I don’t know what it is about the process of attempting to lose weight, but it sure does bring out some really annoying attitudes, pathetic excuses and dumb ways of phrasing shit in a lot of folk. Otherwise rational, reasonable people start to talk about this pretty straight-forward process like they suddenly lost their inner BS-detector. One phrase in particular that really annoys me is:
“I fell off the wagon!”
AAARRRGGGHHH! Even just typing it out sets my teeth on edge! It’s a phrase borrowed from other addiction recovery programs, but all it really means is:
“I chose to fuck up.”
Saying you “fell off the wagon” is nothing more than a cutesy attempt to shift the onus of blame away from yourself and make it sound like you’re just a passive victim of an unfortunate accident. Which is bullshit. You didn’t just slip, trip, land face-first into that Big Mac & French Fries, you made the choice to purposely go purchase, procure and proceed to eat that stuff. And unless you have a legitimate medical condition that causes you to get up and do weird shit in your sleep, that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you inhaled at 3am wasn’t accidental; you WANTED to eat it and you DID eat it. #NoSuchThingAsSnaccidents
It’s infuriating, listening to people who would otherwise be totally candid about their goal-oriented behaviours, suddenly go all coy and refuse to own their shit. People who would normally be perfectly okay at admitting to their not having made a deadline on a project, or having to confess to not learning a new language or skill as soon as they’d hoped, go completely bat-shit crazy when it comes to being honest about what they’ve been eating. It’s as if there’s some extra-special kid gloves we’re all supposed to handle each other with, just because we’re trying to shift a bit of flab. Why is that? Why are people who are trying to lose weight, so terminally reluctant to just fess up and tell it like it really is?
I sat and tried to figure it out earlier today and the closest I could get to what felt like a real reason, has its roots in the notion of sin. In the Christian tradition, the seven deadly sins refer to seven vices relating to our core human passions or desires. These vices speak to our most instinctive drives, hence their relevance to understanding human behaviour and motivation. Regardless of whether or not one considers themselves to be Christian in the religious sense, those of us who grew up in western nations are still what you’d call “culturally Christian”, having been exposed to multiple Christian traditions, celebrations, teachings and ways of thinking throughout our lives. Sin might not be something that you necessarily think holds any sway with you, but if you grew up in a society that still recognisess ‘Gluttony’ as one of the ‘7 Deadly Sins’, there’s a chance you may have internalised both the concept itself, and the way in which said ‘sin’ is played out in all media.
Gluttony (Latin: gula, derived from the Latin gluttire meaning “to gulp down or swallow”) means over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items, particularly as status symbols. In Christianity, it is considered a sin if the excessive desire for food causes it to be withheld from the needy.
And make no mistake, gluttony is very much considered to be seriously sinful behaviour in the bible:
Gluttony in the Bible:
- Gluttony plunged the whole human race into a state of sin and misery with the first transgression (Genesis 3:6).
- Gluttony, or “excess of food,” led to a curse of utter destruction upon Sodom, the standard example of God’s wrath and judgment (Ezekiel 16:49).
- In Moses’ day, when Israel craved meat in the wilderness, the Lord sent quail. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague” Interestingly, the name of the place was called “Kibroth-hattaavah” which means “Graves of Craving” (Number 11:18-34; Psalm 78:26-31).
(The above bullet points were taken from Christianity.com)
Now without getting into the ecumenical differences between the Roman Catholic interpretation of Mortal or Venial sins, and the Protestant way of grading certain degrees of sin, it’s still obvious that gluttony has been viewed as a very ‘sinful’ behavioural trait throughout all of Christendom. Which probably goes some way to explaining why we view fat people as being disgusting. It’s not just that obesity is unhealthy and can make the overweight individual appear noticeably short of breath, sweaty and uncomfortable; it’s also something that goes to the very core of what we as a civilised society, believe to be in direct opposition of that which is good and honourable and righteous. And unlike other sinners, who commit various other moral transgressions, fat people wear their sins on the outside for all the world to see. There is no hiding the evidence of gluttony – from God OR anyone else.
It goes without saying then that to embark upon a concerted effort to lose weight – to renounce gluttony – is therefore a righteous act of contrition. It shows that the individual in question has sufficient moral rectitude to make themselves right with their maker…or at least begin to respect their mortal selves. (There is also a wealth of studies which found anorectics – mostly women suffering from self-induced anorexia nervosa – often associate their abstaining from food, to be considered by the sufferer as making them ‘pure’ and ‘clean’ and unsullied by the giving in to mortal temptation. There’s actually a really good book that those of you who are interested in the history of disordered eating and religion, should definitely check out. It’s called “Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa” (Vintage) by Joan Jacobs Brumberg and it’s a fascinating read. The overlap between religious practices and eating habits goes far deeper than many of us actually realise; but it sure does explain a lot of the stuff I’d tried to summarise here, in my sinfully, heretical, atheistic way!)
