WILL BEING IN A SMALLER BODY MAKE YOU HAPPIER?

Diet culture creates the perception that being smaller is the only way that healthy looks. But how healthy can that be when your happiness is at stake?


BY: HALEY GOODRICH, RD, LDN

Finding happiness isn’t as easy as just wearing a smaller size.  People in all walks of life in different shapes and sizes swear they will be happier at a smaller size. Except no matter what size they are or have been, they rarely find themselves truly happy.

And how can we not want to be smaller when the world around us praises weight loss?

It’s truly a terrifying thought when you reflect on what it actually means: comments of encouragement that you may be depriving yourself, nutritionally and mentally.

For many, the fear of comments they would receive from not pursuing weight loss is the driving force for disordered behavior. What will people say if my body changes? Will I still be loved? Will people still think I’m smart, pretty, and acceptable?

Here is the truth: we simply give these arbitrary sizes too much power.

The reality is, people’s problems do not just disappear when they are smaller. Why do we perceive that being a smaller size will make everything better? If a person loses weight, physical objects such as your pants or the scale begin to provide external validation. As you receive praise for losing weight, the reward system in your brain is activated and you temporarily feel a high, or a false sense of achievement and belonging. As this trend continues, external validation becomes the only way we are able to feel worthy. If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone and it isn’t your fault.

It’s human nature to want to feel accepted, loved, and adored.

At some point, you can no longer fight biology and weight loss stops because you simply can’t: 95% of diets fail because your body wants to be at its set point weight. That’s when the external validation stops, and it is automatically assumed that we aren’t acceptable or have failed.  This feeling of insecurity is uncomfortable and we will do anything to find that validation again. Restricting more seems like the answer, but engaging in dieting only exacerbates the problem.

The need to be even smaller continues and the cycle continues.

It’s in these moments that it becomes more important to realize stability or true happiness can’t be found from external validation. The sense of accomplishment felt from dropping a few pounds is only temporary. To successfully break this cycle means you must be able to derive your own internal validation.

Having a healthy relationship with your body means you are able to accept your natural weight and feel accomplished by the way you treat yourself. It means tuning in to your hunger and fullness cues, honoring cravings, moving intuitively, eating a variety of foods, and treating yourself with compassion.

When you stop obsessing over your size, things that actually matter in life become more important, such as being creative and having meaningful relationships with people. With less hate, you are able to experience more fulfillment and joy.

Your body is going to change multiple times throughout your life: it is inevitable. Cultivate pride for what your body can do, the places it will take you, and the experiences you will have.

True happiness is feeling freedom from having to manage your size.

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: ALLEF VINICIUS

Haley Goodrich, RD, LDN is a private practice Registered Dietitian based in Pittsburgh, PA inspiring others to have a healthy relationship with food.  Specializing in disordered eating, intuitive eating, and digestive health, Haley’s mission is to show that healthy doesn’t have to be restrictive or defined by how you compare to others. To stay inspired to be your healthiest you, visit Haley at INSPIRD Nutrition.

2 Comments
  1. This is like asking will a face lift make you happier? Not necessarily. It depends on your reason why, your expectations and the surgeon’s skill.

    So, no, being in a smaller body will not make you happier any more than staying in a larger one unless you do the hard work of analyzing how you got to where you are and if you want to change–not only your weight but your relationship with food, past trauma, upbringing or social “pressures.”

    There should be no place for shame, intimidation and stigma surrounding size or weight. Obesity is a medical condition (often with emotional drivers) and needs to be treated medically and emotional support. Not with judgement.

    As a health coach who went through my own struggles with weight, I don’t think we do our clients any favors by being dishonest with them about the medical consequences of obesity. If they’re unhappy in a larger body, it is our duty to help them reach the best level of health possible. That doesn’t mean a size 2 or 100 lb weight loss. It does mean helping them understand their motivations, modify self-defeating behaviors and treat themselves with the respect and love they and their bodies deserve.

  2. Hi Susan, Thanks for stopping by and reading! I totally agree with you that there is no place for weight-based discrimination. Taking the focus completely off of weight in general is the best way we can achieve that as practitioners. If not, it’s easy to make assumptions about someone’s health based on their body size. Overall, focusing on weight is unhelpful. When we shift to values-aligned behaviors and the intentions behind how we are caring for ourselves, we are able to create sustainability in our wellbeing. It sounds like you are passionate about supporting people in becoming healthier, so I imagine scientific literature is helpful in your work:

    “Most health indicators can be improved through changing health behaviors, regardless of whether weight is lost. For example, lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure, largely or completely independent of changes in body weight. The same can be said for blood lipids. Improvements in insulin sensitivity and blood lipids as a result of aerobic exercise training have been documented even in individuals who gained body fat during the intervention.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3041737/)

    The word ‘obesity’ in itself is pathologizing, therefore stigmatizing. Changing up our language is another simple step we can take to make a bigger impact in dismantling weight discrimination. I think it’s absolutely fair that someone would desire weight loss, for a number of reasons. Just as we have a lot of knowledge as providers around benefits of health promoting behavior, it’s also our job to share the evidence around the harms that dieting and intentional weight loss can cause. It’s also very unlikely that intentional weight loss will be kept off long term:

    “There is not a single randomized-control trial that can show sustained weight loss after 2 years. Around the 2 year mark, all of the data shows a weight regain that is higher than the pre-diet weight.”
    “Attempts to lose weight typically result in weight cycling, and such attempts are more common among obese individuals. Weight cycling results in increased inflammation, which in turn is known to increase risk for many obesity-associated diseases.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3041737/)
    “Weight cycling is the most common result of engaging in conventional dieting practices and is known to increase morbidity and mortality risk.”(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3041737/)

    No doubt health is nuanced! And taking a deep dive into the literature exposes information that isn’t usually discussed by diet culture. This can be disorienting and hard to hear. I also am aware of my humanness and how much I have learned since writing this article in 2017. One thing I would add if I were writing it today, is to acknowledge the privileges I hold. Living in a straight sized body has given me unfair ease in the world and has protected me from the weight-based discrimination that many of my clients face. It’s through their lived experience and bravery in sharing their stories with me that I have learned the most. For that I am so grateful for.

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