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"Weakness of the Will:" Challenges in the Struggle against Obesity, a Professional Perspective

Local State College residents discuss their experience helping others overcome obesity
by khepler Jul 21, 2015
Contributors: Ryan Pollock

Local State College residents discuss their experience helping others overcome obesity


In my previous post I outlined some of the challenges that face fighting obesity. Here I talk to two State College residents who have become familiar with these challenges through helping others. Jen Borigo, in addition to being an elite level Olympic Weightlifter, is a Level 1 trainer at CrossFit Nittany. She says that one the biggest obstacles her clients face is accepting how difficult it is to begin living a healthy lifestyle. “Everyone wants quick fixes and they want the easy way out, but losing weight and getting into shape is not easy. You need to be determined and willing to make changes,” states Borigo. In fact, she emphasizes that it can often take roughly two months for inexperienced exercisers to learn proper movement. It is only “[o]nce they can move safely and efficiently that we can increase the intensity, and then they can start to see and feel the real improvements that they are looking for.”

Rachel Gabelman, a fifth year student graduate student in clinical psychology currently working at Penn State Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), had a similar experience when aiding those struggling with obesity at Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation (NMFF) in Chicago. “Many people assume that they can use will power to resist eating unhealthy foods.  For instance, they believe that they should be able to leave a plate of cookies on their kitchen counter and not eat one or ten for that matter.”  Yet, according to Gabelman, “[t]his ability is a complete illusion."

As discussed last post, our wills are often lead astray even when we know what we should do. While "weakness of the will" may present a quandary for philosophers, anyone who has tried to make difficult lifestyle changes knows such weakness is a very real part of human nature. It is best to accept this, and try as much as possible to place oneself in more favorable circumstances, instead of relying upon one's own "will power."

This particular human weakness is compounded compounded by the fact that sometimes the emotional obstacles to weight loss can be more challenging than the physical hurdles. As seen in this episode of Heavy (see especially 13:40- 19:00), people often will blame themselves for setbacks in their progress. Gabelman concurs that people feel that they are “not ‘strong enough’ to resist the cookies, and they then feel bad about themselves, their progress, and feel discouraged.” Unfortunately, it is just this sort of discouragement which further fuels the problem. For this reason, Gabelman impresses upon her clients that everyone, whether average weight, overweight, or obese, has trouble resisting unhealthy foods that are placed in front of them.

The good news is that, although adopting a healthy life-style is demanding, success is a very real possibility. Borigo urges those intimidated by the thought of exercise that “other people just like you have done it and succeeded!” Changing habits is always hardest in the beginning, but getting started is easier when you know others have met the same challenges you are facing. Likewise, Gabelman recommends breaking down larger tasks into more manageable chunks: “rather than thinking about how awful it will be to go a whole week without eating cookies, take it day by day or even meal by meal.” Chances of success also increase when the process is enjoyable: “go find some healthy recipes that also sound tasty!  Healthy does not have to be boring and bland.” Each emphasize that success requires drive, tenacity, and a never-give-up attitude. “Just because you slip up, does not mean you failed. The most important thing is to get back on track and continue striving for your goal!”