Myth: Being Overweight is about Willpower, Not Biology
We often hear slogans or mantras like, “Mind over matter” or “You are what you think” in relationship to dieting and exercise programs. Mantras like these are about leveraging the power of will power and are designed to put us in control of our lives, our progress and our future. It is a mistake to assume that all weight gain/loss is only about willpower, or making a “choice” to do this or that.
As our overall health is challenged, our organ systems and glands will begin to suffer. The manifestation of some of these body breakdown is the fat-storing distribution that we see with the different body shapes. Genetic variables and various conditions (hypothyroidism, PCOS, depression) can also increase the risk of weight gain and complicate the losing of said weight.
The body also has numerous hormones and biological pathways that are supposed to regulate body weight. These tend to be dysfunctional in people with obesity, making it much harder to lose weight and keep it off (1).
For example, being resistant to the hormone leptin is a major cause of obesity (2).
The leptin signal is supposed to tell your brain that it has enough fat stored. When the leptin isn’t managing to deliver its signal, the brain thinks that you are starving. Trying to exert “willpower” and consciously eating less in the face of the leptin-driven starvation signal is extremely difficult, if not impossible for many people.
There are even infants that are becoming obese these days (3). How can anyone blame that on personal responsibility or a lack of willpower? It is very clear that there are biological factors at play.
Eating is driven by behavior, and behavior is driven by physiology and biochemistry. That is an undeniable fact. Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should just give up and accept their genetic fate. Losing weight is still possible, it is just much, much harder for some people.
Bottom Line: Weight gain is more about a loss of optimum health than a loss of will power. There are many genetic, biological and environmental factors that can have a major effect on body weight. Regardless of how the weight was put there, targeting the improvement of your health is always the right course of action.
- International Journal of Obesity (2015) 39, 1188–1196; doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.59; published online 26 May 2015
- J Endocrinol. 2014 Oct;223(1):T25-35. doi: 10.1530/JOE-14-0404.
- http://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(10)00043-0/abstract?cc=y= Infant Obesity: Are We Ready to Make this Diagnosis?
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