Can Being Happy Make You Lose Weight?

Can Being Happy Make You Lose Weight?

If social media is a barometer of well-being, then being thin not only makes you happy, it makes you popular. With the idealized selves we post every day, there is a great temptation to meet other people's standards of both health and happiness. This pressure is reinforced by the popularity of aspirational ‘before and after’ weight loss pictures. Invariably, the heavier person on the left has the downturned face of a depressive and the slim version on the right is the literal picture of happiness. Are these accurate representations? Is the idea of a jolly fat person as fictional as Santa Claus himself? Can being happy really make you lose weight? oneHOWTO takes a look at how being happy and being healthy affect each other.

Being happy makes you thin: theory

There is little argument that having an appropriate BMI (Body Mass Index) for your weight is better for your body. Having a balanced diet helps keep your blood pressure at normal levels and promotes overall health by aiding weight loss[1] and keeping your veins clear. For many people, the belief is that being thinner will not only make your body happy, but your mind also.

This correlation that being thin makes you happy is supported by our culture at large. We mock celebrities for putting on a few pounds. Children at school pick on overweight kids. In business, studies have shown that thinner workers are more likely to succeed than their heavier counterparts[2]. All of this comes to show that thinness is an outward sign of success. While there are many overweight successful people to claim otherwise, they may be the exceptions which prove the rule.

Does this mean, then, that being happy will make you thin? If we are engaging in any activity, our happiness levels will have a bearing on how well we accomplish the task at hand. Think about a good day at work. If you were happy with how a project is proceeding, you are often incentivized to keep going with it. Compare it to a day where your morale is low and your productivity is adversely affected.

The same theory goes for losing weight. Many people will use a new year to push for weight loss. The previous year is over and they may feel optimistic about starting again. This kind of optimism can help us to push ourselves in physical training. If we feel sad, then it can offset a time of depression which does not motivate us. Instead, it can lead to inactivity.

There is scientific evidence to support this theory. Exercise is capable of releasing serotonin and dopamine in the brain[3]. These are neurotransmitters which affect our happiness and well-being. If exercising releases these neurotransmitters, it builds up a positivity which can help us with stamina. The rationale is that being happy helps with motivation, so if we have more serotonin being released it will be more conducive to exercise, there making us lose weight more efficiently.

However, in the above scenario, being happy comes after exercising, so this may not seem as helpful. But there are other ways being happy can help you lose weight. The so-called ‘love hormone’ oxytocin is released when we have positive interactions with other people, whether it is love or even simply emotional support from friends[4]. This neurotransmitter is also released when we snack or eat certain foods, one of the reasons eating can be addictive. If we replace these snacks with better human interaction, love or healthier ways to make us happy (e.g. petting animals), then it can stop our reliance on certain foods and help us to lose weight.

Being overweight doesn't mean you can't be happy

It seems like for every report of something encouraging weight loss, another is released which claims the opposite. While many people may think being thin will make them happy, there are also reports to the contrary. One such study claimed that “participants with a genetic propensity to a higher BMI were less likely to perceive themselves as a nervous person or to call themselves tense or ‘highly strung’”[5]. What this suggests, however, is that these people are naturally more inclined to be overweight (not necessarily obese). What does it mean for people who have put on weight which feels unnatural or uncomfortable?

While it is difficult to fully analyze the extent of social media on a person's body image, there is enough research to monitor some worrying trends[6]. With people posting multitudinous pictures of themselves at the gym, news sources glorifying the ‘perfect’ body image and a correlation between a certain body image and popularity on different networks, it is understandable why an overweight person might feel negative about themselves. However, there has also been a backlash against such beliefs with body postivity being encouraged by plus size models and the ability with social media to show that overweight people can be happy too.

How does this link happiness and losing weight? Being body positive can make an overweight person feel happier. This can replace the oxycotin production previously accounted for by eating certain foods. This, in turn, can help someone to lose weight. However, if a person is happy in their body, whatever their size, then they may not feel the impetus to lose weight. They may release neurotransmitters through improved mental health, but they might continue their previous lifestyle at the same time.

The problem is not that you can't be happy if you are overweight. The problem is that being overweight can affect your quality of life to the point that your mental health is affected. There are many studies which show obesity has adverse effects on happiness. Much of this has to do with comorbidities, i.e. other health problems associated with being overweight. However, an overview study showed that this was often in those who were morbidly obese, especially in men[7]. Women were more likely to feel unhappy, but would report it less.

The physical state of being overweight doesn't necessarily make you unhappy. Being overweight, however, has at least two main ways of making you feel unhappy. This is through social stigma (being made to think that you are unattractive) and the adverse effect of weight gain on your body.

Being happy alone won't work

If we want to know if being happy can make you lose weight, then the answer is no. Rather, being happy can help you be motivated. It can encourage exercise which releases more happiness related neurotransmitters and stop you from overeating to feel better about yourself. This is definitely conducive to losing weight. It won't necessarily make you lose weight as you may be happy in the body you are already in.

Being unhappy might equally help make you lose weight as you don't want to feel that way anymore. A desire to improve yourself and become happier can be a great motivating factor.

If you find that you are unhappy with how you look, losing weight can make you feel more confident and improve your quality of life. The danger is that if you equate being of a certain weight with happiness, then you may be in trouble. If being thin makes you happy, then you may start to become depressed when you start to add a few pounds, even if it is in a healthy range for your body size.

Problems arise when you mistake being thin for being happy. Having a healthy body image and ensuring your lifestyle doesn't encourage health complications is conducive to being happy, but it is important to understand there are many different factors which affect both health and happiness.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Can Being Happy Make You Lose Weight?, we recommend you visit our Healthy living category.

References

1 https://academic.oup.com/fampra/article/16/2/196/480196

2 http://www.timothy-judge.com/Judge%20and%20Cable%20%28JAP%202010%29.pdf

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703784/

4 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201402/6-ways-the-love-hormone-helps-you-lose-weight

5 http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/overweight-fat-obese-skinny-study-bmi-university-bristol-a8127381.html

6 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/55f5/811ee5d09f5bd42d3f6e71bc7aa4010154a2.pdf

7 http://www.research.ed.ac.uk/portal/files/17267685/JECH_paper.pdf