Losing Weight Won't Make You Happy
Happiness itself is an illusive, effervescent phenomenon. Brief moments of bliss are the stuff life is made of, and what makes the boring, shitty, saddening parts of life worthwhile. Happiness is incredibly difficult to hold onto and perpetually lives where we least expect it. Looking for happiness where we think it should be, instead of where it is, may be the roadblock that bars entry to happiness most often.
The search for meaning, purpose, or happiness is ancient and utterly human. Philosophers have posited about happiness for a very long time:
Buddha: "There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path."
Socrates: "The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less."
Aristotle: "Happiness depends upon ourselves."
The best and worst thing about happiness is that it is inherently different for everyone. If no two people are alike, it stands to reason that no two happy people are remotely similar, either. Aristotle's take that happiness depends on ourselves points to the popular notion that happiness is a choice. And if happiness is a choice, we can control it. That is the idea that the diet and weight loss industry has held close to its chest for decades.
The philosophy goes something like this: food is an easy thing to control. After all, we are the only ones responsible for drinking a soda, eating a salad, or ingesting a football sized burrito. And because nearly everything in the world is outside our control, it feels easy and straightforward and right to grasp onto something that can be controlled. It feels even easier and more straightforward and more right to think that the thing we control (food, our bodies) will lead to happiness.
My battle with anorexia and disordered eating spanned more than a decade. It was simultaneously my safe haven and worst nightmare. The lie that diet culture fed me throughout my childhood is that skinny people are happy. Skinny people are sexy and beautiful and successful and wanted. Fat people are not. Not only is this narrative utterly false, but it's extremely diminutive. Can we really believe that happiness comes down to something as simple as food and the size of our bodies when the concept of happiness has been at the center of philosophical debate since the beginning of mankind?
Lao Tzu said, "If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present." Diet culture promises us a future that is better. A future in which we are smaller, in which people look at us and admire our bodies, in which we can fit comfortably on public transportation or wear the jeans we wore in high school. Diet culture asks us to live in a future that may never be, robbing us of the present we are in.
And look, I know life might seem easier for those who are smaller, and it is. I am privileged to live in a body that is an "acceptable" size. I am blessed that my body can climb mountains and sit cross-legged and fit in an airplane seat. But I hated my body for a long time, and wanted more than anything to take up less space. I pushed and prodded and starved and forced my body into shrinking, but I was infinitely more unhappy than I am right now because my body was never my problem.
I will fully admit that there were many brief moments of elation when I stepped on the scale and the numbers continued shrinking. When I saw myself in a mirror and admired my rib cage. When someone complimented the sharpness of my cheekbones or the bare nothingness of my arms. But those moments of brief elation were clouded by long hours of hating my body, denying myself nourishment, and denying myself the unconditional love we must all grant ourselves in order to be truly, purely happy.
Losing weight might make your life easier. It may make you confident. It may change how other people see you, but it won't truly change how you see yourself. Happiness at a lighter weight is an insidious myth that plays on our vulnerability and highlights our need to control something. But until or unless you can find happiness at 300 pounds, you will never, ever, find happiness at 180, or 150, or 130, or 100. There is no number low enough to make you truly, undoubtedly, blissfully happy.