The Happiness Equation: Mathematical Machine or Magical Unicorn?



Hello all!

It’s a sunny Thursday morning in my part of the world, and I feel like I’ve won the lottery because not only is it gorgeous outside (so gorgeous this cafe has its windows open!), but I managed to score a table with an outlet so I can plug my computer IN whilst I write. My face be like:


Except replace the penguin with an outlet… if it was an actual penguin, my face would be more like:


Novelty of novelties, I know.

But seriously, there should be a law that every coffee shop has outlets at at least half of their tables, or along their bar.  This particular cafe has only two outlets in the whole store, and they’re both at tables that people love to sit at who don’t have anything to plug in at all.  And while I’m fine with sharing the comfy chairs, for those of us who forget to plan ahead and plug in our laptops the night before and are running on like 20%, those extra outlets would be very much so appreciated.

Either that or people need to become more accepting of having someone sitting under your table at your feet.  Just pretend I’m your adorable Labradoodle.

Personal space bubble, what’s that?

Moving on…

I was sitting here the other day, and I overheard a conversation between two people, specifically two women.  Both were drinking coffees, and it appeared to be a typical meet up of two friends.  But being the recovery warrior that I am, I’m kind of like a dog and the mention of the word walk or treat:  I hear a word related to nutrition, exercise, weight, or shape and my ears perk up.  So while checking my emails, my Spidey senses were sent tingling when I overheard this:

“Hun, you’d be so much happier if you just lost a little weight… I mean you seem pretty happy for a fat person, but 20, 30 pounds, and you’d be so much happier.  It’s all about calories in, versus calories out.  Just tie up your running shoes, and stop ordering the banana bread when we come here for coffee.  It’s all about willpower.”

And it takes a lot of restraint to avoid throwing my iced latte in her face, but:

  1. My iced latte tastes way too good to waste.
  2. I haven’t thrown a drink on someone since I waitressed and tossed red wine on a man’s white pants.  Side effect of being semi accident prone, and not an experience I wish to repeat.

How many times have you heard this ideology: weight=happiness, happiness=weight ?

How many times have you witness/held the belief that the key to all happiness lies in external appearances?

How many times have you been mislead to believe that what you weigh or what shape you have is completely within your control, and by extension, you are in control of your own happiness?

Probably too many to count.

One of the hardest concepts to grasp in recovery from an eating disorder is that you are not a machine.  Part of this comes from the hope and key belief that all eating disorders hold: you are in control.  One of the biggest rewards an eating disorder gives you is a feeling of total control, and that regardless of whatever mayhem is going on around you, there is one thing the tornado of life cannot touch: what you put in your mouth, and what you do with your body.  A plane could crash in my backyard, or a typhoon could occur in Laos while I was on vacation there, or my uncle could wind up in the hospital, and regardless of all this I still have a choice whether or not to eat my McDonalds hamburger.

Mc-scuse me… my Chicken McNuggets.

And by feeling like we are in control of this one key element we feel stable and secure, because this feeling of control brings a whole bunch of other feel-good emotions along with it:

Pride: Because you have (will)power, and a “enviable” body shape due to your ability to control what, when, and how much you eat.

Motivation: You have that get up and go, because at least initially you will receive positive feedback on your changing frame from those around you. And motivation lifts depression, sadness, and shame.  And because you have something to “control” you have a clear cut goal, and that makes you feel motivated.

Hope: This control gives you hope, and the eating disorder itself gives you hope.  Hope that by controlling this one thing everything else in your life will get better, or at least become bearable.  And because a “beautiful” (aka: thin, toned, fat-free, or whatever adjective of choice appeals to you) body is toted throughout society as being of critical importance and worthy of praise, you become hopeful that you will feel content when your goal is attained.

And these three emotions, or feelings, are unbelievably powerful.  They give you a sense of purpose, a feeling of power, significance, and importance, and tend to override other more uncomfortable feelings.  But notice, there is a key emotion I didn’t include in this list, sort of the Grand Poobah of the emotional hierarchy…

Side note: As I wrote this, I felt the need to know where on earth the term Grand Poobah came from.  Apparently, it originated from Gilbert and Sullivan, but it was used most frequently in… “The Flintstones”!!



Double side note: Did you know “The Flintstones” was from the 60s?! AND that it’s spelled Flin-T-stones, not Flinstones?! Mind. Blown.

Moving on…

Right.  The Grand Poobah of the emotional hierarchy: happiness.

Because that’s really where we’re all trying to get to in the end, isn’t it?  Like, if we were all happy people, we really wouldn’t feel the need to change ourselves, or complain, or need to feel all those uncomfortable emotions: guilt, shame, anger, fear, sadness, and the like.  By not feeling those uncomfortable emotions, and by not feeling a need to change ourselves, we’d feel less need to change others… because often times we try to change other people in order to make ourselves feel better, or less guilty about some characteristic we possess ourselves.

