By Brianne Lisinski
Obesity has long been viewed through a self-control lens. Those who are obese are often looked down upon in society as lazy individuals who have no self-control. Why can’t you just control what you put in your mouth? You’re to blame, it’s your fault, you’ll never get anywhere.
We’ve all seen it. Fat shaming, crude remarks, movies that depict the ‘fat’ girl as an outcast or the best friend to the attractive male lead. Always taking a back seat to the pretty thin girl. The ‘fat’ male best friend overlooked until he loses weight and develops muscles; dare I mention the movie Just Friends?
We have been conditioned to view obesity as a self-control problem.
But is that really fair? Self-Reg says: No.
Society’s view of obesity is an imperative issue that dearly requires reframing.
Reframing involves shifting our view of behavior from self-control, and that of needing to simply exert control over oneself, to recognizing what may be driving behavior and the stressors involved.
Developing an understanding of the difference between stress behavior, driven by stress, and misbehavior, driven by conscious choice, is imperative in this process of reframing.
According to Self-Reg, overeating can be understood through reframing as a means used to attempt to soothe oneself in the face of stress, and is not a matter of just needing to exert control. Need I remind you, the reader, of the common trope of eating ice cream following a break up?
The unfortunate part of this, according to Self-Reg, is that this overeating continues to create and fuel the stress cycle which will only lead to more overeating and stress behavior. So, how could we reframe our sister’s, co-worker’s, or our own obesity? What hope do we have if we are just perpetually stuck in a stress cycle? Let’s move through this first step of reframing together.
Take that self-control lens, that little judgmental gremlin living in your mind, and toss him out the window. Overeating, cravings, reaching for the McDonald's fries instead of carrots, this is all driven by stress. It is imperative you first acknowledge that engaging in these behaviors does not mean you are a lazy person lacking self-control. You must understand the two famous Self-Reg questions of “Why, and why now?” . Why this craving, and why at this particular time?
Let me tell you a story of my own experience with this. Before every undergraduate final exam, I found myself craving Chinese food. Now to understand, I was not someone who particularly enjoyed Chinese food, so this craving at the time did not make sense to me. Regardless, I purchased Chinese food for lunch before every final exam I wrote as an undergraduate. And every time, I ended up with food poisoning. Yet I kept craving it, kept going back. Why? The short answer is I was depleted after the heightened cognitive stress of studying, I was tired, I was anxious about how I would perform on the exam, I needed a quick burst of energy and self-soothing to calm my nerves, and it was the only restaurant within walking distance of me. I wasn’t in the space to consciously decide differently; I was completely wrapped in a stress cycle. Fast forward to today where I now understand what was happening for me and how junky food further adds to my stress, and I now reach for carrot and celery sticks when I need energy. I do this not because I am trying to diet or lose weight, but because I recognize my craving as a sign that I need to lower my stress load; and for me cravings of junk food signal a lack of energy. I know carrots will sustain my energy longer rather than further depleting me; and guess what? The cravings naturally disappear – as Dr. Shanker discussed in the first Foundations course and in his blog referenced throughout.
My cravings don’t make me a bad, lazy, or gluttonous person – they make me human. It’s stress at it’s finest playing with me.
In being able to reframe how we view obesity and cravings, we set ourselves up to further complete the process of Self-Reg. Through engaging with Self-Reg, we learn how obesity really is an issue of stress and how to reduce the root stressors in order to aid ourselves and others in escaping the stress cycle.
Through reframing and the use of soft eyes, we bring forward the kindness and understanding that those struggling with obesity deserve.
Obesity is not a matter of choice. It has nothing to do with self-control, and everything to do with stress.
Reframe, and be kind.
For a detailed overview of the stressors and the scientific and biological underpinnings of obesity please read The Self-Reg View of Obesity by Dr. Shanker.