Why Entrepreneurs Gain Weight: 3 Reasons
I’ve attended numerous “entrepreneurial” conferences and, if I might make an observation, entrepreneurs are just as prone to weight problems as the rest of the population.
That seems strange, because entrepreneurs are dynamic, high-energy and innovative—the kind of people who you’d think could easily solve a problem that, if unchecked, inevitably leads to health problems and a shorter life.
Please note that I’m not making any moral judgments here—quite the contrary. I’m pointing out that success in weight maintenance, as in anything else, is dependent upon the way you think and feel about it.
But unfortunately, the characteristics that tend to make entrepreneurs successful in business also tend to make them unsuccessful at weight maintenance. Here’s why:
1. Cost accounting is second nature to them.
Entrepreneurs know, at a fundamental level, that it’s a very bad thing when expenses exceed income. Unfortunately, when it comes to food, there’s a tendency to think of what you eat as “income” and exercise as “spending.”
Everyday language reinforces this tendency. For example, eating is often visualized as “fueling up” while exercising is “spending energy.” If you think in terms of cost accounting, you always want to have more income (food) than expenses (exercise). And, in general, the more income the better!
Unfortunately, weight maintenance is more like fund accounting—the kind of bookkeeping that government agencies and corporate bureaucracies use. With fund accounting, you’re given a certain amount of funding and if you don’t spend that funding within the year, you lose the remainder, and get correspondingly less funding for the subsequent year.
With weight maintenance, your funding consists, not of the food you eat, but the amount of energy that you expend. (That’s the concept behind Weight Watcher points.) That “funding” determines how much you can spend ... on the caloric content of the various foods that you eat.
If the amount of funding (energy) matches the amount spending (food), your weight remains the same. If funding exceeds spending, you lose weight, and your funding goes down (because a smaller body requires less energy.)
For most entrepreneurs, this is “crazy thinking” because it’s not how they run their businesses.
2. They’re goal-oriented, not process-oriented.
Entrepreneurs are famously motivated by achieving ambitious goals. That’s a fabulous attribute when you’re setting out to conquer the business world, but it’s exactly the wrong way to think about weight maintenance.
When people think about a certain weight as a “goal,” they may succeed at achieving it, but then often find it difficult to remain at that weight. It’s like crossing a finish line. You’re done. You’ve achieved the goal. What next?
In most cases, once they’ve achieved their “goal weight,” goal-oriented people lose interest and immediately start gaining the weight back. They may later recommit to getting back to that “goal weight”, but that just gets them on a dieting yo-yo, making it successively more difficult to reach the goal.
Unfortunately for entrepreneurs, weight maintenance is NOT a goal; it’s a process. It requires day-to-day attention to detail (i.e. tracking calories, or points), a lot of accounting busywork, and constant measuring and monitoring.
Weight maintenance is, like many process-oriented tasks, rather boring. To an entrepreneur, it’s certainly not as inherently motivating as achieving an ambitious number and then moving onto the next goal.
3. They like winning and hate losing.
Entrepreneurs are winners. They win new business, they win new contracts, they win awards, they win at life. Under the circumstances it’s not surprising that they find it difficult to “lose” anything—including weight.
Whether or not they’re conscious of it, the way people use language determines their emotion perception of whatever is being discussed. Unfortunately, the entire realm of language about food and eating is fraught with terminology that makes weight maintenance difficult.
For example, it’s not unusual to hear people refer to greasy, sugary foods as being “rich” or “luxurious” or even “decadent” (in the most positive sense of the word). No wonder so many entrepreneurs find it difficult to resist overindulging!
The peculiarities of common language leaves many entrepreneurs with a “gut feeling” that weight maintenance means giving up pleasure and therefore losing at the game of life. I once heard an otherwise sensible CEO say that if he can’t eat everything that suits his fancy whenever he wants, he’d just as soon die young.
The big “wins” of weight maintenance—better health, more energy, a longer life—aren’t show-stoppers. They aren’t “achievements” in the entrepreneurial sense of the word. That's why entrepreneurs, despite their otherwise exceptional qualities, don’t seem to do much better than average folk.
GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is "Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts that You Need to Know."