How to Bring Happiness Whilst Losing Weight


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
happiness whilst losing weight

How to bring happiness whilst losing weight

Here are two quick but considerable questions:

  1. Does losing weight bring happiness? Or..
  2. Does being happy help you actually lose weight?

In other words, is happiness just on the other side of weight loss?

Or is it possible to bring happiness whilst losing weight?

Can you relate to that?

There’s this perceived level of how one will feel ONCE the weight begins to shed. You may be able to relate to that sensitivity. Or maybe it’s something that your client has expressed frequently.

We seem to get caught up in how we will feel about our future self or imagine how we might look in the mirror with less weight. We even envisage how others might perceive us once we lose the weight.

Wanting to look a certain way, see a certain number on the scale, and fit into those clothes you used to fit into, all play a part in the feel-good-about-yourself scenario.

There is more to each person’s weight loss story than just food and exercise.

It’s as if happiness is on the other side of the equation that we feel so trapped in.

But is it?

How can we bring happiness now, whilst we are in the process?

Studies consistently reveal a strong relationship between health and happiness. These studies have produced a substantial body of evidence that health is a consistent determinant of self-reported happiness.

So that begs the question:
Does losing weight bring happiness?

Well, one might say “Of course! Why would I not be happy losing weight?”

Dr. Andrew Weil, an American medical doctor and writer on holistic health believes this:

If the body is supported by the right diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices, its innate healing mechanisms that “spontaneously” activate can bring physical systems into health and balance.

He contends that there is something very similar that can happen with our emotions, such as happiness, to support our health in body, mind, and spirit. We can create the conditions that will allow that balance to manifest willingly.

Yes, this bleeds into tying happiness to weight loss whilst actually in the process, not as a result.

So how do we begin?

Researchers Cassie Mogilner, Jennifer Aaker, and Sepandar Kamvar suggest that happiness comes about in two ways:

  1. The first type of happiness can be described as ‘a sense of calm well-being’ and it focuses on the present moment.
  2. The other type of happiness is ‘a feeling of pleasant excitement’ and it focuses on future possibilities.

Something that might be helpful is to consider the possible solution through the eyes of the ‘antithesis’ of weight loss and the first type happiness, i.e. a sense of calm well-being.

What is that antithesis?

It’s the relationship between chronic stress and weight gain.

Even though some people actually eat less in the face of strong emotion, there are many who gain weight when chronically stressed.

Since researchers have linked chronic stress to weight gain, it’s curious to inquire if the reverse can be true – that being happy can conceivably help one lose weight. For those who tend to eat more when stressed, this is worth paying attention to.

Think about it, if the hormones unleashed during stress push us towards (over) eating high-fat, sugary, comfort foods, can we use happiness and the feelings elicited in this emotion as a catalyst in actually losing weight?

Being happy and motivated during weight loss, and not taking your intention off your target, can certainly be a challenge.

Most of us believe that being thinner or achieving a certain body shape will change our lives: we’ll be more credible, successful, and lovable.

But waiting for future happiness could potentially lead to a ‘fantasy trap’. Or as Wooley and Garner say it best:

The irrationality of hopes pinned on weight loss is so striking that dieting might almost be likened to superstitious behaviour.

So, can we be happy in the present moment, during the process of losing weight, without having to wait, whilst keeping the end goal in mind?

Here are 3 steps to consider for yourself or your client in bringing happiness whilst losing weight:

1. Install automatic habits that promote success

We recently discussed how new habits can give your brain pleasure. Nobody tells you this.

Remember, when you repeat a positive action enough times, at one point it becomes automatic, effortless and highly rewarding.

This is huge!

What’s more, a positive habit that has been successfully installed has the power to make you feel great today.

As behavioural psychologist Art Markman puts it:

When you have habits that promote success, you feel happier about your daily life.

Think about this: what new rewarding habits can you install this week?

Here’s some examples:

2. Use the ‘contagion effect’ to your advantage

Did you notice that during the Olympics many of us catch the ‘athletic itch’? Or those who watch a new season of the show The Biggest Loser suddenly begin to move more and eat better?

