Eating disorders: Does thinness make you happy?

This is a question that clinical psychologists ask their clients with eating disorders to think about on a regular basis, alongside “Does thinness make you likeable? and “Does thinness make you successful?” Individuals who hold the belief that thinness can make them happier, more likeable or more successful, can go to dangerous lengths to pursue weight loss, and these kinds of beliefs must be resolved during the treatment of any eating disorder.
However, at this time of year, many people decide to diet, which can be part of a lengthy history of dieting with some success and lots of failure. Therefore, this is an opportune time to consider our beliefs about our weight, and how they drive us to diet. The biggest problem with dieting is that we are attempting to change our body’s natural “set point”. This “set point” is the place within the normal range of body mass where our weight should be, and is based on our genes. So every person has a particular “set point”. If you look at your biological family, you may get an idea of where the “set point” of your weight is. Unfortunately, we often try to keep our weight at the lower end of the normal range by dieting. Attempting to change the natural place that our weight sits within this range is the equivalent of attempting to change our height! If a friend said they were working towards making themselves taller you would look at them with disbelief, and try to dissuade them from the attempt – the fact is that dieting has the same rate of long term success as changing height! In spite of this fact, dieting has become “normal” in our society. Unless there are health reasons (confirmed by your doctor) for weight loss, accepting your weight where it is naturally meant to be can save a lot of disappointment and money. Remember – diets fail people, people do not fail diets.

So, how do we help those who associate thinness with happiness to change that belief? We ask them to think about the last time they reached their weight goal. Did it bring happiness, and if so, how long did it last beyond stepping off the scales? What were the costs, such as feeling constantly deprived, hungry, and miserable? We get them to further examine this belief by taking a look at friends and family, and see if this statement stacks up for those loved ones. If this statement was true we would expect the thinnest of our loved ones to be the happiest, and the least thin to be the unhappiest. In fact, happiness is not related to weight amongst family and friends. Happiness is reliably associated with factors such as their relationships, the job they do, the hobbies they have, and the type of person they are. So, consider wiping dieting off your New Year’s resolution list, and put your time, energy, and money into the things that are really associated with being happy, successful, and likeable.


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