Top 20 Reasons For Being Overweight - Part 8

This weeks post concludes the Top 20 reasons we find ourselves overweight, based on my study of almost a thousand overweight people over the last three years.

18 Watching Too Much Television

Over the years, dozens of studies have been carried out, all of which conclusively link spending time in front of the television, with weight management problems. Not only are we inactive when we’re watching television, we’ll also often snack on unhealthy food choices; partly due to our increased exposure to commercials.

And, whilst Watching Too Much Television has only made number 18 in the top 20 reasons we find ourselves overweight, if you’re under 18, this one would be much nearer the top of the pile.

So, why is watching television such a bad thing …?

For a start, we actually burn off more calories sleeping than when we’re watching television!

(I thought that little ‘nugget’ of information deserved its own line). One of the reasons for this might become clearer if you’ve ever had to look after a 3 or 4 year old child that’s impossible to contain and ready to turn your house upside down in his eagerness to explore…

Stick him/her in front of a kids video on the television and what happens? Suddenly the child becomes almost comatose, he doesn't move a muscle. A tranquiliser couldn't do more to incapacitate this child. That is what the television does to viewers, and it isn't just to children.

Adults and children alike will sit virtually motionless while watching television, and do so for hours at a time, far longer than they could possibly do with any other waking activity.

And while we are in this extreme sedentary state, we’re simultaneously bombarded with triggers to eat; food commercials, beer commercials, chocolate commercials and dessert commercials relentlessly bombard our minds, begging us to eat. The programming provides us with an emotional roller coaster ride, where our feelings are taken to the height of joy one minute to the depths of misery the next.

Our brain processes this vast array of emotions we’re continually subjected to, and responds as if the causes of these ‘stresses’ have come from the outside world (when they're actually just triggered by the TV). The comfort of food is then often sought to "help" us deal with these pretend traumatic conditions we are viewing..!

At the cinema, the vast majority of us have been conditioned over the years, to mentally associate popcorn, fizzy drinks, pick & mix, hot dogs and nachos with the act of "watching a movie". This conditioning adds even more to the mental desire to eat. By the way, this conditioning is so powerful, that many of us will even consider going out to the shops for a range of unhealthy snacks, just to watch a movie at home.!!

Interestingly enough, while our metabolism is shut down and our appetites are being stimulated, the people we see on television present another very ‘false’ image of what is normal. Women all have perfect figures, whilst the men are adorned with rippling muscles; and this is what many of us inadvertently make comparisons with ourselves to, as being the ‘beautiful’ ideal. When we subsequently decide that we don’t like what we see when we look in the mirror, little do we realise that the cause of our distress has actually been brought about hypnotically by endless hours of conditioning our minds in front of the television.

When it comes to burning calories, there is no other activity that is worse for your physical conditioning, or less help in your weight loss journey, than watching television. Yet many of us spend the vast majority of our waking leisure hours doing just that.

A good test of how important television is to your life is to ask yourself the question: "What would I do if I couldn't watch TV for a week, a month, or a year?" Does the question hit a nerve, or make you feel uneasy? How would you fill the time? Or have you become ‘TV dependant’..?? Personally, I haven’t owned a television since 2005; after just a few weeks, I really wondered how I ever found time to watch it.

If you want to look for activities that burn off more calories than watching television, fortunately you don’t need to look very far. Sitting at a computer, whilst still not great, burns half as many calories again as television viewing. Putting a puzzle together and even reading will burn more calories.

If you find a standing activity, it is even better—even something as light as gathering a few leaves up in the garden, ironing, playing pool or darts all keep our bodies much more physically and mentally stimulated than watching TV. 

Unfortunately, television viewing is addictive. In fact, one scientific study suggested that it literally presented the same symptoms as a chemical addiction in some people; whilst another study revealed that many people would actually rather have a foot amputated than give up the TV permanently!

So, what can we do?

For starters, you can choose to set some kind of limits and challenge yourself to stick to them.

For instance;

Set yourself a daily limit of say, one or two hours a day. Outside of that time, turn the TV off and leave it off the rest of the day.

