Heaviness and Happiness

my first steps

As Dr. Pretlow has observed, it can be difficult to get young people to express their thoughts and feelings about their own obesity.  For this reason, the relationship between weight and quality of life in adolescents is a topic somewhat shrouded in mystery. Adults are easier to read, according to William Anderson, licensed mental health counselor and author of The Anderson Method, a book commemorating his own journey.

Thirty years ago, Anderson lost 140 pounds. He has kept it off since then, and has guided a large number of clients and readers of his work to the accomplishment of similar feats. In response to the titular question “Will Losing Weight Make You Happy?” he says,

As they shed the pounds, my clients show an amazing transformation in their mood and quality of life. To describe them as ecstatic would not be an exaggeration in most cases. There is no question that losing weight makes people happy.

This affirmation comes with a caveat or two. For starters, to focus solely on weight loss is not The Answer, and may in fact add to the problem. Losing weight can pump up self-esteem, but only if there was a certain amount of pre-existing self-esteem. Something can’t be made out of nothing. A weight-loss victory can, figuratively speaking, be a trophy on a person’s shelf — but only if there was a shelf there in the first place to build on.

To alleviate the misery, a person needs to focus on the underlying issues that led to weight becoming a problem. Until those issues are resolved, the project is doomed to failure. The priority, Anderson says, must be “fixing your relationship with yourself.”

A Paradox of Acceptance and Change

It is a truism in the mental health field that unless a person is accepted for who she or he is, that person will have a very difficult time changing. It’s not impossible, but it’s very, very hard. Conversely, acceptance is almost magical in its ability to unlock the potential for personal evolution. Acceptance is the WD-40 of psychological dynamics. It unsticks things, and there can be discovery and healing and forward motion.

Nowhere is acceptance more important than in the relationship with the self, and Anderson recommends an inner restructuring equivalent to a “conversion experience.” This involves “replacing some of your most closely held beliefs with more worthy ones.” One thing we need to do is to value and respect all people based on criteria more meaningful than their appearance. And it goes without saying that we need to value and respect ourselves, even on a day when we look like something the cat dragged in.

Anderson suggests that we look to small children for inspiration. A baby tries to walk, falls down, and maybe takes a break for a while before trying again — but she does try again. Except for a very few in special circumstances, every child eventually learns to walk, and the average toddler teaches a major lesson:

Persistence is not a matter of having never quit. Persistence is getting up and working at it again … Like a baby, people who are successful fail and quit many times. But they keep getting back up, and eventually, they are doing well enough to be fit for life.

Also, we need to recognize that whether people want to be the same, or different, more forces are at work than just their wanting to be a certain way. If willpower was the answer, a whole lot more people would be successful, good-looking, healthy, adorable and irresistible. It behooves us to have compassion for others and for ourselves because:

We are born into a body and brain that we did not choose or create ourselves, and then we have to figure out how to live in it….We need to love ourselves regardless of circumstance, fat or fit, with our successes and our failures … If you are overweight, I guarantee that losing weight will make you happy…. At the same time, I guarantee that there are other things you need to change about yourself, and with that, you have a chance at lasting happiness….

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Will Losing Weight Make You Happy?,” HuffingtonPost.com, 02/04/15
Image by Gustavo Devito

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