5 Excuses Keeping You Fat (And Why It Isn’t Your Fault)

Over half of Americans will be obese by 2030, according to a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Put a different way: In ten years, if you run in to two random people in the United States, one of them is bound to be carrying anywhere from 30–60lbs of unnecessary fat, increasing their risk of developing coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, ischemic stroke, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and decreasing their overall quality of life.

Over half of Americans will be clinically obese by 2030. Some researchers believe the pandemic might actually be accelerating that time frame.

On the global level, a number of factors are undoubtedly driving what the World Health Organization has described as one of “today’s most blatantly visible — yet most neglected — public health problems:”

But most importantly, more than any other factors, two are expanding America’s collective waistline:

So, on the individual level, it’s a simple “energy in versus energy out.” No matter how complicated the fitness industry wants to make weight loss, it will never escape the first law of thermodynamics.

This problem isn’t limited to America alone. No country is currently recording a drop in BMI.

Pretty soon, within ten years or so, there’s only one thing you’re going to need to do to be more attractive, healthier, and higher-energy than half of the United States:

Maintain a reasonable weight.

You don’t need to be shredded. You don’t need to have a six-pack, dancing pecs— none of that.

You just need to keep your weight in check.

Fat cells are powerhouses of stress production, especially in your midsection. Stress also causes more fat storage, creating a vicious cycle of stress and stress eating.

That’s part of the reason why it’s so hard for people to lose weight for good.

That’s why the easiest way to combat obesity is to never become obese in the first place.

So it’s best to get started now, to lose whatever excess weight you have before it becomes so commonplace that you have no catalyst for change. Your environment is hugely influential in determining your behavior, and pretty soon — if you live in the United States — your environment is going to be influencing you more strongly than ever to become obese.

Here are six of the most popular excuses you tell yourself that are preventing you from losing weight.

1. “It’s no big deal.”

If you have a goal weight, then you know, roughly, how much you should be eating each day. Maybe you even have a diet plan, or you follow something like 18:6 intermittent fasting, which the New England Journal of Medicine says is very likely increasing stress resistance and longevity, and decreasing incidence of serious disease.

It’s just one cookie…

In short, you know when you should be eating and when you shouldn’t, and when you say, “it’s no big deal,” you’re downplaying the importance of your goal. (Keep in mind I’m lecturing myself just as much — if not more — than I’m lecturing anyone else; I’m no pariah, I struggle with these things, too).

Take this quote from Jeff Olson; he says it better than I do:

“The truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people just do the things that seem to make no difference in the act of doing them and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.”

It isn’t difficult. You already know what to do. You know what foods to eat and what foods to avoid.

If you tell yourself that an extra piece of cake — which might make up your entire deficit for the day — isn’t important, maybe you’re not being strict enough.

2. “I deserve this.”

There’s always a reason to reward yourself.

Whether you just finished a long day at work or a hard workout, whether you just closed a deal or hit a savings goal, you’ll always find a reason to celebrate.

Whether your team just hit a sales goal or one of your friends just got a new job, you’ll always find a reason to celebrate and splurge if you’re looking for one.

It’s a problem of moral licensing. You’re assigning “good” and “bad” value tags to your behavior, when it should just be automatic. When you tell yourself you did something “good,” you consciously — or unconsciously — allow yourself to do something equally “bad,” as a way of re-establishing moral equilibrium.

It might sound stoic to the point of making life bland, but it’s actually really important. Here’s an example: You don’t reward yourself for taking a shower. You’re just cleanly; you’re the type of person who takes showers. Similarly, you don’t need to reward yourself for going to the gym; you’re just fit. You’re the type of person who goes to the gym.

Instead of rewarding yourself with ice cream every time you work out, focus on how committed you are to your goal. Do you want the health benefits that come with being fit? Or the brief pleasure of eating a brownie?

And, before you answer this question, be aware of the next most popular excuse…

3. “Ahh, screw it.”

