Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Common misconceptions about weight

Whenever the topic of weight loss or gluttony or obesity or related issues comes up, it seems that there is always someone, or several someones, in the group who try to derail the conversation from being about healthy living, the benefits of exercise, the obesity health crisis, the sin of gluttony, or whatever, and turn it into an excuse as to why we should not be concerned with any of those matters. Here are some typical misinformed statements that I've grown weary of hearing trotted out again and again. I've worded them a bit more dramatically and amusingly than they usually are, just to keep the boredom at bay.

1. People are getting thinner and thinner and it's unhealthy! People have no idea what a real woman or real man is supposed to look like! Sorry, but no. Read this. It turns out the exact opposite is true. Yes, Americans are getting taller, but their weight gain is way out of proportion. Quite alarming.

2. Marilyn Monroe, that epitome of female beauty and all that is feminine and wonderful, that woman who should be every woman's role model, would be considered fat by today's ridiculous standards. Why, she wore a dress size 16! We know she was 5' 5 1/2" tall and that her weight ranged from 118 - 140. Hardly fat by today's standards. In 2002, the average American woman was 5' 4" and weighed 164.3 pounds, which makes Marilyn Monroe quite slender, if not downright skinny, in comparison. As for the dress size myth, read this.

3. It only takes a few more calories over the course of a person's lifetime to make him obese. Why, all he needs to do is eat two bites of a sandwich more than some skinny guy. That's hardly gluttony. Usually there is some goofy math involved here, like the one guy whose arithmetic assumed a man was born at his full adult weight and then gained only 50 pounds over his 50 years of life. Yeah, right. The sad truth is that gluttons often have no idea how much they really eat, or how horribly much more food that is than normal, healthy people eat, or how horribly much more food it is than they really need. I know...from sad personal experience.

4. Just because I don't want to control my eating and don't want to exercise and don't want to do anything to improve my health doesn't mean I'm lazy! You have no idea how busy I am! To that, I have three replies, in the form of anecdotes...
Anecdote 1. I attended college while still living at home. During the beginning of my first quarter, when I was trying to get used to the heavy study load and had just finished a long day filled with hours of math, even more hours writing a paper, and way too much time reading dusty journal articles, my mother appeared at my side with a to-do list involving what looked like about three hours of heavy (and I mean HEAVY!) housework. I wanted nothing more than to fall into bed.

"Do I have to do this?" I whined. "I've been studying all day."

"College is no excuse for laziness," my wise mother rebuked me.

"Laziness?! But I've been working hard and I'm exhausted."

"No," she replied. "You have not been working hard. You have been sitting at a desk all day. That is not hard work. Your brain may be tired. Your body is not. In fact, you are really feeling sluggish from all that inactivity. My father always made sure we worked hard after we had studied, so that we wouldn't become lazy and weak."

Valuable lesson learned: studying and sedentary jobs aren't hard work. They may be challenging or stressful or mentally strenuous but they are not hard work. One can study for hours, get good grades, and still be a lazy bum.

Anecdote 2. This also took place during my college days, when I was working at a large automotive dealership. Once I happened to mention to my boss that the other man who shared our office space was a hard worker. "Hank?!" my boss laughed. "He's the laziest guy I know!"

"But," I protested, "he's always rushing around. He's so busy!"

My boss asked, "Have you ever actually seen him do any work?"

I thought long and hard. No, I hadn't. I'd seen him carry around a clipboard, take a personal call in the office now and then, talk to the drivers who brought in their trucks, but...

"You know why he's so busy? It's how he avoids work. But, since he looks so busy all the time, management isn't on to the fact that he isn't really doing anything productive." My boss described a phenomena I would later be much better able to recognize.

Valuable lessons learned: busy people aren't necessarily hard working people. Being busy doesn't mean I'm working hard or accomplishing anything. It just means I'm busy...maybe to avoid real work?

Anecdote 3. This took place in more recent history, during an outing involving a number of mothers and children of all ages. Most of the mothers were somewhat overweight, with a few obese women in the group. My oldest son pointed out to me later that it was somewhat amusing that the thinner women had been the most active, picking fruit, playing with their children and walking around, while the most overweight of the women found a place to sit and stayed there the entire time, just talking. During lunch time, my son (always observant) noticed that there was a significant difference between the lunches we brought. Those of us who were more active also brought healthier lunches, with far less empty calories.

As we were all talking after lunch, the topic somehow turned to exercise. One of the obese women said very proudly that the most exercise she got was walking to her mailbox once every few days, and she made it clear that this could hardly be considered a "walk". Women who exercise, she told us pointedly, were idiots. Another, who referred to herself as "fluffy", said she hadn't broken a sweat in years and had no intention to ever do so again. This amazed me. When I asked her how she avoided sweating, it became clear that she never did any gardening or yard work, no exercise, and only the lightest housework. She made it clear that any woman who worked hard was quite unfeminine.

This sort of thing, though it seemed extreme, has been played out in other groups, among other women...the poor food choices, the lethargy, the rudeness and defensiveness upon observing those living a healthier lifestyle.

Lesson learned: I'm still puzzling out the which came first question. Did these women become obese because of their poor eating habits and laziness? It would seem so. Or did they become even more lazy because of their obesity? Could be.
I believe that we were meant to work hard. In today's world, for most of us, there is less and less hard work for us to do. We're all in danger of becoming soft and lazy. Recently some of my women friends were laughing about how their great-grandmothers would have found it ridiculous that they paid good money to go work out at the gym. Why not plant some crops? Toss bales of hay into a wagon all day? Put up heavy storm windows? Isn't that work enough?

Seems most of us have lost the opportunity to do hard work...and we need to replace it, at the very least, with hard exercise. Unfortunately, too many of us are too lazy to do so. It's much easier to sit and indulge ourselves with our favorite foods, while pretending anyone who suggests we do otherwise is the one with the problem --- and getting annoyed if anyone suggests that obesity is, in most cases, caused by eating too much and doing too little.

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