Why Happiness ≠ Weight Loss

So here’s the thing: when you’re fat, many people assume you’re depressed, unhappy, had a terrible childhood, experienced trauma, or are just out of touch (that is, if they just don’t imagine you’re a lazy slob and write you off completely).  After all, why else would anyone be fat?

Um, lots of reasons.  Too many to even list in fact.

This isn’t to say that fat people haven’t experienced any number of negative things in their lives, including discrimination because of their size.  But this just in from Captain Obvious: thin people experience bad things and unhappiness, too.  Correlation does not equal causation (shout-out to science lovers!).

Since I can already hear the stories pouring in about how someone’s brother’s teacher’s cousin’s girlfriend’s vet’s therapist’s preacher found happiness and promptly dropped 327 pounds in two weeks, let me say more.

I’ll speak from my own experience (since that’s what I know best!).  In my experience, a lifetime of dieting alone can set you up for some serious unhappiness—this is without all the other hard things that happen to us in life.  When I was on this path, I always felt like I wasn’t enough—like if I could just fill my life with a million other successes, no one would notice what an utter failure I was because I wasn’t thin.  This is a deeply painful belief to hold about yourself.

That being said, though, finding ways to be happy, and even gradually releasing a diet mentality isn’t a one-way ticket to weight loss.  The complexity of factors that make up our health and weight are such that no one thing can ever do the trick.   And although happiness can sound like a healthier way to lose weight than a fad diet, it still contains the same magical thinking: that there’s one thing just around the corner that we haven’t yet accessed that will be finally be our solution.  Also, because happiness is subjective, it can just add to people’s belief that they’re not (happy) “enough” if they haven’t lost x amount of weight yet.

This pressure to be happy/”healthy” (read: thin raw vegans) can be especially intense for yoga practitioners.  There’s a myth about us that we’re all chillaxed all the time.  Most of the yogis I know, though, aren’t that way (or maybe those are just the ones I choose to befriend)—but many of them are working with ways to address what’s going on with them in the present (or near-present, at least) moment.

So I’m proposing a radical idea: what if we pursued happiness just to . . . be as happy as we’re able?  What if we delinked the ideas of happiness and weight?  If we lose weight, that’s okay, but if we don’t, that’s okay, too.  In this paradigm, the measure of success isn’t determined by the scale but rather our sense of ourselves and feeling good about living in our bodies, doing our yoga practice and watching it evolve.

I think that would make me pretty happy.  What about you?

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  • http://www.joytanksley.com Joy Tanksley

    This is EXCELLENT. Man, I love you. I’m so over the message that “extra” weight is just a sign of all our baggage – our dissatisfaction, our limiting beliefs, our inability to deal with emotions. This message/approach is prevalent in the coaching community – it’s very anti-diet and all about getting to the “root” of the problem. You know the drill: it’s not about what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you. But this message, in my opinion, is just as problematic is the “use willpower and put down your fork” message because it still assumes that fat is this horrible PROBLEM!!!! AAAAAHHH!!!! OH GOD! FAT!!! (I don’t know if any of what I just wrote made sense, but I’m kinding trusting you get me, Anna!)

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      YES! I totally get ya, Joy, and totally agree. I find it so condescending when people suggest that if you just get over whatever baggage you have, you’ll lose weight. It just assumes so many things: (a) that they know your body better than you do, (b) that you have something to “get over” and that it’s possible to do that, (c) that if you just try hard enough, or work on x (+a-z) issue longer, you’ll finally lose weight. Well, you know what they say about assumptions… :)

    • http://www.flowingyogi.com Jennifer

      I just commented that Anna is brilliant. So are you!!!!

  • http://www.backontheflooragain.blogspot.com Gabriele Burgess

    I am middle-aged and overweight and so grateful that I have a yoga practice. I stopped going to yoga class after many years because I got the feeling that the next step to improving my practice would have to be losing weight. Those words were not said by anyone but I felt them. So I started practicing at home. I went back to class last week with a new attitude. I am not there to please my instructor, I am there to benefit myself. I had a great class.

