Why are so many people fat? Is it because there are too many takeaway stores? If you listen to some progressive activists this is where they will focus their argument; people are fat because the food available around them is unhealthy and cheap. It is not their fault, society conspires against them to make them work long hours and then coerce them into buying bad food!
But the truth is for the price of a meal from McDonalds you can cook up a high quality, 300gram steak on the BBQ and eat it with boiled carrots and drink water, and you will be far healthier over the long term if you do this regularly.
So, availability of good food is not the problem. To say this is the problem is just to pretend that people do not have agency, they are simply products of their environment and cannot really make their own choices. If this were the case there would be no thin people.
So why are so many people fat? Let me suggest a more basic reason: it is a particular form of narcissism, probably sometimes coupled with some form of self-loathing. This reasoning comes from several sources.
For one I have observed how obstinate many overweight people are. Many do not believe they need to lose weight, they do not believe they should lose weight, and they at times even believe they are superior to those who work hard to keep weight off. Some even think they are superior because they are not as focused on appearance, or because they focus on other endeavours that they would not have the time for if they wasted time on “getting into” shape.
It takes an incredibly inflated self-image to carry that kind of weight around with you, with all of the accompanying issues it causes, and not think you need to do something to deal with it; especially if you fly regularly. It is an inherently self-deluded and self-inflated view of oneself… pun definitely intended.
This does not mean that all people who are overweight are like this! Some may have serious health issues, or simply neglectful parents who encourage their children to stack on the pounds, but this is still true for a lot of fat people.
Secondly, the Bible shows us that obesity can be a fruit of narcissism:
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:17-19)
“Their god is their belly.” Here Paul addresses the sin of gluttony which in a way is a corrupted form of self-worship and self-indulgence. That is what narcissism is, an excessive amount of self-interest. Some obese people are so obsessed with what they put into their bodies, or more accurately, they are so enslaved to putting into their bodies what their stomachs demand of them, that they dedicate a large proportion of their time to this self-interest – at the expense of their health.
Instead of cutting back on some decadent, edible delight, they would often rather pop a pill or take a needle than stop eating a beloved food and get on the treadmill. There is a reason that obesity culture has turned into “body positive” culture. It is because many obese people delude themselves about what they are doing to their bodies, their looks, and their health anyway. Why would this not naturally result in a social culture that gets offended at being told to drop a few Ks for their good and the good of society? Healthcare costs society a lot.
Of course, this is not just the result of narcissism, it is also the fruit of laziness.
“One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12)
But even laziness is a form of narcissism. It is not the selfless, motivated to serve person who is lazy. It is the person who is too interested in their own leisure and pleasure. It is the self-serving person who is often lazy.
I first really became aware of this during Covid. There was constant messaging that obese people were at the highest risk of severe illness. But rather than create a worldwide phenomenon of big people hitting the gyms, streets and treadmills at home to shed weight, this caused most of these people to despise the healthy people who were not afraid. Many got behind the mandates and lockdowns in their most extreme forms, and then lined up with glee for their mystery shots.
How narcissistic is it to expect the entire society to come to a halt because you are at slightly higher risk of a virus because of your own life choices? Yet this is how many people were acting. You were selfish if you were healthy and did not want the shot. You were a hero if you got your shot, your free donut, and sat your arse back on your couch and watched all the news updates for what you were supposed to do next. I even mentioned in some sermons how people could protect themselves from serious illness by getting fitter. This went down like a led balloon (or a cheesecake at a tubby man’s birthday party).
Thirdly, researchers have observed a high level of narcissism in overweight people:
“The role of narcissism as a modulator of self-satisfaction with one’s body varies depending on BMI level: extremely underweight women and obese individuals constitute groups in which narcissism has the strongest impact on the self-satisfaction with body.”
The study also found:
“Vanity and Leadership were narcissism dimensions which played significant role in slim women, as compared to Vanity and Self-Sufficiency in obese women.”
Of course, it is not just obese people who are narcissistic, but studies are bearing out that the rapid rise of obesity is driven by a narcissism epidemic in our society.
As another study which found the same thing shows:
“Our theory is in line with obesity experts, who have stated that one of the main issues in our society today is that it is perceived as too competitive with undue emphasis on physical appearance. This essay is by essence reductionist, and does not attempt to assess all forms of obesity, some of which are likely to have other origins.”
In other words, some people lean into their obesity to show that they are not giving in to the pressure to take care of their appearance. It is a pendulum swing of sorts. “I don’t need no healthy habits! I’m good as I am, the world can deal with it,” kind of thinking. This is perverse, but obesity can be a perversion.
People often forget that gluttony, the major cause of obesity, is both a self-obsessed sin and a deadly sin that ranks alongside lust, adultery and murder. The man with the porn habit can keep it hidden, but the glutton often can’t.
There is a form of narcissism and gluttony that exists for those who are too picky about what they eat as well, but I will leave that to another discussion of gluttony in all its forms. For the sakes of this piece it is enough to show that so many people are fat because they are self-obsessed.
Maybe it is because they just give their body whatever it asks for, maybe it is because they want to rebel against a perceived pressure to look good. Either way, narcissism is a powerful driver of obesity and it is no wonder that large levels of obesity correlate with the high levels of selfishness and self-indulgence in Western societies today.
Matthew Littlefield writes to think through some of the current issues facing society, the Church and whatever else comes to mind that might be interesting to process. Matt's focus is usually historical or scriptural, though he will address current issues from time to time as well. He is a co-author of The Ezekiel Declaration and the book, Defending Conscience, How Baptists reminded the Church to defy tyranny. He blogs most days at YoungGospelMinister.blogspot.com.
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