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Irene Rubaum-Keller Headshot

Why Are You Overweight?

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When I ask people why they are overweight, most don't respond with the factual answer. The factual answer is that they take in enough calories, on a regular basis, to maintain that body weight. If you weigh 300 lbs. it is because you take in about 3,000 calories a day, if you are female, and about 3,600 calories a day if you are male. That is why you weigh 300 pounds.

When I ask people this question the first and most common answer is, "I don't know." That answer is followed closely in popularity by "It must be genetic. I don't eat that much and yet I weigh this much." I often notice a huge disconnect between the question, the factual answer, and the common responses.

I wonder still, even after 20 years in the field as an eating disorder therapist, how it is that people don't/won't take responsibility and acknowledge their part in their weight. An answer like, "I don't know." to the question, "Why are you overweight?" really means, "I'm not paying any attention to what I eat, how much, how many calories and/or if I exercise or not."

When I hear people tell me it's genetic, I hear, "I have given up trying." We know that genetics influence many things including our tendency toward alcoholism, addiction and how active we tend to be. You don't have to be a slave to genetics and curl up on the couch with a bag of chips, or a bottle of Vodka. You can choose to fight against it and take control. You can make yourself exercise if your genetic tendency is toward sloth and you can refuse to drink if your genetics tell you that if you do you run the risk of being a raging alcoholic.

I also still marvel at the fact that people continue to want to debate the fact that "calories in/calories out" equals how much one weighs. I think this must be part of some mass denial. If I decide I'm fat because of some other reason, then I don't have to take control of my calories in/calories out (which by the way is the only way to lose weight). I can blame high fructose corn syrup, large portions served by most restaurants, my metabolism (which if yours runs on the slow side you can choose to eat less or be fat), my lack of ability to exercise, etc...)

So try separating your weight from your emotions for a moment. You weigh what you weigh because of how much you take in vs. how much you burn. How much you take in can be influenced by many factors, including emotions. People who have more awareness will tell me, "I gained 100 lbs. after my brother died and I used food to numb myself." Or "I gained weight after my wife left me." I call this grief eating. These people didn't gain weight because of their grief; they gained weight because they took in more calories. They may have been doing so for emotional reasons but the bottom line is still calories in/calories out.

The best way to get a handle on your eating is to track it. Keep a log of everything you put into your body that has calories. This is a non-emotional pragmatic approach that actually works. Try it!

That's it for now. Good luck and let me know how you're doing.

If you'd like to participate in the research for Irene's new book about weight loss please visit and take the survey.

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