Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Assumptions of gluttony

Read previous post for context.

Even though, in most cases, obesity can be prevented or reversed by healthy eating and by exercise or physical work, I think it is wrong to assume, just by looking at an obese person, that he is a lazy glutton, given to excess eating and inactivity.

If we don't know this person, we will most likely be entirely right about what made him obese in the first place, but we shouldn't assume that he has not already repented from this lifestyle. For example, take the picture that started the obesity discussion on the Bayly Blog. It's impossible to ignore that the man on the right is quite obese and seems pleased, even proud of the fact. He seems delighted to point out his resemblance to a pregnant woman. His condition --- which would be alarming if we had not already become so used to seeing obese men in our culture --- has gone way beyond a "few extra pounds" or a "little flab around the middle" that we might be able to blame on stress or joyous feasting with family over the holidays. His situation, like that of way too many others, is far more grave and serious than that.

However, it is wrong, if we don't know this man and his history, to assume that he is currently still overeating and not exercising and/or working enough. When we see people in his condition, we don't always know what they were like some months back. For instance, I recently met a woman who is obese but who is also, at least for the past six months or so, one of the hardest working, most sensible eaters I've ever met. No one would guess it to look at her --- unless they had seen what she looked like six months ago.

In our culture, we often get criticized for making assumptions based on people's appearances. To some extent, it can be wrong, judgmental, and prejudicial. But, in other cases, we do it all the time. One of my sons, for example, is a very hard worker. It is obvious to almost everyone who meets him. His body is that of a man well experienced with good, old-fashioned, masculine labor. No one with a lick of sense could look at him and wrongly assume him to be some sort of typical teenager huddled in his room playing video games all day. In fact, people who meet him often ask me, "What kind of work does he do?" and then they nod, with an "Of course!" when they hear my answer.

I teach martial arts. When people walk into the dojo, I'm usually not surprised to discover, once they join our class, how well they can or can't handle the physical effort required, or how willing they are to work hard. Hard work and exercise has an entirely different impact on our bodies --- and their appearance --- than does a soft, easy lifestyle involving minimal effort. As one of my students asked me early on, "If I was already working hard, do you think I would look like this?"

One of the things I like about what I do is that I get to see formerly self-described lazy people "get off their duff" and leave their sedentary ways behind. Although I don't stress nutrition as much as I probably should, it's always rewarding to see my students realize that, if they are going to work hard, they need to start giving their bodies healthier "fuel".

Hard work has a way of transforming us.

In all my life, I've never met one obese person who got that way while eating sensibly and working hard. Gluttony and laziness were significant lifestyle factors, which the more candid and forthright ones readily admitted.

I believe that God designed our bodies for hard work. Male bodies, especially, are designed for streneous physical labor. Those masculine muscles were put there for a purpose. What is sad to me is that too many men in our culture have become soft, indulgent, and lazy. Even worse, they are unashamed of this, and try to act as if it is the way that men should be.

Some time back, I hard an overweight young guy criticize his girlfriend for putting on some weight. "Girls are supposed to be skinny," he said, "and guys are supposed to be big." Big being, of course, a polite way of saying overweight, flabby, and out of shape. I pointed out that, no, actually women were supposed to have a higher body fat percentage than men. It's one of the ways God designed us. Men were supposed to be relatively lean and muscled. Those that work hard enough and eat sensibly enough usually are.

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