Why do People become Overweight

How Do People Become Overweight?

For quite a while now I’ve wanted to write about weight and the issues surrounding people’s weight, but have been putting it off. I found myself avoiding writing this piece for a number of reasons. This article tackles issues that are hard for people to admit to, affect some of my own family & friends and if I’m being honest meant having to face up to some of my own problems, having been clinically obese in the past. It might be upsetting or controversial in some ways, but I hope this will be helpful to those who have a weight problem or at least help you understand people that do.

Andy before and After
If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy relationship with food, some of what I’m saying won’t make sense to you, it might even seem bizarre, but it will hopefully help you to understand those that do have issues with food a little better.

I was morbidly obese in my late teens and early 20’s prior to becoming a Personal Trainer. So overweight and unfit that on a hot day walking down the street a woman felt it necessary to stop her car and offer me a lift. I went from gladly taking her up on her kind offer, to losing over 5 stone (32+kg), getting very fit, becoming a personal trainer and then cycling 4400km unassisted across Australia.

In my experience I’ve found that there are at least 5 main types of people who are overweight: Over Eaters, Emotional Eaters, Binge Eaters, those who Don’t Know they’re overweight and those who Don’t Care about being overweight. I should point out that there are plenty of people who maintain a slim figure but also struggle with some of these issues.

Anyone who is overweight will be a combination of these types, identifying which one is dominant will be key to getting in shape. I’m an over eater with occasional elements of emotional eating and for a long time didn’t know how overweight I was.

Over Eaters

An over eater is someone that finds it hard or impossible to get full when eating. They don’t generally feel full no matter what type of food they eat, whether its complex carbs or high in fibre for example. They may never feel full no matter how big a quantity of food they eat, they can still feel hungry even when their stomach literally can’t fit any more food in. They usually eat fast but eating slowly doesn’t help. They may not necessarily even enjoy the food they’re eating. An over eater can be eating a meal but may be thinking about their next meal or dessert and gets little satisfaction or enjoyment from food. I struggle with this constantly, can easily eat a massive amount of food if I wanted to and am rarely satisfied after eating. I do occasionally enjoy food but usually only the first few mouthfuls then it becomes bland and uninteresting. I usually think about what I’ll be eating next by the end of a meal or snack. Do you often really look forward to eating something, eat it then realise you didn’t enjoy it and are still hungry?

This type of client is normally very good to train and get good weight loss results as they will follow and stick to a healthy food plan I give them. This is because food isn’t that enjoyable to them and can easily skip unhealthy options when shown how to make the right choices. They will generally follow and stick to a goal orientated exercise program and will respond very well when they start getting results, thriving on the new clothes they can wear and positive comments from others. Preparing and planning meals in advance is vital for over eaters and I find a low carb meal plan works very well with over eaters, as they can still eat large portions of protein. Being strong-minded and having the skills to make the right food choices are essential in overcoming this. In general I find over eaters are almost always men.

Emotional Eaters

An emotional eater generally loves food and can feel full. Portion size isn’t usually the reason an emotional eater is overweight. They use food as their reward, punishment and stress coping mechanism in their lives.

They might eat high fat & high sugar foods to reward themselves when happy or achieved something positive. They might have a bar of chocolate after the gym for example, or celebrate the end of the working week with take-aways and alcohol all weekend.

They will eat high fat & high sugar foods to lift their mood when sad, the stereotypical eating ice-cream after a break up of a relationship for example.
In extreme cases might subconsciously punish themselves, when they receive negative comments, receive bad news or make a mistake in their lives. Eating fast food after getting negative feedback in work or not fitting into an old pair of jeans.

Stress of any kind is the biggest trigger for them to eat unhealthily. Having a heavy workload or stressful job is the biggest culprit for an emotional eater being overweight. This can then be used as an excuse to eat unhealthy food in regular large quantities, especially in the evening (which is the worst time to eat unhealthy food).

