Fatuous article on obesity in the NYT


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No pun intended using "fatuous"--but what a ridiculous take on the problem, to suggest that if people followed the tenets of major religions, we would not have an obesity problem. The author's argument begins, "Most Americans don't want to be told what to consume. They want their fill." I would argue that to be told what to consume is exactly what most Americans want--and that like most belonging to that subset of creation called humans, they are designed to want their fill. That they cannot find it in processed foods at the grocery store is unarguably still the one reality that most people don't want to acknowledge or even consider. And so what is the solution? Blame the victim yet again for not being ascetic or self-denying enough.

Caveat: I am a believer and a member of a mainline religion, and I am not even remotely opposed to disciplines of self- denial that are uniformly encouraged by religions--but this take on it is upside-down and completely wrong-minded. Following a religious discipline in order to reduce one's weight is the wrong motivation altogether to begin with, and has to have the same rate of failure as commercial diets that take out less nourishing foods and then tell you to reintroduce them, and wonder why the weight comes back and then some. A very high rate of failure, because it's the food that's wrong in the first place!

Here's the link to the article:


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It was amusing. Essentially "Hey piggy! Ease off the cake, mkay?". I like the line about gluttony including being fastidious about food and suppose I shouldn't mention how fastidious Kosher is (or Halal, or not eating fish on Fridays...).

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Hmm. I think the author makes a few good points. It for me ties into an interesting segment on NPR the other day in which people were talking about how ancient people tied holidays to seasonal food.

As a caveat I am not part of a religious practice but I do think there are invaluable pieces of religious experience. I don't think the author is saying we need to be religious at all, but rather than we take a line from the ancients and start thinking more about satiety. Yes, people are fed by corporate conglomerates, but those conglomerates play on the notion that people demand the right to take/eat/consume as much as they think they want. "No one is going to tell me I can't eat XYZ!"

I don't think anyone can argue with this:

Satiety, the feeling of being satisfied, is inherently idiosyncratic: everyone has her or his own sensation of being full. What sates my hunger will be different from what sates yours. Nevertheless, what sates our hunger will be less than what you might imagine.

Or this:

Of course, one need not be a theist to experience satiety. One needs only a belly. Perhaps these old ideas could inspire new ways of addressing the complex weight problem in America. They could help us reduce the amount of food we put on our plates, which would lower the tonnage of otherwise good food discarded every day. And they could mitigate the costly and debilitating diseases associated with our current eating practices...
We have to realize that enough is enough. We should stop asking ourselves, “Am I full?†and start asking, “Am I satisfied?â€
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I think the author is missing a more important difference between older religious cultures and the modern world: traditional religious/cultural groups have a strong sense of community. IMHO moddern "gluttony" and overeating is at least in part driven by the desire to fill a hole - the meaningful emotional relationships that are getting rarer and rarer as we all get too lost in Facebook "friends" and replace actual human connection with stimulation. We might know more people, but a lot of us are very lonely, and overeating is an attempt to fill that void. People who belong to a close-knit religious group have more of those meaningful relationships, so they don't have a void to fill. The stipulations about eating are just one way of bringing the community together around food, so using food as a tool to connect people to people, not to replace people with sugar.

Disclosure: I don't belong to any religious group (although I was raised in one), and I'm just basing my comment off of my own and my peers' experiences. I hope I didn't say anything offensive

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I certainly agree with the emotional/psychological/spiritual lack that is often present in the world today, but I don't think this is at the root of the current epidemic of obesity. Nor do believe that "smaller portion sizes" of bad food are the magic answer.

In my tradition, the question is posed, "Why do you spend your money on that which fails to satisfy?" Many people are also fond of quoting, "You can't get enough of what you don't want."

So it is for the body. The body can't get enough of malnourishing food that fails to satisfy it, and so the brain turns the person into a "glutton," "compuslive," etc.--the body is trying (and cannot) get enough to eat. Obesity is clearly the result. We're not the first generation of the human species to deal with problems of meaninglessness and confusion.

I don't disagree with some of the spiritual insights regarding self-discipline, but I think the conclusion is simply factually wrong.

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