Why we are overweight: a month’s worth of bite-sized lessons

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

People! We are going back to basics for the next few weeks! I can’t tell you how often I hear from my clients and patients that they don’t understand why they are overweight. They don’t think they’re eating that much, they think they’re making healthy choices for the most part, and therefore don’t understand why they are stuck in an overweight body. I am the perfect person to discuss this, not only because I’m a board certified obesity medicine doctor, but also because I have myself lived in a morbidly obese body and learned how to stop my own overeating to lose 150 pounds!

Me at my highest weight of 300 pounds, and today

I would argue that there are 3 main things driving us to overeat:

  1. Overhunger
  2. Overdesire
  3. Eating for emotional reasons (whether consciously, in response to a craving, or on autopilot)

The solution to your overeating has to address all 3 of these components, or it will not work in the long term. I’ve discovered that the diet/weight loss industry and even most doctors (including obesity medicine specialists) focus on the WHAT of eating — types of foods to eat or not eat, when to eat, how much to eat. No one seems to be focusing on the WHY of eating, which is the true underlying cause of overweight. So that’s what I am doing in my Weight Loss for Brain Health coaching program: helping my clients understand why they are overeating and address each component so that they can lose body fat in a healthy way, for good.

In the coming month, I want to tackle these 3 main topics in short, bite-sized daily (or almost-daily) lessons. The first series of posts will focus on tackling overeating cause #1: overhunger.  Then we will move on to overdesire, and finally we will talk about emotional eating, or cravings.

Hunger is a physical sensation that arises from your body’s physiologic state, not from your mind (unlike emotional sensations that are driven by your thoughts). The sensation is often described as a hunger pang, which is a deep gnawing ache in the abdomen, and may include a rumbling or growling stomach. True physical hunger can be satisfied with something you don’t find particularly appetizing, like a cold dry plain chicken breast or a block of tofu. If you’re not sure whether your hunger is physical or emotional, ask yourself if this food would fix the problem. (Cravings, or emotional hunger, can rarely be solved with nourishing food and usually want something more rewarding to the brain like pizza, ice cream, or chips.) There are a myriad of hormones and neurotransmitters involved in producing true physical hunger and in creating satiety and making us feel satisfied, and an imbalance in them can lead to more frequent or intense physical hunger. Obviously, feeling more intense hunger more frequently is something we want to avoid when we are trying to achieve our ideal body weight and lose excess fat. We will soon talk about some of the ways that we may be promoting excess hunger in our bodies, and what we can do to decrease physical hunger.

If you know someone who might be interested in following along as we go, please share this! By the end of the month, I will have explained much of why we end up overweight and changes we can make to lose excess body fat and achieve a more ideal body weight. Coming tomorrow: Lesson #1!




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