Yeah, world peace, sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, right?

I promise, I’m not running for Miss America, or becoming a hermit in a tree growing out my leg hair and becoming “one” with nature.

#toomanystereotypesinonesentence. Scratch that.

But, it’s true right?  I mean about the end goal being happiness… I mean, people get high paying jobs to be able to afford the lifestyles they want, in order to be happy by having the lifestyle they want.  Likewise, people quit high paying jobs to be able to spend more time with their families, in order to be happy by being with the people they love.  The reasoning for the actions and the actions themselves are different for everyone, but the end goal is the same: happiness.

And with the sense of control that the eating disorder gives, along with the secondary feel-good emotions that come along with it, you find yourself in a state of pseudo-happiness.  Or rather, you are ensconced in the pursuit of happiness, and completely convinced that the path you are on will eventually lead to happiness.  Because it just makes sense right?  I mean, you feel ALMOST happy, when you feel pride, or motivation, or hope, so eventually if you build up enough pride, or motivation, or hope it will equal actual happiness.

It’s like an A+B+C = D concept.  Linear, straightforward, and mathematically and logically sound.

Except think about it: at the same time that you were rolling your eyes at me for going all sunshine, and lollipops, and rainbows on you about how the world would be perfect if we all just loved ourselves and were happy, you took it to an equal extreme by assuming that pride+motivation+hope=happiness.

The reality is A+B+C ≠ D, it actually equals a smoosh of ABC which if you speak english, you can’t even pronounce never mind achieve.  So by extension pride + motivation + hope ≠ happiness.  It simply equals pridemotivationhappiness.  You can’t make oatmeal out of bananas and peanut butter, so you can’t make happiness out of pride and motivation.  But you can put it all together and make a killer dish.

I feel like I’m getting sidetracked…

Point is, you can’t magically create happiness.  It isn’t something that’s mathematical, and it’s not tied to a specific formula.  You can’t add two things together and create something that is completely individual and independent.  It’s like combining sodium and iodine and expecting to create boron.




I so did not just use chemistry to illustrate a point…::cringe::.

So now we know, the sense of control the eating disorder gives promises eventual happiness, but it never delivers because it can’t.  It can’t create happiness.  And it can’t create happiness because it, and you, are not as in control as you think you are.

I repeat, you are not in control.

The eating disorder is not in control of your body because you’re not in control of your body.

The eating disorder is not mathematical or magical because you are not mathematical or magical. And you are not mathematical or magical because:

You’re not a machine, and you’re not a unicorn.

In the eating disordered lifestyle, you fall on either one of these extremes on a day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute basis. And because we love black and white thinking so much (insert jazz hands emoji for us Apple users), it’s always one or the other, never a shade of grey. Let me illustrate:

Scenario A:

“I must eat number of (calories, carb grams, protein grams) a day, or less, in order to lose or maintain my weight.”

AKA:  I am a machine.  My body only uses so much, and any insufficiency or excess whatsoever will equal weight loss or weight gain respectively.  I can track from minute to minute what I burn, based on what I am doing, my height, my age, my gender, and what have you, and come up with a precise tally.  This is exactly what I need and this specificity is integral to the operation and mechanics of my day to day life, as well as my weight and shape.


Scenario B:

“I know that your body uses fats, but mine doesn’t.  If I eat fats, it sticks right to my body as fat.  It doesn’t use fat at all, it just stores it.  Therefore I can’t eat butter, oil, cheese or deep-fried foods. In addition, other people burn enough calories to eat lunch after exercising, but I don’t.  My body barely burns anything.  My body is different.”

AKA:  I am a unicorn.  I am unique and special, and even though I could admit that x, y,or z is true for the rest of the world, and logically makes sense, it just isn’t the same for me.  I’m not trying to be better than anyone else, it’s just that I know it won’t work that way for me, because it can’t.  For some unknown (magical) reason, the rules/standards that apply to everyone else, do not apply to me.

And believe me, you, or rather your eating disorder, can twist these things in any which way to keep you living in a cycle of fear, shame, regret, guilt, depression, anxiety, but unsurprisingly NOT happiness.  You don’t even have to have an eating disorder to fall victim to this type of mentality.  After all, how many people have you heard lament, “good for the lips, straight to the hips”?  Or, “I’m going to have to have to do an extra hour on the treadmill to make up for tomorrow”?  It is a lethal side effect of living in a fat-phobic and media driven world, where we are consistently bombarded by messages telling us what we should do, eat, think, and look like.  All to sell us products or lifestyles that may or may not be ideal for us or our body type(s).

