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Free will is an illusion

June 10th, 2004 · No Comments

Sounds like a theology or philosophy debate, eh? It’s a quote from an article Snippy linked from the New York Times The Fat Epidemic: He Says It’s an Illusion .

Over the years, Dr. Friedman says, he has watched the scientific data accumulate to show that body weight, in animals and humans, is not under conscious control. Body weight, he says, is genetically determined, as tightly regulated as height. Genes control not only how much you eat but also the metabolic rate at which you burn food. When it comes to eating, free will is an illusion.

This scientist, who discovered the fat-regulating hormone leptin, seems convinced that weight is genetic. Through diet we might be able to change short-term, but long term is a fate we can’t avoid, in his opinion.

On the one hand I see evidence that this could be true. For example, during my pregnancies I have a hard time gaining weight. My doctors end up urging me to eat “unhealthy” things like ice cream and butter so I can put on the pounds. However, I’ve heard from other friends that even when they try not to gain a lot of weight in pregnancy, they still gain it. I do suspect there may be genetic regulators.

Then again, through the past couple decades, I’ve raised and lowered my own metabolism from exercising and I’ve seen how my activity level and diet affect my weight and shape. I do believe that we can have an impact on our own body size. Perhaps we won’t all be size 4 or 6. But I think we can try to be a healthy weight and work on eating nutritious and appropriate portions while keeping in shape.

I do believe in free will. And I believe that we can also control where we put our minds. The other day while trying on shorts at the store – I need a pair so I can exercise this summer as I wore my previous pair during pregnancy and stretched the waistband! – I looked at myself in the mirror and sighed.

However I had recently read Katherine’s thoughts on body image, and I tried to keep my mind on the truths she had posted such as

Whatever shape you are, that’s the shape you are (for now anyway). Why pretend otherwise? Just be who you are, the best you can be today. It’s not about the outside, really.**

I’m trying to exercise my free will and my body to get my outside into shape. And I’m trying to exercise my free will inside my mind so I’ll have the proper perspective.

Note: After I drafted this piece, I saw Lisa William’s The Walking Game and I would also enjoy a program that would let me exercise while avoiding the “Going Around in Circles Thing” at least in a virtual way. What if we could motivate each other on our “trips” as we’re exercising? Cool idea.

Another idea…while I was thinking about optimizing life with software programs, would be to have my refrigerator help me organize all the leftovers and containers. This week I’m tired too of the Stacking Stuff and Moving It Around the Shelves Game. A Shelf Game – or is that Shell Game? Anyway, perhaps something combined with Philip Greenspun’s restaurant idea [via Dave Winer] too – that way when I opened the fridge it could tell me what I should eat for dinner and where I could find it on the shelf….then again, maybe it’s simply time for exercising that illusionary free will, a muscle that has atrophied in me….

Tags: health