As expected, I had several responses to my last blog. It addressed the obesity epidemic and argued against the current politically correct position that obesity is primarily due to factors beyond individual control. To counter this misperception I cited the common case in which a person swears dieting doesn’t work for them, then loses weight after enforced calorie restriction post-surgery. They believed they really tried, but obviously they did not try hard enough.
The truth is that for the majority of people, regardless of any other intrinsic factors, sufficient sustained calorie reduction will lead to weight loss. Nobody who goes on a hunger strike in jail comes out as heavy as they went in.
All “diets” at root work by reducing caloric intake, but most can’t be sustained because they exclude foods we all crave and put us in a state of semi-starvation against which the body and the mind rebel. This is why a transformation in eating habits, the daunting task of adopting and sustaining lifelong healthy habits, is essential to sustaining normal weight and good health. Every day we must repeatedly force ourselves to say “no” to our appetites.
I went on to commit another social no-no, claiming that a defeatist attitude that leads to protesting too much how much one loves one’s obese body reflects negatively on character. I cited how my personal attack on my own childhood obesity led to rewards far beyond loss of weight. This was the beginning of a personality transformation that strengthened my force of will and facilitated every success I have achieved in life.
While most of my readers indicated they agreed with my unpopular assertion that obesity and character are connected, like me they realize there are sometimes metabolic factors and always environmental factors that serve to sabotage even the most sincere desire to shed pounds.
One reader who agreed pointed out the issues around food in today’s world that make it harder for people to maintain a normal weight. These include several factors that foster overconsumption in general and excessive calorie dense diets in particular, namely, the decline in home food preparation and reliance on pre-packaged, refined and restaurant foods on a massive scale. To these I would add the demise of slow food, shared meals and dining without electronic distractions.
She also pointed out, “people’s need for affirmation of individual ‘truths’ about obesity and everything else.” There she hit the nail on the head. Her comments ended with a request for an additional blog on the subject and with a stern admonition that to tell readers to “just say no” would be counterproductive.
If I were writing for the purpose of motivating people to lose weight, were seeking approbation or were mortified at the prospect of ruffling feathers, it would be wise to follow that advice. I am, however, merely a commentator.
The reality is that saying “no” is the only way to solve a weight problem without drugs or surgery. Not being able to accept no for an answer, however, is not only at the root of obesity. It permeates and poisons our entire culture.
In fact, my purpose in writing the blog was to highlight this overarching societal problem using the issue of obesity as but one example.
Before wielding my verbal machete to cut a path into this dangerous and taboo territory, I’ll reiterate my position that obese people are not to be denigrated. They are fighting against a daunting foe, biology.
Anyone who watches Animal Planet knows what the true meaning of life is: To eat in order to survive and procreate. For most of its history, our species shared this central purpose with all other animals. Until very recently, the problem we faced was to obtain sufficient nutrients to sustain life. Consequently we are driven by instinct to indulge to excess when food is abundant and our bodies are highly efficient at storing the excess calories as fat.
Given that food is now constantly available to most of us, the struggle has reversed to having to say “no” to food. This is unnatural. The instinct is much more powerful than the will. That’s why so many are obese. That is also why self control is an admirable character trait. All forms of it. It is a trait that must be cultivated by an act of will against powerful forces that undermine it. The need for self control encompasses a multitude of circumstances. In many people, though not all, obesity may merely be the most visible indicator that this character trait could use reinforcement.
Rampant obesity can be a symptom of more a ubiquitous underdevelopment of this character trait in our modern world. Failure to exercise self-control, in all things, is compounded by our culture of greed, gluttony and narcissism about which I have often written.
Rather than rehash this topic here, I will cite a famous example of how the combination of these character traits conspire to produce individuals who lack the capacity to see themselves for what they are and are unmotivated to improve themselves.
Donald “two scoops for me, one for you” Trump, is the poster child of our culture of narcissism.
Object relations theory cites deep seated shame as the basis of narcissistic personality disorders. To be aware of that shame would cause tremendous emotional pain. Grandiosity and perceiving the self as perfect in every way defends against that awareness.
Like all narcissists, Trump is driven by deep unconscious shame, shame that is so painful it must be banished from awareness in order for him to live inside his own skin. This is accomplished by nurturing the immature personality traits of a toddler who feels entitled to whatever he craves and cannot take “no” for an answer. He spouts off “no, no, no” to a world that attempts to rein in his all-consuming desires rather than saying “no” to those pathologic desires.
As with all narcissists this severe character flaw fuels entitlement and self-aggrandizement and renders him unable to accept losing. He must see himself as omniscient and omnipotent refusing to take “no” for an answer to such an extreme that he launched a coup attempt on our government when he lost the election.
His severe obesity is but the corporeal manifestation of his all-encompassing pathologic character.
While most of us are relatively less severely afflicted by narcissism, today’s zeitgeist infects all of us with more of it than is good for us and for society. We have been groomed to develop an unquenchable hunger for the relentless consumption of the goods that keep money flowing into the pockets of industrialists. In a world where developing a solid identity has become increasingly difficult, where many go through life feeling like empty shells (hallmarks of narcissistic and borderline personality structure that have become the new normal) many have complied with the inducement by hucksters to define themselves and to find meaning in their existences as consumers who “deserve” to have it all. To have their cake and eat it.
Eat it they do, while brooking no criticism of their serious medical condition or of the character weakness which, though it may derive from factors beyond their control, is nonetheless a symptom.
This truth hurts, and is why telling people to “just say no” is a no-no. With apologies to my valued reader, this is exactly why it needs to be stated.