Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fat or Fit

Over on Barnes's blog, the subject of health and fitness comes up now and again, and usually as a corollary, obesity. It tends to get handled somewhat delicately there.

Not here.

My quick-and-dirty research indicates that about half of Americans are overweight, and a third of adults are overweight to the point of obesity. This is a medical term, and involves the percentage of lean mass to body fat, and simple obesity is not the same as morbid obesity, but they both mean "too fat."

A little too fat, could lose a few pounds; or, dangerously fat, blowing out joints, killing hearts and kidneys, blood-pressure working up to a stroke.

In discussions of avoirdupois, somebody always quickly hauls out the excuse, "Well, yeah, but some people do have hormone problems and all like that."

Yea, verily. A certain percentage of folks do have genuine medical reasons, physical, and even psychological, to the extent that dieting to lose -- or gain -- weight is difficult in the extreme. Give them that. They have hormone problems, skewed metabolic systems, hyper-efficient ways of using and storing food. Menopause; Thyroid is shot; medulla oblongata is haywire; certain drugs necessary to keep folks alive against killing diseases have awful side-effects vis a vis holding the pounds on -- there are legitimate reasons why some folks get a pass. It really isn't their fault.

Thing is, these legitimate folks, in re medical problems, number about three percent of the population. You could bump that up 1%, if you are being generous.

That leaves the other 96-97% of of us who bulk up without an excuse, save, in the end, we like eating more than exercising, and that our discipline is insufficient to overcome the inertia and set-point that wants to keep us tubby. What they used to call biscuit poisoning, down home. Too many biscuits ...

Easier to be a couch potato than to run six miles, or spend an hour at the aerobics class, dining on roots and twigs, instead of pork chops and rice and gravy, with a side of buttered French bread and bacon ...

In the olden times, fat was a survival characteristic and it is hardwired into the system -- bad days on the hunt, you needed the stored energy.

For centuries, being Reubenesque was considered attractive, and an instant measure of wealth -- fat folks must have money, else they'd be skinny, like the poor.

These days, morbid obesity -- note the word "morbid" -- is bad. The hunt down at the Safeway isn't so hard, so you don't need the storage. Save for rare cases, severe obesity almost always affects health adversely, everything from physical problems, to bad self-esteem, to being made invisible socially. A lot of folks out there won't even look at somebody who weighs four hundred pounds, they just won't.

Mostly, people who are fat aren't happy about it. Mostly, they aren't so unhappy about it that they will do what needs to be done to fix it. They try, but they give up. It's too hard, it takes too much work.

Ultimately, diet and exercise are the keys. Eat less, eat better, work out more. You will feel hungry and you have to sweat. If it took fifteen years to pack it on, you aren't going to get rid of it in a few weeks or months. Until you reset your burners, homeostasis will want to gain it back. It is a long slow process, and it requires a change in the way you do things for ever more.

I'm not the guy to tell you to lose weight, that's your choice. But for most of us, somewhere about 97% of us, it is a choice. Yes, obesity is a disease, but it's like alcoholism -- you have options. It's not like catching plague because a squirrel flea bit you while you were raking the leaves out in the back yard.

If you don't like being fat, (and you are not among the small percentage of folks who have a very high hill to climb due to an illness that truly wasn't your fault,) then it's up to you to own it. Nobody else can do it for you.


Chavo said...


"But for most of us, somewhere about 97% of us, it is a choice. Yes, obesity is a disease, but it's like alcoholism -- you have options. It's not like catching plague because a squirrel flea bit you while you were raking the leaves out in the back yard."

Thanks for writing this. I really have trouble with even the concept of addiction as disease. Perhaps had I not been an addict, I would feel differently. I had the realization, while trying to quit drugs, that the issue was mental, emotional, spiritual- the physical component was merely pain. But I realized that were I to be dropped out in the woods without drugs, I wouldn't die. I wouldn't actually get 'sick'. I would detox in an uncomfortable way, and it might take awhile. I quit using.

Now my definition of disease doesn't include the ability to walk away from it. Personal responsibily is a bitch.

Irene said...

I have a good friend who admits to being 60 lbs overweight. He complains that his back and knees hurt. Not surprising, say I, you're carrying the equivalent of a seven-year-old kid around with you, all the time.

For some reason this observation did not go over well.

Dan Moran said...

pork chops and rice and gravy, with a side of buttered French bread and bacon ...

Mmmm .... gravy and bacon ...

I'm doing what I do every summer -- I get back about an hour and a half a day when I'm not getting up to take the kids to school, so I get into a good, virtuous cycle, work out daily and drop a bunch of weight. Then the school year starts and I struggle again ...

:-) I came up with a great metric, by the way. Usually I figure if I'm hovering around 200, I'm fit. And I am, despite being a shade under six feet, I carry a lot of muscle. But I haven't been able to see my six pack for over a decade, and your recent pics of yours filled me with lust. So instead of aiming at 200, I'm aiming at the six pack. I haven't bothered stepping on a scale or measuring anything -- when I can see the ridges again, I'll be happy. Instant visual feedback there. "filled me with lust" I am speaking in a purely heterosexual vernacular regarding my own personal fitness.

