Monthly Archives: August 2018

Ditch the binary view of problem drinking

There are many people out there who drink to excess, yet who only drink in the evenings, don’t drink every day, don’t turn up to social functions drunk, and can hold down jobs or who otherwise don’t fit the stereotype of an ‘alcoholic’. There’s the weekend binge drinkers, the professionals who drink a bottle of wine a day when they get home, the socially-anxious person, the lonely person with a limited social life, these are common types of problem drinkers & patterns of alcohol abuse.

The binary view of drinking problems & the barrier to admitting

There are many people in this category who realize they have a problem, but who don’t fit the stereotype of an alcoholic & are afraid of doing do. What’s worse, people who’re in the earlier stages of the spectrum feel they can’t admit their drinking problem. Why? The fear of being seen as an ‘alcoholic’ & also the requirement to label yourself.

Accusing people of being ‘in denial’ when saying they don’t fit the stereotype

If someone admits they’re worried about their drinking or even admits having signs of dependence such as cravings or not being able to imagine a life without alcohol, they may still be accused of being ‘in denial’ for saying that they only drink in the evenings, don’t drink every day, never drink in the morning, don’t get withdrawal symptoms etc. Even if they’ve openly admitted signs of problem drinking explaining that the drinking is not at alcoholic levels invites accusations of denial or ‘making excuses’.

People can have degrees of psychological dependence on alcohol without being anywhere near the stereotype. People don’t have to drink every day, can only stick to beer, only ever drink in the evenings, but still show signs of psychological dependence. Even if some of the signs of dependence are present, people don’t want to identify as alcoholic.

You’re almost not allowed to admit you have a problem unless it’s severe

It’s as if you’re not allowed to admit having a problem with drinking without saying you fit the ‘alcoholic’ label. It’s as if people can only be EITHER moderate drinkers OR bumbling, disheveled stereotypical alcoholics; drinking every day, drinking first thing in the morning, drunk all the time, shaking violently when they stop. If you admit you have a problem with drinking, admitting you have a problem yet are in an earlier stage on the spectrum & saying your drinking is not as severe as the stereotype gets accusations of being ‘in denial’ or ‘making excuses to carry on drinking’. That is what’s concerning and that’s what’s totally unacceptable.

It’s as if you’re not allowed to admit you have a problem if you don’t fit the alcoholic stereotype. It’s like there’s a rule ‘either admit, but accept the label alcoholic & identify yourself in the same category or don’t admit at all’. That HAS GOT TO CHANGE!

The alternatives to accusing and criticizing

The correct thing to do is to meet the individual where they’re at;

  • Acknowledge & understand that the individual doesn’t want to be identified as an ‘alcoholic’
  • If people explain the ways their drinking pattern doesn’t fit the alcoholic stereotype, don’t accuse them of using it as an excuse or being in denial, instead praise them for admitting they have a problem, remember, focus on the positives
  • Try to understand that the individual might not be ready to stop. It’s likely that alcohol plays many roles in their lives, find out what it does for them, relate to their reasons for drinking, find out why they started
  • Try not to give advice until you know some details about the situation
  • Acknowledge that there is a spectrum of drinking problems & dependence, find out where they are, are they dependent, do they have signs of physical dependence
  • Avoid making assumptions about their drinking problem.
  • DO NOT CRITICIZE and do not pressure, UNDERSTAND & relate

You will not encourage healthier behaviors be criticizing and knocking people.

Much recovery material focuses TOO MUCH ON THE NEGATIVE

If people admit they have a problem with drinking, rather than being met at where they are, they will be accused of ‘making excuses’ & ‘being in denial’ if they explain that their drinking doesn’t fit the alcoholic stereotype. Much of it focuses on the bad of drinking, rather than what it does for you and finding alternative ways.

“Much of it focuses on the evils of drinking rather than what it does for you and on finding alternative ways”

This is NOT a long term solution to drinking problems. People drink too much because they see it gives them a benefit. Find out what it does for them, relate to any similar situations before criticizing.

