Obesity from over-eating and under-exercising has become such a widespread issue. In the latest issue of Bicycling magazine, there’s some articles on fat cyclists, talking about the issues they face, and how it’s harder for them to find equipment and gear that fits them, not to mention the mockery they are subjected to simply for being fat.
Having been picked on when I was a kid (not because I was fat, but for other things), I knew what it was like to be made fun of, and never made fun of kids who were fat. And one of my classmates appreciated this. Fifteen years after being in the same high school, we hooked up, toting our year books to reminisce.
“You know,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated the fact that you didn’t make fun of me for being fat.”
“No!” I exclaimed. “People didn’t really say that to you, did they? That’s awful!”
“Take a look.” He handed me his yearbook and I flipped through it. Most people had signed something along the lines of “Hey Fatty, I’m glad we were in Mr. S’s math class together. Have a good summer.” I was one of the few who hadn’t mentioned his weight when inscribing his yearbook.
I have to admit I am critical of fat people if I know they make no effort to exercise or try to maintain proper, healthy eating habits. But if they’re trying to help themselves, than I think they should be encouraged and applauded, instead of ridiculed. Like the fat cyclist in featured in Bicycling magazine.
I felt like writing to the magazine and saying “Hey Fat Boy, you should keep cycling no matter what other mean things stupid people say to you. I have a lot of respect for you for.”
Losing weight doesn’t happen overnight. Besides, even if you don’t lose as much weight as you hope to, by exercising you are improving your health, and that’s very helpful and important also.
I think I have even more admiration for fat people I see at the swimming pool. Along with visits to the dentists and car repair bills, shopping for swimsuits seems to be something that women dread. “Ohmigawd, people can see how fat I look” she screams and squeams in anguish, overly critical and analytical as she looks in the mirror with microscope eyes. If only she would realize that other people don’t really look that closely at her in a swimsuit, because other people don’t really care. They’re too busy worrying about her looking at them and their phantom fatness. Y’all would have better chances of spotting WMD. Get over it.
But people who honestly are fat have legitimate reason to dread being seen in swimming suits, which is all the more reason they should be admired and supported as they bravely head to the pool and doggedly do their laps. They are making the effort to exercise, in face of the potential stares and snickering about their weight. But you know what? Many of them can haul ass past me in the water.
The nice thing about swimming in the municipal pool in Mountain View is there’s lots of older people who swim there. Many are pudgy in a senior-citizen way. But since they’re great in number, and/or from cultures that don’t agonize about having Nancy-Reagan-sveltness, they don’t appear to fret about their body-image.
I’ve been in public baths in Japan, Hungary and Central Asia, where bathing is a big part of the culture, mostly segregated. Everyone goes in nude. I think it’s great, as it frees you from hang-ups about how your naked body looks and you’re comfortable with who/what you are in the flesh! You get to see that there are all sorts of shapes and sizes of bodies, and they are all normal. (Kudos to the current Dove print campaign that shows plus-sized women, by the way.)
In the Hotel Gellert baths in Budapest, I was handed a little white apron that would have barely swaddled a Barbie doll. Given that it was the first time ever I had been in a communal bath, I was intimidated by the idea being absolutely naked with complete strangers. I tried to figure out how I was supposed to cover my top and bottom with an itty-bitty rag. But after 5 minutes of being in a pool generously populated with goulash-endowed women, I got tired of the hassle of keeping the apron on, got over the nudity issue and used it to tie up my hair.
One elderly hausfrau grinned at me and said “Model?”
For my friends who say they would never go into a communal bath naked, I just feel sorry that they’ve been socially conditioned that way, and they’re missing out on a great bonding experience.
What surprises me even more is when friends say “I’m trying to lose 10 pounds” . . . and they are my height and build. “You don’t have anything to lose,” I retort. One wants to be able to fit in the clothes she wore in high school. . . Err, Flashdance ripped sweatshirts and Guess ankle-zip jeans haven’t really made a comeback. (I hope they don’t either.)
I just wish they were happy with their physical selves.
Of people I know who have successfully lost weight, it came about due to stress and misery (i.e. breaking up with a boyfriend), which led to not being hungry and thus eating less. A less depressing/more fun way to lose weight is the side effect of what we did: go travel for 6 months in lesser developed countries (like tropical Asia) that are hot (so you don’t get very hungry), and walk a lot and drink a lot of water (it’s helpful to avoid air-conditioning). In this case, you don’t have that sense of deprivation the way you would if you stayed home and dieted on Slim-Fast, but it does require other drastic lifestyle changes like leaving your paycheck and living out of a suitcase.
If you do decide to stay home while trying to lose weight, here are some little lifestyle changes that I think would be helpful. (Assuming you live an automobile-oriented suburban lifestyle.)
1) Park in the first spot you see (which will hopefully be the furtherest from the entrance of your destination.) This will build in more exercise into your life, which all adds up. Exceptions can be made: you can cruise a little to look for the first shady spot, since it will save energy for your car when you have to crank up the air-con when you leave.