OK, you are pretty. I mean, really pretty....

... but we'd still have to figure out who leads on the dance floor.

Steve Perry said...

I think with a nice slow pulse and the mirror, folks can pretty much determine where they ought to be. You can look trim but not be fit, but if you have a resting heart rate of fifty or sixty, chances are the lungs are working right, too.

The scale is among the least useful ways to measure fitness. If you are familiar with your own levels, you can use it -- I know when I start to look porky how much that translates to in pounds, generally, and it's the easiest to talk about, body composition is what matters.

Deadford said...

It's amazing to me how different I feel if I edge up close to 180 vs. my preferred fighting weight of ~160 (I'm 5'9-ish and have a medium-small frame). There are of course shade of grey in there, if I'm lifting some and running quite a bit and 170 it's an entirely different story than if I've been sedentary all winter and am 170, but in general that 20 lbs makes an enormous difference in how I feel, as well as to my self-esteem. By that metric, I ache for people who carry around an extra 50 or 100 (or 200) lbs. It's got to be brutal, and I can't imagine not wanting to do something about it. Sure it's not easy to drop that kind of weight, but carrying it around every day can't be easy either. I'm sad that our country has tipped so far in that direction.

Jon said...

I have a good friend who is a tall, blonde amazon type; thin, trim and sarcastic as hell. She let on that she was, let's say, "chunky" before we met and she had a blunt way of explaining her thoughts on the topic:

"Unless you're some sort of Miracle of Thermodynamics, you've gotta eat less than you burn."

The Body for Life guy did a recipe book (quite good actually) called Eating for Life, where he gave the rule of thumb to aim for 6 small meals a day where the protein amount was the size of your palm, carbs the size of your closed fist, and some veggies when you can.

I think you could fit that inside a fortune cookie, and anything more complex won't fly for me.

Jay Gischer said...

This study shows how twins, even those who haven't lived together, still have weight and BMI that are very, very similar. I invite you to think very carefully about that.

Sean said...

great post Steve.

its a matter of choice. Personal responsibility. You did it to yourself.

Or in my case, I did it to myself. I am about 80lbs overweight. I am the one who got me here. Not my metabolism or food sensitivity. Not some restaurant that made me eat all the stuff I ate. Me. My problem. My responsibility.

Keys to changing the problem:
1. Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night (critical)
2. Drinking a lot of water
3. Eating 5 balanced (good fat, lean protein, good carbs) meals a day (lowers the insulin spike)
4. Doing something every day - work out 4 days a week, swim once a week, shoot hoops on Sat and Silat class on Sundays... do something
5. Give a damn about yourself

2 hours a day (remembering why you should give a damn, eating right, being active, taking responsibility) is worth it

Steve Perry said...

Regarding the twins' study, I should think carefully about it because ... ?

The physics don't change. You want to lose weight, you have to eat less than the amount needed to maintain it. Period.

Doesn't matter if you and your brother or sister have the same system.

Exercise helps for a couple of reasons -- it helps burn calories faster, and once you develop more muscle mass, metabolically that tends to kick your burn rate up -- muscular folks tend to burn more at rest than fat folk.

Steve Perry said...


Watching the news Saturday, the stat that nearly two-thirds of American are overweight popped up.


Dan Moran said...

Sure, genetics is a strong influence on your body weight. Set points are real. So what?

You are not your body. What you want and what your body wants are not the same things. I want to be healthy and live a long life and play basketball with my kids into my 60s (or 70s) ... my body wants the second cheeseburger.

Who gets to decide?

Steve Perry said...

Some days, you get the cheeseburger, some days, the cheeseburger gets you ...

What I find interesting is the rationalization phenomenon -- how folks will go to great lengths to justify anything. Nobody wants to be blamed for stuff, certainly I don't, but one of the first steps in fixing a problem is seeing that it is a problem.

"Nah, I'm not an alcoholic, I can quit any time I want." Subsitute any addiction -- smoking, eating, being a Lakers fan -- and the rationalizations fly like biblical locusts coming to dine.

If you are a eighty pounds overweight, if it isn't muscle because you are trying to win the Mr. or Ms. Olympia contest (another whole can of worms), then you have a problem. It is 97% likely that it is *at least* partially your fault, and until you own up to that, you will have trouble dealing with it.

If you are happy being porky, no problem here. Do what you want. But unless you are in that small group of folks who have medical conditions that lay you low, it is because you eat too much and work out too little. Telling yourself and anybody else this isn't the case is, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong.

Dan Moran said...

Being a Lakers fan is not an addiction, but a blessing. The resemblances to addiction are there to fool the unlearned.

Steve Perry said...

I believe you misspelled "blessing," Dan.

It's c-u-r-s-e ...