Emotional eaters are experts at making excuses and mostly do it subconsciously. The common ones being, “I didn’t have time to cook something healthy”, “There wasn’t anything in my fridge so I just had a toasted sandwich” “I’d a crazy week in work so needed a glass of wine with my dinner all week”. If you’re an emotional eater you’ll know them all very well and usually stick to a couple of your favorite comfortable excuses that you’ve justified in your mind. Anyone can make excuses but not everyone takes them. What are your favorite excuses? Shops sell fruit too you know, an apple will keep just as long in your cupboard as bread…. A salad takes just as long as a sandwich to make, even a convenience store sells fresh premade salads and they cost less than that pizza…

An emotional eater that’s very overweight knows they are, but usually refuses to weigh themselves, normally underestimate their weight and always hates getting their photo taken. Personally I do sometimes eat emotionally to lift my mood when I’m sad or very stressed, usually chocolate. I beat it 4 out of 5 times though and have found waiting 10 minutes a good help. Also never having treats in the house forces me to go to the shop and I rarely have the time for that.

Chronic emotional eaters seem to put others first a lot of the time, take on too much in their job, have difficulty delegating or take on the problems of others. This puts their own health and happiness at risk and they need to learn to look after themselves and be a little more selfish to get and more importantly stay in shape. You can still work late when you’re slim…., you can still be an agony aunt for your friends when you’re fit….. You’ll still meet that deadline if you go to the gym…. A 1-hour workout is just 4% of your day and most of my clients would only exercise for a half hour. They are generally excellent at their profession and excel at whatever they do, why can’t you do this with your health?

This type of client finds it harder to lose weight, as you’re either happy, sad or stressed every hour of every day. Being determined and motivated enough are key to succeeding and Ill discuss this in detail further on. They need a very good support system from friends, family members and me to succeed and more importantly keep the weight off. Training with a friend or in a group will help to keep emotional eaters focused and a supportive housemate or partner is essential. Following a structured meal plan works well but a reward meal in their diet each week is essential to keeping them on track. My Body Slim Course or Weight Watchers type of food plans work well with emotional eaters as they can still eat sweet/sugary things occasionally. Portion size generally isn’t the problem with emotional eaters. I also recommend that they reward themselves with new clothes, new piece of equipment for their hobby or get their nails done etc. instead of food.

Finding something that’s motivating enough and then being determined are essential to get in shape. However, a large turmoil in their lives like a breakup, losing a job or financial problems etc. can knock them back and the person needs to be mentally strong to get and stay in shape. In general I find overweight women are mostly emotional eaters.

Binge Eaters

A binge eater is similar to an over eater in that they can eat a lot of food, however unlike over eaters they usually love food and can feel full. Binge eaters often feel that once they had a small piece of something bad, they might as well go the whole hog and eat badly for the rest of the day. Other examples are: they feel they might as well eat the entire cake after having a slice, if they’re going to eat fast food might as well order several meals, they might find it impossible to resist gorging themselves on cakes or chocolate and have several in one go. Personally I don’t binge, but can understand it.

ChocolateA typical binge eater is someone who yo yo’s on diet after diet, loses a pound then gains a pound. They’re really good for 3 or 4 days then binge the next. They then generally feel guilty afterwards and try to make up for it by doing yet another fad diet or over exert themselves while exercising. They usually but not always don’t enjoy exercising, but use exercising as their way to punish themselves and/or compensate for binge eating. There are similarities to bulimia, however unlike bulimia there is no attempt to make up for the binge with vomiting. Binge eaters usually weigh themselves too often, sometimes obsessively. A binge eater whether they’re overweight or in shape, usually hates getting their photograph taken but can then also obsess about getting their photo taken when they haven’t binged for a period of time. Binge eaters may also have an underlying sugar addiction and this can be compulsive. They usually eat fast, however eating slowly can help them cut down. In extreme cases they may eat in secret or alone. Stress is usually the trigger to binge.

These types of clients are where gyms, diet groups etc. make most of their money. They join gyms, sign up for courses, buy DVD after DVD, buy lots of home equipment and will try any new diet. They don’t usually go for Personal Training or if they do its usually not for that long, as they soon move onto the next fad diet or exercise regime.

Personally I find this type of client tougher to motivate as they get great results at the start then binge in a week, month etc… and can cancel or fail to show up for sessions after binging – through guilt. Occasionally they can be the most regular of clients as they initially use Personal Training as their punishment for binging.

