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Food for Thought I: Why are Fat People Fat?

Updated on May 18, 2012

Reflections on Why Some People are Overweight


I have recently read an article indicating that some people are fat because of their “fat personality” and because they lack impulse control. Although I’m not fat, the article made me very sad and angry because I know a lot of overweight people struggling with themselves and none of them has poor impulse controls. The article reflects stereotypical views about overweight people and portrays them as lazy, incompetent people who lacks self-control and self-discipline. Unfortunately, this view is shared by many people including a number of doctors, dieticians and scientists who do not understand the problem accurately and blame the victim instead. While they attribute lean people self-discipline and will power simply because they can turn down food; fat people are accused of being lazy and undisciplined, unable to cope with their impulses. I personally know from my overweight friends, how these critical and judgemental remarks from their family members, doctors or unassuming friends hurt them and their self-esteem, so some of them also start to blame themselves for being weak, lacking discipline, lacking will etc.

Truth is, being overweight is not a personality disorder or a personal weakness. I observed that many overweight people have strong wills and proper impulse controls. Most of them are very disciplined and competent in their jobs and in their relationships. They don’t have a “fat personality” or whatsoever. They all have different personality traits which make them unique individuals. However, according to my observations, they share one thing in common: overvaluation of food, which has nothing to do with their personality traits but their attitude towards food.Overvaluation might be a strong word, but what I mean is that they truly enjoy food and see it as a prize.

I don’t want to make broad generalizations but I want to share my observations about overweight peoples’ attitudes towards food. What I observed in my overweight family members and friends is that they see food as a “prize” and lack of food as a “punishment”. Unfortunately, dieting makes the situation worse, because it strenghtens their belief that deprivation of food is a kind of punishment. That’s why many people gain more weight after they stop dieting; dieting only reinforces their belief that insufficient food is a total nightmare and abundance of food is heaven. That's why diets don't work. They really suffer quite deal of deprivation while dieting, which makes them even more hungrier for food, while food is elevated to the status of ultimate prize for their suffering.

It’s easy for normal weight people to turn down a plate of brownies, simply because it’s not a prize for them. It is not because they have super-human powers or highly developed impulse controls, they can turn down food simly because it doesn’t offer any temptation or it doesn't offer any extra enjoyment. If fact most of the lean people experience food as a prize only if they are hungry and as punishment if they’re already full. So normal weight people can easily decline what they didn't see as a prize in the first place without a remorse. But there is a catch 22 for overweight people, if they eat the plate of brownies they feel guilty, if they don't eat they feel deprived and frustrated, so it's not an easy choice. Even if they maintain strict diet and work out regularly, it has a high price for them: a feeling of constant deprivation and frustration. I think those people who are portrayed as having high discipline about food and sports, with high controls to keep them fit are just supressing their problems with food. It’s just the other side of the same problem.

The problem with some overweight people is that the natural link between hunger and food was broken in their early childhood due to their upbringing. Most of them were fed when they were not hungry and deprived of food when they were actually hungry. So, in their adult life they can eat when they are not hungry and some of them may not recognize if they’re hungry or full, and they feel deeply frustrated when food is denied due to the broken linkage. Hence, they repeat this trauma later in life by successive periods of dieting (deprivation of food when they are hungry) and "relative" indulgence in food (eating when they are not actually hungry). I said "relative" indulgence since I have yet to meet an overweight person who is overindulgent or who eats too much.

I love overweight people, and I personally don’t think being overweight is a problem as long as they’re healthy. In fact, studies show that overweight people can be healthier than thin people, and they live longer (http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20090625/study-overweight-people-live-longer). There is also nothing wrong with enjoying food and seeing it as a prize. Some of overweight people accept themselves as who they are, yet, some of them are in a constant battle with their body and themselves. I know how difficult their life and their struggles could be. I don’t like when they are blamed for their personalities. I also know that being overweigt has nothing to do with their personality traits, its only their relationship with food may create problems for them. I’m not an expert, I just wanted to share my personal observations. I will be happy to read it if you could share yours.

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