Saturday, May 1, 2010

“Let Myself Go”

There are certain terms associated with weight gain and loss that I detest. One of them is “willpower”, as I have mentioned before. I view it as a simplistic term that has been created to make people feel there is a character quality that they lack when they cannot make some sort of behavioral change. People think they have willpower if they can resist something that you can't. Thinking that makes them feel smugly stronger and like they are better than you.

The truth is that resistance to temptation is highly individualized. I can resist a great many things, including alcohol, opening gifts that I am given until a specified time or date, spending money, and having sex with attractive people. I can resist these things effortlessly. Does that mean I have a better character than those who cannot? Since there is no way to acquire (or quantify) “willpower”, talking about it is absolutely useless. If you want to talk about something of value, talk about “delayed gratification”, not “willpower”. Delaying gratification can be learned; willpower cannot.

At any rate, one of the other things that people say that I loathe is “(someone) let themselves go.” Often, this is prefaced with “I can’t believe…” The statement implies that a person could have done something to prevent herself from gaining weight, but behaved in a willfully neglectful fashion. It carries the idea that one could have slammed on the brakes at some point, but just kept shoveling in the food and sitting on her ass.

The idea that one is in rational control during a period of weight gain is one that people hold because it allows them to judge overweight people and view them as lazy and indifferent to their appearance and health rather than incapable of stopping the process. No one gains weight if they have the capacity to stop it. Most people gain weight because something is wrong and out of their control. Sometimes it’s taking some medication. Sometimes it’s depression. Sometimes it’s simply being overwhelmed by stress. And sometimes it’s simply lifelong patterns of behavior that are so deeply ingrained that they can’t find the mental purchase to successfully change.

No one “let’s themselves go”. They are taken for an emotional or physical (or both) ride that they can’t get off of. Trying not to gain weight is like trying to disembark in the middle of a rollercoaster ride. There are only two ways to escape and that’s to step off in the middle and die or to wait until the ride is complete and you have control over the direction of your life once again.

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