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The Panoptican and You

30 Jun

The Panoptican Theory is my favourite sociology theory, and my favourite Sociologist taught me about the implications of the Panoptican Theory in his published work from 1975 Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, oh, the sociologist is Michel Foucault. It wasn’t the book that introduced me to this theory, it was one of my many sociology profs at the University of Alberta – after learning what the class text book taught me I read Michel’s work to get a better understanding of it. In sociology I focused on crime, punishment and how these affect and are affected by society – mostly I focused on the criminal as I found that the most interesting. 😀

Before I go off on a tangent about something sociology related that you won’t care about let me tell you how I think the Panoptican Theory applies to dieters. 🙂

Oh, maybe I should give you a cliff’s notes version of the Panoptican Theory in case you haven’t heard of it, I’m thinking there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of it, unless you also studied sociology?

K, The Panoptican Theory: basically, it says that a person will self-regulate their behaviour if they are under 24/7 surverillance or at least think they are under 24/7 surveillance. Prisons were built based on this theory (not all of them obviously lol) but those prisons have a centrally located guard station that can see in to all the prisoner’s cells at all times, the guard station is designed so the prisoners can’t see the guards but the guards can always see the prisoners. By creating a scenario where the prisoner knows he may be monitored at all times he will adjust his behaviour accordingly.

This is a very basic understanding of the theory and doesn’t go in to the “whys” of it but it’s all you really need to know to be able to follow my new theory. 🙂

When people are dieting they either tell everyone or no one. I, when I started, told no one because I didn’t want people to know when I cheated (I was absolutely sure I was going to cheat) and I didn’t want people judging me when that happened. I eventually started telling specific people so I would have a support system of sorts and now everyone who knows me knows I am following weight watchers, lol. Quite possibly the worst kept secret ever! 😛

When I was around people who knew I was trying to lose weight I never cheated, I was able to resist all kinds of goodies and treats partly because I knew they would slow down my weight loss and partly because I was being watched. My confidants had become the guards and I was the prisoner – not that I felt imprisoned, or even really realized this at the time but I’m trying to make sure the correlation to the theory makes sense to everyone. 🙂

Last week my roomie was out of town, we almost never eat at the same time or even in front of each other, our timing just doesn’t work out that way. I have never consciously felt restricted about what or when I can eat by her being around somewhere in the apartment because we do not comment on each others foods. Same goes for exercise, she doesn’t have some little notebook somewhere keeping track of when I go for hikes or go to boxerfit or have a dragon boating session just like I don’t keep track of when/where/what kind of exercise she does.

But, when she was out of town last week I stopped exercising and started eating worse then normal. I ate out more then normal, I pigged out on things, ate flex points like they were going out of style…I even stood in the kitchen at one point while waiting for the kettle to boil and ate a spoonful of Nutella out of the jar – holy crap that was goooood! Would I have done that if I thought RN might come down the hallway at any moment and see me performing this insanely bad for me act? hmmm, to be honest, I might have but I wouldn’t have taken so long to indulge (I really drew out the moment) and no way would there of been as much Nutella on the spoon as there was that evening lol.

I came to the realization when she returned from her trip that she unknowingly acts as my Food Guard. I don’t fear punishment from her if I eat poorly, unlike the prisoners who worried they’d be punished by the guards if they did something they weren’t supposed to while in their cells but it seems that doesn’t matter, shrug. Just by knowing she may walk in the door or come down the hall I have more control over my food cravings and am more inclined to go exercise because I don’t want her to think (1) she’s living with a lazy butt who never gets off the couch (2) all I ever eat is junk food and (3) I can’t stick to a healthy living plan if my life depended on it.

Upon further thought I am sure that she wouldn’t think any of the above, and there are plenty of days when she’s not around when I leave for my exercising or when I get back so she has no idea I even did exercise but again, doesn’t seem to matter.

This made me think, do people who live in a household larger then mine, that is full of people (probably relatives) who probably would comment if they cheated on their food plan or stopped exercising have lower rates of cheating? Do they manage to exercise more often then those who will have no recriminations from anyone if they just don’t go? Or do they still cheat as much but are more subtle about it? Perhaps when making dinner they slip themselves snacks when no one else is in the kitchen, or maybe they sneak in some junk food once the kids and spouse are in bed? That archetypal image used in movies and tv where someone is in their nightclothes stuffing themselves with left over cake while standing in front of the fridge must come from somewhere, right?

So maybe all people are eventually going to cheat on their food plan, or maybe certain personalities are more prone to cheating, maybe our society created the situation? There are so many reasons for why people cheat on their diet (healthy eating plan, whatever!) and so many reasons why we don’t cheat.

Apparently I cheat less when my roomie is around, not in the apartment necessarily, but in the city at least so I know that there is a chance I may be caught gorging on cookies – just the possibilty I will be seen stops the behaviour, it’s not a permanent cure (as I discovered when she was gone, lol) but a situational cure…sorta like how the Panoptican style prison is a situational form of punishment and doesn’t work once the prisoner is released and realizes they are not under constant scrutiny.

Who would have ever thought Foucault would be relevant not only in an academic sense but also in a everyday kinda way…I knew there was a reason he was my fave! 😀

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4 Responses to “The Panoptican and You”

  1. Dacia June 30, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    I totally agree with what you are saying. For me, my epiphany occurred when I realized I had no accountability for my actions and was doing whatever I wanted (eating crap, being lazy) with reckless abandon. Then I decided I needed to hold myself accountable, I would start to live a healthy lifestyle, follow through on my goals and then proceeded to tell everyone I knew about it and started a blog. Now I behave completely differently. And yes, I know if I ‘cheat’ or ‘splurge’ or eat a whole pizza or whatnot, no one will really care but still in my head I try very hard to stay on course because I have other people ‘watching’ over me.

    • shrinkingwmn July 2, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

      yup, those other people are quite useful for helping us reach our goals. lol. I hate the idea that I do or don’t do something just because of what society (or my roomie lol) thinks but in this instance I am ok with it. 🙂

  2. VeeEmm June 30, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    I can so totally relate to what you said! I’ve been on so many different diets before I smartened up and joined WW, but I never told anyone I was trying to lose weight. Now I am upfront about it, and if anyone challenges what I eat, I just tell them I can eat anything I choose, as long as I track it. Having said that, there are still times when I either “forget” to write down what I’ve eaten (like the late night snacks when I’ve used all my points) or I’ll eat something while I’m preparing a meal, and hope no-one sees me – dumb, I know, and I really need to quit doing that.

    • shrinkingwmn July 2, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

      I think snacking while cooking is something we all do – it’s so easy right? Whose gonna see? Probably no one and somehow eating something while cooking never seems to count, at least in my head. lol. I had a bad habit of nibbling on tostitos while making dinner and I always figured if I only had a couple they would do no harm but I went from eating maybe 2 to eating handfuls (depending on how hungry I was on any particular day), shrug, I ended up throwing out the remainder of them cause it was the safest route for me lol.

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