Body – Integration – Fat And Willpower

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

It’s often assumed that willpower is the key to weight loss, or quitting cigarettes, or in general to take control over your body and start to ensure it does what it ought, what you want it to, not just what it constantly demands.

In his book “Gods Debris“, ‘Dilbert’ cartoonist and writer Scott Adams has a short section on willpower:

“You’re very fit,” the old man observed.

“I work out four times a week.”

“When you see an overweight person, what do you think of his willpower?”

“I think he doesn’t have much,” I said.

“Why do you think that?”

“How hard is it to skip that third bowl of ice cream? I’m in good shape because I exercise and eat right. It’s not easy, but I have the willpower. Some people don’t.”

“If you were starving, could you resist eating?”

“I doubt it. Not for long, anyway.”

“But if your belly were full you could resist easily, I assume.”


“It sounds as if hunger determines your actions, not so-called willpower.”

“No, you picked two extremes: starving and full,” I said. “Most of the time I’m in the middle. I can eat a little or eat a lot, but it’s up to me.”

“Have you ever been very hungry — not starving, just very hungry — and found yourself eating until it hurt?”

“Yes, but on average I don’t eat too much. Sometimes I’m busy and I forget to eat for half a day. It all averages out.”

“I don’t see how willpower enters into your life,” he said. “In one case you overeat and in the other case you simply forget to eat. I see no willpower at all.”

“I don’t overeat every time I eat. Most of the time I have average hunger and I eat average amounts. I’d like to eat more, but I don’t. That’s willpower.”

“And according to you, overweight people have less of this thing you call willpower?” he asked.

“Obviously. Otherwise they’d eat less.”

“Isn’t it possible that overweight people have the same amount of willpower as you but much greater hunger?”

“I think people have to take responsibility for their own bodies,” I replied.

“Take responsibility? It sounds as if you’re trying to replace the word willpower with two new words in the hope that I will think it’s a new thought.”

I laughed. He nailed me.

“Okay, just give it to me,” I said, knowing there was a more profound thought behind this line of questioning.

“We like to believe that other people have the same level of urges as we do, despite all evidence to the contrary. We convince ourselves that people differ only in their degree of morality or willpower, or a combination of the two. But urges are real, and they differ wildly for every individual. Morality and willpower are illusions. For any human being, the highest urge always wins and willpower never enters into it. Willpower is a delusion.”

Like the character in Adam’s book suggests, you very likely will give into your urges, especially an urge to eat for it is essential to sate that urge in order to fuel your life. Without food, you will surely die. Losing weight isn’t about overcoming the urge to eat, it’s about managing that urge.

The truth is that, whether you’re trying to lose (or indeed gain) weight or not, you will eat if you become hungry enough. The key is to manage that urge so that you eat less fattening stuff and ideally do so before the urge even comes along for once it hits, it’ll be demanding bulky stuff filled with fat and salt and tasty fattening calories.

As well as this of course you can learn to control your urges. We talked in the first lap around the spiral about controlling your diet by associating the foods which you’d like to like with nice positive experiences. When you get the urge to eat, you’ll likely want to eat the things which you have associated with nice positive experiences. Your urges can likely not be completely overcome, you can’t fight hunger with willpower, but you can divert it towards eating low-calorie high-nutrient foods, you can ensure that when you give into hunger, you have salad in the house, not chips and burgers.