Patience and constantly changing the type of training sessions gets best results with this type of client and if they can stick with personal training for more than 8 weeks, it is possible to break the cycle of binging. Like emotional eaters, I also recommend that a binge eater reward any extended good behavior with new clothes, new piece of equipment for their hobby or get their nails done etc., instead of food. Not having unhealthy food in the house really helps bingers but requires help and support from the people they live with. Sometimes a final massive binge to kill off that “old you” helps. Where they binge themselves until completely stuffed and feel ill after. Getting them to write down how they feel or better yet record on film how they feel, really works too. They then hopefully restart the next day with renewed determination and can look back on the note or video they recorded when next tempted to binge.

A longer term exercise goal of a 10km run, a half marathon, adventure race, cycle race etc. can extend the length of times between binges but the binge can then sometimes be extended after the goal is reached too. Ideally trying to break the binge cycle once and for all is the best option.

Reducing the size of the plate you use and using a blue plate can help bingers. A blue plate because blue is not appetizing to the brain apparently. I grew up in a generation were you were told to finish everything on your plate and given the guilt trip of “think of the starving children in Africa” etc… You don’t need to eat everything in front of you; it is ok to throw food out. Set a precedent, deliberately don’t finish your next meal and throw some of it out!

I constantly come across binge eaters and they usually exercise too much. They binge on food and/or alcohol then force themselves to exercise every day for hours on end and never get their body fat down. They get frustrated and can’t understand when they haven’t the perfect body. I usually tell binge eaters to exercise less and to spend more time planning, shopping and preparing for their meals. Doing one day less exercising and instead using the time to plan the next week’s meal, go shopping for the ingredients and then making and refrigerating healthy meals, will mean they are less likely to binge on bad foods the following week. Skip exercising and go shopping, it’s much more important to get a whole weeks food right, than 1 hours exercising. Also, not working the same muscles in the same way and having rest days, are as important as the days you train in my experience.

A holiday or Christmas break, where they binge for several days/weeks can knock them back and I find it vital this type of client exercises while on holiday or over the Christmas break etc… to stay on track. I find binge eaters evenly split between men and women.

Unknowingly Overweight

Someone who’s unknowingly overweight is simply unaware that they’ve gradually gotten into worse and worse shape. Or if they do know they’re overweight, they don’t realise how bad it is. They usually have little knowledge of nutrition or what food is good or bad to eat in general. I for example, had no idea about food or nutrition and would have crisps and an energy drink almost every day for breakfast and thought it was perfectly fine.

Unknowingly over weightI definitely didn’t realise the extent of my weight problem until I couldn’t fit into clothes and actually left the Army Reserve in disgust, as they didn’t have a formal uniform big enough to fit me. I can remember being 21 and the officer made us run up a couple of flights of stairs with our kit on, this nearly killed me and I was the only one who collapsed was very nearly sick and needed help to stand up after 5 minutes lying on the ground.

This was a big eye opener and probably the initial trigger point in the start of my transformation. Another realization I had was while backpacking in Australia in 2003. I arrived at a small town and was walking from the bus station to my hostel when a woman stopped her car and asked if I was ok and needed a lift? I was struggling so badly to walk with a backpack a few blocks, that a woman felt it necessary to stop going about her business and see if some guy walking down the street needed help. When would that ever happen? Would you stop? I must have been in a bad state. I took her up on her kind offer.

I can also remember not knowing why (initially), I was having very bad chaffing on both my inner thighs. I soon realised my legs were so fat that as I walked the hairs on my thighs rubbed together and eventually the friction burned the skin away leaving them raw.

I usually meet this type of client after they get a rude awakening from a bad comment, photograph, poorly fitting clothes, a health scare, having difficulty getting pregnant or becoming single after a long relationship etc. This type of client is generally easy to train and gets fast results. This is because like with me, most of the time it’s just a case of changing their bad habits and educating them on what food is ok to eat and when. They’re highly motivated, eager to follow an exercise regime, will follow a healthy food plan and are willing to put their health and wellbeing first. This can be more difficult if they have an underlying overeating, binge or emotional eating problem too, but will still see big results if strong minded. I find men are mostly unknowingly overweight and these are my favorite type of client, if this is you – we have to meet. They listen, learn fast and work hard at their diet and exercise. I find a low carb meal plan works well with most people who are unknowingly overweight.

Don’t Care Overweight

This is someone who’s overweight, realises they are and is perfectly happy to be. If an adult is happy at being overweight, that’s their choice and it’s not for me to say whether that’s a good or bad thing. Being happy is probably the most important thing in life and if as an adult they genuinely are, then that’s great.