2) If you can, leave your car parked in one spot, and then walk from store to store, instead of moving your car to be closer to the store entrance each time. Even in large shopping malls, distances may look far, but it really doesn’t take that much longer to walk. (This will also save on cold starts for your car, which greatly reduces air pollution.) This is self-evident concept for city dwellers, for whom looking for parking is a big hassle.
3) Avoid the drive-thru. At the In-N-Out in my town, you actually get your burger quicker when you walk in.
4) Take the stairs whenever you can. Walk the escalators and moving sidewalks instead of standing stationary. (Unfortunately, due to fire codes, oftentimes stairs can only be used for going down only, not for coming up.)
5) Train your palate to eat less sweet. Try to drink your iced tea with less or no sugar. Or order an apple juice, and pour some of that into your iced tea to sweeten, instead of using those artificial sweeteners. Dilute your soda pop with a little water, or wait for the ice to melt into it. A doctor I knew in Thailand would wait until the end of his meal to drink his coke, because by then the ice had melted, and it would taste like ‘iced tea’, which he missed from his days in the US. He also found Coke too sweet anyway. (In Thailand, iced tea is always pre-sweetened; your only options are with or without milk!)
6) If you’re trying to eat less, maximize the nutritional value of the foods you eat and minimize the empty calories from your diet. For instance by sweetening your iced tea with fruit juice instead of mere sugar, you will have incorporated some additional useful minerals and vitamins in your diet. Mere sugar has no other nutritional value.
7) Avoid processed and convenience foods whenever possible, as they are often saturated with sugar, salt, MSG and other ingredients you don’t need (and are not aware of.) Don’t buy teriyaki sauce: make your own. It’s just soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, etc, which are staples you should have in your kitchen anyway. When you mix it yourself, you can control and use smaller amounts of seasoning, which will often be healthier than the commercial products, since you don’t add stabilizers or starches.
8) Marinating meat and investing for retirement have one thing common: it’s not about how much you put in, but how long it’s in for. If you can, marinate your meats (whether for stir-fry, grilling, broiling, etc), as far in advance as possible, whether it’s in the morning before you go to work, or even the night before. It takes time for the marinade to penetrate into the meat, so the longer you marinade, the deeper the flavor development. This will make your meats much more flavorful, even when using smaller amounts of marinade. In contrast, dumping hefty amounts of marinade into the meat right before cooking the meat to compensate still leaves the meat tasting bland, and feeds you an excess of salt, sugar, etc from the marinade coating sauce.
9) Split the dishes with your friends when you dine out. Most portions in restaurants are oversized. That way you still have a variety of tastes, but you won’t have over-eaten. Or else, doggie-bag. If you don’t eat leftovers, well, maybe there’s homeless guy around who will appreciate them.
10) Cooked veggies are better than salads in terms of nutritional benefit per mass. It may look like a lot of salad, but if you cook it down, you’ll notice the gargantuan pile of leaves will have shrunk to a Lilliputian mound. You’re not really eating enough salad to fill you up, because it takes too long to chew, which means you might go and eat more (unhealthy) food later. Besides, salads alone are bland; they need flavor supplemented by dressings, which are often full of fat, salt, sugar and MSG. (Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of eating ‘healthy’?). With cooked veggies, you can flavor them with smaller amounts of salt, herbs, oil, vinegar, etc.
I get the impression that people who don’t like veggies were often subject to grossly overcooked veggies when they were growing up. Naturally they would have been turned off by something so soggy that tastes so nasty. I hope those people in their adulthood give veggies another chance by cooking them to lesser degrees and discovering how much better they taste that way.
11) Invest in good fruit (and veggies). If you normally don’t eat a lot fruit, it’s probably because you get them from a supermarket where produce is a commodity, bred for appearance and sturdiness but not flavor. Picked unripe, you’re tasting papier mache. If you get great-tasting fruit and veggies, you’d naturally gravitate to eating more of them and give up cookies. In two words: farmers’ markets.
I’m constantly amused when friends come over and say, “This melon is so good,” “How come your apples taste like apples?” “These strawberries are so sweet.” When I was a kid, strawberries were an excuse to eat Cool Whip. Supermarket strawberries on their own were so sour. If we didn’t have Cool Whip, we’d spoon heapsful of sugar over the berries. Now, I enjoy strawberries on their own, anything added would be unnecessary gilding.
Rule of thumb: eat what’s in season and produced locally, for optimal taste. Just because you see apples in the supermarket year round doesn’t mean they are naturally harvested year round. Eat pineapples in Hawaii, and apples on the East Coast, but not vice versa. Most people get groggy, tired and stale after being packed like sardines on a transcontinental flight. Fruit can be likewise.
12) Try to consume foods that aren’t so chilled. Cold mutes flavors, so for sweet things like iced tea, ice cream, fruit etc, so they need extra sugar to compensate. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to taste the sweetness. If you let them rest briefly after removing them from the fridge to let them come closer to room temperature, they will taste sweeter (or require less added sugar.)