There’s a scientific explanation for this. It’s called ‘goal contagion’.

Researchers have shown how a goal can be activated in your subconscious, without you even knowing that the goal is influencing you.

The result?

You feel inspired to introduce new behaviours, unconsciously.

The contagion effect can bring the feeling of ‘pleasant excitement’ that we talked about before, the second type of happiness, whilst losing weight.

How does it work?

Socially, we tend to unconsciously ‘catch’ the goals that those around us are pursuing. Our online community is an example!

Moreover, your enviroment, the contextual information that your brain receives, who you listen to, what you read, and even the new things that you learn can help activate unconscious goals and behaviours.

This may explain why many of our Clinical Weight Loss students start losing weight before they consciously change their diets.

Eric Kandel, Nobel Prize in Neuroscience for his discoveries about habituation, says that repeated exposure to the same ideas weakens the brain’s ability to change, but whenever you learn something new, communication between neurons improve and taking new action feels more natural.

3. Seek activities that raise your endorphin levels

Any activity that makes you feel great will create powerful biochemicals in your body, which can counteract the stress effect and support weight loss.

Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitters that act on the opiate receptors in your brain, giving you feelings of happiness and delight.

The best part? Research shows that endorphins also work as an appetite suppressant.

That means that not only they make you feel amazing, but also help regulate your appetite.

Physical activity can naturally raise endorphins in your body. But there are also many other fun ways for you to seek pleasure, in particular activities that are new and exciting.

By the way, spices that contain capsaicin, such as red peppers and cayenne, are associated with the release of endorphins and increased fat burning. It depends on your personal taste, but I’d say this is another way to bring happiness whilst losing weight!

Conclusion

You don’t need to wait until you’re 40 pounds thinner to allow yourself to be happy.

Raising endorphins levels through pleasure, enjoyment and fun should be part of every person’s weight loss journey. Happiness and excitement can show up in the most surprising ways too, such as the ‘contagion effect’. But you can also make choices in your life to bring about situations, people, and even habits that will propel your motivation and happiness whilst losing weight.

Back to you:

Do you think you can bring happiness whilst losing weight? Or is happiness something that just “happens” once you lose the weight you intended?

Join in the conversation and let us know in the comments below! Share this with a friend or family member that might be struggling with this very idea.

 

 


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22 Comments

  • Susan Carroll

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Hi I do not believe you can be happy entirely until you lose a majority of your weight loss goal.It is then that you start to feel newly discovered, and reborn, and Happy! because you keep focusing on it, if you have mirrors you are reminded daily, your clothes remind you.

    I helped so many people lose weight, after they lost 60% of their weight, I then saw the change. They then became confident, happy, energetic ready for new discoveries and a new lease of life.

  • Michelle Henderson

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Hello! I personally believe that being happy contributes to weight loss. Being happy and positive means that you are more likely to make healthier food choices and to exercise, whether it be going for a walk round the park or doing a complete workout at home or at a gym. An unhappy mind/person is going to be less motivated to make positive changes to diet and lifestyle so I hhonestly believe that happiness is an important part of the weight loss journey from the beginning rather than the expected outcome from losing weight.

  • Annika

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Hi! I do believe that having a positive mind-set and being happy contribute hugely to weight loss. I personally find it very hard though to maintain this positive attitude. I find myself constantly going through different phases. I am on an absolute high where I feel happy and confident with myself and my diet and exercise are going really well. After that, inevitably, I slump right into the exact opposite when I feel really down, eat comfort foods all day, and I get increasingly unhappy with myself. In those times, I’m fighting a constant battle in my head between knowing that I should eat healthy and ending up reaching for sweets instead. I will try and incorporate your tips into my daily routine and hope they will help me to overcome these “down periods” much quicker.

  • Michelle Henderson

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    I am with you on that Annika, the slumps (in my experience) do get fewer as time goes on but they do still happen. I tackle it by not having a complete blow out just a little one because when I eat lots of rubbish I feel rubbish which makes me crave more rubbish. I try then to turn the negative into a positive by telling myself I’m human and I’m lucky because I know how to put it right and not fall deeper into the trap.

