Red: “I keep my ear to the ground. Why’d you do it?”
Andy: “I didn’t, since you asked.”
Red: “Hell, you’ll fit right in then. Everyone’s innocent in here, don’t you know that? Heywood! What are you in for, boy?”
Heywood: “Didn’t do it! Lawyer f@$#ed me!”
Red (gives Andy a look): “See?”
—- Shawshank Redemption
‘I ain’t never been to jail!’ You ain’t supposed to go to jail you low expectation having mother-f%^&#@! – Chris Rock
Here’s the thing about the particular prison that is obesity: it’s not uncommon to act like it’s a surprise that we’re in it. It’s some random chance. It’s unfair, or the causes unknown. This is especially true in certain areas of the US, Central PA being one of them. Just as there are neighborhoods with high percentages of residents who end up incarcerated, there are sub-cultures that are so ridiculously unhealthy, the number of obese people seems normal, and there is a public pretense that it’s all such a huge mystery.
That is still no excuse for the crime. Plenty of people grow up in the projects and don’t become criminals. Plenty of people grow up in PA Dutch country and don’t end up obese. Yes, it all comes down to personal responsibility. However, to suck it up and claim that responsibility, one has to be up front with the decisions made, and identify the bad belief systems that one bought into. That’s not blaming others, but it is recognizing the forces that don’t exactly make it easy.
To become obese, I simply ate too much. That’s all there is to it. I’m not big boned, I don’t have a hormonal disorder. I consume more calories than I burn. To do so is illogical. So, why do it? Every obese person has a different story, though many plot points cross over. I can only speak for me. Something tells me though, that this would be familiar to many.
Failure of logic #1 – only people who can throw a ball in a co-ordinated way can be athletes. I’d like to say a lot more about this, but I don’t want to stray too far into the whole blame-the-system thing. Suffice it to say that there is a definite all or nothing dichotomy in popular culture that I bought into. I didn’t have to, but I did. That dichotomy is the same force that fuels our obsession with cover model thinness while most of us are tipping the scales on the heavy end, and getting fatter. The recent obesity stats compared to 20 years ago are staggering. I’ve seen the same phenomenon with music: we leave it to a few chosen professionals to perform, and we all watch. Participation is a dying thing. With sport, we obsess over multi-million dollar contracts for entertainers, while fewer people get out there and get moving themselves. There may be more participants each year in marathons, but it’s still such a tiny part of the populus. Look around, we’re normalizing fat. More on that in chapter three. The bottom line is, I believed that unless I would be the best at something, there was no point in being active.
Failure of logic #2 – eating is a recreational activity. This is a common problem, especially in a wealthy society. Instead of treating food as fuel for the body, I’ve treated it as a hobby, entertainment, and a source of happiness. I’m not especially an emotional eater, per se, for me it’s more an issue of “hey it’s here, why not?”
Failure of logic #3 – short term pleasure is preferable to long term. Almost every single convict in prison is there because of a failure to think long term. Impulse control is lacking, or non-existent. This is clearly true for me, and I would guess, most over-eaters. Delayed gratification is central to any endeavor worth putting time into. It is, sadly, a much maligned principle. Why bother spending years in practice and training to acquire a skill and become proficient, when fame is offered up to morons on reality programming? Why deny oneself tasty treats and exercise for years, when Little Debbie will give you an instant high? (BTW, Little Debbie is a whore.)
Failure of logic #4 – take an inch, take a mile. Everyone knows that the word moderation is supposed to mean something. Usually however, what passes for moderation in American society is still pretty far on the over-doing it spectrum. There’s probably not a “moderate” quantity of doritos that makes any sense. But again, plenty of people can enjoy a few and not become imprisoned. I was not one of them. Let me give you a real life example of how I thought for a long time. Across from the seminary in Philadelphia, there is a Wa-wa. This was my first experience with a convenience store that made decent sandwiches. They use amoroso rolls. I would routinely go there and pick up a classic (12 inch) sandwich. Italian meats, cheese, and mayonnaise. That’s a hefty dose of calories. A normal person would say “well, if I’m having this, that’s obviously too much already, so I should not get anymore to eat with it.” Not me. I said “geez, this is really bad for me. I am probably going to get fatter from it. So what the hell, why not add a liter of coke, a bag of doritos, and a pint of Ben & Jerrys. And I would consume all of that. Ben & Jerrys is allegedly 4 servings per pint, by the way. This is how screwed up my logic was. If I was going to eat poorly, I may as well go full force. The exponential effect of this was evident. I packed on the pounds as if I was in a contest.
Failure of logic #5 – this will never change, so embrace it. Once you’ve seen 300 on the scale, pushing 350 doesn’t seem so odd, then topping 350 seems to be obvious. Buying pants with a 50 inch waist is just what you do now, and in fact I hated all the clothing stores for not having my size. I made it my identity to be the big fat (loud) guy. That guy is capable of comic relief, and can keep friends. But that guy is dead inside. That guy hated himself, and frankly, most everyone else on some level. That guy was so deep inside the nihilism of what he had become, all he could see was prison walls. That guy was a horrible husband. That guy had severely screwed up ways of looking at the world. Sometimes that guy still looks back at me in the mirror. In proper Lutheran theological fashion, I take him to the pool and try to drown him. But, like the “old Adam,” he’s a good swimmer.
Failure of logic #6 – people that aren’t in this prison are just lucky. Sure, there are those predisposed to higher metabolic function. But let’s drop the bullshit right now folks. If you’re fat like me, there is a 99.9999% chance that you, like me, did it to yourself entirely. All the research on weight management shows the same trend: people who are overweight tend to vastly underestimate what they eat, and people who are slim tend to overestimate. We see what we want to see and report it accordingly. My Uncle Ed is a guy who is the same size as when he was married, and if you ask anyone else, Ed can just eat whatever he wants and never gain a pound. But you know, Ed doesn’t eat like me. When Ed “eats whatever he wants” he is not being a glutton. The difference in Ed is not a magical gene, it’s behavior. Well, my behavior has been atrocious. And if I’m being honest, I have to say that the vast majority of overweight people I know are not being honest about their actual food intake and activity levels. Certainly it doesn’t help that portion sizes have crept up all around us. For example, the oft debated happy meal at McDonalds is roughly the same size as what adults ate at the same place when it first opened. So yeah, there are some outside forces that make it harder, but no one forces it into us. (The exception to this is Bob Evans, where I am convinced that there is a 2 drink minimum, the drinks being a half gallon of sausage gravy, and if you don’t eat it, they hook you up with a sausage gravy IV.) Outside of that, we fat people have been going through the big lie of “oh oh, the food industry twisted my arm and made me overconsume!” Please. We have enjoyed every minute of it. Time to call it what it is, and refuse to be part of it.
Failure of logic #7 – I’m special.
My body works the same as anyone else’s. Youth helped, but this catches up with you. I do have decent blood pressure readings, and I am blessed with a strong cardiovascular system. But this idea that I could abuse myself however I chose and pay no consequences was certainly a factor. It was so easy to see other people who were clearly obese and think “well, I’m not like THAT.” You know how anorexics have this condition where they think they’re fat when they are skin and bones? I had the opposite problem. I would not see obesity, I would see just a “big guy.” While the folks from the National Association of Fat Acceptance would say that was preferable, it was a temporary lie. It did not feed my self-esteem. In fact, it ebbed and flowed in such a way that when I saw it for the lie it was, it made my self-hatred even worse.
So that’s how I got there. Next Chapter: How I stayed there for so long.