Fat Dependency


In this  Treatment Issues in Weight Management class, we operate from a perspective that the fundamental issue in long term weight management is having sufficient motivation to power your decision-making in favor of weight management.  When your weight management motivation is sufficiently strong , you will generally direct the focus and energy you need to making good decisions in support of weight management.  Sometimes this is fairly easy and you can get in a weight management gear where you almost routinely make great decisions with little trouble or effort. Other times it is much, much harder.  Given this variability in the energy you need  for weight management, we have been looking at how you can influence your motivation so that your focus and supply of energy are generally sufficient for weight management.  With that in mind, we recently have studied what Self-Determination Theory describes as a spectrum of different motivations with different energies that extend from each one.  The clear treatment implication is that it is of Olympian importance to move your weight management motivation along the motivation spectrum toward intrinsic motivation.  This should be seen as the bedrock - as the absolute foundation - of your approach to weight management. Please see the website pages on self-regulation and motivation for more on this.
 
Competing Motivations

We are now looking further into this issue of motivation - considering that whether or not you have sufficient motivation to power your decision-making in favor of weight management does not hinge solely on the quality or character of your motivation.  Having sufficient energy also hinges on your context.  As a complicated and sophisticated person who is living a mufti-faceted life, the regulation of your weight is not the only thing that matters to you.  Indeed, most of us have quite an array of things of significant importance  to us, and we direct our energies in pursuit of these various issues.  As a result, we have to consider the question of sufficient motivation in the context of all these motivations.  I am, for example, the major bread winner for my family.  It is super important to me that I succeed in having enough income to share with my family. If my energy supplies are low or insufficient to adequately power both my motivation to provide income for my family and my motivation for weight management, then I must decide which motivation should get the energy I have.  These motivations become what we call "competing motivations." I can't power both motivations so I have to decide where I will direct my focus and energies. It seems no wonder that many people stumble with weight management when there are tremendously important competing motivations at play. 
 
Fat Dependency as a Conflicting Motivation

Fat dependency is a prime example of a related, and even more problematic, phenomenon we call a  c0nflicting motivation.  You see, competing motivations only really compete when there is not enough energy to power decisions in favor of both motivations.  If I have sufficient energy, I can manage my weight and manage the family finances at the same time.  Conflicting motivations, however, are in conflict with each other. 
 
In the case of fat dependency, I depend on being overweight for some sort of coping benefit.  In this way, the accomplishment of my motivation to be overweight for specific coping benefit conflicts directly with the accomplishment of my motivation to be a healthy weight for positive weight management.  By the very nature of these two motivations, I cannot accomplish both no matter how much energy I have. Motivation 1 conflicts with motivation 2.  The accomplishment of one implies the failure of the other.  I hope this helps you understand the vital importance of this treatment issue.  Fat dependency directly conflicts with positive weight management!!
 
Understanding Dependency

To best understand the notion of fat dependency, it is helpful to look at our use of the term dependency. There are many different uses of this term in both the professional and popular literatures.  My use extends from a specific view of the personality as an ordered collection of coping mechanisms.  This is to say that throughout our lives, we have the central task of coping with the demands on us to survive and thrive.  To that end, we are at work learning and adopting coping mechanisms which help us cope. You may cope with the demands of school by studying. You may cope with the stress of school by going to a ballgame.  As you learn new coping skills, the personality is at work tracking and associating these skills with specific stressors in your life.  In this way we can see the personality as a housing for the set of links you have between the appearance of a stressor and the use of a coping mechanism for that stressor.  Your constellation of dynamic links between stressors and coping mechanisms becomes, in effect, how we know you.  I may play volleyball when I am stressed about school.  You may clean your apartment.  We all have our specific set of coping mechanisms that we use in specific circumstances.  So in this way, we can understand our personality as a collection of specific coping responses that are organized in certain ways. 
 
From this perspective, there are two considerations in the organization of coping mechanisms in the personality.

The first issue is: with respect to a given stressor, how many coping mechanisms does the person have for this stressor. In the case of the healthiest personality, the person has a collection of different mechanism from which to choose.  e.g. The stressor is: I am hurt by something my husband said.  Coping Mechanisms: I can cry.  I can talk to the person who has hurt me.  I can talk to someone else about being hurt.  I can write about it.  I can process it to develop a plan of reaction.  I can try to ignore it.  I can distract from it by going to a movie.  By having a number of choices, I can pick one that best fits my immediate situation.

