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.




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5 responses to “Does Being Skinny Make You Happy?

  1. Kim

    Although I would say that the desire to lose weight is often what gets me started on the eating healthy/work out path it’s how amazing I start feeling that keeps me on that path. After a few weeks the numbers on the scale and in my jeans don’t matter anymore. I start to love feeling strong and healthy more than I love being a size 8.

  2. So glad to hear you ladies could relate. There is such a misconception out there that we need to get to a certain place in order to be happy (i.e., being thin, having more money, living in a bigger house, getting the right job). It really isn’t about where we “get” but enjoying things along the way. That’s why its so important to find a flavor of fitness that we enjoy! Thanks for the response! I know your insight will inspire other moms!

  3. I know the difference between being skinny for an unhealthy reason (a bad year in my twenties involving losing a job and a boyfriend in one week left me catatonic and unable to eat) and being thin and fit for healthy reasons. When people said, back when I got very thin, “you look great!” it never rang true. I didn’t FEEL great. Now, in my mid forties and with two kids, I’m not skinny and never will be, but i’m the same dress size I’ve always been and I work out frequently. In fact, a day I don’t work out is a weird, unsettled day for me. I’m happy the way I am, and obviously my body likes this weight because it’s stuck and stuck for years and years. Heavier than this, I’m unhappy, and much thinner than this — though I’d look “better,” — wouldn’t make me happy. Fit is way better than skinny, always, and I hope that attitude gets transmitted to my sons.

  4. Stephanie

    So true! I am looking forward to reading about the $100 dollar pants. Sometimes I feel bad when I walk in in $10 target shorts that have tasted much sweat and tears over the 10 years I’ve had them, then I realize my free shirts I sport from all the races I’ve done are way better than any expensive pants people buy for no GOOD reason, (and then suddenly I start running just a little bit faster…)

  5. Jessica

    Great post! As someone who has never been thin, although extremely active growing up I can attest to that. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college and began making changes for my health, instead of my looks was I successful. And I was and am so
    Much happier with that mentality than the previous one. I can not wait to get this book!

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