  • emma

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    I have a deeply ingrained desire to eat something nice (which usually means not good for me) when I feel blue. I am now aware when I’m experiencing this trigger but I have not yet managed to resist continuing down the same path every time. As someone battling with depression for almost 20 years, it’s a constant issue.

    Since every meal is a matter of will power strength, it doesn’t take long before I give in to temptation, and then I find it impossible not to think ‘I’ve ruined it now’, and give up. Similarly, if I’ve been working really hard for weeks but not seeing any weight loss, I will be downhearted and more inclined to give up too, and to imagine that weight loss is never really going to happen for me.

    In light of all of that, it’s hard not to pin so much potential happiness on what seems like an unattainable goal.

  • Janice

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Feeling happy can help you plan and start to loose weight, but I also feel happy when I’m being successful towards my goal, one fuels the other

  • Anna Martin

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Good reading. I belive that happiness can contribute to your weightloss but thats not the main thing to loose weight.
    I belive that being confortable in your own skin, doing what you love and making healthy choises is important for the long run. Some years ago I got the diagnos ME/CFS. I was devostated and tought that this was it. But after some weeks I felt that I was worth more than beeing sick and feeling sorry for my self. I started to read about raw food and superfoods and beeing healthy body mind and soul. I found my motivation. My mind was happy but my body was unhappy and out of balance. After finding my motivation to inpire people with my journey, writing a gratitude journal and boosting my body with healthy foods I saw incredible results. The healthy food makes me happy and keeps me motivated because I loooove food.
    Now I study advanced nutrition and exercise specialist course, I don’t eat any medicin, my symtoms have reduced and I feel great.

    So with this said I truely belive in Happy body mind and soul, finding your true motivation and be at peace with yourself, beeing confortable in your own skin.

  • Anna Martin

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Advanced sports and exercise nutritional adviser is the course I have started hoping to take some more courses after that.

  • Simone

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    I really enjoyed reading the ‘article’ on happiness and weight loss. Personally, I believe that happiness is actually our ‘natural state’. However, bad habits, life experiences, interactions, educational systems, perceived success (amongst many other variables), often lead us on a journey to ‘persue happiness’ as though it is something outside of ourselves, something to be achieved. I think if we can try to shift our thinking a little, to love our amazing bodies and all they do for us on a daily basis, then that is a really good starting point. Whether you are 40 pounds overweight or 20 pounds underweight, self-love and self-appreciation are fabulous attitudes to adopt, whatever your health state. Perhaps it is more productive and much kinda to work with your body, softly, slowly then to get caught up in the very typical stance of negative self-talk. After all, would you tell a child that they are not good enough, attractive enough or worthy enough? ‘Love the skin you’re in’.

  • Loraine.

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    Thank-you, I enjoyed the newsletter.
    With me, I have never been allowed to ‘love the skin you’re in’ as for the last 40 years I have and do suffer with Psoriasis, this has led to me being treated ‘like-a-leper ! Yes, I know ‘it is their problem not mine’ doesn’t help or soften the stares and the avoiding being close , down to ignorance I know but in the situation common sense doesn’t prevail.

    Now with weight it is doubly hard to find clothes a) to fit but every time they are worn = ruined by all the creams we have to use.

    I wasn’t allowed to do my job because of ‘Health & Safety’., due to Psoriasis !

    With extra weight I shut myself away for both reasons it’s NOT accepted by society!! but when you rid of the extra weight there is LIFE. The LIFE I have very many plans for….

  • Kathy

    Reply Reply September 19, 2014

    This is a very thought-provoking article. I have been struggling with T2 diabetes for over 15 years, but have always been motivated to find the diet that works for me to create better health. It’s been a long journey and every step along the way the challenge has kept me going. I’m not saying there haven’t been ups and downs, but because I value my health and want a future without complications and illness, I have never given up! As I read the comments here, I am puzzled by some of negativity and defeatism. I wish I could bottle up my enthusiasm and the kind of dedication I have to reaching my goal and give it to you in a tonic! I believe whole-heartedly that one can remain positive and find happiness in the weight loss process! Rewards, no matter how small, can boost my mood and give me reason to carry on. I’m taking the Weight Loss course to learn how I might be able to share my personal experience with weight and diabetes to help others.

