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Feeling Sexy Today?

written by Marie-Josée Shaar 14 February 2012

Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.

People usually giggle when they hear me use my favorite word – if you haven’t guessed it yet, yes, I do mean sexy!

Synonyms from my Apple thesaurus include stimulating, interesting, desirable, appealing, intriguing, and slick. So no, this article isn’t about being sexually alluring – sorry if that’s a disappointment. What I intend to discuss today is a mechanism that can help us turn our sexy vibe on.

When Do You Feel Sexy?

Let’s start by thinking about what helps us feel sexy.

     Vigor is appealing.

  • Is a good night sleep helpful? It’s hard to feel interesting and appealing when we are dragging and yawning. So sleep,
  • How about a healthy and nutritious meal? That’s certainly better than stopping by a drive-through food vendor! So food,
  • How about being in a good mood? While some may argue that there is a sexiness in anger, I think that in general, we feel most stimulating and appealing when we are on the perkier side. So mood,
  • And how about a little exercise? I don’t know about you, but sitting all day makes me feel old and crippled, not sexy at all! So exercise,

So as far as I’m concerned, sexy is a function of good sleep, food, mood, and exercise. With poor habits in these four categories, we live a second rate version of our lives. But with good habits in all four categories, we can be and offer others the best of who we are.

When they hear these four words together, most people will respond “Wow! I need all this, but I’m so far away from it all that I wouldn’t even know where to begin!”

So let’s talk about that.

Leveraging the Music that Plays Within

As I’ve explained in my article Why Happier People Are Healthier, the biochemicals that circulate in our bodies are like the soundtrack of our lives. If you have a high mix of stress hormones, you’re sure to turn minor irritations into big deals. If on the other hand you enjoy plentiful feel-good guys working inside, you have an extra kick in your step – just like you would when your favorite tune plays on the radio.

     Leafy Green Hearts

Got that? Good. Now here’s the usable part of the above analogy: through the biochemical activity they produce, our sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits can be mutually reinforcing. In other words, the better you do in any one category, the easier it is to do well in the three others.

Loyal to my positive psychology roots, here’s how I suggest we use this information: rather than fuss over an area of weakness, why not start by working on something you feel stronger about?

For example, if food is your biggest challenge, rather than fuss over it until you’ve proven to yourself that your ability to self-regulate is limited, why not start with another health habit that will then make food easier? You could learn better sleep hygiene as a first step. More sleep will lead your body to produce more leptin, which will help you feel satiated and therefore control your appetite. More sleep will also raise your serotonin levels, which helps you regulate your responses to stimuli (chocolate, anyone?). Equally important, with more sleep your cortisol level is reduced. Since cortisol prompts people to eat more high-sugar, high-fat food (did I say chocolate?), less cortisol is also helpful to keep our food intake in check.

Butterfly Hug

So that’s my tip for Valentine’s Day. Feeling sexy is all about being the best gift we can be to those we love.

If you’d like to explore this concept further, I invite you to the free interactive online Eudaimonia Wellness Symposium that I’ll kick off on February 20th at 8PM EST with From “Do Your Best” to “Be Your Best”. Hope to see you there!

But if you can’t make it, then all the details of this health promotion model are in Smarts and Stamina, the book I co-authored with Kathryn Britton. They are also in a chapter we wrote together for a book edited by Charles Martin-Krumm — for those who read French.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press. This book has an extensive bibliography with a large number of relevant sources for each of sleep, food, mood, and exercise. Here’s one for each of sleep, food, and exercise. Mood! I wouldn’t dare pick just one. Just take a look around this site for hundreds of ideas.

Dement, W. (2000). The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep . New York: Random House.

Somer, E. (1999). Food & Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best, Second Edition, Second Edition. New York: Holt Paperbacks. (I hear she has a new book, Eat Your Way to Sexy: Reignite Your Passion, Look Ten Years Younger and Feel Happier Than Ever, but I haven’t seen it yet.)

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Learn It Live Eudaimonia Wellness Symposium.

Martin-Krumm, C. & Tarquinio, C. (2011). Traité de psychologie positive fondements théoriques et implications pratiques. De Boeck.


Vigor is appealing courtesy of lululemon athletica
Leafy Green Hearts courtesy of Dee Johnson
Butterfly hug courtesy of

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Lisa Sansom 14 February 2012 - 3:21 pm

Great fun! My 10 yr old asked me the other day what “sexy” meant, and it means so much more than just sex these days – it means being vital and vibrant, attractive and alluring, hot and current, relevant and meaningful. What a great word for positive psychology! Thanks for sharing your insights and all the best for your symposium!

Marie-Josée Shaar 14 February 2012 - 3:39 pm

Thanks, Lisa! Happy to hear that you relate so well with my favorite word! 😉

Nicholas Ritchey 15 February 2012 - 2:30 am

@Lisa – your son may have a different idea if there were a TV in the house! 😉 What I coincidence I saw this comment after our Facebook conversation!


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