Conclusion

It’s like the recovery community forces people to accept that they are in the same category as those disheveled people swigging whiskey out of a brown paper bag, drinking every day day or else they have no business. Any admission of a drinking problem not fitting the alcoholic stereotype is met with accusations of being ‘in denial’, ‘making excuses to carry on drinking’ with absolutely no attempts to relate. That you’re not an alcoholic is not seen as a positive, that you’ve admitted you have a problem is not seen as a positive but met with criticism, accusation and ridicule. No wonder the conventional system is so ineffective at making people stop.

What I don’t agree with is the way people are so quick to accuse a problem drinker of being in denial just for explaining their drinking pattern. No, no, NO! Relate, empathize and understand!

Bottling it all up can=the bottle

In my earlier years, I’ve had people to talk to, older and wiser people to confide in & have a hear to heart to. I’d been in the habit of journaling and making notes knowing that I’d sooner or later be able to talk to someone. As I’ve gotten older, this has become less and less the case. This has been for a variety of reasons, including people I used to have to talk to getting busier & harder to contact, drifting apart and moving away. As I ended-up having no-one to turn to I’ve turned to another habit.

I started turning to the Internet to find people to talk to through online forums. To a degree this has been helpful in realizing that people out there are in the same situation, at the same time it’s increased the levels of loneliness. In some of these places, I was accused of ‘relying on others’ when I needed someone to talk to, for reaching out.

The ‘silent and strong’ approach didn’t work for me

If people, particularly men are unhappy, struggling, lonely or need a hear to heart, or someone to hear you and listen, doing so is viewed as weak. Men are supposed to be silent and strong, not talk about their feelings, keep it to themselves, be self-reliant, not need others right. So, I tried that approach. Do you know what happened? Do you know who I turned to talk to when I felt I had no-one? That’s right, I discovered alcohol took the edge off so I turned to drowning my sorrow. I started drinking during those evenings & fell out of the more healthy habit of journaling and calling a friend.

Why do I bottle it all up?

Simple question to answer, I have no-one to talk to & have NO CHOICE! Choice of either the Internet or trying to distract myself. Distraction doesn’t work, as soon as you stop, the pain comes back & springs back like a spring that’s been help down.

I’d rather go for a blood test than endure the evening

I’m not exaggerating, I DREAD lonely evenings with no-one to talk to more than I dread going for a blood test. I found that the last blood test was no-where near as painful by comparison. Quick little prick, done, not hours of psychological torture. In fact, I would dread a visit to the dentist less.

What’s to take away?

Not having any confidants or any form of social support to turn to I would wager is a common reason many people try to fill with alcohol & other substances, & vices like gambling, gaming and shopping. Loneliness is another gap, not having anyone to talk to is another which is what I’m addressing.  Our society is in complete denial, it refuses to acknowledge the reasons people turn to their vice in the first place, which may still be relevant. People see things like drinking, drug use, and other vices as the problem rather than a symptom of a problem. Lack of social support, listening ears or people to talk to are no doubt major reasons.

The internet is no substitute for a social life

People bang on about how the Internet makes us more connected to others and how it opens up more social opportunities. To a degree, this is true. What’s not advisable (and concerning) is to rely on the net for your social needs. Here’s why;

  • It can be downright LONELY with a capital L
  • RE networking sites, seeing all those people who have it all (posting the best bits about themselves) can make you feel rubbish, lacking & missing
  • You can feel like a small fish in a big pond, not a part of a group (many avenues)
  • You may talk to people you find you’re on the same page with, but not be in the same space with them, this can be great but make you feel profoundly lonely not being in the same space
  • No replies; whether it be threads on forums, videos on youtube, posts on blogs, seeing no replies, that can be a degree of loneliness that we would not have known existed, this is worse than being in a bar waiting for a tardy friend to turn up
  • When dealing with anonymous strangers, people can say things they wouldn’t dare to in real in life & be much more cutting than they would dare in real life
  • If you’re socially-isolated & get most your social contact through the Internet it can expose you to the darker sides of people, what you wouldn’t see in real life
  • The Internet can make social anxiety worse; since people say things they wouldn’t say in real life, there’s a danger of worsening social anxiety. If most your exposure to people is through the Internet, you’re going to see a worse version of people than you’d encounter in everyday life, then expect that worse version. This will make you more nervous around people

The plus side

It’s not all negative, the net allows you to gain access to new people that your local social environment might not allow. It can allow us to find real-life ways to socialize and mix with new people that wouldn’t have been possible in former times. It’s a convenient tool (read ‘tool’) & a communication device.