  • Anita

    Reply Reply September 19, 2014

    I think losing weight inspires you to do exercise as opposed to the other way round. I don’t comfort eat. I grow my own veggies and have a great diet but since starting the menopause nothing seems to work, which makes me depressed and unhappy – perhaps I am looking at things from the wrong perspective – I have just enlisted onto 2 exercise classes and already I feel happier that I am actually doing something :-)

  • vivian

    Reply Reply September 24, 2014

    exercising has always given me a buzz! exercising and balancing my diet gave me a greater buzz. You need to know yourself and be content who you are to be happy. seeing yourself lose weight by your hard work and willpower, is the biggest endorphin hit you can have.

  • Loraine

    Reply Reply November 2, 2014

    I love the great feeling I get from exercising and eating the lovely foods. Problem being I live in a negative situation and find it difficult to maintain my own individual way of my life, I have been trying to but not strong enough. I hate it but I am so sensitive when attacked, do not handle confrontation well.

    • Simone

      Reply Reply November 6, 2014

      Loraine,

      I believe everything in life is either an obstacle or an opportunity, depending on perspective. You are strong, don’t underestimate your own personal power. It’s not about being perfect and disciplined 100% of the time, that’s not real life. The fact that you are aware of the challenges yet you still try to be strong and to do what is right for you, is amazing. Just carry on being you, carry on being authentic, and above all, always be very kind to yourself, and eventually..little by little..things around you will start to change. :-)

  • vivian

    Reply Reply November 3, 2014

    I understand how you would love to live. It’s hard when everyone around you eats and lives differently. I’m a vegetarian living with meat eaters. I’m gym nut that loves health and fitness: I still love sweet food. Being true to yourself is the only way to be happy. Remember those who put you down are the unhappy one’s to get you on there level. BE strong and go for a walk when the going gets tough. You go GIRL!!!

    • Loraine

      Reply Reply November 5, 2014

      Thank-you Vivian,

      It means a lot to me to think someone cares enough to read and send an encouraging reply I will think of this when faced with stressful times. I know I need to be able to try to overcome my weakness.

      I do have a goal, this time I am going to give ME time and not be as strict to me !

  • Ann

    Reply Reply November 24, 2014

    I believe like others that weight loss and happiness go hand in hand. As each week goes by and each week a couple of pounds comes off, you then feel happy that your diet is working, and when your diet is working you continue to make the right choices. Also as you get lighter you feel lighter and more energetic, making you once again feeling happier. So losing weight makes you feel happier, feeling happy makes you do more, doing more helps you lose weight, and so it continues.

  • Katerina

    Reply Reply February 26, 2015

    I am very interested in knowing, if you can publish an article, or refer me to one (since its very hard to find) how shift work affects the hormonal balance, apetite and weight. Shift work being not having a regular working hours, working overnight and frecuently changing schedule. Like for example those who travel by air a lot. Much appreciated

  • Georgina

    Reply Reply September 30, 2015

    This article has been very interesting one I can relate to as my own weight has fluctuated over the years. I can definitely say stress has a bad influence on the body, with weight loss/weight gain (depending on how your appetite is during stressful periods).

    I have always been an emotional eater and 2yrs ago I found out my overeating of the wrong foods (during a very stressful period)had made me develop food intolerances. I gained a lot of weight with a poor diet and lack of exercise as I had no motivation. After seeing a dietician and changing my diet my emotional eating habits have changed! Funnily enough now, when I’m stressed now I look for a relaxing activity to do instead! I still have my treats but I actually feel I can now control my trigger and not overeat. Being more in tune with my body definitely lets me know ‘I shouldn’t have had that extra ????’. By no means was this an easy process, and changing your eating habits is a conscious thought which in itself is an exhausting experience. It definitely helps if you can find reassurance and positivity from others to help you believe in yourself and what you are doing is the best thing for you.

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