Thursday, June 2, 2016

What is "Willpower" Even?

The above has zero basis in reality

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of willpower lately, in part because I've gained a significant amount of weight in the last year and have dealt with the struggle of wanting to be the good body positive feminist who doesn't care about her weight yet still having been raised in a society that says fat on women is like a buildup of sin. Also because for the past six months or so I've had a freelance gig focused on substance abuse and addiction treatment, and what needs to be constantly emphasized in these articles is that addiction is a mental illness and has nothing to do with personal failure, weakness of character, or a lack of "willpower."

Willpower is one of those words constantly referenced in terms of food and dieting. It's thought that people need to exercise "willpower" in order to not eat or only eat things that don't taste good, and indulging in food is evidence of a lack of willpower.

So what the fuck is it? It seems to me to be another one of those magical words like "laziness" which is little other than a value judgement on oneself or others. But the concept of willpower seems to have attached itself super hard to eating and body weight and fat. I catch myself often feeling like I must have some sort of chronic lack of it, some personal weakness, because I ate a food.

But like laziness, willpower doesn't exist. We do what we do for a combination of various reasons. In terms of eating, we eat because we need to to live. Eating fatty or sugary foods has clear roots in evolutionary biology. Many foods are also made to be addicting, plus branding, and some of us need to save up this "willpower" for more important things like, I dunno, not killing ourselves. Our strength is drained by other things like mental or chronic illness, stress from poverty and microaggressions, etc.

And so, in addition to laziness, let's get rid of this concept of "willpower" and eliminate it from our vocabulary, particularly around eating and weight. No one is weak for eating a food, no matter what the food.

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