As a society, we like to make excuses. We have reasons why we don’t get certain things done or why we don’t accomplish certain tasks. We are a society of “well buts”. Well, I would have gotten that done, but..................... To oppose the “well, but” attitude, the health and fitness industry oftentimes forces the mantra of “NO EXCUSES” upon us. To them it does not matter what is going on in your life, nutrition and fitness must be your number one priority. Although this type of no excuses philosophy does have merit for some individuals and some people do respond to it, the no excuses mantra is a bit too harsh and militaristic for my liking. The no excuses mantra fails to consider the complexities of an individual’s life. For example, how many children do you have, what are their ages, what are their activities/requirements, what type of profession are you in, how many hours do you work, what type of culinary skills do you possess, what kind of nutrition and exercise knowledge do you have, what is your stress level...........the list goes on and on. Instead of ignoring the complexities of an individual’s life by perpetuating the “no excuses” mantra, why don’t we take a slightly different viewpoint? Let’s identify obstacles, not excuses!
By definition, excuses are an “attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense)” or to “seek to defend or justify”. The implications of an excuse is that it is your fault and you are to blame. When people are fat or overweight, they tend to feel really ashamed of themselves. People will often tell me that “I know I am fat” or “I know what I should be doing, I’m just not doing it” and “I need to be better”. There is a tremendous amount of guilt associated with being overweight or obese and there SHOULD NOT BE. Being overweight or obese IS NOT A REFLECTION OF YOUR CHARACTER. It may be a reflection of what you have been doing, but it is by no means who you are as an individual. The blame that society places on overweight and obese individuals (if they would just eat less or move around more) and the guilt that overweight and obese individuals feel (I am weak willed and ashamed of my weight) leads us down the road of excuses and justifications. No one wants to be to blame for something they feel like they are not in control of. It is only natural to come up with an excuse.
As a society, we have come up with a number of different reasons that we can blame for our condition without implicating ourselves. There are numerous theories and proposed causes of weight gain including highly processed foods, sugar sweetened beverages, the fast food industry, reduced fat oxidation, menopause, hypothyroid, slow metabolism, poor genetics, endocrine disrupting chemicals in our food supply and environments, medications, injuries, disabilities, pain, food addiction, a lack of time, our built environments, stress, cortisol, leptin, insulin, antibiotics, gut microbiota, low birth weight, and so on. On some level, all of these factors do play a role in weight gain; however, when they are viewed as excuses, they promote victimization and do not help us live happier, more fulfilled lives.
Instead of the “no excuses” mantra of many health professionals, I would like to reframe the issue as identifying obstacles, not excuses. By identifying obstacles (and not excuses) we remove the victimization, stop focusing on what we cannot control, and identify the obstacles that we can control. These obstacles are definitely real and they definitely contribute to whether we lose or gain weight; however, by identifying and characterizing these items as obstacles and not excuses we know what we are up against and we can come up with a gameplan for defeating them. If you see a road closed sign, do you turn around, give up, and go home, or do you find an alternative route to get to your destination? We are faced with many obstacles in our lives and some people have many more obstacles and a steeper, more daunting challenge to get to the top than others. That is a biological fact. But you must have the courage, confidence, and stamina to create a path, stay on course, and when you get knocked off course and need to adjust, improvise and continue on your way.
The “no excuses” philosophy of nutritionists and trainers is good intentioned but fails to consider the complexities of 21st century life. Identifying obstacles, rather than excuses, removes the blame from the individual and thereby releases them to focus on what they can control. Losing weight is hard enough without having your doctor, nutritionist or personal trainer reinforce the blame you are feeling. Once we can all accept (health professionals and clients alike) that there is no room for the blame game, shame, or excuses we will all be better off. Identifying obstacles, problem solving, and personal empowerment are the keys to weight loss. The next time you find that you are struggling, identify the obstacle, not the excuse, create a gameplan, and crush that obstacle! I know you can.
Todd M. Weber, PhD, MS, RD