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Weight Loss Doesn’t Equal Happiness

People often begin a weight loss journey with high hopes that once they reach their goal, their quality of life will improve. A new study suggests that losing weight isn’t necessarily a ticket to a happier life.

The study, published in PLOS ONE (2014: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104552), included data from 1,979 overweight
or obese adults who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Each person was considered “free of long-standing illness or clinical depression.” At the end of the 4-year study, subjects were separated into three groups: weight loss, minimal weight change and weight gain. The researchers then followed up with participants to determine any changes in mood and well-being.

“The proportion of participants with depressed mood increased more in the weight loss [group than in the] weight stable or weight gain groups,” explained the authors. “The proportion with low wellbeing also increased more in the weight loss group, but the difference was not statistically significant.”

Leslie Ann Quillen, fitness director at Sportscenter Athletic Club in High Point, North Carolina, believes that focusing on weight loss as a sole indicator of success does clients a great disservice. She offers clients and class participants these tips for promoting quality-of-life improvements in ways that don’t involve the scale:

  • Act as if you’re already there. “The best piece of advice I ever received from a coach was, ‘Start acting as if you already are the thing you seek to become.’ So get up every day and act as if you’re already living in your ideal body, at your ideal weight/body composition, and do the things that lean, fit people do.”

    Quillen says this will help people get “focused on the here and now, the present, and out of that mindset trap that fools them into thinking they can’t be happy now.”

  • Focus on nonscale victories. “Success isn’t measured on a scale,” says Quillen. “Educate clients on all of the benefits of healthy living and help them set goals that have nothing to do with losing x number of pounds. For example, track strength gains; use before-and-after photos; take measurements; have clients participate in their first 5K or mud run—it can be anything that gets them to see the big-picture benefits of health and wellness.
    When they hit these little milestones, brag about them on social media and celebrate their achievements.”
  • Stop negative self-talk and enforce gratitude. “When my clients get down on themselves and talk about how they’d be happier if they didn’t have cellulite or if their thighs were thinner, I tell them, ‘No more negative self-talk!’ I’ve found that threatening them with burpees is an effective strategy to end the negative self-talk, too,” says Quillen. “Then I tell them to start listing things they are grateful for so they go from complaining about what they don’t have to being grateful that, for example, ‘I have two legs that work and are strong enough to carry me every day and to do these squats.’”

What techniques do you use to promote improvements in quality of life among your clients? Send your ideas to [email protected] For more on this topic, see “The Skinny on Happiness,” by Petra Kolber, in the October issue.

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