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Determinism • Posted: Feb 15, 2015 11:03:06Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Some interesting news this week that may bring a least a modicum of psychological relief to those suffering from obesity. Too often uncontrollable weight gain is attributed to a failing of character. Overweight people, with no basis for defense, can take that fallacy to heart and fall into a downward spiral of self-loathing with increasingly deleterious consequence. To the contrary, some recent theorists have proposed a viral cause for obesity. Other theorists have pointed to advertising and food additives as cause. And more recently, a few have suggested dietary guidelines are wrong, that saturated fat should not be avoided, that consuming more fat would actually lessen cravings for high calorie carbohydrates. At the same time, an endless stream of hucksters offer diets, food supplements, support networks, hypnosis, counseling, invasive surgeries, drugs, constrictive clothing, and various forms of apparatus for exercise and massage. To date, no single deterministic cause for obesity has been proven to exist. And no single therapy has proven universally successful. Within that void of understanding, the myth of weak character and the exploitable scourge of self-loathing persist.

But this week, the BBC reported on the case of a woman treated for Clostridium difficile colitis with a fecal transplant at the Medical School of Brown University in the U.S. Yucky as it sounds, such treatments have proven 90% effective for an otherwise very difficult to treat disorder of the bowels. The fecal donor, in this case, was the woman's daughter, who "was overweight at the time" and on course to becoming obese. The treatment cured the woman of C. difficile, but one year and three years later she reported huge uncontrollable weight gain. The doctor involved, Dr. Colleen Kelly, cautions against overdrawing conclusions from a single case, but the undeniable implication is that gut bacteria, our microbiome, which varies in diversity between individuals, may determine whether our body mass remains normal and healthy throughout our lives or edges uncontrollably toward unhealthy obesity. She now routinely dissuades her C. difficile patients from recruiting fecal donors who are obese.

As much as we'd like to think we are in control of our lives, or at least have opportunity to be in control of our lives, the fact is that circumstances of one sort or another regularly take huge portions of that control away from us. Giving up is not the answer. Nor is attempting to vanquish everything or everyone who would rob us of control. No, the answer is to seek understanding and some degree of mastery over that which would overwhelm us, just as a sailor in a sloop works to understand and dance with the wind and waves upon which he sails.

Monday, February 10th, 2014