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Is it possible to be happy at any weight?

June 2013
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I read an interesting post at a food blog that I have followed for better than a year.  In that post the following was presented as if it were a personal axiom: You can be happy at any weight.

Now, if you know me (or have read more than a few of my posts), you read that pap above and said, “woah, this should be good”. Well, you’re right. I held back in my solicited comment though…

Here’s the truth… It is possible to fool yourself into believing that you can be happy at any weight.  After all, if you throw enough shit against a barn, some is bound to stick, as the saying goes.  Please allow me the dalliance of breaking this down a bit more politely – and with a touch of personal experience.

Being skinny (6’0″ – 130 pounds) sucked. No matter how hard I tried to eat my way out I was stuck at that weight. Weight lifting helped a bit but I was always self-conscious.  I hated being skinny.

Then I quit drinking and shot up to 150 almost immediately.  I was almost happy at that weight, finally.  I had a full six-pack but was still just a bit light.

Then I quit smoking cigarettes and things got messy.  Within a year I put on 45 pounds and acquired a double chin.  I was definitely not happy.  I tried to BS myself into “learning to be happy” heavy but that lasted less than 24 hours.  You see, once you put a plug in the jug you’re issued a finely tuned bullshit detector – it fits right on the tip of your nose.  With that bullshit detector, you not only can detect the bullshit of others, it works even better on your own bullshit.  Sadly this pretty much means you can’t bullshit yourself anymore – and trying to be happy heavy was, at least in my world, an entire load of bullshit.  In other words, the only way for this to be possible would be to lie, accept that lie, and become happy with the lie.  Well, to even attempt that would be, put simply, ridiculous.

You see, another trait that comes with a program of recovery is the ability to project how one will act in response to certain thought experiments.  I’ll put it in simple terms:  Say I decide to pick up and drink.  I can project with absolute certainty how that will work out 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years and more, down the road.  I can do this because I know how I think and how I drink.  It’d start out with a beer after cutting the grass or a day on the beach.  Once I had one, I might as well have a few more to get a decent buzz.  Within two weeks I’d be getting hammered every night.  Within 2 months I’d be right back where I left off 20 years ago.  Within two years my health would start to fail.  Within ten my liver would start to fail.  These aren’t guesstimates, they are certainties because there is one constant in any scenario I can make up:  I am a two-fisted drinker; one in each hand and a case between my legs.  This will never change, no matter how much self-knowledge I possess, no matter how much I lie to myself, and no matter how badly I want it to be different.

How do I know this with such certainty?  I’ve tried everything to make the eventuality of the outcome different already.  It’s very simple.  I can’t drink successfully.

My weight follows the same logical path.  I cannot, no matter how much I want to believe the lie, be happy as a fat man.  No more than I can be happy at 130 pounds.  I can say this with certainty, not because I possess any special mystical powers.  I can say this with certainty because I know it’s a lie.  Once I know for certain that I’m lying to myself, there’s no palatable way to accept the lie.   In other words, once you understand the destructive nature of bullshitting yourself and you learn to stop it, the ability to use it as a defense mechanism in other aspects of your life dies because you know the misery it leads to.

Sure, I can put on a happy face and lie to you.  I might even be able to make it seem convincing, but in the end I’d be miserable because I know damn good and well that throwing shit against the side of a barn with the hope of some of it sticking is stupid.  Eventually you get tired of your barn smelling like shit and you have to wash it off.

You can decide, if you so choose, not to like this reality.  You can choose to ignore it, you can get angry when your narrative is challenged or you can choose to believe a lie.  Unfortunately none of that will change the truth or “make you happy”, and you already know this.  Being happy is skipping that whole process altogether – or not having to clean the shit off of the barn in the first place and riding a bike, going for a run or swimming across the lake a time or two – or doing all three, one after the other, in rapid succession.


14 Comments

  1. elisariva says:

    I think it depends on the mental/emotional state more than the physical. You actually shared that, it manifests itself physically. A person depressed could seek food to “comfort” and only make it worse. A wrestler who needs to maintain a certain weight probably would be miserable if he weighed what you do at the same height. Swimmers are more likely to weigh 15-25 pounds more than triathletes. Fat floats and actually helps them. I know I am narrowing it down to athletics, but my point is that happiness should come from within and not be dependent on the physical – appearance or possessions. I think you shared it too. If one is content – excessive eating should not be an issue.

    Oh – one thing – I thought it was “if you throw enough pasta at athe wall…” 🙂

    • bgddyjim says:

      I do see your point and you’re right, happiness is an inside job, but my insides were not capable of happiness below 150 or above 195 because both weights were evidence of a break down of the insides in the first place. I was light because I drank – a break down of the inside. I was chubby because I ate to compensate for the lack of a stress reliever in the form of cigarettes – another break down.

      My post was in response to a very broad and fallible hypothesis, presented as an axiom (or truth). I can’t be happy at any weight because being too skinny or fat represents a fault in my mental AND physical self. 😉

  2. JustI says:

    There are many overweight people out there looking for a quick fix to their mental/emotional problems. If someone advertised that becoming a two-fisted drinker and smoker would make them weigh 130 pounds, there would be a run on beer and cigarettes would be as difficult to purchase as ammo is now, plus Weight Watchers and Nutri-System would be going belly up (?).

    Joking aside, no matter how much diet and exercise are advocated for a healthier lifestyle (mentally & physically), there are those who are much more satisfied (comfortable) watching life on TV because, in my opinion, people live their lives vicariously identifying with skinny actors (that can do it all…drink, smoke, eat Mickey Ds, and cavort at will) and these same peeps will buy a pill that will make them skinny while watching TV.

