Saturday, January 12, 2008

obesity as lifestyle choice?

I'm fat, but I'm not into so-called "fat acceptance." For me, this isn't a matter of aesthetics: there are curvy chicks who've caught my eye. I reject fat acceptance for health reasons, and agree with those skinny folk who say that, for most of us, being fat is a simple matter of taking in more calories than we put out, and of being too lazy to get active. I'm responsible for how I look-- not "society," not the fast-food companies, not the capitalist system that makes healthy food expensive.

Now there's an article (found via Drudge) that claims that obesity is a lifestyle choice. In a literal sense, I suppose this is true: one's obesity is the direct result of how one lives one's life: the body is a ruthless calorie counter, and it will show the world just what you're doing. But beware the subtext of the claim: in saying "obesity is a lifestyle choice," the claimant is implying that obesity is simply another in a whole gamut of legitimate ways to live one's life.

Because I'm chubbalicious, I don't go around preaching to fellow fatties that they need to lose weight. Most overweight folks already realize they need to do something; they don't need the reminder. But this doesn't mean that I accept obesity as a legitimate lifestyle choice any more than I accept smoking as a lifestyle choice. I won't tell someone they should quit smoking, and if someone starts smoking in my presence, I won't tell them to put their cigarette out, but I also have my limits: I won't let people smoke inside my domicile, and I won't date a smoker.

The linked article addresses the issue of whether obesity is a choice, and seems to take sides with those who claim it isn't. But if you read the article, you'll see that the argument essentially comes down to: "Most people who are obese don't want to be." What the article doesn't do is draw the common-sense connection between a person's actions and the consequences of those actions. Very, very few people can truly claim that their obesity is the result of some glandular or genetic condition. Most obese folks eat (and sit) themselves into the state they're in.

The article highlights an argument from a book called The Fattening of America that obesity, far from being an epidemic, should be considered the natural consequence of affluence:

"Obesity is a natural extension of an advancing economy. As you become a First World economy and you get all these labor-saving devices and low-cost, easily accessible foods, people are going to eat more and exercise less," health economist Eric Finkelstein told AFP.

I'm not sure I buy this, primarily because, when you look at the rich, you see that a significant proportion of them aren't fat (movie stars, corporate bigwigs, etc.). In a country like America, where even the poor have a menu of choices,* there's no excuse for the obesity we see and experience.

This is one of those issues that doesn't require stats: 300 million people-- the American population-- is a huge demographic sample, and can be compared with other groups of similar or larger size-- say, all of Europe or all of China. Start looking at these groups, and you realize right away that obesity isn't the result of some victimizing factor. If a disproportionate number of Americans are claiming that their obesity is the result of glandular/genetic conditions, then you'd expect-- if these claims were legitimate-- a roughly equal distribution of those conditions in other populations. This isn't what we see on the global level.

Perhaps the operative word in the phrase "lifestyle choice" should be "choice," not "lifestyle." You are the sum of your decisions; you can dig yourself out of whatever hole you've gotten yourself into. If it takes you more effort and self-discipline** than it takes other people, well boo-hoo-- we've all got crosses to bear. And yeah, I'm preaching as much to myself as anyone else.

That being said, I'm not the gung-ho type who believes that change merely comes from within and that the only respectable route is to solve one's problems alone, in the spirit of rugged individualism. If you're the kind of person who could use some help and encouragement from others, then by all means go get some! But if you think you can just click over to an entirely different way of thinking and acting, then Godspeed.

The basic problem for most of us is, as the psychologist M. Scott Peck pointed out decades ago in his The Road Less Traveled, that we're all basically lazy in some way or other. For many of us, the laziness results in obesity. For others, it results in various personality problems. Breaking out of that laziness is key; maintaining the momentum of the breakout moment through self-discipline is, not to put too fine a point on it, The Answer To Our Problems. A guy who undergoes military training, then takes nothing of that training with him when he leaves the military, has gained nothing from all those years invested in self-improvement. A person who goes to a fat farm, loses weight, and then goes right back to munching once back in society hasn't learned a thing. Fighting our inherent laziness is a daily struggle, but because laziness resides inside our own individual skulls, we mustn't take the easy route of blaming others for our own personal problems.

And on that note (which I hope you find optimistic), it's time for me to go move around a bit. Then a bit more... and a bit more...

*There are spots of third world-style poverty in the States, but let's be realistic: the US isn't Bangladesh. The proportion of actual victims is vanishingly small.

**Interesting that the article never once mentions self-discipline. Beware the language of victimhood.


No comments: