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Health & Wellness Spotlight: Hungry Or Just Unhappy?

Losing weight is easy; keeping it off is more difficult because it requires you to incorporate an often overlooked factor: Happiness.

CJ English talks about food and happiness

Photo by Hillary Ehlen

I tell my clients all the time that in order to lose weight, you have to change your mindset. You have to re-wire your thinking, change your relationship with food, ask yourself why you eat and most importantly you have to find happiness. Every diet will help you to lose weight if you follow it. But what happens when you go off of it and back to your life? That’s when your old habits creep back. You have not done the hard work of re-wiring how you think about food or changing your lifestyle which was the root cause of your weight gain in the first place. Losing weight is the easy part; keeping it off is immeasurably more difficult because it requires you to incorporate one major factor overlooked in your previous diet plan: Happiness.

I have coached hundreds of clients along their weight loss journey and taken note of common threads among those that are successful and those who are not. One factor stands out among those who meet their goals: they are truly, intrinsically, happy. Happy with their lives, with their lifestyle, in their relationships, with who they are as a person, what they are pursuing as a career etc… They might not have been that way on day one when they came in wanting help to lose weight, but on day 300 they have made the right changes that have moved them into a more pleasant state of being. Without this happiness factor firmly in place, I have yet to see anyone be successful in their long-term wellness and weight loss goals.*

Each of us goes through bouts of the blues at times. Not being happy for a short period of time is normal. What’s not normal is to never come out of that state, to live in a perpetual cycle of discontent. It is those individuals who do not reach their weight loss goals, long-term.

The key here is working with the hand you’ve been dealt, no matter how crummy your cards. We must always be doing something to better our situation and move toward being happier. If not—long-term permanent weight loss may continue to elude you, no matter what diet you try or how many times you go to the gym each week. Happiness matters.

Before I take on a new client I’m always evaluating if I’m the right fit for this person or if they would do better off seeing a counselor first. I do this because my experience is that people generally know what to do in order to lose weight. When someone has a lot of stress or an unhappy life situation, knowing what to do for weight loss isn’t the real problem, it’s the stress and unhappiness that got them there and continues to hold them back. Unless those factors are addressed, any weight loss will generally only be temporary. If you feel like you might fall into this category, consider going to a licensed professional clinical counselor before trying another diet. Talking to someone to help solve some of the unhappy situations in your life will go a lot further than eating more protein at this point.

If I have someone I’m working with who is generally a happy person who has their lifestyle together, but has used food to fill moments of discontent, I will ask them to make a list of “things that make me happy.” I require them to go home and think long and hard about what makes up that list and to keep this statement in mind: “no-one and no-thing can make me happy. I have to figure that out by myself.”

While I want the things on their happiness lists to include traveling or scuba diving, these such items that require time, other people and money should not make up more than one-quarter of their list. To overcome eating when you’re not hungry, you must come up with a list of things you can do when you’re alone that do not require anyone else or an unreasonable amount of money.

Your list must also encompass things that can be done at all hours of the day and night. You’re not always going to feel like taking a walk or reading a book. So when you’re trolling the kitchen at eleven at night about to eat out of boredom, you can stop yourself, refer to your list, remind yourself that you are no longer going to use food to make you happy, you are going to find other things. Or in this case, just go to bed.

Here are some of the things on my own personal happiness list. 

  • Take the dogs for a walk and listen to a book on tape
  • Write about something that matters
  • Fundraise for the rescue, help plan an event, give back, make a difference
  • Go to the bookstore or library
  • Meditate
  • Turn on your favorite music and do yoga
  • Go to the gym
  • Enroll in a free community class/teach a community class
  • Go visit someone
  • Pick weeds from the garden with headphones on or plant a new tree, shrub or flower seeds
  • Teach the kids how to play the piano/learn how to play guitar
  • Drink wine on the patio/drink wine on the porch/drink wine and write down all the words that describe it
  • Look through the dictionary and make a list of words I like
  • Clean the house
  • Organize the Tupperware
  • Do a DIY project

As I’ve fine-tuned my list, I’ve crossed off the items that no longer make me happy or have a tendency to make me angry. I have also not listed some things that make me very happy, but that I can’t do on a random Wednesday night like hike the Suicide Peaks in Alaska or snorkel in Maui. If you put some time into figuring out the small things in life that make you happy and do them instead of eating, you can train yourself to be happier and thus… healthier.

*I’m not saying that if you have not been successful in reaching your weight loss goals that you are an unhappy person. The opposite may be true. Over indulging in happy hour beginning at four and ending at eleven might very well be a factor. If that is you, I have a different lesson for another time.

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C.J. English

Written by C.J. English

C.J. English is a Fargo native and the author of the Amazon Kindle Best Selling Weight Loss book, "WTF am I Supposed to Eat?" She can be found locally at Rejuv Medical Aesthetic Clinic, where she offers private coaching for weight loss and wellness. She devotes the rest of her time to writing. English's breakout memoir "AFFAIRYTALE," debuted at No. 1 on Amazon Kindle in Diaries and Journals in 2015.

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