I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I’ll go further into the concept of Fatty today.
Fatty is the one who makes bad decisions. Fatty is the one who eats all the food. Fatty is the one who won’t get up off of the couch.
Now this isn’t a unique concept to me. The Oatmeal produced a comic about running, that focused largely on The Blerch. Part of the reason I latched onto this comic so well was because it was very insightful and felt very reflective of my own experiences. I don’t have quite the same visualization when I think of Fatty, but it gets the point across pretty well.
At the heart of it is the fact that I’m scared to death of being fat. When I was little, I was pudgy. Only a sadist would have called me fat since it was the age of 5 and earlier, but I was round. Like a baby-sized bowling ball. Then around 6 or 7, I got skinny.
From that point on, being skinny was easy. In fact, throughout high school, I struggled to put on weight. I was doing multiple sports and constantly running between track and football, so I had trouble adding weight.
And then I got to college.
At first it was nice because I was lifting almost every day, and I put on 15 pounds of muscle. This was the first time I wasn’t running constantly and was able to actually put on weight. But then I fell out of the habit of working out, and I learned what bad weight gain looked like.
From this point on, I got into a little battle with myself. I’m not sure when I started conceptualizing the bad guy as Fatty, but it happened, and it stuck.
It was partially because it was funny, and partially because it felt true. It was like this little fat kid was sitting around trying to eat the worst junk food and then sit around not being active.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but it’s not that far from the truth.
If you check out The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, you’ll see some pretty interesting research about how people can make better decisions and why people make bad decisions.
One of the concepts that comes up is that when we’re making bad decisions, it’s almost like someone else is making the decisions. For me, that’s Fatty. For The Oatmeal, it’s the Blerch.
What gets interesting in this process is that one of the best ways to beat Fatty (or whatever you choose to name your alter ego; You can always go with Ethel) is to remove choices from Fatty’s discretion. I read it in the book, but it’s something I’d already been doing when I was being smart.
For eating, the best thing I can do is portion out my food into multiple meals when I cook. I don’t even eat what I want to eat first. I split the food and put the containers away before I grab the plate for my current meal. This is about the only way to keep Fatty from overeating. And even then, I have to make sure I don’t get bored and grab something else to eat.
For working out, it was harder. I was a gym goer and a weekend runner for the longest time. During the week, it depended on me waking up early because I wouldn’t go when it was crowded after work. I would do go for a while, but eventually there was nothing I could seem to do to get myself up. I’d pack my bag and have my gym clothes ready, but I just wasn’t ready to function between 5 and 6 in the morning. Eventually, I would get sick, tired, or just busy, and I’d fall off the wagon.
I didn’t find a good rhythm until I started running after work. The gym bothered me with the crowds, but it was never that crowded outside after work, so taking my running routes worked out just fine.
But Fatty could still win this game. It was too easy to forget my gym bag at home. I actually took all of my running gear to the office and stashed it in the desk. I had three pairs of running shoes, a couple pairs of running shorts, some shirts, socks, and even a bunch of lanyards so I could run with my keys. I had preferred options within each set, but I was good for running in any of that gear.
And lastly, I guilt Fatty. I tell people my goals. It sounds stupid, but it works. For better or worse, it always seems to work. Once I let people know my goals, I become hell-bent on achieving them. Some people are supportive, which is nice. And some people want to see you fail, which works even better for motivation.
So we’ve figured out how to outsmart Fatty, but what’s with all this alter ego business?
There’s some sort of disassociation that occurs between us and the parts of us that make bad decisions. That’s where Fatty comes in. Part of us wants to make good decisions, but a part of us also wants to make bad decisions (of course they’re not really bad decisions in historical terms; eating fatty food saved your ass over the winter before there were McDonalds on every corner).
But there’s another alter ego to contend with. It’s your future self. A lot of times we make bad decisions today because we think we’re going to make a good decision tomorrow. I can have fast food for lunch today because I’ll eat healthy tomorrow. The problem is that tomorrow comes and we make bad decisions again because we’ll make better decisions the day after tomorrow.
So what’s the deal with this particular alter ego? It’s a sort-of alter ego.
Really, our future selves are almost treated as completely other people. When we think of our future selves, our brain is firing like it’s a different person. And for some inexplicable reason, we trust that other person to make better choices.
But there’s a trick. There’s always a trick.
Not everyone makes the bad decision. So what’s the difference? Turns out people who tend to make better decisions today have a different view of their future selves. Their view of their future selves in more in line with their view of their current selves, so they’re not seeing this future decision maker as some separate entity; they see this future decision maker as a part of who they are currently.
And so it’s Fatty all around us, even in the future. I don’t believe it’s turtles all the way down, but I’m starting to believe that maybe it’s Fatties all the way down.