Laura’s Weight Loss

Laura over at her psychology blog discusses her own successful weight loss (plus a big on-going study). She also linked back to an April post on successful weight loss I had when my med anthro class and I were examining obesity (for more posts, check our food and eating category). She highlights one of my main points with that essay, the American fixation on self-control and will-power as both pragmatically and philosophically problematic for going about weight loss.

As I put it, “So ‘willpower’ is not the answer, at least as conceived as an intrinsic and internal property of the individual.”

But obviously behavior does matter, linking internal and external dynamics together: “our behavior takes place within specific contexts, relationships, and symbolic meanings. It is also linked to subjective experience, available opportunities, bodily function, and the ongoing interpretation of our memories.”

Laura gives a great example of this (and congratulations too, on what you’ve accomplished): “What I have found useful is to take the decision-making out of my hands. I follow the Jenny Craig maintenance program, and that’s it. No variations, except for special occasions, like Mr. F’s chocolate cheesecake, and that happens no more than once a week.”

We humans are cultural creatures, much more than we are free will creatures. We are also emotional creatures, so major life events can provoke major change (a major health problem is frequently a main factor in successful weight loss, in reframing everyday life so doing “what it takes” suddenly makes sense). And of course we are decision making creatures, with conscious awareness and all that.

But I wonder, if our society put as much effort into developing our cultural and emotional ways of being, and not just our conscious and technological ways of being, would we have so many behavioral health problems in the first place?

8 thoughts on “Laura’s Weight Loss

  1. Hey, Daniel….thanks for the nice comments. Are you familiar with Roy Baumeister’s work on the depletion of “willpower” through the day? I have the citation somewhere (!!) but in the meantime, here’s a summary on eureka:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-02/cfta-sci021903.php

    Baumeister sees some circadian fluctuations in willpower, where sleep potentially “resets” our daily allotments. Maybe some connection with sleep deprivation and obesity here?

  2. Laura, thanks for the comment. We have considered Baumeister’s work a bit here, and I find it very intriguing. I’ve put links to a couple posts below. My guess is that alongside being crankily compulsive, sleep deprivation might also have a direct impact on appetite regulation, perhaps through inflammation, stress and the like.

    https://neuroanthropology.net/2008/04/03/tightening-your-belt-on-your-mind/

    https://neuroanthropology.net/2008/01/24/will-power-as-mental-muscle/

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