Challenge yourself to have TV free days. This is a lot easier than you might think. With DVD Recorders, iPlayer and Sky+, etc, it’s simpler to record the shows that you 'simply must watch', and view them all on one day of the weekend. The more days where the television is off, the more your body will benefit.

Embrace technology. Games platforms like the wii Console and xbox 360 kinect, are revolutionising how we enjoy computer games and activities. Some of these games really are a workout; it’s amazing just how many calories can be burned on these things. Plus, the psychological effects of engaging more with family and friends (in comparison to watching TV) in a competitive spirit, has a massive impact on our mood and our stress levels.

Challenge yourself to develop habits that force television out of your daily life and into a controlled amount of viewing, instead of just mindlessly turn on the television habitually. Having a limited viewing schedule and sticking to it, as well as making it a conscious effort to turn on the television (rather than a thoughtless action), will certainly be a significant step in the direction of your weight loss commitments.

Keep in mind that just cutting back some will help. Each hour of television viewing that you replace with something else will pay off in many positive and even unexpected ways. You might find more time to help your children or Grandchildren with their homework, help them to master a new skill, or just get to know them better if you now have those extra hours that were being spent on the television daily. Those same children will remember those hours fondly for the rest of their lives!

Up until now, the current reality for most of us has been that the vast majority of us spend more of our leisure hours watching television than any other activity. Since there is nothing that you can do that burns fewer calories, is it any wonder that an ever increasing number of us are overweight? Even worse, it is affecting our children and Grandchildren at a younger and younger age.

The good news is that you can choose to change all this. Challenge yourself to break free from that old energy-sapping and brain-washing habit. Your kids will even thank you one day, if you break their television addiction early and help them get the exercise that they deserve.

19 Social Support System and Environmental Factors

One thing I hear time and time again is something along the lines of, “Well, I know why I’m big. My Mum was big; it’s hereditary!”. In most cases, this just isn’t true. Genetics do not necessarily condemn a person to being overweight, just because their parents were big. However, most of us know at least one overweight ‘family’, where all the members struggle with their weight.

So, what’s going on?

Some things are passed on genetically, such as hair colour or eye colour. In the main however, weight problems in children, stem from the child's subconscious learning of their parents eating habits, eating patterns and poor food choices.

As an example, take two sets of parents, one set slim and one set overweight, and they each gave birth to a beautiful baby. If those babies were accidentally mixed up at the hospital, the baby raised by the slim parents has a significantly greater chance of remaining slim, whilst the baby raised by the overweight parents has a significantly greater chance of struggling with his or her own weight.

Yes, in some cases, genetic do play a large part; but if we choose to ‘buy in’ to that belief, we’re effectively accepting that the cause of our weight problem is 'outside of our control', which can have serious and damaging implications, particularly in terms of our motivation to do anything about it.

So, it’s our ‘Social Support System’ that, to a large extent, influences to what degree we may struggle with weight. By ‘Social Support System’, this can mean parents, your partner, close friends, work colleagues or indeed anyone with whom you share a close working, social or family relationship. We become who we interact with the most.

So what can we do about this? We certainly can’t choose our parents! Perhaps not, but we can certainly choose what we tell them. If you’re serious about losing weight, one of the key, long term elements in this, is to keep those around you informed. This approach will help you in three very important ways;

Firstly, if you want to change your habits, to some extent your friends and family will need to change theirs; particularly in respect of the things they do around you. This might be in the form of your partner needing to know what to cook, what not to cook and how much; it might be your friends steering you passed the kebab house on the way home from a night out or it may mean your work colleagues easing back on the surprise cream cakes on a Friday afternoon! You get the picture. If they’re in the know, they can help you. If they aren’t in the know, they won’t realise they’re hindering you.

Secondly, informing other people takes your own commitment to another level and creates ‘buy in’ for yourself; the more people you share your plans with, the more committed you’ll become.

