Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does Being Skinny Make You Happy?

I’ve been thin my whole life. It’s not some genetics thing; I was a mover even before my brothers used me for football tackle practice, had me run the bases, and positioned me in goal for hockey drills. Lucky for me I still love moving—both the hardcore sweaty stuff, and the more relaxed play that fills a mom’s day.

Being active has helped spare me excess worry about heart disease, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure that run in my family. It’s also helped me control anxiety and depression, two of my other little DNA-powered gifts.

I know I’m not alone. In a survey we conducted while writing Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom (Andrews McMeel, 2011), almost all of the fit moms who responded realized some mental health benefits from their fitness pursuits.  It wasn’t being skinny that made them happier; in fact most of them probably wouldn’t even consider themselves skinny by societal standards. So it must be something else.

And yet we see the message that getting skinny means getting happy, don’t we? I saw it at the gym last weekend. Thirteen flat screen televisions on the wall in front of me and over half of them were playing advertisements (dressed as television shows) showing amazing product-related transformations—women who went from obese and unhappy to skinny and smiling.

If only it were that simple. We all have our struggles, whether it’s depression with a capital “D” or an occasional sadness that leaves us looking for more in life. Exercise is great medicine for mental health; it’s a proven physiological and psychological supplement.

But simply getting skinny doesn’t make you happier. As with most things, it’s all in the process. It’s what you’re doing to get there that’s really helping. It’s setting and reaching goals, developing a new (healthier) identity, connecting with a community of likeminded people, feeling cared about and caring for others as mentee and mentor.

In short:

Being skinny won’t make you happy.
Wearing $100 workout pants won’t make you happy (a post for another day!)
Breathing, sweating, and moving with intention—even just a little bit every day—will.

So, whether you’re on your way to being fit, or been there for a while now… keep your eyes focused on the process. Cause that’s what living a fit lifestyle is: a process, a (for lack of a better, less overused word) journey. It’s okay to enjoy the way your body looks, a nice side effect of the underlying increase in overall health. But if you’re looking for happiness, step away from the mirror. You won’t find it there.


  1. Great post! Feeling fit and healthy and knowing you are doing something good for yourself is what matters and creates happiness whether that's a size 2 or a size 12 what does it matter?! Thanks for the thoughts!