To end

I do not recommend relying on the Internet as a substitute for real life social life. People who have a high reliance on the Internet for their social life have higher rates of depression and substance use disorders. Given the reasons above, it’s not surprising why. This is not saying ‘don’t use the Internet’, this is saying recognize if you’re using it as a substitute.

See also;

Meeting people

Why is alcohol seen differently from other drugs?

How come it’s OK to admit you have a problem with smoking, yet with alcohol, there’s this stigma around admitting it? smokers can openly admit they get cravings for cigarettes, but with alcohol, doing so runs the risk of being stigmatized as a shameful alcoholic with some incurable disease. If you get addicted to nicotine, people will acknowledge that it’s an addictive substance and you got hooked for using it, poor sod. Even for people who get addicted to some of the hard drugs like cocaine or heroine, people see the drug as the problem for being highly addictive, not the person. Yet if you get hooked to alcohol, you’re seen differently, as having something wrong with you, being a weak willed, broken person with a disease. Alcohol is a drug like any other with the potential to get you addicted if misused,
why can’t it be seen like that? Why is alcohol seen differently from other drugs?

The reasons;

  • Alcohol is the most popular recreational drug in the world
  • It’s a focus of many of our meeting places (the same can be said RE caffeine in coffee shops but caffeine is not as dangerous) unlike cigarettes or the other recreational drugs
  • It’s a shared common experience that’s widely-related to, not so with the other drugs
  • It’s almost impossible to have a social life without being in an environment where it’s available or even expected, unlike other drugs which are easy to get away from (caffeine being the exception, but this is a benign drug in comparison, has nothing like the mid-altering power of alcohol)
  • There’ a whole system of etiquette that & norms that exists around alcohol that does not exist around other drugs
  • People have many fond & happy memories associated with times when they were under the influence of alcohol
  • Alcohol takes years to get people addicted unlike other recreational drugs
  • The majority of people who use it do not develop addictions (the same can be said for other drugs including nicotine); many go through a phase of heavy drinking at some points in their life, but this generally mellows down & doesn’t progress to addiction
  • Many people don’t even see alcohol as a drug, sometimes even getting offended by referring to it as such

Why is there a stigma against admitting to being addicted to alcohol?

Alcohol is the only mainstream drug with similar life damaging potential as the hard street drugs. Although caffeine & nicotine are also mainstream drugs, they’re not in the same league as far as the potential to destroy lives & cause social problems is concerned. All the other drugs of a similar hazard are part of a niche subculture, not mainstream. We could argue that alcohol is the only hard drug that’s enjoys the social-acceptability status of say, caffeine.

If alcohol is so addictive then why doesn’t everyone who uses it get addicted?

The majority of people who drink don’t abuse it, at least not for a prolonged period of time. People get addicted to substances as a result of misusing it, using it excessively over a prolonged period of time; building up a tolerance (the physical side), & developing cravings for it (the psychological side), alcohol is no exception. What’s more, alcohol gets people addicted very slowly in comparison to some of the harder drugs, often over the course of years. People who get addicted may not realize they have a problem until they try to cut down or stop. For more information;

stages of problem-drinking

Why is alcohol socially-acceptable?

Even though it kills more people per year than the hard drugs like heroine & coke combined & costs a lot more in terms of crime & disorder, it remains the most socially-acceptable drug on the planet. This is for all the reasons stated above, that ‘everyone does it’.

Should alcohol be less socially-acceptable?

It’s not social acceptability & use of alcohol that’s the problem, it’s the factors that drive people to abuse it & use it in a high-risk manner that’s the problem. The same is true with other substances. This is not a call for making alcohol less socially-acceptable nor is this a defense of heavy drinking, but about exploring & understanding the role that it plays & why it’s seen differently.