    • http://kclanderson.com/before-and-after KCLAnderson (Karen)

      Speaking only for myself here…

      I was fat and unhappy mostly because: I didn’t know myself, accept myself, or love myself. Once I started doing those things, a lot of weight came off.

      I stopped doing those things and regained some of the weight.

      Once I started up again, I started losing again. A component of knowing, accepting and loving myself included addressing some physical imbalances. Once those were addressed, even more weight came off.

      As for the pursuit of happiness, I find that happiness doesn’t like being chased…

      • http://www.joytanksley.com Joy Tanksley

        “Happiness doesn’t like being chased…” FOR SURE, Karen! I’m realizing that the whole thin = happy or happy = thin equation is flawed on both sides. Chasing thin leads to suffering and so does chasing happiness.

        • Anna Guest-Jelley

          Yep, I’m right there with y’all. Thanks for adding your awesome ideas to the conversation and helping unpack this puzzle a bit. xo

    • Anna Guest-Jelley

      Thanks for sharing your story, Gabriele. I’ve felt that same thing in classes before. It feels so good just to show up for yourself and do something that feels good. I’m so glad you had a great class!!

  • Paige Ladd

    Though I’ve been thin for a lot of years, I might not always be, and I haven’t always been. I dearly love many curvy people who need just the kind of attitude your blog conveys. Satisfied that life is good at every size. Thanks for the shot of optimism.

    • Anna Guest-Jelley

      Thanks for the kind words, Paige! I’m really glad that you pointed out that many of us are all different sizes throughout our lives and that what’s really important is independent of size.

      • Sonja

        Hi Anna,
        I came across your videos I’m not sure when and then discovered this blog recently. I’m struggling with the idea that I am doing something for myself, but not living up to the external expectations of society.
        I am training for a triathlon, it’s in two weeks and I get comments all the time about how great I am going to look when I am done. Guess what? I haven’t lost ANY weight, but I feel better and I can go further than I ever thought I could. Yet here I am struggling that I don’t look like I am supposed to.
        I refuse to diet, that’s how I got where I am.
        THANKS for the POSITIVE post.
        p.s.
        debating about starting a blog myself just to work through all this stuff.

        • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

          Thanks for sharing this, Sonja! A triathlon–wow! This is such a great example of how many things we have to keep working on taking weight expectations out of. Best of luck on your triathlon; I’ll be cheering you on from here!!

  • http://Flyingyogini.wordpress.com Nancy

    Reading this made me misty after what was a mildly crappy day. It was a tincture of lovely. 100% wonderful

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Aw–and then your comment made me get misty! Nothin’ but love for you here, Nancy! ♥

    • http://svasti.wordpress.com/ Svasti

      I’d just like to add that the concept of self-loathing doesn’t disappear just because you lose weight or “finally” get the “perfect body”. Not. At. All.

      Personally, my perception of my looks has always been about five steps behind where I’m actually at – no matter how fit or unfit I have been. Basically, I never see myself the way I am (even though I work very hard at breaking down those barriers). And I imagine that many other people have similar issues.

      So my solution is kind of like what you wrote there in the last paragraph. I do my yoga. I dress up and make myself feel good with clothes and hair. And while I do have my moments of looking in the mirror and being ULTRA critical of what I see – as I always have, even when I was a teenager and doing lots and lots of swimming – I try not to dwell on those thoughts.

      Just like with meditation, really. I acknowledge my thoughts, but don’t sweat over them. And the more yoga I do, the more I tune into who I am and the joy in my life and my heart, the better I feel about myself and about life. And so then… why then, the rest doesn’t matter at all.

      This is my day-to-day meditation and while I have times where I slip back into self-mocking or loathing, I always return to my less-judgmental self. It’s a much nicer way to live my life, that’s for sure!

      • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

        Oh, yes! So glad you added your thoughts and experience to the conversation, Svasti! This is the truth that we never read in magazines, right? Meditation and yoga have certainly helped me similarly to you—not that those negative feelings don’t come up anymore, because they totally do, but that I’m better able to acknowledge them for what they are. Definitely a kinder way to live!

