Of Health and Happiness, Fit and Fat

Courtney and I recently began (again) the goal to become healthier. Normally that means losing weight for us, but I think I’ve finally hit a key understanding for me: Happiness is an essential measure and component of my health and physical satisfaction.

Let me explain….

We’ve all heard the reports that some obscenely high percentage of dieters don’t succeed and that among those who do, most fall back onto old habits, right? Normally that is followed up with the idea that dieting doesn’t work and that lifestyle changes are needed. And I’m not arguing against that nor would I ever. I agree with the concept of lifestyle changes over dieting. But I also think that we far too often forget to add happiness to the equation.

Surely being healthy is a key part of happiness, and I’m not arguing otherwise. But when we incorporate lifestyle changes as a measure of health, I have to wonder if lifestyle changes equal happiness. Take me for example: I’m a relatively healthy 31-year-old male who exercises regularly; eats well enough; and, like most office workers in America, is hauling a bit more around the middle than I probably should. To be frank, I could lose 15 easily and be better for it. Over the last few years, I have made regular and consistent efforts to lose that weight because, like I said, I’d be better for it and, mostly, because the world seems to think I’ll be happier for it. But who is the world to determine my happiness?

I’ve noticed over those same years of trying to lose weight that I have never succeeded. Oh sure, I’ll lose some or even most of it, but I always return back to the starting weight, a weight I have maintained without effort for almost four years now. And of course, this is the part of the process where everyone tells me “lifestyle change, not diet.”

So let me get this straight… To become physically happy, I have to lose 15 pounds because the world said so. To reach this happiness, I must exercise more than I like to, replace foods I love with foods I don’t love, and stop eating certain “bad” foods? Sorry, but I don’t buy that. Sorry, but I don’t think that makes me happy. And yes, that is exactly what I have read and understood from almost every single source on health, eating, and dieting.

[NOTE: Such a scenario has NOTHING to do with health, but happiness. It’s entirely personal as well, so put down your torches and pitchforks. I never expected even a slight majority to agree with me.]

I think, as with financial matters, that this is a matter of contentment and personal satisfaction. I did state my opinion that health was a key part of happiness, and I’ll add to that that health, in at least some senses, can and probably should be personal. For me, it is based on my satisfaction with my physical abilities and appearance. It is also based on my ability to enjoy and really relish those foods and activities that I love. Where some might feel guilty about having dessert, I refuse to, and I refuse to do so partly based on my happiness with my abilities and appearance but also because, like I said earlier, I recognize that my body is comfortable where it is at and because I maintain this weight and physicality giving what I choose to give and being what I choose to be.

In short, I’m satisfied, and that makes me happy.

And that isn’t saying that I couldn’t be happier if I lost those 15 pounds but rather that my satisfaction with my life, my weight, and my health is not based on an arbitrary number and lifestyle that are set by another. This also isn’t saying that I won’t eventually choose to make those changes that will lead to losing those 15 pounds. But if I do, I guarantee you that the choice to do so will be the result of an effort to be happier and more satisfied with who I am and not a shift to a lifestyle that I find incompatible with the sole purpose of losing weight.

Our lifestyle choices should be a result of our desires and not the other way around.

[NOTE: I feel the need to clarify that there are some people and conditions that fall outside this general belief. For example, an anorexic is an obvious case where desires that form lifestyle choices is less than beneficial. The same could be said for binge eating, bulimia, obesity, and a host of other conditions and decisions that do not personally apply to me and the situation I am describing. This type of life assumes at least the ability to make reasonable decisions regarding our health and happiness.]

So all that being said, am I going to continue to try to lose those 15 pounds? Sure, but only in as much as it is an indirect benefit of seeking the personal change in my life that I currently find attractive. My guess is that the changes I am making right now are such that, over time, will find those recurring 15 pounds gone for good, but that isn’t the objective of my goal, my happiness, or my life.

It is a symptom.

And those pounds will stay gone because my lifestyle has indeed changed based on personal desires and goals.

