My friend and trainer, Jenny, recently posted this article, written by Dr. Spencer Nadolsky, to her facebook page which asks the salient question: “Is Obesity A Choice?”
In his summation, Dr. Nadolsky takes a very thoughtful approach to the physiological causes of obesity – epigenetics, genetics, other biological drivers, nature, nurture, and subsequently determines that no, it isn’t a choice given the complexity of obesity.
Shortly after she posted the article, a good friend quickly responded, “Yes!”
I’ll admit that his response kinda got all over me. LoL
To be fair, he’s been on a weight loss/fitness journey for several years; although, I don’t think he could have ever been described as being “obese” except perhaps by the most fastidious, and rigid of physicians.
So, I characteristically wrote up any essay of a response, revised it, and then deleted it. I ended up posting a few sentences of a response but I didn’t go into the detail I wanted to because TL;DR culture is a bitch and if you want to be read, you have to be concise.
Well, this is my blog and I can do what I want to.
Is Obesity A Choice?
Short of there being any of the physiological/medical reasons which might cause obesity – no, it still isn’t a choice. However, it is very much a side affect of other choices that are made along the way.
Sometimes obesity is caused by the choices we make in our pursuit of happiness. Emotional eaters (🙌🏼) seek out the comfort of food when other attempts to self soothe fail and because the act of eating releases dopamine into the brain, the pay off is near immediate and dependable.
But emotional eating is addictive behavior and just as with any addiction, the effect wears off and thus, more food is required which creates a vicious feedback loop whereby the individual eats more and more in order to maintain their a state of “happiness” all the while gaining pound after pound. I should point out here that it isn’t truly food that makes us happy. You can always pick out an emotional eater when they talk about how much they “love” or “need” any particular food – ice cream, cake, fries, etc.
But do we really “love” food? No, not even when we’re hopelessly addicted to it. We may enjoy a food but it can only make us content. Emotional eaters consistently confuse being content for being happy. And before we know it, we’re slamming a box of cookies or a gallon of ice cream every night just to get to sleep. That was me at my heaviest.
Food is a great comforter, after all, and when life is unpredictable, unbearable, or unfulfilling, food is always predictable AND filling. It’s only natural then that one might turn to food to help ease their discomfort for any number of reasons. However, food tends to only serve as this comforter when other more healthy coping mechanisms have either failed or were absent in the first place.
Women who’ve been victimized by sexual violence may become obese in an effort to make their bodies less desirable to men thus staving off further unwanted sexual advances. But it’s important to understand that the goal isn’t obesity in these cases, but rather, safety, security, and a reclamation of body sovereignty.
Let’s not fail to mention what the American zeitgeist has done to women and their perceptions of their own beauty, and their bodies…
Men also deal with the same body-confidence issues that women deal with. At any given moment, there’s 10+ commercials on TV which shame the American Male as having become weak, and soft. Pictures of obese men are held in comparison to gym gods, or men representing the rugged masculinity of yesterday.
His capacity for compassion, and kindness is judged as being feminine as is his less than rock hard physique, and so he’s encouraged to take supplements that will increase his testosterone thus making him more virile, more fit, ￼more aggressive, more male, and less soft, less weak, less feminine.
Of course, the bulk of these ads are targeted towards overweight men who, because of their excess weight, experience the symptoms these products are touted as reversing: loss of weight, increase in muscle mass, better performance, etc. Women will adore him and us fat slobs will want to be him.
There’s no accounting for the safety of their products however, and the male ego is far too eager to not fail in the eyes of his brothers…that is, unless he’s ceased caring about the machismo game altogether.
Or about the love game.
Or about the life game.
And if he has, he simply does what he wants, eats what he wants, drinks what he wants when he wants and to hell with the consequences. He has nothing to prove to anyone and so he allows himself to become over weight because he’s simply stopped caring.
Or maybe he’s simply decided to devote his energy to other pursuits. After all, one can be exceedingly happy, successful, and obese all at the same time.
Ironically, in times past, obesity was seen as a mark of high social status while lean, athletic bodies belonged to the low cast. Of course, this was the trend during a time when food scarcity was at a high and having to do hard physical labor meant that you were poor or worse yet, an object to be used and then subsequent discarded.
But if that isn’t ironic enough, in today’s world of cheap, nutritionless food, poverty is also a leading cause of obesity. The foremost concern of any parent is that their children have a roof over their heads and a belly full of food. No parent wants their child to be hungry and fast food chains across the nation are very proud to offer value menus that allow poor parents to feed their children and ensure they won’t go to bed hungry.
The enterprising single mom of two growing boys with $10.00 for dinner is going to buy 10 $1.00 hamburgers rather than the $8.00 box of salad. And she’ll make that same choice every time she has to. It makes perfect sense in the short term but in the long term it’s detrimental to her children’s health and she knows this but the relief she feels knowing her children’s bellies are full far outweighs any other considerations she might have about the long term effects that fast food might have. Besides, things will get better soon and she can worry about all that stuff then.
Here’s the thing about poverty: while it hopes for a better future it can only afford to deal squarely with right now and anyone who’s ever experienced poverty knows this to be true.
Health. is. expensive but poor health is more expensive still.
I could go on here to talk about the Chubby Chaser community who choose love and companionship with overweight individuals. But that’s probably a blog for another day.
So, medical reasons for obesity not withstanding, it’s the psychological reasons that lead to obesity which should always be addressed with care while bearing in mind that addictive coping mechanisms (because ultimately that’s what we’re taking about here) can manifest in any number of ways: food, drugs, alcohol, sex, porn, cigarettes, gambling, etc.
One rarely ever chooses to become obese for obesity’s sake. No. Obesity is largely a side effect of the choices that we make in pursuit of something oftentimes far more noble, like happiness, but … that doesn’t make it a good thing. In this way, obesity simply becomes yet another stumbling block. And believing that obesity is a choice is tantamount to believing any addiction is a choice.
But, we have to pick our battles and we all too often grow dependent upon our coping strategies which create addiction(s) in our lives. Having to face the world without our comforts, or our shields can be far too daunting a task. And this, again, is why I am a HUGE proponent of counseling. A good counselor can teach us the coping skills necessary to avoid the pitfalls of the choices we make that can lead to obesity and the other addictions that may be brought on by a life sometimes lived in turmoil.
Om, Baby. Om!
P.S. Why can’t carrots and celery catch on as a comfort food?
P.S.S. “When you change on the inside, everything outside changes.” – Dr. Marijo Puleo