Anyone who is thinking to themselves, “Well, I’m going to try and lose some weight, but I won’t tell anyone about it for a while, just in case things don’t go to plan”, needs to really ask themselves about their own level of commitment to their goal. In fact, without commitment, it isn’t even a goal; it’s nothing more than a wish or a desire, with the added safety net that if they do ‘give up’, they won’t look stupid because no one will know.

Tell as many people as you can. Tell everyone! The more you engage with other people, whether you’re seeking their approval, seeking their advice or just asking them to keep temptation away from you, the more this strengthens your own resolve and commitment. Spreading the word will also bring about conversations that will cause you to ‘vocalise’ your plans out loud, reinforcing them even further. Informing those around you also completely removes your, ‘I’ll look weak if I give up’ safety net, forcing you to ‘burn your bridges’ as you progress, so that there’s no turning back.

Of course, we all have our off days. So thirdly, having those around ‘in the know’, when you’re going through a sticky patch, will vastly increase your chances of getting back on track; particularly if you’ve already given them instructions to do so in advance.

Other environmental factors can include things such as, the type of job we have (for example a driver), or changing jobs from an active role to a less active one whilst keep our eating habits the same. It might be that vast amounts of our time is consumed with looking after someone who is sick or elderly or perhaps the development of communities centred around cars; thus, discouraging walking or cycling and increasing the amount of time we spend in our cars.

Factors such as the recent fall in the cost of energy dense foods, alongside successful promotion by the food industry, and a decline in physical activity due to changes in transport, technology, and the built environment are all key drivers for our ever-expanding waistlines.

Governments in the western world are now beginning to recognise the growing link between our changing environment and obesity and are already in the early stages of debating proposals for changes to the food industry and our physical environment. Strong legislation will be required, influencing food production and marketing, and ensuring the built environment and transport systems are designed to encourage active living are going to be essential if they are to have a meaningful impact on the obesity epidemic.

Knowing about or being made aware of some of the environmental factors that affects our weight, helps us to plan ahead better and take the appropriate steps to minimise their effects throughout our weight loss journey.

20 Age / Gender

This final component in our Top 20 reasons for being overweight creates mixed feelings for me;

Whilst I feel it's important to 'acknowledge' that age and gender can play at least some part in our weight, it's even more important to understand that this does not mean that things are, to any extent, beyond your control. 

As we get older, our body's ability to metabolise food slows down and as such, we simply don’t need as many calories to maintain our weight. This is why people often comment that they’re eating the same and doing the same activities as they used to, so therefore can’t understand why their weight is gaining.

Our metabolism slows down by about 5 per cent each decade from our mid-twenties. Whilst this might not sound a lot, it means we burn about 100 fewer calories a day by the time we’re in our mid-thirties and 200 fewer in our mid-forties. Do nothing, and that could mean a weight gain of between 1 and 2 stone per year. This is often one of the reasons why some of us develop what we call ‘middle age spread’!

Also with age, muscle mass diminishes, lowering our metabolic rate (our metabolic rate increases as we increase our muscle mass). Making matters worse, many ‘dieters’ unwittingly sabotage their calorie-burning potential with crash diets, ineffective exercise strategies, and other metabolism-draining habits.

Although weight loss is a common goal, men and women have different motivators and barriers during the weight loss process. Identifying and understanding the similarities and differences may help men and women achieve lasting weight loss, as individuals and as couples. Statistically then, here are some of the main motivators and obstacles that men and women face when losing weight;

What motivates men and what are the obstacles?

A key motivator for men is exercise. Men, in general, are more likely than women to increase their physical activity rather than make changes to their diet when trying to lose weight. Additional motivators include losing weight faster and having more realistic weight loss goals than women.

Another motivator more specific to men looking to begin losing weight, is after undergoing a medical event (e.g. heart attack or doctor recommending weight loss). In a study looking at participants in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database of people who have lost at least 30lb and kept if off for at least one year, it was found that those who started working to lose weight as a reaction to a medical event, were more likely to be men. These people were able to lose more weight and keep it off better than those who mentioned a different trigger to lose weight.

Men also have different obstacles to overcome in achieving weight loss. For example, men are less likely to identify themselves as overweight and are much less likely than women to take action to lose weight. Some men also tend to overeat in response to positive emotions and social settings (e.g. at a football match or poker night).