    I could write a book…but I’ll spare you and your readers. I know where you’re coming from and I applaud your efforts!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thank you – and you make some great points yourself. I apologize for not responding sooner but I just got back from a 42 mile bike ride. 😉

  3. Paige says:

    Age old question but…
    How do I help the people around me to want to get fit? I’ve tried leading by example. Doesn’t work. I’ve tried explaining how much better it feels to be healthy. Same results. Nagging? Worst. Idea. Ever! Inviting them to exercise with me. No go. I want my friends & family to get healthy and be around for years to come. Am I banging my head against a wall here? Healthy=happy for me.

    • bgddyjim says:

      This is a very tough question to answer and there are several ways to go with this depending on the situation. When I’m around people who play the woe-is-me card, I tell them how I used to feel when I was out of shape and how I feel now… If they keep at it I excuse myself. With those I care about, the only way to go is lead by example – just don’t let them lie to you. 😉

      I do feel your pain.

  4. IowaTriBob says:

    Although I agree to some extent I also think its a matter of perspective. Bob at 195 lbs was definitely a happy guy even though at this weight I would be considered 25 lbs overweight. The problem was I really didn’t know any different so my perspective was my weight was normal for me and the cheeseburgers and fast food was my go to more days than not. Having lost 30 lbs over the past year I have a new perspective and a new understanding of being happy. I’m now able to do things I never thought possible. Its not to say that I’m more or less happy, its just a different perspective and now I can’t imagine going back as I know I wouldn’t be happy at 195 lbs again.

    • bgddyjim says:

      You’re take is absolutely right, but I was looking more at the extremes – where there isn’t any denying that there’s a problem. That said, there’s another way to look at this too… I’m at 160 now… Say I shoot up to 195 – I’m miserable. Then again, say I’m 325 and I drop to 195… That’d be the happiest 195 pound dude on the planet. In that way it’s relative too, but that still doesn’t get to the issue: “You can be happy at any weight”.

      The notion is preposterous.

  5. I fooled myself into thinking that I was happy at 310Lbs. Know that I am at 230lbs, I am happy but still not my happiest I am sure. Though I have been very active over the past 6 months, my eating habits have certainly gotten away from me. Time to get back on track and mix up the food and exercise routine.

    • bgddyjim says:

      That gets back to the relativity Bob and I were taking about. 80 pounds is something to be ecstatic about – that’s some serious happy right there brother, but you’re right – another 30 or 40 and then you’ll know what’s up.

      • I am going for another 40 as at least 4 health care professionals tell me that 190-200 is a good weight for me given my muscle mass and bone density. It was also interesting that these same professional said that the worse thing ever invented to measure body health was the BMI. It should either be revised/updated or tosses altogether. My plan is to work on lean muscle mass so I have signed up for a 10 week cross training program. I will be interested in seeing the results.

      • bgddyjim says:

        You’re right there – I lucked with BMI, but for the most part it is just a guide for average… Personally, I prefer the mirror to BMI any day.

  6. Brent says:

    I appreciated this post. My last drink was about 9 months ago and I’ve been working through the AA program. But I also stepped on the scale ten years ago next week and weighed 400 pounds. I was miserable and I was lying to myself and everyone else about that misery, which manifested itself in physical pain, in depression and in basically hating life. In my experience, most people who are seriously overweight are as addicted to food as alcoholics are addicted to booze. That was true of me and it was true of many other people I have met who have successfully lost 100+ pounds and kept it off.

    One area where people might have trouble with your column is in the distinction between acceptance and happiness. Only when you can accept the truth about where you are can you start to change. So being happy is not the same as accepting yourself where you are when you start out.

    People who are overweight very often lie to themselves, as I did, about whether they are happy and whether they accept themselves. They want other people to accept them when they clearly hate themselves and are suffering massively. It’s part of the disease to try to bullshit yourself about your happiness and healthiness, just as it is for drunks and crack heads. And it’s part of the disease to pretend outwardly that you’re accepting your situation but nothing really happens. Just like in AA, you have to accept that you are powerless over food and that your addiction has made your life unmanageable.

    I agree completely that when you are working to fix a weight problem it’s really important to figure out where you should end up. Indeed, BMI is not a good metric. I am currently about 35% body fat at 260 so for me to get down to about 18%, which is good for a 50+ male, I’d need to be at about 215 or 220 without losing muscle mass. That’s a lot more than what they would tell you at Weight Watchers is a good goal weight (they’re a good program but not for people with eating disorders like me). Getting to 165-170, which is their recommendation would be impossible for a big moose like me.

    I would also point out that there is a big distinction between hitting a certain weight and being fit. After losing 130+ pounds, I weighed 250-270 for years but was utterly sedentary, and I didn’t really feel that great in my own skin. Through the efforts of my girlfriend (nationally ranked multi-sport athlete in her age bracket) and the clear thinking coming from my AA recovery I have been out riding, doing 10k runs, obstacle course races and all sorts of other stuff since the middle of the winter. Though I don’t weigh any less than I have in a long time, I am vastly more fit. Six months ago I couldn’t run down to the mailbox and back. Now I am able to run a mile without stopping and able to hike 10 miles including 2,000′ of climb quite happily.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I was just trying to keep it simple brother. You’ve commented here a couple of times about quitting the booze but never about the weight loss. Congratulations!

      I have always believed in simplicity, in breaking problems like drinking and weight into their simplest forms to negate excuses. It’s often seen as cold and unforgiving but I see enabling a drunkard or heavy eater as far worse.

      Also, alas, all I really have to give is my experience, strength and hope. This post, while imperfect for sure, is based on my experience. So, while it may be flawed, it was the best I’ve got. Thank you for adding to it – anyone who reads this post from here out will have the benefit of your experience as well.

      Thanks brother, and keep it up.

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