  • http://www.biggirlbombshell.com Jules – Big Girl Bombshell

    I don’t know about the happiness thing as much as FREEDOM does not equal thin. That is my pursuit. I am one of those that has been trying to “FIX”me since I was in elementary school. It has taken me over a year to get up the courage to go to a Yoga class. I started out on the Wii. I have been very “mental” about my happiness but there is a very different feel when you bring the body connection into the picture…back to that freedom thing. Freedom to just be…

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Ah—I really sunk into this comment, Jules. I love the idea of freedom for freedom’s sake, especially when it means giving up our million “fixing” projects (right there w/ya on that one, for sure). Thanks for this!

    • http://bizeebee.com Lyndi

      The mental part is a big deal for me as well. I remember after running my first 5k I ran happily along with those around me at a similar speed. Before long I had run a whole mile without stopping, which never happens. I always talked myself into stopping, taking a break, or talking down to myself saying you really shouldn’t be running this hard at this weight. That little negative voice is the biggest obstacle to overcome. What seems to strengthen that little voice is when people you respect confirm those thoughts. Another story for another day…

      I had to try a couple yoga studios to find the right fit. The first studio I attended I loved, as it gave me mental freedom. For the first time in my life I learned to just be, and my mind went quiet, a new more confident voice took the stage. The freedom is truly the gold at the end of the rainbow.

      • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

        Yeah, support can be so huge! It, along with the sense of freedom you describe, have been so important for me. Thanks for your comment!

        • http://mirrorhealth.blogspot.com Melanee Dahl

          Thank you for this post. I really appreciate your thoughts and enjoy reading your blog. I am sending my readers here today to check it out. I think so many people know this, they just deny it because we don’t want to believe that being thin isn’t all that we’ve hyped it up to be.

          • Anna Guest-Jelley

            Thank you, Melanee! Just checked out your blog—it’s great!

          • Doreen

            I need to say this somewhere, and here seems like a good place. My husband, who is not the ass he going to appear to be in the next moment, told me in all sincerity that I needed to lose 40lbs before I opened a yoga studio, because, really who going to buy a fitness product from someone who is overweight. I am not prepared just yet to deal with the many feelings I have about this, but I had to say it out loud somewhere. Thank you.

          • Anna Guest-Jelley

            Hi Doreen, I’m glad you felt you could share this here. That had to be hard to hear. I think what your husband said is a myth that many people believe. I think it can be a real challenge not to believe that given all the messages we receive from so many people around us (not to mention the media!). I’d say that while I can see how someone might think this, I think there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not true. Or that, rather, while it may be true for some people, there are many more who are all about yoga for curvy bodies. I can’t tell you how many people (of all shapes and sizes) support Curvy Yoga–here on the site and locally in Nashville.

            One time someone told me that we all find our teachers. And as teachers, we probably “lose” more students than we keep. I found that liberating, knowing that students who resonate with my teaching will stick around and share the good word with their friends. And those who don’t will find what they’re looking for elsewhere. That keeps me feeling good about what I’m doing because I know that, while it’s not for everyone, it is for some people.

            I’m always happy to talk more about what has worked for me in doing this: anna@curvyyoga.com. Thanks again for sharing.

  • http://www.yogainmyschool.com Donna Freeman

    Daily Mantra: I am content, happiness infuses all my actions, joy fills my life.

    Thank you for debunking the fat/unhappy theory – I’ll embrace my curves with thanksgiving for being me!

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Donna, I love your daily mantra!! Thanks for this!

  • http://www.plansonacomet.com Emmanuelle

    Great post Anna, and I couldn’t agree more!

    It’s like I said in my “I used to be fat” post: food, and weight issues for that matter, are just a symptom of something deeper. Losing weight won’t make you happier, but learning to love yourself, no matter what size you are, might help a little bit.

