The Happy Way of Losing Weight

5 Dos and 5 Don’ts for mindfulness, happiness, and yes, weight loss.

Posted Nov 30, 2018

The audacity to put the words “happy” and “losing weight” in one title…. Many accept that “happiness” and “health” are a pair and that losing one presents a challenge for the other. But pairing “happiness” and “losing anything,” let alone certain delicious foods and comfortable habits, seems a bit of a stretch, if not a paradox. Still, this is what I assert here. It must not be a horrible ordeal to lose weight; it can sharpen our sense of aliveness. Bad habits might currently dull our experience of the flow of life. There is a wise way of losing weight even, or maybe especially, during the holidays. It might just be the gift we have been needing for a long time.

First, happiness -- and this is crucial before I can continue -- must not be understood as perpetually feeling good. That would be boring. Instead, try to look at happiness as a love relationship with reality, which requires our focused attention (see A Unified Theory of Happiness). When we change our bad habits, we usually and quite immediately become more mindful while the better habits also soon begin to improve our mindfulness. For example, stopping ourselves when we are just about to overeat increases our mindfulness; eating blueberries also sharpens our mind in a relatively short amount of time. A new way of life unfolds almost from the start when we change what we eat and how and where we move. 

As I share The Happy Way of Losing Weight, please treat it as such, that is as a way of life, instead of as a diet. Do not tell yourself that you will try this path for a limited time, but commit yourself to it for the rest of your life. To make happen a long-term commitment, choose from the path only the suggestions that appear doable and relatively easy. Add what seems difficult later, namely after you have fully adjusted to the initial changes. This way, you will not boomerang to the old ways. For the same reason, all five “Don’ts” will be balanced out with five “Dos.” The happy way must be wise to be successful.

FIRST DO NOT:

DO NOT consume any refined sugar anymore. It is not only found in the usual culprits of ice-cream, cake, and candy but in juice, soda, most tomato sauces and breads, and even pickles. Check the label before you purchase anything. Homo sapiens is not meant to eat sugar, even though we have a sweet tooth. We are meant to eat fresh fruits as they contain vitamins on which we absolutely depend. If you find it too difficult to abstain from sugar all at once, let go of one or two foods, such as soda and sweetened coffee. However, keep in mind that it is much harder to wean yourself slowly. If you did do it more radically, you are probably over sugar after three weeks of abstinence. Keep in mind that we tend to crave carbohydrates when we are tired. This leads to the first of the “Dos.”

FIRST DO:

DO get enough sleep, that is at least eight hours. When we are sleep-deprived, we gain weight. In Ratey and Manning’s “Go Wild” you can read why this is so, “Researchers based at the University of Colorado found that sleep deprivation did indeed show a marked increase in weight gain, even with no measurable decline in activity or in energy expenditure. Instead, the experience disrupted the body’s signaling pathways associated with the insulin response, particularly a set of hormones that signal satiety: ghrelin, leptin, and peptide YY. As a result, people ate more—especially women, especially in the evening.”Sleep and you won’t crave sugar as much.

SECOND DO NOT:

DO NOT eat fatty, savory foods, such as French fries, chips or pizza. It is just too much for the body. Healthy fats are needed, but nobody needs tons of salted cheese and fried potatoes. You feel lighter and less tired right away. To make this a bit easier, please follow up with the next suggestion.

SECOND DO:

DO have healthy snacks and finger food readily available in your refrigerator, such as frozen blueberries (great in front of the TV), cut apples, carrots and cucumbers, baked kale in a bit of salt and olive oil, et cetera. 

THIRD DO NOT:

DO NOT drink alcohol because it is rapidly converted into sugar. Some alcoholic beverages are better than others, such as vodka and tequila, but alcohol consumption is also dangerous for your health. Abstinence immediately improves your mindfulness. To let go alcohol, be especially wise and move to the Dos.

THIRD DO:

DO drink interesting, complex beverages to substitutes for the powerful taste of alcohol. You can create fabulous virgin drinks, such as unsweetened cranberry juice with ice and stevia or a hot lemon water drink; unsweetened tomato juice with pepper and a celery stick; hot fruit or ginger tea. Experiment.

FOURTH DO NOT:

DO NOT sit for too long periods. The sedentary lifestyle is a major reason for packing on the extra pounds we do not need. It is a challenge not to sit; many jobs require it. However, we also sit and remain immobile in our spare time before screens. Sometimes the easiest way to move is to switch off a screen.

FOURTH DO:

DO join a gym or start an exercise program in or around your home. Just half an hour every day of aerobic exercise seems to have the greatest impact on weight loss. Dancing is fabulous exercise. Why not take regular classes? You are born to move, so move.

FIFTH DO NOT:

DO NOT eat your feelings. Instead of feeling your anxiety or other distress, you might eat and gulp down mindlessly. For many of us, eating has become a compulsion. Admit to yourself that you are powerless over food. Stop yourself and pay attention to your breathing instead. Just sit and listen to your discomfort. Pay attention to your desire as it does decrease like a wave. 

FIFTH DO:

DO WALK IN NATURE, especially if the last suggestion is too difficult. Nature is a healing power. It is prescribed as therapy for many people, because we tend to move outdoors and because the smells and greens and blues calm us. Stress reduction can be essential in weight loss. Above all, being in nature makes you happy because it is relatively easy to feel alive with growing trees and singing birds.

If you you’d like to read other articles I’ve written for Psychology Today, click here. Feel free to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

© 2018 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.

References

1) John J. Ratey & Richard Manning (2014). Go Wild: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Fellow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-Being. p. 127ff.