Against prohibitionism

Prohibitionist policies such as making alcohol less affordable are ineffective for the following reasons;

  • They don’t address the root of the problem, social problems that could drive people to abuse substances & can even divert attention away from what drives people to turn to substances in the first place
  • They can open up an opportunity for black market
  • what’s more prohibitionist policies unfairly penalize the majority of those drinkers who do not abuse it

Reasons people might misuse substances including alcohol

Common ones include;

  • They may not be lonely or have any gap in their life
  • They may get into a habit of daily drinking ‘winding down’ after work
  • They may use it as a way to cope with difficult social situations
  • They may have gotten into a pattern of getting drunk to socialize and may have built up the belief that
  • They may not have anyone to talk to who understands & may turn to substances as a substitute for this

People might misuse substances for a variety of reasons, many of these are very personal, whether they be using it to cope social situations or to escape or have gotten into a habit.

Conclusion

People don’t see alcohol the same way as other drugs even though it’s one of the most addictive substances on planet Earth; in the same top 5 league table with heroine & causes far more damage and costs than all the other drugs combined. A big part of the reasons is, people don’t view alcohol, or respect it as a drug. People who get addicted to substances do so as a result of abusing them & using them heavily repeatedly. Alcohol is absolutely no different from any other drug in that regard. We shouldn’t see people who become addicted to alcohol as having something wrong with them or being broken or morally inferior, but instead, having become addicted as a result of repeatedly abusing a highly addictive substance. After all, we don’t view heavy smokers as having a disease or having something wrong with them, we see them as having gotten hooked as a result of repeatedly using. Alcohol should be viewed the same way.

Breaking the comfort trap of loneliness

One thing that can happen in any unhappy circumstance is that we can fall into a ‘comfort trap’; whereby our situation isn’t happy, but comfortable enough for us to get by. This is applicable to many situations including loneliness.

Why do we fall into comfort traps?

There are two forces at play; expectation of pleasure & fear of pain. The fear of pain on changing & expectation of comfort on continuing, the lack of fear of pain on not changing the lack of expectation of pleasure on making changes.

We think that the actions that are needed to change our circumstances for the better are going to be painful, fraught with difficulty or doomed to failure, yet at the same time we may have lost track of what’s making us unhappy & the ability to visualize & dream of a better quality of life. Especially if being in the habit of pushing our sources of unhappiness to the back of our minds and getting on with it might be part of the problem.

The ‘what’ vs. the ‘why’

When we focus on the WHAT needs to be done to change our situation for the better, it can sometimes de-motivate us, make us feel overwhelmed and discouraged. When we focus on the WHY we need to make those changes, we increase our willingness to put ourselves through the discomfort.

Two good questions to ask

  • What would you like to be different
  • What can’t you stand about your current situation

Sometimes the former can be harder to answer.

What can’t you stand about your situation?

A good place to start if you’re unhappy but comfortable & lacking in motivation is to ask this question. Remind yourself of what you’ve had enough of, what you wouldn’t miss about your current circumstances, what you’d want to see the back of. Some examples might be;

  • Having no-one to meet up with & being cooped in too much
  • Having to do things on your own, wishing you had someone to do things with
  • Never getting to meet new people
  • Never getting to mix socially with people of the opposite sex your age
  • Painful lonely summer afternoons; seeing all those happy couples and large groups of friends
  • Never getting to go on dates
  • A sense of missing out on life
  • Not having anyone to share your interests or life with
  • The painfully lonely evenings

If you’re lonely and comfortable, do any of the above apply? If they do it can be helpful to remind yourself of those times you’ve felt particularly lonely, worked-up or frustrated. Don’t shove this to the back of your mind, use it as leverage to drive you to take actions. From there, you’ll be able to start to dream of a better social lot.

Update; What would you like to be different?

