Do you really need to lose weight? And will it make you happier?

26th March, 2014

Listening to a program on suicide and mental health issues, I was reminded how easily we get caught up with various problems and worries that perhaps aren’t as bad as we think.

If you are carrying an extra 10-20+kg and you know this is adversely affecting your quality of life, then it’s probably a good idea to look at what you can change in your lifestyle to improve your health. In doing this, some people will lose weight, others may not. If you are only carrying an extra ~2-8kg above what you feel is right for you, or if you have already dropped around 10% of your heaviest body weight, then losing weight may not be so important for your overall health.

If by eating well and staying active, you can shift weight without too much difficulty, then go for it. If you are being very careful with your eating and doing plenty of exercise but not seeing any weight change, this is where you may need to reassess the need for weight loss.

A question that I often ask my clients is, “if I had a magic wand and 5-10kg disappeared, how would this enhance your life?” More often than not, the response is related to happiness, confidence, how people look and the clothes they could wear, rather than actual health or fitness.

If at your current weight, you are still able to do all the things you love and your health is not compromised, and the main reason you are unhappy with your current size and shape, is that you are unhappy with how you feel about yourself, then weight loss may not be the answer. This is especially true if the pursuit of looking and feeling better is actually serving to make you even unhappier with yourself through restrictive dieting and failed weight loss attempts.

In my 10 years as a dietitian, I have seen hundreds of people who despite losing weight, are still desperately unhappy with themselves and their bodies. Often, it is only when people let go of their desire to lose weight and instead focus on improving their relationship with food and their bodies, that their health improves and they start to feel happy within themselves.

We live in a weight and diet obsessed world where success and happiness is often equated with thinness and beauty. This is not the real world; this is the world of glossy magazines, TV, Hollywood and increasingly, touched up social media.

Again, if by eating well and staying active, you can shift weight without too much difficulty, then go for it. If not, remind yourself of all the good things in your life, how lucky you are to live in a war free country, to be able to come home each day to a safe house, good shelter and enough food to eat. If you don’t suffer from mental illness or other disability, be happy that you have good mental and physical health.

It is so easy to take for granted all the positive aspects of life and get caught up with what we are not happy with. Next time you’re feeling down about yourself, stop for a moment and remember all the good things you have been blessed with.

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