Personally I can’t relate to this at all, as I was never happy with being overweight and would be a little envious of those that are. I had little or no confidence, found it near impossible to attract the opposite sex, had started to develop blood sugar level problems and found others paid no attention to me when overweight. I only realised this part after losing weight quickly while living in Australia then returned home to Dublin and could instantly see people listened to and noticed me? It was sub conscious on their part I’m sure but the difference was astounding. People didn’t notice an overweight me walk into a room, queuing for drinks or step aside walking down the street, but seem to notice a slim me? You could argue that this was because my confidence increased but that’s taken a very long time to and isn’t right at all yet either!

I rarely come across this type of client, as they’ve no motivation to lose weight. On the occasions that I have had this type of client, it’s because they had a health scare or sudden realisation after a break up. One client that sticks in my mind, had recently become a father, was having health problems and was told by his Doctor that he would be lucky to see his sons communion if he continued the way he was. Thankfully this was the motivation he needed and he had fantastic results quickly and as far as I know is still exercising and in shape.

Weddings do sometimes motivate this type of person to lose weight but they generally go back to their old eating and exercise habits after the wedding. However, finding an exercise, type of class or sport the person enjoys, can at least improve their fitness and they do usually continue this after the wedding.


An enabler is a partner, family member or friend who subconsciously encourages or enables a person’s bad eating habits. It’s generally done out of love or affection for the person and is not meant in a malicious way. An enabler for example will go to the chip shop on their way home from work for the person. Will bring home an extra bar of chocolate to someone on a diet because they are having one themselves and think it would be rude not to. Will suggest going to the pub instead of the gym as the person trying to lose weight had a bad day at work etc. Some enablers however can do this maliciously, as by buying the person that bag of chips or 6 pack of beer means they get to have the same too.

My mother was sometimes an enabler and I can remember one occasion ringing her in the sitting room from my bedroom, to collect a fast food delivery from the front door and bring it up to me. We lived in a small house; it’s utterly outrageous, when I think of it now. Unbelievably lazy and really embarrassing to admit, I hope I had the flu or something at the time, but don’t remember. Anything she did was out of love and I have absolutely no one to blame but myself for being overweight. I didn’t become really overweight until I was probably 19.

If you’re looking to lose weight it is vital that you identify any enablers in your life and explain to them that you need their help and support to succeed. This may involve arguments further down the line but hopefully they understand.


A feeder is a usually a partner, sometimes a family member or occasionally a close friend that consciously or subconsciously feeds someone’s bad habits. This is done by literally providing the food or by constant negative comments or actions, which will force the overweight person to emotionally eat. A feeder is very dangerous and is not doing it out of love – it is all about controlling the other person.

A feeder usually has very low self-esteem and may have many other issues. They try to ensure their partner, family member or close friend becomes completely reliant on them. Thankfully feeders are rare, however a person looking to lose weight cannot succeed with a feeder in their lives. Do you know someone that constantly makes sly hurtful remarks or comments to you?

How To Break The Cycle

It doesn’t matter why someone is overweight or what type of person they are. Anyone can ….
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author: Andy Kenny

Emer says:

Excellent article. Very insightful. Solving these issues, however, can be very tough

Debbie says:

Really enjoyed reading your articles x some home truths came to light also learnt some new things x thanks x

Susan Mangan says:

Excellent article Andy. Really well written. Have passed it onto a few people already.

Laura says:

Great article Andy and very well written. Really enjoyed reading it and hearing about your personal experiences with weightloss. Very inspiring!

Des says:

Great article Andy very honest, well written and informative

Eileen says:

Well written Andy – a lanuage the majority of overweight or indeed underweight people will understand perfectly.

Billy says:

Great article Andy. Brilliantly and bravely written giving a real insight into such an important issue. In most cases, weight control starts with motivation, then the kitchen, then in the gym.

Micheal Griffin says:

An excellent article Andy, i hope people do take the time to read it…. your advice to me, even though im in another country has been much appreciated. its true, once you have a goal and you are determined, not much can hold you back.And with your time and knowledge i am finally getting the results that i have for years been looking to get but failing!!

scooby says:

A good article Andy, struck a few chords with me too,well done.

You red my thoughts Andy….
An excellent article and I know this will help many 🙂