    I used to be thinner than I am now, but you know what? I don’t care about putting on weight, as it is the result of moving and loving my body in new ways. I am only grateful for my strong thighs that carry me and my arms that can lift me (ok, to some extent ;)) and hug my Lovely Boyfriend.

    In the YTT I’m taking, we come in all shapes and forms, different sizes and different heights, and I just marvel at how human bodies can be so different yet so similar, how one body can do double pigeon effortlessly and not being able to kick up into handstand (me) and another has no problem standing on their hands but will struggle to stack their shins. I love how we’re all the same and unique at the same time :)

    Ok I’ll stop there or I’ll write a novel again :)

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      I love your thoughtful comments! I love how you pointed out our similar differences. Practicing and teaching yoga has definitely enhanced my love for and curiosity about the body. Very little makes me happier than seeing all my curvy yoga students rocking poses that I’m sure many people would never expect from them.

      For me, I think learning to love myself really just changes my orientation to weight loss. Instead of focusing on that as the center of my life, I feel free to live my life. If I lose weight, fine; if I don’t, fine. My priority now is being healthy (which looks different for each of us) and actually enjoying my life now instead of waiting for some imagined time in the future.

      Thanks for this! xo

  • http://keishuathoughts.blogspot.com/?m=1 keishua

    You make a really good point and I have fallen into the trap of thinking that skinny is equal happy. Actually when I was really skinny, I was super miserable and it had nothing to do with weight. Happiness is truly an inside job. My goal for so long was to get back to my super skinny self. As a grown women I really need to weight more than a 100 pounds. I think the whole attach on extra weight is also link to women being childlike. I am not saying if your body won’t get better there is something wrong with you but I am saying this ideal of childlike perfection for women’s body is gross.

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      “Happiness is truly an inside job.” Amen!

  • http://www.cafeterrablog.com Terra

    Perfectly said Anna!!! With all the years I have done yo-yo dieting, in hopes if would make me happier….well I have lost count now. Weight loss and happiness are like apples and oranges, they just don’t work together. When I discovered to just work towards being happy, everything else in life comes together so peacefully:-)
    Thank you for this post!
    Terra

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Thank you, Terra! Love the image you crafted of happiness and peacefulness.

  • keishua

    I meant bigger not better…
    oh, these hands!

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      :)

  • Rebecca Willman

    Thank you for this….as a yoga instructor and practitioner for many years, I’m increasingly uneasy about the association of yoga and weight loss. Notions of “cleanliness and purity” once associated with specific historical texts/practices are now commonly taken out of context and molded into a consumer-based, market driven, and often misogynist packaging that suggests the goal of yoga is to use it to ‘get what we want’ (to be thinner, attractive, & other exterior/superficial concerns). The yoga I live has little to do with my pants size or ideal weight. Though many students come to yoga to change something (build strength, flexibility, learn meditative practices), the practice is intended to be an opportunity to explore our minds, take inventory of our wants, desires, fears, and insecurities–in doing so, we may finally accept our intricate, delicate, and vulnerable humanness. Asana alone and weight loss and obsessive/restrictive calorie/food intake will not lead us to purity or cleanliness, nor will it deliver us to “happiness”. Instead, quieting our minds & understanding the depth of our spirits as connected to one another, the earth, and the universe will give us far more opportunities to ‘change’ through understanding the gift of presence. Presence, over time gets us closer to understanding the peace that resides within; with time and dedication to our yoga, moments of inner peace turn into healthier daily habits and a shift in our emotional/spiritual histories–these shifts offer personal and worldly change through compassion, acceptance, and gratitude. In comparison, thinness and sugar-free diets seem minuscule and almost humorous–for they will never hold the same potential for our lives that presence and peace will provide.

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Rebecca, I would like to give this whole comment a big yes (x1000)! I love it and wholeheartedly agree. I’m working on another post highlighting some of what you said here–especially around the emphasis (seen often in yoga, but also elsewhere) around purity, detox, etc. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!!