What motivates women and what are their obstacles?

Women in general are more motivated to lose weight. Some key motivators include the societal pressure to be thin and a greater concern with appearance. Women also tend to be more health conscious and more knowledgeable about food and nutrition.

Some key barriers for some women include difficulty with being physically active and unrealistic weight loss goals. Some women also eat in response to negative emotions. For example, a study a few years ago found that women were more likely than men to indulge in high calorie foods like chocolate and biscuits to improve mood and also reported that while it makes them feel better temporarily, they also felt guiltier afterwards.

Additional barriers for women include the childbearing years and menopause. These are clearly vulnerable times for weight gain that men never experience.

So, given that men and women face different motivators and barriers, understanding these differences and supporting each others approach, can be important for successful weight loss.

Knowledge is power; and so, like many of our Top 20 Reasons For Being Overweight, understanding how our age and/or gender can affect our weight, can help us to take this into consideration in the long term and plan our weight loss journey more effectively.

Until next time ...

Best wishes



Top 20 Reasons For Being Overweight - Part 7

Hi again

In this weeks post we're looking at the 15th, 16th and 17th of the Top 20 Reasons we Find Ourselves Overweight in the First Place, and what we can do about it; based on a study of nearly 1000 overweight people, over a three year period...

15 Dieting

A Diet is usually something that appears to offer a short term solution to a life-long weight problem. In reality, if you lose weight by dieting, there is a 95 per cent chance you will regain any weight loss within 5 years. Why? Being over-weight is a product of well-established patterns of behaviour. It’s these behaviours that need to be addressed.

It’s a biological fact, that when we drastically reduce our calorie intake, our body’s inbuilt ‘preservation’ mechanism responds by slowing down our metabolism and trying to conserve fat. In fact, the more we diet, the better our body gets at storing fat.

Genetically, we are already pre-programmed to fail at dieting. One of the reasons for this is that we really haven’t evolved all that much from our stone-age ancestors, who were constantly threatened by periods of fasting or starvation due to scarcity.

Back in those days, in order for us to meet the two basic requirements of any life form (to survive and to reproduce), our ancestors needed a metabolic system that was flexible enough to cope with long periods when food and nutrition was scarce. If we encountered drought or famine in the short term, our bodies would live off their own reserves of fat. And whilst that meant a slight reduction in body weight, it also triggered another effect that comes into play, meaning our bodies ‘learn’ from the experience and become much more efficient at storing fat in the future.

The end of the stone age was only about 500 generations ago, which is nowhere near enough time for our metabolisms to evolve and adapt to the abundance of food sources we have today.

Nowadays, whilst we might not suffer natural periods of scarcity or famine, our bodies respond in much the same way to our own ‘self-induced’ periods of fasting we call ‘diets’, with each diet attempt making our bodies ever more efficient at storing fat in the future.

Back in the stone age, our body’s flexible metabolic structure helped us to succeed at survival and reproduction. Ironically, in these days of abundance and diets, it makes us worse at both; more prone to heart attacks and less attractive to the opposite sex.

It’s taken us 2.5 million years for our bodies to evolve to where they are today. Do you really think that 3 days on the Cabbage Soup diet is going to trick our metabolism into losing weight..??

The idea of dieting really can seem like a ‘common sense’ way of reducing body weight. The trouble is, so many of these ‘diets’ are just unsustainable. You can’t live off cabbage soup or shakes and bars for the rest of your life. What tends to happen at best, is that we have a strong enough reason to maintain our discipline for a set period of time (perhaps leading up to a wedding or a holiday).

Once we have got close to or have achieved our weight loss goal, we then look toward easing away from the structure and monotony of the diet plan. But because we haven’t really changed our ‘mind-set’ (we’ve just temporarily ‘masked’ over it with a short term eating plan), as soon as we try to ease away from that structured diet, the only ‘eating habits’ and ‘eating patterns’ we know of, are the ones that caused us to be overweight in the first place; so the weight just creeps back on. And remember, our bodies, having ‘learned’ from this experience, will have become just a little better at storing fat; so you may find a few ‘extra’ pounds goes on, just for good measure!

