The nature of choice in diets
There’s a lot of statistical evidence that dieting doesn’t work. I’ll postpone the documentation of the highlights of that evidence for a later post, but you can google it for yourself (avoid, if you can, the links that are trying to get you to buy something).
And when I say “diets don’t work,” here’s what I mean. I mean that, statistically speaking, people who go on diets don’t successfully lose and keep off weight for more than about six months. So, after two years or so, the average weight is about the same or higher in a group of dieters.
Can we take that as a given for now? Thanks. We can argue about it later if you want.
Here’s the thing. That statement confounds lots of people, I think because it’s statistical in nature. They will always imagine that, because they are themselves examples of someone who has lost weight and kept it off for more than two years through dieting, dieting does in fact work, and we should all try what they’ve tried.
It’s annoying to be told this over and over again, especially when you’re someone who’s tried a million things. And believe me, almost every fat person I know has tried a million things. For that reason I’d appreciate no more such advice, although in a later post I will be asking for zany pseudo-scientific theories about why fat people stay fat (there are so many!).
So yeah, people don’t understand statistical facts. But I think there’s something more going on here. Namely, the illusory nature of choice when it comes to dieting.
Because diets do seem to work short term, people think they’ve gotten control over their eating, at least temporarily. And then, at some point, people drop off their diets. They sometimes do it with a “what the fuck” attitude, but my guess is most of them don’t even remember doing it. It’s a kind of momentary amnesia, and before they know what’s happened they’re eating something they shouldn’t have. That is certainly my experience.
From the outsider’s perspective, that’s a person who has chosen to go off their diets, and in a certain sense it’s obviously true, since for example anyone who was locked in a cell with no food would not have the ability to go off a diet, nor would someone who cannot feed themselves. Indeed, it requires the access to food and the action of eating to go off a diet. So in that sense it takes a certain amount of freedom.
But, there’s another sense in which, I’d argue, there’s no choice in the matter at all. After all, dieting requires a positive declaration of a desire to lose weight. Sometimes it even requires forking over cash, maybe a lot of cash. People are trying hard to lose weight, in other words, and yet they can’t, and even statistically speaking they cannot.
Said another way: if 1000 people went to a lot of trouble to do something, and they all tried but 990 of them failed to do it, would we decide they had made the choice not to do it?
I’m ready to say there’s something else at work here, something more basic than free will. It’s like our choice to breathe. We can’t decide not to do it. Or we can, but only for a bit.
Commenters, please stick to the question of the nature of choice in dieting. I will delete other stuff, thanks!