  • http://www.sonyaslosingit.com Sonya

    Anna this was a great read. I have lots of thoughts on this topic. I started doing yoga when I was at my heaviest (72 + lbs ago) a little over a year ago and I wasn’t happy for many reasons (weight was one of the smaller reasons). I was heavy the majority of my life and I’ve made some major changes in my life (both with diet, exercise and psychological). I can now do things like crow that I would have never been able to do before; I have confidence in myself, and I smile at strangers.

    The lbs for me were a symptom not the cause of my unhappiness but with society the weight usually becomes the sole focus. Everyone focuses on the lbs but that isn’t what it’s really about. And what it’s really about varies from person to person (IMO – genetics, thyroid, too much calorie dense food, overeating, coping, sedentary etc…..).

    I applaud you for your work and this blog! This is my first time reading and I wish I had read this sooner!

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Thank you, Sonya! I couldn’t agree more that all of this varies from person to person, and putting the focus on weight is not only counterproductive but hurtful. So glad you found the blog! Glad to have you here!!

  • http://www.happylifementoring.com Jacqueline Johns – Your Happy Life Mentor

    Can I suggest that everyone stop pursuing happiness right NOW?!

    Happiness is inside of you.

    Just be happy with who you are. Not because the weight will melt away, or because your hubby will love you more, or because your neighbour is. This is YOUR life. No one else’s.

    If you don’t choose to be happy NOW, that’s a moment of your life down the gurgler.

    Accept yourself, warts and all, just because you can.

    Let everyone else worry about their own back yard.

    Live Life Happy!

  • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

    Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. Agreed!

  • http://www.flowingyogi.com Jennifer

    You are brilliant!!!!!

    • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

      Aw; thanks, Jennifer! :)

      • http://healthybalancedlifekc.blogspot.com Ann Becker-Schutte

        Anna,

        That post was lovely!! I specifically love the sentence, “So I’m proposing a radical idea: what if we pursued happiness just to . . . be as happy as we’re able?” We have so much ability that gets smothered when we pursue other people’s ideals and definitions of happiness, health, well-being . . .

        Thanks!

        Ann

        • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

          Thanks, Ann! I love how you point out how much we lose when we don’t set our own terms for our life!

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  • Janice

    I don’t think anyone ever talked to buddha about his weight being a problem. : )

  • http://rvxn.org sui solitaire

    I love this post. Happiness does not come from having a smaller body, and a smaller body doesn’t give happiness. I’ve written a post along the same lines called Losing Weight Won’t Change Your Life, though it proved to be quite controversial.

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  • http://therecanbeonlyjuan.com Juanita

    Bravo, Anna! Very well said.

  • http://www.knottyknickers.typepad.com Jessica Powers

    Yeah for putting happiness, an internal and individual experience, ahead of external and often silly goals/aims/values like weight! I find this in a lot of things we are expected to do or pressured towards: buying a house is a better/happier thing than renting, getting married is a better/happier thing than a couple being unmarried and deeply committed, owning a business is better/happier than being someone’s employee, and on and on.

    If it’s true that where ever we go, there we are, should we aim to be happy where ever we are, whatever we do, whatever state we are in? Even if, heaven forbid, that should vary from the ‘Popular Life Happiness Measures Handbook’!

  • http://fatyogi-ifi.blogspot.com/ Ifi

    PREACH IT SISTER!

  • Anna Guest-Jelley

    Thanks, Juanita!!

  • Anna Guest-Jelley

    Oh, I am so with you, Jessica! I love your comparison to all the many other things we’re also told are better/happier. I’ve always loved the “wherever you go, there you are” idea, and I definitely think it’s applicable here. Thanks for your great insight!

  • Anna Guest-Jelley

    Thanks! ♥

  • Toni

    I want to be happy! I (we) deserve to be happy! It is so hard to let go of the if I’m happy the weight will come off…or, really to let go of the “magical thinking”. Thanks Anna!

  • http://www.curvyyoga.com Anna Guest-Jelley

    Oh, yeah; it’s definitely hard! What works for me is just continuing to call it for what it is and check in with myself–it’s not glamorous, but I find the process of it helpful. Thanks for your comment!