Coming to Terms with Our Lack of Self-Control

When I graduated from college in 1976, only 15 percent of Americans were obese. Today that number is 40 percent. What changed?

It also seemed like we (society) were smarter in 1976 than we are today. What changed?

I weigh more today than I would have thought possible in 1976. And I’m a fairly active person — someone who takes near-daily long walks and spends considerable time on bicycles (indoor and out) and lifting weights. Still, the weight has accumulated and most of it hasn’t been muscle. So what’s the problem? Not only my problem, but also our problem (since many people have followed a similar or worse trajectory)?

It seems obvious to me that it can be one thing and one thing only: what and how much we eat and drink.

Sugar-laden soda beverages that come in ever larger sizes at fast-food restaurants and line the aisles of convenience and grocery stores are part of the problem to be sure, although they’re not tempting to me. I seldom indulge. However, in recent years, I haven’t been as disciplined when it comes to wine and spirits. And it shows. Recently, I scaled back the spirits consumption dramatically. Frankly, I had expected more immediate and substantial results, and I’m not sure why the benefits haven’t accrued. This is the kind of thing that challenges one’s commitment. Yet I know that staying the course is essential and, over time, will pay off. (The only thing I can figure is that other sugars must have snuck in via other means.)

Grazing is a big part of the problem, too, especially for people like me, who work at home, in an office just down the hall from the kitchen. Discipline has proved an inadequate defense. The only thing that works is to not have it in the house. By it, I mean sweets, processed foods (much of that middle-of-the-store junk, which accounts for a larger percentage of our intake today than in 1976), and bread and other starches.

The reasons for staying trim and fit are indisputable:

  • feel and look better, with more energy and less chance of making a fool of yourself if you go to the beach
  • less strain on joints and reduced odds of needing artificial knees
  • less risk of diabetes, strokes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer

So you’d think it would be a no-brainer. Yet it’s not so easy. Which makes me question the whole discipline and self-control thing.

You’d think we’d have little trouble doing that which is clearly in our best interest and avoiding those things that aren’t. But the weight figures prove we don’t have the control we think we do. And I find that to be disturbing. I like to feel in control, even though my intellect tells me it’s largely an illusion. When reality makes it hard to believe in the illusion, it’s disconcerting to say the least.

Of course, I’m generalizing. The fact of the matter is, some people demonstrate amazing self control. At least when it comes to caloric intake. And the avoidance of sugars and starches. But, of course, some of these people lack control in other areas of their lives. Perhaps gambling. Drugs. Work addictions. Or insecurities that result in mindless materialism or violent behaviors.

I think it would be wonderful to be someone who had total control over all his actions and thoughts. Someone who never did anything harmful. And who had control over his thoughts, too. What would that be like? Pretty cool, I surmise.

To that end, by now it seems obvious to me that much rides on what we allow to be taken in. Through our mouths to be sure. But also through our ears and eyes.

I’ve been working on being more mindful of what I allow to come in through my eyes and ears. I’m trying to be more discerning in what I read and hear and whose reports and opinions I read or listen to. For instance, I don’t listen to Fox, MSNBC, cable TV or radio talk shows, or television or radio commercials. There’s simply too much garbage, vitriol, and outright stupidity there. I also try to limit my reading of opinions and commentary to only those authors who are intellectually curious and stimulating. And who are smart enough to know what they don’t know. I find the universe of such people isn’t as large as I had earlier thought.

As for the mouth, the battle continues. I’ve been waging a war of sugar, with mixed results. I find I need to recommit myself to the cause frequently — indeed, daily. The addiction is harder to defeat than I could have imagined. But I have a clear goal now that I didn’t have last year at this time: a clear medical reason to get the waist line closer to what it was in 1976. I’m hoping the goal provides added incentive.

Meanwhile, we grow fatter and dumber. I’m shocked by the number of overweight kids and young people I see today. That’s a stark difference with the world in which I grew up in. But I’m also struck by the widespread idiocy that has spread throughout my country. Overall, people seem dumber. Not everyone of course. But many. An unbelievably large number of people believe stupid things and choose to close off their minds to anything that could represent a challenge to those beliefs. It didn’t seem this bad in 1976.