It’s also important to have compelling reasons to make changes for those times when your situation is no longer painful enough to keep you motivated, it’s also important to dream of how you want your social life to be different. What would you like to be different? Just imagine;

  • Having people to do things with that you might currently (be forced to) do alone
  • There being reasons to leave the house
  • People to share your interests with
  • Losing track of time with people in conversation
  • No longer feeling at a dead end
  • Actually getting to mingle if you’re single
  • Having doors open and options to meet new people; a greater sense of assurance that dating could be a possibility

Conclusion

If you’re unhappily lonely, you know what actions you might need to take, but are lacking motivation due to feeling comfortable, I wouldn’t rule out that part of the reason could be due to your situation being content & losing sight of those times you’ve felt particularly lonely & your reasons for making those changes. Sometimes, it can be good to remind yourself of those moments you’ve felt particularly bad. Sometimes if you’re unhappily lonely, you can be painfully reminded of these things at certain times of years such as Christmas and summer. This is a good thing, use it to create leverage. Although the things we don’t like about our situation & what we’d like to see the back of can be good motivators initially (the ‘stick’), our motivation can drop when our situation starts to become less painful. This is why it’s also important to think of all the possible benefits that taking action could have for you (whilst ignoring the negativity brigade and nay-sayers). This is so important for getting leverage to drive you to take action.

A complaint about social anxiety message boards

One of the things I’ve noticed on social anxiety message boards is that some people seem to advocate avoidance. Very often you’ll get a thread from someone complaining about either loneliness or a social challenge, then you’ll get people coming in banging on about how they like their own company, how they don’t need human contact & how the best strategy is to avoid all people.

Whenever I’ve raised threads about conversation trouble spots and tried to get discussions going about ways to handle various social situations, I’ve had people coming up with replies such as ‘that’s why I avoid everything’, ‘the best way is not to talk to people’, ‘you’re better off on your own’. Usually I promptly & bluntly point out that this strategy is a guaranteed way to miss out on life rather than let my topic get diverted & derailed.

Isn’t avoiding everything part of the source of your unhappiness in the first place? If you weren’t unhappy socially, you wouldn’t be on a social anxiety message board would you?  Isn’t part of the reason you’re posting on a social anxiety forum motivated by the hope that you’d find strategies to overcome your fears that are driving you to avoid things? If you weren’t either unhappy with your social lot or struggling in any ways socially, you wouldn’t be posting on a social anxiety message board would you?

It’s blatantly clear from a lot of the message boards that I’ve visited where I see these sorts of responses, that a lot of people making them are not happy with their social life or relationships.

I thought the purpose of social anxiety message boards was a platform for people to share their experiences and ideas of various strategies to overcome various social challenges. What makes me cross is that in many cases, this doesn’t seem to be the case at all with many discussions. You get people advising doing the very things that keep you stuck in a an unhappy rut in the first place & advising against trouble-shooting the issue at hand.

Why we haven’t been successful in tackling obesity?

We all know we should be eating better, reducing sugar and fat, exercising more & eating a balanced diet. Disturbingly what I don’t see raised is, what makes healthy choice more difficult for most people to put into effect? I think the fact that this question largely gets ignored is part of the problem. Just about every policy to promote healthier lifestyles & reduce obesity has had one thing in common; relying on individual behavior change, whilst totally ignoring the wider factors that influence those choices.

Before carrying on, let’s highlight some of the factors that are fueling the obesity epidemic;

  • Sedentary jobs and lifestyles (long, unbroken periods sat down are major factor, even if going to the gym)
  • Car-centric transportation system (limits opportunity for daily physical activity)
  • Sedentary recreation activities (partly fueled by technology and partly by dispersed living patterns which in some cases limits people’s opportunity to meet up)
  • Decline in the amount of home cooking & more eating out (further research needed into factors fueling this trends)
  • Increasing portion sizes in restaurants and ready meals
  • Widespread availability of snacks & junk food

Individuals don’t make choices in a vacuum

One thing that just about every article, tv program & piece of public health advice has in common is this; it totally ignores the wider factors that that make the ‘healthy’ choices harder. This is not to argue that individuals shouldn’t make good choices or to excuse bad choices but it does mean we should look beyond ‘behaviour change’ and consider the wider context which influences people’s behaviours.