As I said to Courtney earlier today after she complained that she missed hiking and other activities and wanted to lose weight so that she could do them again: Go do them. Such activities are not a result (symptom) of losing weight, but weight loss is, and especially in her case, one of the potential results of adding back in activities and efforts that make her happy.

Seek happiness, not weight loss. Seek contentment, not lifestyle changes. Find both and you’ll either find that you achieve the others or that they never really mattered to you in the first place.

Either way, you’ll be happy.

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5 Responses to Of Health and Happiness, Fit and Fat

  1. Sarah L. says:

    I agree! Oh, and I thought you both looked great at the reunion. 😀

  2. Travis says:

    You cannot tell me that part of God’s Plan did not include chocolate of some kind! 🙂
    And, yes, I am being serious. Items, including food, were placed on this earth to be beneficial and to give us joy and happiness. Chocolate, ice cream, and peanut butter are three great tastes that go great together! I also find asparagus, mushrooms, and steak go well together as well.
    To me, it is like fasting on Fast Sunday. If you are continually bemoaning the fact that you cant have some potato chips, or cake, or whatever you wish to eat, in moderation, it is not really a life style change or really not even wanting to actually make that change. You just want to impress people by telling them that you are dieting.

  3. Courtney Loveless says:

    Part of the other problem, at least part of the one I face is that we live in a college town in Utah, land of the eternally skinny, young college coeds.

    So this means every year I feel older and fatter every time a new batch of the freshly out of high-school set arrives in town to begin their college careers.

    I’m not happy with the extra weight I carry. I do feel guilty eating desserts. Yeah, maybe not at first, but definitely later.
    Yet I still want and sometimes enjoy sweets, guilty feelings aside.

  4. nosurfgirl says:

    Yes… the equation for women is slightly different than the one for men. Let’s face it. What makes men like women? A beautiful sight. Men’s opinions vary on what beautiful means. But it does place a focus (for women) on their own appearance. I feel that wanting to look nice is a huge factor in my “courting” of my husband that we’re supposed to keep up after we marry.

    What is the reverse for women? Emotional intimacy. So, talking, basically.

    Not much need to diet there. Unless your fat begins to interfere with your vocal cords. Or something.

    I’ve always told Jeff, I don’t really care if you get fat. Being married to a round, kindly-faced, balding man is something fine with me. I mean, Jeff will still be attractive to me no matter how much he wieghs (well, I take that back. 400 lbs might kill the mood sometimes.) But that I want him to be healthy. I want somene who doesn’t have borderline diabetes, doesn’t have high blood pressure, has strong lungs and a strong heart to live after retirement with me and serve lots of missions and do all the things we never got to do together too much when all the kids were around.

    Anyway… long spiel. I agree with you. But that is my list of contingencies on your opinion :p

  5. nosurfgirl says:

    I just thought of something else, too.

    So, if a part of being happy is being able to eat foods one enjoys (and I absolutely don’t dispute that) shouldn’t a person do the things he or she needs to do, to be able to enjoy those foods all of their life?

    When I went home on vacation, my dad was diagnosed borderline diabetic, high-triglycerides and high blood pressure. They gave him an ultimatum: change your diet, or start taking medications (which have side effects that are upleasant, and are expensive). He was given a few warnings before this. That he had to reduce his sodium intake, that he had to limit carbs. He couldn’t find himself enough will power to do it. He told me at one point that he “hated” his food now and what was the point of that? So he went back to eating what he wanted.

    now, if he wants to stay of medication (and he really does), he is allowed very little salt at all. Almost none. He’s allowed 2 tsp of oil per day. And no sugars, and no simple carbs. None at all. Ever.

    He’s taking it gracefully. He’s had several relatives develop really severe health conditions as a result of this same genetic tendency he has, so he’s been scared into submission. A little too late, though to be able to sometimes enjoy the foods he loves. And the sad thing is, he could have.

    This, honestly, is what has convinced me to start watching what I take in. I have these same tendencies (high tryglycerides, diabetic tendencies.) If I start NOW, then I might even to be able to eat the foods I love, more than “occasionally.” I can eat them, “every once in a while!!” lol. And maybe I can avoid the “never” ultimatum when I get older.

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