Perhaps that’s why the successful seem so full of zeal as they claw their way back to salvation…and in turn, why those who fail feel so utterly condemned to damnation. At least on a somewhat subconscious level. I’m not suggesting that everyone who tries to lose a bit of weight is literally enduring the agonies and the ecstasies of a religious transformation. But there is a lot to be said for the notable parallels we can draw from the origins of gluttony as a sin, and they ways in which we regard fatness, obesity and weight-loss as a society.
Those who claim to have “fallen off the wagon” are actually internalising the notion of having “fallen from grace” (which makes sense when you bear in mind that the phrase gained popularity by members of Alcoholics Anonymous – an organisation structured upon its roots in Christian fellowship and the concept of giving oneself over to a “higher power”.) But to have “fallen from God’s grace” doesn’t mean that you accidentally sinned, it is very much because of your intended actions that you have “fallen from his grace”. Your sinful ways have caused you to lose your seat with Christ at the right-hand of the throne of God. So too then must you accept, that when you choose to “stray from the path of righteousness” when following a weight-loss plan, you are not accidentally “falling off the wagon”, but choosing to jump off it, of your own (God given) free will.
Because (to labour the biblical reference a little more – bear with me!) the Roman Catholic church instituted the sacrament of reconciliation (penance, confession) precisely for the possibility of the forgiveness of our sins. (It is vitally important that Roman Catholics’ confess sins on a regular basis, especially if one is in “a state of Mortal sin”. A person who dies in Mortal sin cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and is doomed to eternal suffering in hell. So, what happens if you do not complete all the penance, or don’t confess all the Venial sins – the not hell-worthy ones – in your life before you die ? You go to purgatory. The Final Penance. The penance you do at the end of your life on the way up to heaven, if you even make it after a million years of purging.)
Now recent uses of the term “purging” aside (yeah, I ain’t touching THAT issue with a barge-pole right now – even if there’s lot to be said for the emotive associations that can also be found within both the sacred and the profane) the basic idea is that only by the truth can you truly be set free. And I think that’s a very real, idea that we could – and should – try to take on board when talking about how we’ve been doing on our current weight-loss journey or new way of eating.
Basically, if you fuck up, just admit that you fucked up. Take ownership for both the conscious decision you make to abandon your plan AND the subsequent actions that you CHOSE to carry out. Couching your behaviour in terminology designed entirely to modify their impact is dishonest. You are doing both yourself and the person you are relaying this to, a disservice as you treat them like someone too stupid to know what you really got up to. Do not insult the intelligence of someone by playing down your choices or making them sound like the inevitable yet unintended consequences of your utterly innocent actions. We know what you did; please don’t patronise us.
Just own your shit. Stop wrapping it all up in some cutesy aphorism that you hope will absolve you of your sins. Confessing what’s in your heart is what will bring you the absolution you really need.
So the next time you make the choice to eat a bunch of crap, don’t just try to play it down as a minor “slip-up”. Be honest, to yourself and anyone else you share your weight-loss journey with. Confess, take responsibility and start to think a little on why exactly you felt the need to make the choice you did. Because it was a choice and if you want to stop making that same choice, then you need to figure out what it is that keeps making it so easy for you to make those bad choices. What you DON’T need is a bunch of molly-coddling enablers, rushing to smother you with their own empty platitudes…which are really just their way of justifying their own bad choices, without having to take any personal responsibility either.
The more you lie to yourself, or to others, the less likely you are to truly get a handle on your weight, or other issues with food. And the more you try to couch your actions in cutesy little terms like “I fell off the wagon”, the longer it’s gonna take you to conquer your demons.
We owe it to ourselves to be as brutally honest with ourselves as we can. As painful and uncomfortable as it may be to have to admit that our “flesh is weak“, in the long run it will benefit us so much more. We are only ever as sick as our secrets, so learn to walk with honesty & integrity and the truth will inevitably set you free.
Choose life. Choose whether to eat that cake or eat the whole buffet. But own your choices and grow to understand what prompts you to make those choices. And choose the words you use to talk about those choices too. Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to show why you chose to act the way you did in that moment. When you do all of this, there are no deep dark corners anymore for which you need feel ashamed.
Stay honest folks – especially with yourselves,