Cycling in Holland vs. driving in the USA; an example of why we need to look beyond the individual

Many people know that they shouldn’t use the car for short trips and that they should cycle instead. Even though it maybe quicker, more reliable, cheaper, easier to find a place to park, & exercise with no willpower, but the question is, why in some countries do few people cycle for everyday transport & in other places they do? Sure, anyone can choose to cycle instead of drive, but what factors influence that decision? Why do so many people cycle in the Netherlands and Denmark & so few in the UK and USA?

The answer is simple;

  • In low-cycling places, it’s perceived by many to be less safe & thus less attractive than driving; this is mostly due to car-centric road design, lacking bike lanes on main roads (a primary factor)
  • It’s also not normalized as a way to get about, there’s something called ‘modal stigmatization’; lots of negative stereotypes have arisen about people who cycle (the lycra-clad guy hogging the road, or the kid terrorizing old ladies on the footway)
  • In low cycling contexts where few people cycle for transport, many people often aren’t even aware of the advantages over the car for short trips (quicker, more reliable, easier to find a place to park)
  • In low-cycling cities & countries, there’s a lot unhelpful myths & lies people believe about it being impractical (e.g. that you need lots of ‘stuff’, that it makes you sweaty, that you can’t carry very much)

People’s choices in any behavior are strongly influenced by the environment, cultural factors, norms & many other factors.

Truth is, if the ‘good’ choice is the more difficult, attractive or less convenient one, then I’m afraid to say, most people will vote with their feet & that you won’t be very successful in achieving large-scale change. The Netherlands recognized this in the 70’s & moved away from car-centric road design & thus made cycling for short trips relatively stress free to a degree that people would choose the bike over the car. As a result of this, cycling never declined to the point where it wasn’t seen as normal. Other countries continues the car-centric mistakes of the 60’s, relied on ‘behavior change’ and ‘encouragement’. Have they achieved the same results? The answer is NO. Why? Reliance on behavior change & ignoring the factors that affects people’s choices. The same is true for reducing obesity.

The limits of individual behavior change; examples

What reliance on individual choices fails to do is look at the factors that influence people’s lifestyle choices. Let’s look at some examples;

  • We can choose to cycle short distances, but we can’t make it look ‘normal’ in an area where few people cycle and most the cyclists are sportive-looking, nor can we choose the fact that a lot of people would find close encounters of vehicles renders the bike unattractive in comparison to the car
  • We can choose to eat organic, but we can’t change the fact that a lot of people might not be able to afford it
  • We can choose to make a couscous salad for lunch instead of getting a takeaway, but we can’t change the fact that if there’s a takeaway on every corner, temptation will always be there & a lot of people will opt for that option
  • We can choose to drink in moderation, but we can’t change the fact that the environment you’re drinking in is highly unpleasant to be in when sober
  • We can choose to use the bus instead of the car, but we may not be able to change the fact that it’s infrequent, expensive, slow or requires buying a separate ticket to change buses & if given a choice between bus or car for that journey, a lot of people will opt for the car
  • We can choose to throw a party with no alcohol involved, but we can’t change the fact that a lot of people believe that alcohol is necessary to have a good time
  • We can try going without a mobile phone, but we can’t change the fact that other people may depend on it
  • We can choose to ride a practical sit-up and beg bike instead of a mountain bike, but we can’t change the fact that in low-cycling contexts it’s socially-unacceptable, that people will think you’re an ‘old man’ or your riding a ‘woman’s bike’ in a, (this is a direct result of the bike market largely catering to recreation rather than transport, which in turn is a result of cycling for transport being unattractive)

You see what I’m saying? Individual choices are not made in a vacuum. Things like cultural norms, the infrastructure, environment, policies, people’s habits, normalization & many factors are significant factors.

So long as the ‘good’ choices remain the difficult & less attractive choices for the vast majority of a population, you’re very unlikely to achieve much in the way of success and make much of a real difference at a population level.