I suspect it’s because we haven’t been more discerning in what we take in. Into our brains, that is. Fox is a large part of the problem. It lead the way, but it’s not the only promoter of idiocy today. There are others. And the internet has made it easier for idiocy to spread. Like a virus. And it has.

In my ideal world, we’d all be trim and fit and smart and wise. It’s a fantasy of course. But one I’m clinging to, even though I know it’s ridiculous. For me, it’s important not to let go of the dream, for if I do, then I too may fall down the rabbit hole. If I’m not too fat to fit.

The key, of course, is to control the intake and, in doing so, to live the life we want to live and that is best for ourselves and our communities. It sounds easier than it is, Vera. But the payoff is immense.

7 thoughts on “Coming to Terms with Our Lack of Self-Control

  1. The target should be to improve living conmditions instead of losing weight. Studies shwo that the weight will drop automatically if your emotional needs are satisfied.
    Processed, designed food should be avoided because it caused emotional instability., as explained above

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  2. Dear George, I think you bark up the worng tree in this case – at least partially in my view.

    The cause of overeating are bad socio-economical living conditions. The buzzword to look up is “EMOTIONAL EATING” which is a psychological coping mechanism in response to various kinds of stress.

    Overeating or eating cheap fast food, unhealthy “soul food”, sweets and so on helps people to reward themselves, to comfort themselves, to calm down, to fill empty time, to numb negative feelings like loneliness, boredom, hurt, anger, frustration, fears etc. Nowadays, food has become an unconscious, cheap self-medication, which is easily to hide instead of using e.g. illegal drugs or abusing medicine like painkillers or attending a therapy. Besides eating disorders are known as self-harm method too.

    Food is an everywhere available, legal drug. Scientist know that the same chemical reactions are triggered by food intake causes the same brain-chemical highs and stimulation of the reward centre in the brain like taking illegal drugs and psychopharma / anti-depressiva.

    The food industry has discovered these effect and uses it shamelessly. I can recommend to have a look at the “Mouse-Cheesecake Study” that deals with the optimal ratio of carb-fat to cause an addiction – which means high, repeated purchase rates with continuously increasing volume of intake to achieve “almost satisfaction”.

    Imagine that artificiail sweeteners originally have been developed for pig fattening! I have got the suspicion that in particular US American are not very well educated ref. these connections. There are studies which prove that you actually gain weight over time if you eat diet products.

    Therapist and psychiatry professsional trying to reveal the so called true basic needs of the patients with eating disorders (lack of love, self esteem, acknowledgement, stability, social life…), they try to break vicious cycles and thinking & behavioral patterns to enable a change of their insane systems of beliefs & values and finally encourage a lifestyle that satisfies their basic needs.

    Self-restriction and the claim for self-control and dieting is worsening the disorder and fuels vicious cycles…also with the high risk of addiction swapping.

    Diets are just another evil tool to increase profits of the food, fitness and fashion industry.

    The target should be to eliminate the roots for overeating and bad eating habits. This requires a health insiurance and education for ALL people – which means solidarity of tax payers and regualtion of industry sectors to protect consumers – in particular in favor of the weakest members of society (who have a high demand for uppers & downers of all kind).

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    • Thought you’d appreciate this tweet from Mark Hyman, M.D.
      @drmarkhyman
      We blame people for being overweight & sick. It’s not their fault. Our taste buds, hormones & brain chemistry have been hijacked by the food industry. Being addicted to sugar & flour is a biological disorder, driven by hormones & neurotransmitters that fuel sugar & carb cravings.

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    • Yes, I agree with him. But I’d like to outline that our Lifestyle that is often too mich focused in consumption and permanent self-marketing instead of satisfying our true emotional needs is an essential part of the problem. Eating is often used as mere compensation for emotional needs. Very sad that our relationships seem to be not able to support us regarding our basic needs.

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