Anxiety and weight

09/07/2012 § 6 Comments

As much as economic activity is assumed to produce utility, which is described as satisfaction or happiness, it also seems to generate a lot of anxiety. Preference-function-based utility doesn’t have to deal with this. People buy things because they prefer them, and we know they prefer them because they buy them. Utility is simply the result of a preference function, about which we can say nothing (de gustibus non est disputandum).

Economists leave it to the sociologists, psychologists, and psychoanalysts to discuss whether what people prefer is ‘good’. One person tackling this question is Andrew Dickson, a lecturer at Massey University whom I know through the Centre for Lacanian Analysis. He has a blog called Other Side of Weight Loss. He is getting a bit of press at the moment for his thesis research on anxiety and the weight loss industry (or is that the weight anxiety industry?):

He argues that because obesity is not a top-line health risk, the disadvantages for society from weight anxiety outweigh any benefits.

“The types of neurotic behaviour we get as a result of many of the messages of the weight-loss industry, the yo-yo dieting, the incredibly disordered eating, the addiction to exercise – all these [are] painful effects – and probably the most common would be self-loathing, hating being in your own body, which is just a crap way of living.”

A preference function leads to ‘a crap way of living’. Hmm. Definitely an area for more research.

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§ 6 Responses to Anxiety and weight

  • Hmm. If we’re going to start counting psychic things like weight anxiety as a cost, how do we not count the utility enjoyed by those who prefer gazing on a crowd of thinner people? I know that’s heterogeneous and all, but surely the aggregate preference weight runs in one direction here….

  • What about the utility suffered by those people gazing on the same crowd of thinner people Eric? enjoyment and pain are very closely related – as is nicely expressed in the French term jouissance. Thus preference weight runs in both directions… An example is the impressionable young woman or man looking on a group of thinner people, enjoying the spectacle as you say, but simultaneously hating themselves for not being as ‘good’ as the group. This person may gain more absolute utility from gazing upon a group of fatties, even if it disgusts them. Your assumption is that the person gazes without also being gazed upon… however we live in a Panopticon…!

    Thanks for the post Bill – I agree much research to be done 😉

  • Horace the Grump says:

    Yeah… I’m with Eric on this… I am a former fat bastard – weighted 145kg at one point and now am about 96kg with a plan to get to around 90 before summer…

    I know all to well what it is like to be the fat guy in the crowd and could whine on about how I have been unfairly treated and the social pressure etc etc etc.

    However, being a fatso is a choice, not a great choice, but a choice nonetheless… so I eventually came to the conclusion that I wanted to make a different choice and I made it – not easy… but then nothing worth doing ever is.

    Frankly, I think Othersideofweightloss is making shit up to create a for himself.

  • Horace, you grumpy (former) fat bastard… what am I making up for myself? Your final sentence doesn’t make sense – this can be corrected by attendance at a university.

    Congratulations on your weight loss! I also lost around 50kgs – so I understand the feelings you are having. It is a choice for some of us, but not for others – 95% of people who diet regain the weight, that is not all down to willpower as those on the right tend to argue. Google HAES for another way. With love, Andrew.

  • This is an interesting thought. I don’t know how much I believe it.

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