Some people choose to be overweight — Mario Batali, for example, seems to love fattening food, knows how eating it will affect him, and eats it, accepting, even celebrating, the consequences with pleasure. I take my hat off to him. This post isn’t about him.
I should also point out I don’t consider being overweight bad. Regular readers know I don’t consider such things good, bad, right, or wrong. I’m mostly interested in consequences. If someone achieves whatever weight they want, I support them, independent of what a doctor says. I should also note that I think tracing causes of obesity leads to our huge agri-business subsidies that make unhealthy food cheaper than healthy and to what I consider counterproductive laws that allow poor labeling, education, etc. We created a system that creates fat, ignorance of its causes, and huge profits.
Most Americans, as best I can tell, don’t want to be overweight, yet they are. I haven’t been chubby since the 80s, so I don’t remember, but I think I can guess at how people who are overweight but don’t want to be feel.
Since diet books sell so well, I conclude a few points.
People want to control their weight but can’t. This tells me they feel out of control of their lives and that they don’t like their bodies.
American diet books seem overwhelmingly full of science jargon. It always seems definitive, but changes all the time. It’s hard to understand, treating the incredibly complex system of the human body as based on a few inputs — carbohydrates, fats, omega-3 or 6 things, etc.
I think people feel helpless, sad, and out of control with regard to their bodies. And for that matter their minds and motivations, which they feel they can’t control.
The system I alluded to above influences them strongly — many people can’t access healthy food, were never taught what to do with it, and were told unhealthy things were comparable substitutes. As important as that systems perspective is, few of us can do much to change it. But we can change our environments, beliefs, and behaviors to create the lives we want.
In my experience food is one of my favorite things. I don’t count calories or care about jargon-y things. I eat more and more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains all the time. I exercise and feel fit. Food is a joy. I think most of the world feels the same way. Their cultures evolved cuisines and behaviors that kept them healthy.
But most Americans (and British, Germans, Australians, and other countries overrun with McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Nike, and so on) seem burdened and depressed with all this weight they don’t want and feel powerless to affect. Food creates unhappiness and conflict for them. They dread it and fight with it.
We’ve created a culture based on profit independent of health. We subsidize industries based not on health but lobbying. We promote food not based on health or taste but on connecting it with patriotism and things like that (think Coca-Cola and McDonald’s).
The result is an ignorant population easily manipulated by industries who profit on disease, not health.
I feel like they don’t enjoy the pleasure of eating simple, fresh fruits and vegetables — as much as they want. I feel like the joy of food for them is simply the satisfaction of sweetness and fat going down their throats. They gain simple, short-term pleasure for long-term, complex sadness and helplessness.