Human Nature

Another one of the downfalls with diets, is that they conflict with one of the fundamental rules of our human nature. Most diets are based upon giving us a list of foods which are ‘allowed’ and a list of stuff which is ‘forbidden’. The trouble is, as soon as we’re told we’re not allowed something, it just makes us want it even more! This can play havoc with our will power and lead us to believing we’re a failure when we’ve given in to temptation.
The only way to diet, is not to diet. You can eat anything you want, guilt free. Moderation is the key. More often than not, as soon as we remove those ‘forbidden’ labels from certain foods, they suddenly don’t seem anywhere near as appealing as they used to.

16 Emotional Eating.

Sometimes the strongest cravings for food happen when you're at your weakest point emotionally. You may turn to food for comfort, consciously or unconsciously, when you're facing a difficult problem, stress or just looking to keep yourself occupied.

But emotional eating can sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Emotional eating often leads to eating too much, especially too much of high-calorie, sweet, fatty foods. But the good news is that if you're prone to emotional eating, you can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get back on track with your weight-loss goals.

The connection between mood, food and weight loss

Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. Both major life events and the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating and disrupt your weight-loss efforts.

These triggers may include:

  • Unemployment
  • Financial pressure
  • Health problems
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Work stress
  • Fatigue
Although some people actually eat less in the face of strong emotions, if we find ourselves in emotional distress, we may turn to impulsive or binge eating; hurriedly eating whatever happens to be convenient, often without even enjoying it.

In fact, our emotions may become so tied to our eating habits, that we can find ourselves conditioned into reaching for a treat whenever we feel angry or stressed, without stopping to think about what you're doing.

Food also serves as a distraction. For example, if we're worried about an upcoming event or we’re stewing over a conflict, we may find ourselves focusing on eating comfort food instead of dealing with the painful situation.

Whatever emotions drive us to overeat, the end result is often the same. The emotions return, and we may also now have the additional burden of feeling guilty about becoming distracted away from our weight-loss goals. This can also lead to an unhealthy cycle: Our emotions trigger us to overeat - we beat ourselves up for getting off track with our weight-loss goals – this makes us feel bad – so we overeat again, and on the cycle continues.

So, how do we get your weight-loss efforts back on track?

Although negative emotions can trigger emotional eating, once we’re aware of this and can recognise some of the patterns as they arise, it significantly increases our chance of ‘consciously’ being able to do something about it.  

To help stop emotional eating, here are some simple steps you can take to control cravings and renew your weight loss momentum.
·        Tame your stress. If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try a stress management technique, such as yoga, relaxation or breathing techniques. See section 13 on Stress.
·        Have a hunger reality check. Am I really hungry or do I just want to change the way I feel? If you ate just a few hours ago and don't have a rumbling stomach, you're probably not really hungry. Give the craving a little time to pass.
·        Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you're feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you may see patterns emerge that reveal the connection between mood and food.
·        Get support. You're more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group.
·        Fight boredom. Instead of snacking when you're not truly hungry, distract yourself. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your cat, listen to music, read, surf the Internet or get on the exercise bike
·        Remove temptation from harms way. Don't keep supplies of comfort foods in your home if they're hard for you to resist. And if you’re feeling angry or down, postpone your trip to the supermarket until you're sure that you have your emotions in check.
·        Don't deprive yourself. When we're trying to achieve a weight-loss goal, one danger we may come across is that we may try to limit our calories too much, eat the same foods frequently and/or banish the treats we enjoy. This may just serve to increase our food cravings, especially in response to emotions. Remember, moderation is the key; let yourself enjoy an occasional treat, guilt free and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
·        Snack healthy. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a low-fat, low-calorie snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip or unbuttered popcorn. Or try low-fat, lower calorie versions of your favourite foods to see if they satisfy your craving.
·        Learn from setbacks. If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that will lead to better health.
17 Day to Day Overlap

Another one of the key reasons we can find ourselves struggling with weight, is simply down to deep-rooted, long term habits, or what I like to refer to as the ‘Day to Day Overlap’. This is where we’ve been struggling with our weight for such a long time, that we begin to think things like, "Oh, it's too late now anyway”, or “What’s the point? It’ll only go back on anyway".