So, how do we begin to separate reality from fiction?  How do we begin to see the world as it is, rather than how we think it should be?  How do we begin to let go of the reins of our eating disordered brains?


Take a step back.  Close your eyes.  Feel what is going on in your body and brain right now:

  1. Feel the air rushing through your nose, into your lungs and expanding your chest as it fills.
  2. Feel the sensations in your fingers and toes, the subtle lines of energy and blood flowing down your arms and legs.
  3. Feel any pain, any stiffness, any discomfort in your skeletal frame.
  4. Hear the world around you, be it the quietness of your room, the blare of traffic, or the bustle of a cafe.
  5. Hear the thoughts going through your head.  Feel their motion and the effect that they have on every part of you.  Feel how one thought produces a physical reaction in your body, be it a tensing of a muscle, or a quiver of a lip.  Notice how the thoughts pop through your head endlessly, and how you cannot change the fact that they appear.
  6. And now notice the air rushing back out your nose, the compression of your chest as it deflates.

Open your eyes.  This is now.

Notice that all those things occurred in the space of seconds.  And notice that every single one of those things you had no control over.  You do not consciously control your breathing, your body just does it.  You do not regulate the degree of sensation in your limbs, or choose how quickly the blood flows through your veins, your body does.  You do not control whether or not your feel stiffness in your neck or shoulders.  You cannot control the car rumbling down the street, or the wind in the trees.

So, if you cannot control all these things, what makes you think you can control how your body processes the things you consume?  What makes you think you are in complete control of what your body looks like or what shape and weight you have?  If your body has its own ideas of how it wants to breathe, or circulate, what makes you think it does not have its own ideas of how it wants to look or feel?  If it is smart enough to know how much oxygen to take in and how much CO2 to expel, do you not think it’s smart enough to know how much fat to store around your midline?  And if it has the power to choose how much testosterone or estrogen to produce, and has manners ingrained into it to keep everything in your body at the correct, not too high or not too low, levels, do you not think it also has the power to control your weight and shape and prevent either from becoming too high/large, or low/scrawny?

You are not a machine.

If you were a machine, you’d require only one type of fuel, like electricity or gasoline.  And you wouldn’t have these mechanisms in place.  If you were a machine, you would rely on someone else to supply you with your fuel, and cease to function if the amounts given were too high or low.  If you give an appliance too much voltage it is fried, or a car too little gas it dies.  Yet, one day we eat more, and another day we eat less, but our ability to carry out our daily lives is unaffected.  Our bodies are smart.  We require a mess of nutrients and types of food to function.  It can alter our metabolism up or down to keep our energy levels and weight and shape stable.  And it does all these methods of preservation automatically. Just as automatically as your breathing or your heart rate.  When we try to override the system, it just alters what needs to be altered to keep ourselves safe, stable, and balanced.

You are not in control.  Your body is, and your body will win.

And that person that you just saw running down the street, or the lady sitting at the next table is the same as you. She breathed, her blood circulated, her ears heard, and her brain thought. And they did all these things without her conscious control too, because she isn’t in control of how her body does things any more than you are.  If her body has the same degree of intelligence as yours in terms of circulation, breathing, hormone levels, enzymatic function, and all other mechanisms, why would the way her body processes food or maintains weight and shape be any different than how your body does?  Why would she use exorbitantly more energy than you when she exercises?  Why would her freedom with food and activity level be easily so much different than yours?

It’s not.  You’re not a unicorn.  Your body is no less or more effective at doing what it needs to do for self preservation than anyone else’s.

You do not control the fact that a thought occurred.  I repeat, YOU DO NOT CONTROL THE FACT THAT YOU THINK.  The only thing you can control is how you react to the thoughts.  You can choose what thoughts you heed, and which thoughts you let go of.  You can choose what directives you listen to, and which ones you ignore.  Remember, you’re not a machine.  You don’t have a CPU that obeys every keyboard shortcut.  You call the shots.  You can choose what thoughts to keep and what thoughts to shred.

Shred the idea that you are a machine.

Shred the idea that you are a unicorn.

Shred the idea that you are in control.

Keep the awareness of the current moment.  Keep the idea that your body knows more than you think it does.  Keep the knowledge that it will keep you where you need to be.

And accept that that is exactly what is going to happen, like it or not.

And through acceptance, eventually you will find a certain degree of peace.  And sometimes, if you’re lucky, peace eventually leads to a certain degree of happiness.  You might eventually attain it, when you weren’t even pursuing it at all.  And that is the real happiness equation:

Happiness = something found when you finally stop looking for it.



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