Fat people behavior

Meyken Houppermans, PhD. CrossFit Level 3 Trainer.
Founder and Head Coach
Fat people behave differently compared to thin people. That is why offering healthier food options in the battle to lose weight doesn't work. ‘Fat people behavior’ needs a different approach.

A Dutch petition against the increase of VAT on fruits and vegetables. An alliance against child marketing on unhealthy food. Discussions on the introduction of sugar tax to British example. The social awareness of the importance of healthy food is growing.  Similarly the call for government intervention. Preventive health care is an ambition of the Dutch government. All eyes on a healthier lifestyle. However, one aspect remains underexposed: ‘fat people behavior’.

Healthy living is complex

The shift towards a healthier lifestyle is complex and so is the fight against overweight/ obesity. Its success is not determined solely by prices in the grocery store or the coverage of lifestyle coaching by health insurers. People's own choices are also of influence.

Tricky detail is that those choices are anything but rational. In addition, not everyone is able to take responsibility in such a way that it has any effect. Eating is often an unconscious process.  It is much more than a series of deliberate actions several times per day. There are so many reason why people eat. For example out of habit; because it’s time to eat; because they see others eat; out of boredom or temptation; or because they feel sad or happy, or have something to celebrate.

Information on healthy living; marketing of healthy products at the supermarket, and the promotion of lifestyle coaches by doctors and health insurers all can help to make healthier choices, or to shift towards are more healthy lifestyle. Regardless of all those conditions, a person will first have to go through a complicated process that results in actually taking a first step (contacting a lifestyle coach for example).

The ‘healthy lifestyle-industry’ is big business. This implies that people with lifestyle problems not only need lots of will power to change their lives, but also need to be able to seperate facts from fiction. Which food products are actually healthy, and which ones are just subject to health washing? Who is a good lifestyle coach and who is a charlatan? People are being overwhelmed by alternative facts about nutrition and by pseudo-nutritionists who proclaim the craziest things and launch the craziest hypes. Living a healthier lifestyle is quite a hassle and takes a lot of energy!

Fat people behavior

One important aspect of a healthier lifestyle and the fight against overweight/ obesity is: Fat people behavior. On other words: how people with obesity consciously and unconsciously look at food and the behavior that results from that (Your perspective on food hinders your weight loss).

Fat people are doing something different from thin people.* Not only do they eat differently, they live a totally different life. Many overweight people consider food as more than it actually is. Eating is a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with emotions.  And exercise is seen as a necessary evil: as a compulsory part of the attempt to lose weight, instead of a fun hobby with positive effects for the health, social contacts and against stress and depression (stated in a discharged manner).

In the treatment of ‘fat people behavior’ it is important to learn to think differently about food and about the role that food plays in one's life. And to learn to deal with emotions in a more healthy manner. When the attention is mainly focused on offering healthier alternatives, there is a good chance that ‘fat people behavior’ will maintain and overweight people fall back into their old habits.

It is similar to the Alan Carr-method to quit smoking: The daily cigarette after diner should not be replaced by a lolli pop because in that way, the ‘smoke- moment’ and the oral satisfaction, stay alive. Although a lolli pop is a less lethal alternative, it is basically still the same after dinner- behavior. It keeps the habit alive. The behavior does not change and the risk of relapse is real.

Reprogramm taste and habit

Good examples are yoghurt with honey, and cookies with coffee and friends.

When yogurt with honey is replaced by the low calorie option of yogurt with sweetener, it might sound a healthy idea. It is actually not, because the perception of the product does not change. This perception is that yoghurt tastes sweet, and it should taste sweet. When in fact, yoghurt isn’t sweet by nature.

Also the habit to always serving cookies with coffee when friends come over, is not perse normal or necessary. Millions of people drink coffee without a cookie, and still have a great time together.

Maybe one part of the solution is to teach people with obesity/ overweight that yogurt tastes sour, and that this is actually ok; or that not offering a cookies is just as polite and people can still have a nice time with friends.

Maybe one part of the solution is that people can reprogram their taste and with that, their flavors, eating pattern and habits. When people stop using salt in their food, at first the food tastes very bland, but after a while they actually dislike the extra salt.

Behavioral change is key.

Harsh words

The term ‘fat people behavior’ can lead to much resistance.  It’s pretty straight forward, not to say confrontational, when you’re told that you’re demonstrating ‘fat people behaviour’. And from a commercial perspective it’s certainly not the best thing to say as a lifestyle coach.

But sometimes harsh words are needed. Because the fact is that (many) fat people behave differently than thin people and for the long term, for lasting results, it seems pretty useless to offer healthier alternatives such as low sugar products, without addressing ‘fat people behavior’. The alternatives may be healthier in themselves, but the chance of relapse is real because behavior and habits do not change. A different approach is necessary.

Create your own health!©

 *In this article fat means: people in the age group of 20 to 60 years with a BMI between 25 and 30 and a body fat percentage for women more than 33% and for men over 20%, without any medical cause to being overweight. Thin means: people in the age group of 20 to 60  years with a BMI between 18 and 25 and a body fat percentage for women between 21 and 34% and for men between 8 and 22%. In addition, it should be emphasized  that the terminology fat versus thin is in no way a classification of bad  versus good, or ugly versus pretty, nor of unhealthy versus healthy. Thin people can also suffer from health problems. However, being overweight has a  greater risk of chronic diseases. Finally, it should be noted that this article  only addresses a particular aspect of eating behavior, namely as far as that  can be influenced by coaching and without that this applies to everyone (not  all fat people exhibit different behaviour than thin people). There are also  many other aspects influencing eating behavior, such as located in  neurological differences between fat and thin people. These other aspects are  left out in this article