice and a skill. For this reason, putting a laser-focus on eating habits is not a long-term solution for weight gain or happiness. If eating is the only tool someone has for managing stress and finding quick hits of joy, this behaviour cannot and will not go away without something else to replace it (especially by labelling it as “bad” and adding guilt to the mix).
So what if, instead of focusing on food, we brought attention to developing other skills to manage stress and actively bringing more joy into daily life ? This is where the magic happens.
The Power of Happiness
While happiness-first may sound a bit fanciful to some, there is a mountain of research to suggest that success is a product of happiness, rather than the other way around. Specific to matters of health and well-being, the research shows happiness to be a precursor to success in most areas:
- Happy people are more energetic and get involved in a greater variety of social, recreational, occupational, and physical activities
- Happy individuals are less likely to engage in a variety of harmful and unhealthy behaviours, including unhealthy eating and abuse of alcohol
- Positive happy moods were associated with less alcohol intake and with higher sleep quality and quantity
- Positive affect is positively correlated with higher levels of physical activity
- Optimistic individuals attend to potentially threatening health-relevant information more than pessimistic ones
- Positive mood replenishes the depleted ego, allowing individuals to demonstrate will power once again after it has been worn down by temptation
- Countries with higher ratings of happiness even report fewer blood-pressure problems.
While this list could go on, the take-home is clear: Happiness facilitates the mindset and actions necessary for improving outcomes of health and well-being.
How to build more joy into your life
What does this all mean? “Just be happier” isn’t reasonable, realistic, or empathetic advice. Eliciting change on matters of mindset and joy can be particularly hard, which is why a focus on happiness is about embracing bite-sized daily actions that are within your control.
Even having a few joyful bright spots within an otherwise difficult day can change your outlook and ability to navigate challenges. If you feel like you have an opportunity to experience more happiness and aren’t sure where to start your practice, focus on taking one of these daily actions (pulled from our Happiness Top-5 list above):
1. Do something specifically for your well-being
- This can be a known-endorphin-producer like exercise, meditation, getting some extra sleep, a simple call to a friend, going out in nature, or taking a bath.
2. Do something you genuinely enjoy doing
- What interests do you have? What old creative hobbies might you have forgotten about? Art, music, gardening, knitting, writing, reading? Rekindle that flame!
3. Do something that gives you purpose
- What’s important to you? What makes you feel like you’re making a difference? Doing something truly meaningful changes our perspective (and it does not have to be grandiose to be impactful).
How can this kind of daily focus help with our mental and physical wellness? When we spend time on our well-being (rather than obsessing solely about changing our shape and size), the research shows that it’s consistently easier to make choices that support how we want to feel.
Consistently practicing joy = Less unmanaged stress = Less self-soothing with mindless or health-depleting tasks = Health management = Organic joy
In a nutshell: Feeling happier and healthier promotes behaviours that lead to more of these same outcomes over time. If you do something that brings you joy every day, your actions will reflect the way you want to feel, thus creating a positive feedback loop.
- More than 50% of people are currently trying to lose weight, and just 14% of people are very happy.
- Happiness doesn’t come from material things or by achieving goals (like weight loss). Rather, happiness is a state of being.
- Our current high-convenience environment (food, technology, etc), is in direct conflict with our high-stress and low-happiness lifestyles; loss of health and happiness is an inevitable side effect for many.
- Research shows that happier people are less likely to rely on unhealthy consumption of food or alcohol and are more likely to engage in both regular physical activity and to achieve quality sleep.
- Daily practices to seek joy, no matter how small, will create a positive feedback loop to more joy, improved health, and better stress management.
- Nurturing happiness and well-being pave the way for success with health, weight-loss or otherwise.
Move Daily is a Health Coaching provider. For more details, or to set up a personalized nutrition consultation or coaching program, you can reach out to us directly.