You slipped up on your diet on Friday, and you’ve got a friend’s birthday party tomorrow and a brunch after that. If you’re anything like most people, you’re tempted to say, “Ahh, screw it. I’ll just start over on Monday.”

And this cycle repeats just about every weekend.

I’m so guilty of this excuse, especially because it’s always near the end of the day, when my willpower reserves are low and I just want a little treat.

The problem is it’s true. You can pair it with the first excuse (“It’s no big deal”) and it snowballs.

4. “BMI is a flawed measure. I’m not that fat.”

BMI is based on a group of 25 year old males, the argument goes. Why would we use it to determine the healthiness of entire populations?

Right now: Go weigh yourself. Strip naked if you feel like it. No waiting until the morning, no waiting until after you’ve used the restroom. Just strip that band-aid off and see.

Then take a look at this chart and note, without passing judgment on yourself, where you stand:

If you’re overweight, you’re overweight. It’s that simple. If you’re obese, you’re obese.

The studies analyzing data from wide swaths of the population (the same studies that indicate there are serious adverse health consequences from overweight and obesity) include people who think that they’re only overweight because they’re too muscular, or because they’re curvy or slim-thick or whatever.

Here’s the thing: people claim that the body mass index is a flawed measure because it doesn’t account for individuals with high levels of muscle mass. For instance, the average NFL player is obese with a bodyfat level of 14% or so — much lower than the 25%+ figure that would qualify as actual obesity.

But here’s the problem: almost no one — especially not a natural athlete — is carrying enough muscle mass to qualify as obese. In fact, because of the high proportion of skinny-fat people, the obesity epidemic is probably worse — not better — than a lot of people think. BMI is a flawed measure, sure, but it underestimates the amount of people who actually have healthy body compositions.

In other words, it’s possible, and likely, that a huge percentage of the population is obese (25%+ bodyfat for men, 32%+ for women) with a non-obese BMI (below 30).

At the very least, if you’re one of the .01% of the population who carries that much muscle mass, you still have an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis, and you’ll probably develop high-blood pressure over time. The effect on your bones and heart is the same if you’re carrying forty extra pounds of fat or forty extra pounds of muscle.

Alberto Nunez, a professional natural bodybuilder, is 5'9'’ and 165lbs when shredded; probably more like 175–185lbs walking around — still well below the 210lbs he would need to qualify as obese.

5. “If Only I Had More Willpower.”

Finally, with all of this holier-than-thou talk about why your weight-loss excuses are bullshit, I want to leave you with the same refrain that Robin Williams told Matt Damon at the end of Good Will Hunting.

It’s good to keep yourself accountable, and I don’t want to take away your sense of personal agency, but you also need to realize that you’re struggling with something humanity has never had to struggle with before. Maybe you think you’re fat because of your own poor decisions, but it’s more likely you’re fat because your genes interacted with your environment in a way that’s made you fat.

And that environment is more treacherous than ever.

When you open up a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips, they’re vastly different than they were even 50 years ago. There are hundreds of researchers carefully calibrating every variable, tweaking the ratios of salt, sugar, and fat in a systematic and structured way to deliver the greatest dopamine hit per bite, playing with the processing to make the chips crunchier and more insatiable.

The result? True to their word, “you can never have just one.”

So it might help, like a sloppy CBT for fat loss, to note down what thoughts are driving your poor behaviors and try to replace them with other thoughts, but if you’re in a toxic environment, if everyone around you is obese and constantly tempting you with obesity-inducing foods and you already have a propensity to be obese based on your genetics, then, well, you’re gonna be obese.

Dr. Stephan Guyenet says that 75% of the differences in body fat levels in a modern country like the United States is attributable to genetics. You aren’t consciously setting your appetite and your cravings.

At some point, there’s only so much you can do. So don’t beat yourself up.

Writer. Traveler. Professionally homeless.