On the plane coming back from Hawaii, the guy seated in front of me was easily over 300 pounds. He bulged over the armrests on either side of him. When he leaned his seat back, it came back so far it was virtually in my face. A teenage boy of equal girth sat next to him and crowded the small Asian couple on his left.
I felt annoyed, their big bodies invading the little space we all had. Then the woman across the aisle from them handed each a burger, dripping with cheese, and big bags of french fries. I went from irritated to disgusted.
Our family vacation this summer began on the Big Island. Traveling around through large and small towns, within days it was impossible to ignore that a good percentage of the tourists, and seemingly the majority of natives were extremely heavy to outright obese.
Genetically destined to be fat?
Never been scientifically proven. No one has even come close to finding a ‘fat gene’ that dictates you will or won’t be obese, regardless of calorie intake and lifestyle.
True, it’s been shown that certain genetics pass on the propensity towards producing similar body types of the parents, but ultimately diet and exercise determine individual body mass.
Much more troubling than genetics, studies have also shown cultures pass on habitually destructive behaviors from one generation to the next. Clearly, this plays out on Hawaii’s Big Island, where the pace is beyond slow, bordering reverse. The warm, humid air stifles motion; and the narrow, curvy, hot roads surrounded by desolate lava flows do not entice jogging, or cycling, or even rollerblading any distance. Typical cafes and family restaurants served large portions, piled high with fatty foods, and most were consumed quickly.
Been there. Done that. Spent my youth in front of the TV, and ate. Of course, I was overweight. Took a lot of ribbing as a plumb kid, and rarely got asked out on a date in my teen years. Made to feel small for being big, so I took the defensive pose and stood on [faulty] moral grounds instead of doing the hard work I knew it would take to lose the weight.
The summer before my senior year of high school my best friend gave me some black pills from her mother’s medicine supply. We both dropped 25 pounds before Christmas break, with ease. It would be another five years before replacing pharmaceuticals with racquetball, but eventually I learned to maintain a ‘normal’ body weight with diet and consistent, rigorous exercise. And I’d love to say staying fit gets easier to maintain with practice, but that too would be crap. A huge amount of my energy is still spent on my internal battle between reason and desire.
I love food. I have a slow metabolism. I always feel hungry. Working out hurts. I’m weak. Addicted. Old, now.
Whatever my excuses, the absolute truth is even running three miles five days a week, and mindful of every mouthful, when I put into my body more calories than I burn, I gain weight. Like it or not, the reality is food has calories that turn to fat if they are not burned for energy. Simple laws of physics, and believe in them or not, we are all beholden to them regardless of genetics.
I am cursed with the proclivity towards obesity. My blood pressure is low, probably from running, which is known to lower heart rate. It takes me longer to use calories than say, my husband, who has always been thin with a fast metabolism. Three out of four of my grandparents died of complications from adult onset diabetes, brought on by consuming too much, and moving too little. My father’s been fat as long as I can remember; desserts high up on his reason for living, and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of just about anything eatable. Sports meant exercise, which was too taxing to even watch on TV, but he loved cop/court dramas, only getting off the couch to get another snack.
I work very hard to maintain what so often feels a facade— my lazy kid who loves to eat always lurking just beneath the surface. She taunts me, tells me sugar cubes aren’t as bad as say, donuts, and tries to persuade me to remain inert since exercise hurts. Well, no shit. Fatiguing and stretching muscles is going to hurt. Jogging is jarring on bones and joints, no doubt. But pursuing trim isn’t simply a matter of being ‘in,’ as in hip, slick and trendy. It continually proves to be healthy.
Running is the quickest calorie burn for me, which is why I do it, but most any rigorous exercise that makes you sweat for half hour or more a day shows substantial health benefits. Cardio workouts are known to strengthen the heart, and our immune system to fight off colds, flu, cancer and more. Staying light increases life expectancy, neural connectivity, reduces depression, and mood swings, and makes it a hell of a lot easier to run. And stretching muscles keeps us limber, less likely for bone loss, or injury, and quicker healing.
And being fit isn’t only socially acceptable, it’s socially responsible. Close to one quarter of our health care costs goes to complications from obesity.
I met a friend at a restaurant in Walnut Creek for dinner last week. I watched her bump and push her way through the crowded entrance. She’s been fat as long as I’ve known her, stands only five feet and weighs no less than 250 pounds. After squeezing into our booth across from me, she first described her recent knee surgery, only months after her back surgery, then spoke at length of her upcoming retirement plans, projecting a long, healthy, happy future well into her 90s.
She had to be kidding.
On the plane home from Hawaii, on my way back from the tiny bathroom, I noticed “Proud to be big,” printed across the sweatshirt of the large teen next to the fat guy in front of me. Facebook returned 472 pages of “Fat and Proud” groups.
Are they for real?
Be proud for winning the row with your inner-child demanding instant gratification, not for giving into the brat.
Let’s take off the politically correct gloves and get down to brass tacks.
Nearly 34% of American adults and close to 20% of our kids are obese—30 or more pounds overweight, setting them up with health issues for the rest of their lives.
We may have the right to do what we want with our body, but beyond the cost to society, modeling obesity condemns our children to a shorter life, full of health problems, body issues and social stigmas. And, it’s true you don’t have to be a young, anorexic model to be beautiful— but illness is never pretty.
Fat is NOT a state of being. For most, it’s merely a state of mind. Eat salad and fish, not burgers and fries; include a rigorous workout daily, religiously, and most anyone can achieve and maintain fit. It’s going to hurt, especially at first. Get over it. Start slow, work up. Deny yourself that dessert on the knowledge the sugar rush is bad for your body, thin or fat, and calories from sugars convert quickly to fats. Think before shoving crap in your mouth, and get off the couch, and odds are you’ll ultimately feel better, have more energy, get more done; be healthier, happier, smarter, and live longer. Best of all you’ll be modeling healthy living to our kids, and grandkids, and possibly a few generations down the line obesity will be a thing of the past.