Does finally losing weight make you happy?
I can’t answer that question for everyone, but I can answer it for myself based on my most recent weight loss experience.
Over the past year, I’ve lost about 15 pounds. I thought, at first, that it was a fluke – just one of those small weight losses that wouldn’t stick. Now, after 11 months, it appears as if I’ve truly settled into a weight that’s just about 15 pounds lower than the one I used to see on the scale. Am I happier now?
For me, the answer is – not exactly. I’m not truly happier today than I was a year ago.
Am I happier with my body? Yes, I am. I am happier with how my clothes fit. I feel more confident with my appearance. I feel less self-conscious about my body.
But I’m not happier.
I thought that if I finally lost the pesky 5-10 pounds that plagues almost every human (at least almost every American human) that I would be more content with life overall, but that hasn’t been my experience. I feel more confidence about my weight, but I don’t feel more confident about myself.
Why do we care so much about being thin, anyway?
In my case, my weight loss happened because of a vacation. I really, really, really wanted to lose enough weight and tone my body enough that I could wear a bikini on my anniversary trip to Kauai this spring. I have been uncomfortable with my stomach for my entire life – even when I was an admittedly tiny 14-year-old who danced 20 hours a week. My stomach was then, and has always remained, my most insurmountable nemesis. But I wanted to wear a bikini and feel comfortable for once in my life. I worked really, really hard to feel comfortable with my belly. I cut out all alcohol, kept a mostly vegan diet, started running, and did around six minutes of planks a day. And it worked. I lost weight. Then I started working on my saggy, stretch-marked skin, exfoliating and buffing and loading up on water and applying various essential oils and wraps to tighten and firm. When I left for my trip, I was down about 15 pounds from where I started and I was comfortable enough with my stomach that I felt I could wear a bikini.
So I did.
Big freakin’ deal.
I wore a bikini on the beach, and as I did, I watched with curiosity while other people lounged around in their respective swimwear. I saw bodies of all sizes and shapes, and for possibly the first time in my life, I actually felt something different than body envy.
I felt reverence. I felt tenderness and warmth for the people around me, and for my own slightly smaller yet still sturdy body. I felt awe for the beauty of our imperfect forms, such as they are, and wonder for the splendor of our world, and marvel at the silly futility of seeking happiness in a waist circumference.
Suddenly, my goal – to wear a bikini – seemed superfluous and even pointless. It didn’t seem to matter much at all. What mattered was being in paradise with my husband, my brother and my sister-in-law. What mattered was enjoying the brilliance of the world around us. What mattered was not my body, the mere vessel that got me to this point in my life, but rather what that body housed – my spirit. There, in my spirit, was my real worth. The rest was irrelevant.
There, on the beach, instead of desperately eyeing my peers and wishing that I had their tight skin and toned muscles, I watched with a kind of awe verging on envy as women of every age enjoyed the Hawaiian sun and indescribable beauty around them without fretting about the saggy skin around their midsection. I felt a different kind of jealousy watching the self-acceptance the women around me displayed. I didn’t want to look like them, necessarily – but I did want to feel like them.
Losing weight gave me an unexpected sense of freedom, and that freedom cleared my mind a bit. Without the clutter of body-consciousness taking up all the space in my brain, I experienced a sense of clarity. That clarity allowed me to start to realize that losing weight, in and of itself, was kind of ridiculous.
Each of us probably has a different number in mind when it comes to the ideal weight we feel we should be. Our numbers are different, but our desire is the same. We may want to be 100 pounds, or 200 pounds, but what really matters is that we feel comfortable in our own skin. When I stress about my saggy stomach, or deny myself any type of food or drink, or force myself to run an extra mile or do an extra set of lunges when I’m really not into it, just in order to look better, I’m most definitely not feeling comfortable in my own skin.
I recently found a note I jotted down last spring concerning my weight. In the note, I posed the question, “If I am 130 pounds no matter what I eat – or rather, if I am self-conscious of the fat that doesn’t go away even when I starve myself – then why NOT accept my body as it is and eat what brings me joy? I mean, if it’s not under my control, why try to control it? Should I surrender to my physical form and just let it be?”
I wrote that note to myself, put it in a drawer and forgot about it, and then I stopped trying to control my weight. And I lost weight. There has to be a lesson there. When I held tightly on to my expectations and my shame, I couldn’t shed the pounds I was embarrassed of. When I decided to accept myself as I currently was, my body changed to fit my emerging spirit. It became lighter.
Losing weight didn’t make me happier. Beginning to accept my body made me happier, and my happiness helped me shed the shame that truly weighed me down.
Shedding shame is certainly a worthier goal than losing body fat, and it’s something we can each do. It doesn’t even take a different diet plan. It’s simply a way to see our bodies as just bodies, no more or no less, and to start giving the shape of our thighs less importance than the quality of our spirits.
I’m beginning to understand that now.