Monday, November 16, 2009

How "Thin" Feels

One of the often-used catch-phrases, platitudes, sayings, or whatever you want to call it is that "nothing tastes as good as thin feels." I'll be right up front with my opinion that I don't believe this is true for overweight people, and the the statement isn't very helpful for people who are obese in particular.

The first issue I have with this statement is that it's like telling a child that he should study hard instead of playing so that he can get a good job and be happier as an adult. Embracing and fully internalizing the idea that a state you may (or may not) achieve in the distant future is going to be so much better than immediate gratification is not easy. Many very overweight people see "thin" as something which they are incapable, perhaps genetically, of ever being. The best many of us hope for is to be "less fat."

Second, many people with weight problems haven't been thin for a very long time, if ever. In my case, and the case of many obese people, I haven't been thin since childhood and it wasn't a state I fully appreciated at that time. I have no idea what "thin" feels like. Like the child who is told to sacrifice now for the future, I can't even begin to relate to the reward that I'm striving for. I can't assess the value of feeling thin since I've never felt it.

Third, it's simply impractical to weigh the value of being thin to a sensory delight. Being thin creates abstract rewards and food is a concrete one. It's comparing apples and oranges. One brings about esteem and image benefits and the other is setting off endorphins in your brain. One directly stimulates your pleasure centers and the other is indirect.

Finally, I don't personally believe that "being thin" is necessarily going to feel great. I think that the real issue is not suffering the bad aspects of being fat, not good aspects of being thin. Essentially, you're avoiding pain, not gaining pleasure.

I think the decision to lose weight among many people comes as a result of thoroughly being fed up with the suffering they endure from being fat, and one of the reasons they regain is that absence of psychological and physiological pain is a less potent motivator than the immediate pleasure and comfort one gets from food.

My point in bringing this up is not to discourage weight loss or to say that it isn't worth the sacrifice of the pleasure of food. It's more a recognition of the fact that, unless you lose weight and are attractive and young, the rewards for being thin are not a potent motivator. The motivation is no longer suffering the misery of being fat.


Anonymous said...

I agree with all of what you said...people who have been thin all their lives can not understand this point of view.

I have thought about different aspects of your post throughout my life. Other people would contend that these are weak excuses...they have not walked in our shoes either.

screaming fatgirl said...

I think people who see such things as "excuses" are interested mainly in blaming people for their condition rather than understanding their situation. I don't have any patience for people who are interested in blame rather than in helping.

I don't think that people can really deal with weight problems until they have a full understanding of what is causing them. As long as the focus is on blame and tossing around words like "self-control" and "willpower", we're never going to help people deal with their problems effectively.

Drina said...

Just wanted to say I'm new here and I'm completely head over heels for your blog. This post was so thoughtful and shows a profound understanding of reinforcement and behavior that I think so many people miss. Best to you!

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, Drina, and many thanks for your kind comment and enthusiasm for my blog! I really appreciate it! :-)

dlamb said...

Goodness, good thing others have said what I've been thinking: that I sound like a groupie! I have no problem with that and how can I help it? Every single thing that you say contains so much truth that like Anon, I've been thinking that what I've always considered reality is what you have been writing and doing so beautifully!
I wish to add to your statements, that (at the risk of sounding judgmental but how can I deny it?), "nothing feels as good as being thin" is such a shallow concept! Also, not applicable to everyone by any means!
I've been slender to normal weight up until my 20s, I've fluctuated between 130# (my normal wt. at 5'7'') and probably 230 on one occasion. I've lost to 130 or a bit lower on 3 or 4 separate occasions and over 3 decades, each motivated by "one event" desire to be my normal weight.
I would say that my average weight between my mid 20s and now, 30 years later, has probably been about 150-170 and "being thin" has not been close to the best feeling I've had. Nor did I think of anything ELSE on my way down, except that I could not wait to get there in order to binge.
I've lost as much as 45 pounds in three weeks. Yes, I did. I ate about 120 calories a day and exercised all day. I was in my mid 20s and it was my first experience with an enormous amount of weight gain. At the end of the spring semester, I locked myself in my room, with my exercise equipment, weighing 225 pounds and by the end of that three weeks I weighed 180 pounds. Not only did I maintain it but returned to my average 140 or so and stayed there for years.

Would I recommend that to anybody? Absolutely not but I went on to repeat similar 'exercises' several more times and I can assure anyone who wonders, despite the smaller clothes, being thinner made no difference whatsoever in my mood or "happiness" level.

screaming fatgirl said...

Wow, your extreme experiences are amazing. I'm not sure that I would have been capable of that level of deprivation at any age (though I can see the desire to do it fast). I think that, in a vaguely similar way to mine, success with a method at a young age which can be done largely by the power of ones youth, makes it harder to deal with things differently as you get older. I knew I couldn't do what I did before (because of injuries, pain, and a lack of time), so I thought I couldn't lose weight any other way. It took a long time to figure out how to do it in a sustainable way for me.

Had I lost weight in some other manner before (other than exercise and selective elimination of food, but no portion control at all), I may have had more success earlier, but it's impossible to tell.

And feel free to be my groupie! ;-)