How to Lose Weight by Losing Stuff

Relieve stress through a minimalistic lifestyle, and succeed with your diet.

He who is contented is rich. Lao Tzu

Obesity is one of the major health threats of today. We know that it is killing us, yet we keep eating. Why?

I’m afraid that I do not have the solution to the current overweight epidemic. Instead, what I do know is how my eating improved after making one simple — yet unconventional — change: going minimalist.

You have probably heard of the minimalist lifestyle, as it is trending right now. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been a New York Times bestselling book for ages, and Minimalism is a popular documentary on Netflix. But that’s Japan and Hollywood. How can minimalism help us, and what relation does it have to healthy eating and weight loss?

My story is that I used to chase my “dream lifestyle” up the corporate ladder. The harder I worked, the more money I made — and somehow, the more money I needed to spend. There was always yet another “perfect” handbag or pair of shoes that would complete my life forever.

However, the ultimate sense of contentment never occurred. Instead, I was perpetually stressing over the money I had to make to keep up with my expensive lifestyle in London. I reached for junk food to console myself. I found myself in a constant cycle of eating for comfort, feeling awful for my lack of character, reaching for more food to feel better… You get it.

The turning point came when I was on the verge to fulfilling my big life goal: buying a home. This was the optimal material possession that I had been working towards since the start of my career. I had reserved a beautiful, new-built apartment in London when I… Stopped to think. Could I really go on like this? Working like a maniac day in and day out, only to be paying off a mortgage over a few decades. When would I even have time to enjoy my home?

My passion was not the corporate job that I was in, but the coaching business that I had started on the side a while back. I had assumed that I had to save up a fortune before being able to dedicate myself to it — since I had bills to pay…

However, at a dinner party, I got introduced to an interesting concept: house sitting. The idea is that you take care of people’s homes and pets while they are away. This was a big step away from my dream of creating my own perfect household, but being able to pursue my passion of coaching by saying goodbye to fixed expenses was a highly appealing proposition for my stressed-out self.

So I handed in my notice and over the next few weeks, I got rid of my entire household. I gave away everything, except for my almost new, exclusive mattress that I sold at an 80% loss (that one hurt). I packed up my basics (clothes, toiletries, laptop and a few small items) in one suitcase and was off. It was scary, stressful and emotional: I even cried. Without my belongings, I felt so lonely — who would I be now?

It turned out that I was a much happier, more peaceful person as a minimalist. I did not have to worry about what I needed to buy, nor how to raise the money to afford it. I was not trapped in the same, expensive apartment in London but could explore many different places — mountains in France, the pulse in New York City and the oceanside of Spain.

You don’t have to live out of a suitcase to benefit from being minimalist, though. You can experiment with what level of minimalism works for you. How does it change your relationship with food? Do fewer material things make you more peaceful, with a lesser need for comfort eating? If you are tired of diets that don’t work, getting rid of things around you might be worth a try!

Benefits of a minimalist lifestyle:
1. More money to what matters
Research shows that spending on experiences results in more happiness compared with buying material items. When not trying to keep up with the never-ending release of new fashion collections (a race that we can never win), you have a bigger budget to invest in your wellbeing. Why not book a massage today?
2. More time and energy to what matters
Envying beautiful homes on Instagram, browsing Amazon for the best deals or discussing the perfect outfit with friends — it can be fun, but it takes valuable time and energy. How could you spend that instead?
3. More flexibility
I don’t think I’m the only one who has used comfort eating to cope with an unhappy work situation. Finding a new job and accommodation is a lot easier when we only need to pack up a suitcase, rather than a container.

How to start your minimalist lifestyle:
1. When buying something new
Ask yourself: 1. Do I really love this? 2. Do I really need this?
2. When buying or receiving gifts
Consider what experience would bring value to the recipient. An acupuncture session for the stressed out parent? An ebook with business secrets to the aspiring entrepreneur? For the person who “has everything”: what about a Kiva microloan?
3. Letting go of your belongings
This is a tough one, or else we would already have done it. Linking your item purging to a positive reward can be helpful. Splurge on a nice experience for the proceeds from your wardrobe sale, or think about how your donations to the charity shop will benefit the homeless!

I’m writing this dressed in my one pair of sweatpants and my only sweater, sitting on someone else’s sofa during yet another house sit. In a moment, I will go for a dog walk in nature. A different morning not too long ago, I would have selected one out of several designer suits for the day. I would have continued my day stressing over corporate targets while digging into one chocolate bar after the other.

I know that I won’t win any fashion awards right now — but I don’t care. I’m happy that at least my sweatpants are not bursting at the seams.

Alexia Bjarkan

Weight Loss Coach at The Benefactory.

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