This is obviously a very damaging frame of mind to be in, both physically and mentally. Whilst it may be true that we've been continually overlapping those awful every day habits for longer than we can remember, is it really beyond hope to try something new now?

When we first decide to lose weight and get in better shape, we can compare ourselves to someone who has an addiction that they want to quit; particularly if we’ve been overweight for a number of years and have struggled with bad eating habits for just as long.

Like smoking, drinking, and drug abuse, overeating is a strong habit that will require a fair amount of determination to overcome. This is one of the main reasons why so many people hop from diet to diet, fad to fad – never quite sticking to one long enough to see results. They are seeking the “easy way,” not realising that no plan is going to be easy, because they have some deeply ingrained habits that need to be broken, and that is always going to be a challenge, no matter which weight loss plan they choose.

If the prospect of losing weight has seemed an overwhelming challenge to you, you’ll be glad to know that there are things you can do to make the process a little bit easier, and it all begins in your head.

First, you may be surprised to realise that most of the actions you take on a daily basis, stem from your mind-set. A very negative mind-set will trigger you to take negative actions. (Example: have you ever had a bad day and ended up blowing your diet because you just didn’t care about reaching your goals in that moment?) Just like your own thoughts can work against you, you can turn them around and make them work FOR you.

Create a ‘Why’

Start by creating a ‘Why’ or even a number of ‘Why’s. What are the reasons ‘WHY’ you want to do this. Focusing your thoughts on why you really want to do this instead of why you’ve had no motivation up until now, will certainly help to train your mind to stay committed to this. If you’ve got a strong enough ‘WHY’, you can figure out anything. Give yourself enough reasons why NOW is finally right the time to get started..


Next, make a decision that you are going to improve your eating and exercise habits no matter how challenging it may be at first. Commit to sticking with it and not quitting, not hopping to another program; no matter how long it takes to reach your goal.


Next, build yourself up! It’s important that you actually believe you can do this, and stick at it. The only thing keeping you from having what you want, is your belief that you can’t have it. If you believe you can do something, your mind and thoughts will be resonating with things that are aligned with that belief. Believe you can’t do something and the same thing happens; your mind and thoughts will be resonating with things that are aligned with that belief.

It’s almost impossible to take actions consistently, that are not aligned with our beliefs.

For example, if we think we’re likely to fail or do badly at something (this can be anything; an exam, a driving test, a diet, a relationship, the decorating…), the actions we’ll take are likely to be ‘half hearted’ ones; meaning the results from those will probably be mediocre, which then reinforces our initial belief (“I knew this was going to be a waste of time”).

Conversely, when you really believe you can do something, your actions are likely to be a lot more committed, resulting in significantly better results, which again reinforces our initial belief (“I knew I could crack this!!”). If you think you can do something or you think you can’t do something, you’re probably right.

Start each day by encouraging yourself. Tell yourself that you CAN do this. You CAN make better choices about the foods you eat. You CAN start exercising and getting in better shape. Tell yourself that it’s okay to go at your own pace, because you will get stronger and pick up the pace eventually. The more you build yourself up, the more likely you are to keep moving forward instead of quitting.

If ever you have a bad day, don’t let it destroy everything you’ve accomplished so far. Acknowledge that you’re not feeling so positive right now, and do what you can to make yourself feel better, without using food or other substances, but through distracting yourself with healthy activities like walking, clearing out the shed or garage, reading, listening to music … whatever you have to do to get through another day, do what you can. And promise yourself that tomorrow will be better.

These may seem like small, inconsequential moves but you’d be amazed to realise just how much power your thoughts have over everything you do, or don’t do. Create the right mind-set for successful weight loss, and your weight loss will be successful!
In the next post, I'll be rounding this series with the last 3 reasons we find ourselves overweight, and what we can do about it...
Bye for now