Fat and Informed? We long for a return to clear rules about eating.
06.12.2007

People who get fat do so knowingly! Nowadays the abundance of nutritional information which confronts people on a daily basis means they know what makes them fat. Research into nutrition and exercise has proven time and time again that knowledge and rational argumentation are rarely capable of consistently convincing people to fight the flab. And this is despite the fact that most people with ‘weight problems’ do not actually want to be overweight. On the contrary, they are at the mercy of influences that evade the power of rational argumentation.

Nevertheless, most overweight people do not indulge in unhealthy behaviour on a permanent basis. As is true of everyone, they go through periods of being ‘sensible’ but interlace these with mind states in which they repeatedly kick over the traces: For instance, someone who has eaten healthily and in moderation during the day and perhaps even been out for a jog, might indulge their taste for beer just that little bit more during the evening. When people are tipsy though, rational arguments hardly play any role whatsoever in determining their nutritional behaviour.

However, these ‘indulgent’ mind states are very important for mental wellbeing since they allow us to put aside the demands of day-to-day life and briefly let go. During these states, feelings such as joy, fun, love, fellowship and even frustration, disappointment and pain are experienced intensively since the sober-rational ‘accoutrements’ of the adult world temporarily fall from view. Seen from a psychological perspective, the growing number of people with a ‘weight problem’ is simply a reflection of society’s growing affinity with ‘indulgent’, childish and pleasure-orientated states of mind.

Studies show that this increase can largely be put down to two powerful factors: The loss of fixed daily routines and the erosion of bonds within the family and at work. In the last two decades developments within society have put an onus on increased amounts of individual freedom at the expense of general norms and associations. In everyday life this has led to flexible working hours but, as a consequence of these, also to irregular eating habits. What is more, people without immediate family ties, such as singles or job seekers, often lack a solid social footing and are more easily tempted by ‘indulgent’ offerings.

Nowadays many people long for a clear set of rules and norms about eating. And, ultimately, it is this longing that is behind the huge amount of attention currently being paid to new nutritional and dietary concepts. But clear rules about eating also go hand-in-hand with simple, easy-to-understand nutritional information on packaging.

The longing does not stop there though: A desire now exists for more rules and regulations as opposed to rational input alone. Working in collaboration with one another, the EU, the State, business and the media should now develop instructions on healthy nutrition and exercise. Just as a child expects rules from its parents, ‘top-down’ instructions such as these, so the logic goes, will help us curb our tendency to indulge ourselves. As a result, increasing amounts of pressure will be applied to industry and retail. Psychological analysis however makes it very clear that genuine success is only possible where ‘indulgent’ mind states are also given a part to play people’s day-to-day lives.

© 2015 rheingold