The second issue is: given the idea that I have several potential coping responses to a stressor, our personalities are organized so that we usually have a most standard or preferred mechanism - we call that a primary coping mechanism.  But again, this is not the only option, it is just the preferred one.  In the instance of some one who does have back-up mechanisms, often the person will just rely on one of them because he is uncomfortable with some of the others.  The back-up mechanisms are termed secondary coping mechanisms and while the person will use it when the preferred option is not available - often he will not use it all when the primary mechanism is available.

So both the range of mechanisms and the hierarchical arrangement of them by preference are important factors in how a person will behave. 

In the literal extreme, we term someone to have a coping dependency when they have just one coping mechanisms for a specific stressor.  They are thereby dependent on using that mechanism in the event of the appearance of that stressor.  And they will use that mechanism - we know they will use that mechanism - because the fact is that people panic when they are facing a stressor and have no mechanism for managing it.  People panic when they cannot deal with what is happening.  And panic is truly the most dreaded psychological state.  Having no coping mechanism for a stressor facing you strikes you at a survival level.  So in the event of you having just one coping strategy for something - and then given the appearance of the stressor - you will use that mechanism because it is the only thing that stands in the way of you being in a state of panic.  Because of this, people are literally dependent on the mechanism.  I hope this is clear.
 
Fat Dependency

In literal fat dependency, I depend on being fat to cope with something.  And in literal fat dependency, I have no other mechanism to use to cope with that stressor.  I am dependent on being fat because given the appearance of the stressor,  it is all I have between me and panic.  So that is the extreme. 
 
A somewhat less extreme personality arrangement is when there are two mechanisms for coping with a stressor, but one is highly favored over the other.  In this case we view the person to be reliant on the preferred mechanism, but not at risk of panic if she drops down to use a secondary mechanism instead.  She relies but does not depend on the first mechanism.  I hope you see.
 
In fat reliance, then, the person largely prefers to use weight for its coping benefit, but can use a secondary mechanism if there is reason why she cannot use weight.  Both fat dependency and fat reliance are important concerns for us.

How does fat dependency happen?  How does it manifest?  This is what we will study over the next number of sessions. Importantly, we will also be studying the treatment of fat dependency.

You will not find the term "fat dependency" in the attached literature.  It is actually our term.  But as you read through the attached literature, you will see we are far from the only ones to note and comment about weight as a coping mechanism.  So please think about yourself.  Does any of this possibly apply?

Please keep in mind that for the most part, people are not really aware of having some benefit to being overweight.  So even if the notion strikes you as weird and alien at first, please stick with us and please do the reading.  You may ultimately conclude fat dependency is not an issue for you. On the other hand, our study may put you in touch with some things that need our attention.

In the readings, you will come across several iterations of coping by virtue of being overweight:

1. You will read of self-handicapping.  In this iteration, the notion is that people sometimes self-handicap to cope with certain anxieties.  Here the fact of being overweight can be viewed as a handicap that can help me explain to myself:

    a. Why I am not in a relationship I'd like
    b. Why I am not in a job I would like
    c. Why I do not feel good about myself

2. You will read of fat as a safety mechanism.

   
a. My weight keeps people from approaching me sexually...including my husband!
    b. My weight makes me feel big and invulnerable.
    c. My weight makes me asexual, myself - and that is safer.

3. You will read of weight feeling like power or health

    a. My weight signifies that I am not sick.
    b. People view me as more prominent with my weight

4. My weight is my identity:

    a. My whole family is overweight.  If I lose weight, I lose my connections with my family. 
    b. I have spent my life overweight and it is who I am.  Everyone has been trying to get me to lose weight and if I do that, I become their person instead of being me.

Please give this important consideration the thought it deserves as you comb through the readings that interest you:
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Bill Picon,
Oct 8, 2011, 5:09 PM
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Bill Picon,
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Bill Picon,
Oct 8, 2011, 5:11 PM
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Bill Picon,
Oct 8, 2011, 5:14 PM
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Bill Picon,
Oct 8, 2011, 5:11 PM
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Bill Picon,
Oct 8, 2011, 5:11 PM
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