Mass gym membership won’t solve the obesity crisis

All this drive to get more people running and into gyms although healthy, won’t be very successful for the following reasons; firstly, it’ll only appeal to a limited segment of the population, secondly; this is not really addressing the route causes of physical inactivity & third; it could potential reinforce people’s unhelpful beliefs about physical activity. It’s important a more positive message is given about physical activity, that it can be enjoyable, that you should find something that’s right for you, that you can stick to. The key to boosting physical activity is to integrated it into daily life.

Also, the widespread promotion of gyms and running reinforces the idea that fat people are somehow lazy and should be punished. That is not the message that should be sent about physical activity. It is this message about physical activity that puts people off.

The secret about low-obesity countries

In places like Japan and Italy, people are not as fat is mainly because the reasons that have been highlighted in the beginning of the post are not as pronounced as they are in countries like the USA, it’s as simple as that. The culture, the local food environment, what sorts of foods are available & food shopping habits that do not promote over-eating are still relatively normalized & convenient. In southern Spain, I remember that in all the supermarkets I went to, the Isle of snack foods and sugary cereals is significantly smaller than it would be in most UK supermarkets. In the same way that cycling is normalized and convenient in the Netherlands and Denmark, healthy eating patterns and portions need to be normalized & made convenient the same way.

Of course, shifting from cars to cycling or cycling+train for longer trips is part of the solution, even though I was using the cycling example to illustrate how looking beyond individual actions can achieve results at a population level, this still is part of the solution. By far the easiest way to get a population active is through transport and recreation.

People in low-low obesity countries are no less ‘lazy’ than people of high obesity countries, it’s just the the culture and the physical environment makes the healthier choices & patterns easier, more convenient and normal. If you’re a policy-maker, then having that stance will not help you identify the route cause nor will it allow you to achieve anything.

The dangers of blaming each other

It’s true that individuals taking positive actions can inspire each other to follow suit, but what they don’t tell you is there’s a potential caveat. Seeing social problems as purely a result of individual changes can be divisive & create an ‘us and them’ mentality;

  • Those who make positive changes to their lives in an environment which is (to be honest) largely rigged to bad choices are likely to see themselves as superior and to develop a sense of smugness & superiority
  • The other danger of ignoring the context which shapes people’s lifestyle choices is that it can deflect attention away from the institutions, cultural norms & the myriad other factors which influence people’s lifestyle choices

There’s a bit of stereotype out there about people in health and fitness being arrogant, this doesn’t describe every fitness fanatic but isn’t entirely inaccurate either.

If we’re focused on labeling those individuals who don’t make good lifestyle choices as ‘lazy’, then we’re in danger of diverting attention away from the questions that really need to be asked; why do people make the choices that they do? What is it that makes the ‘good’ choices difficult or less practical? In some ways, we argue that some promoters of fitness could even be a hindrance rather than a help if they are guilty of any of the above.

So you’re saying individuals are not responsible?

Some will be jumping to the conclusion that this is an argument against all individual choice. That is not what this is saying at all. Good choices are ultimately up to the individual, but that doesn’t mean that the the context in which choices are made should be ignored. I’m fully aware of how black-and-white, all-or-nothing people tend to think. It’s important to recognize yourself doing this.

Why aren’t these issues more widely-addressed?

Raising bigger picture issues like this, a lot of people like to try and resort to the technique of accusing the individual who’s raising these points as ‘making excuses’ for bad choices & then accusing the individual raising the point of making those choices, even if there’s no evidence at all to suggest that they are. I can’t remember the name is of this type of deflection technique, but it’s dreadfully common.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that obesity continues to increase despite lots of ‘awareness campaigns’, ‘fat taxes’ and many other ‘soft measures’. What’s never, ever raised are the factors that influence people’s choices or what makes the ‘healthy’ choices harder, or what might make daily physical activity difficult, or what makes less sitting time more difficult. We need to go beyond the individual and go to the next level; what makes the ‘good’ choices hard for the average person to put into effect? What’s driving the trends that I highlighted at the beginning if the article? How can we change these? These questions need to be asked if we want to stand any hope of making a difference on a population level. It’s about time that this was given some thought.