This is the cultural icon that provided the wisdom: to feel thin, hang around people fatter than you.

This won’t be as long as the last post, but part of feeling better about my progress and my holistic approach to improvement has had an interesting side effect: I forget to get outraged as much. While this is definitely good for me and my family, I need a good dose every so often to keep the fires burning. There is no story without conflict. And tomorrow, wow, do I have a story that gets my head exploding like Lewis Black.

But in the meantime, I failed to talk about one of the major lowered expectations that I face all the time, and I am hardly alone in it:

We’re getting so fat as a country, that anything below morbidly obese is considered normal, or at least acceptable. 

This is not a new topic for me, but as I laid out such a manifesto on taking charge, I realize that on the theme of low expectations is the elephant in the room that we are all becoming elephants in the room. And with the cultural zeitgeist bound up in the race to the bottom of “reality” programming, no matter our dysfunctions, we can tune into at least five channels at any given hour to see human trainwrecks. Their misfortune is our morality porn, making us feel so much better about ourselves.

Let’s talk about being overweight.

Several weeks ago, I had a friend send me a link to an article on facebook, since all I ever post about is health related topics. I’ve had this one in the back of my mind for some time now.. I’m ready to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war on this one.

Being Overweight Means You Live Longer

Such a stew of problems here.

First, this somewhat meta-study is observational. That means they miss all sorts of things that confound a real double blind study.

1. It is based on BMI. Anyone who has even a bit of trained musculature is going to be higher on a BMI scale.

2. If you’re American, you probably rate yourself wrong in comparison to the terms used here. Again, using the problematic BMI is just useless. Why? By BMI standards, most people are overweight that would not call themselves so. Now I now I just said we’re all getting fatter, so our standards are changing. That is part of it. What I’m getting at is this: what the study defines as normal weight, most people would likely call “too skinny.” And the term overweight is a narrow band of measurements, by this study’s terms, that a good number of healthy people fall into. But most importantly, if you are willing to admit you are overweight, the odds are, this study classifies you as obese. And it does NOT say that obese people live longer.

3. A real possible confounder is the fact that the more overweight you are, the more likely you are to go to the doctor. You are therefore more likely, statistically, to receive early treatment for diseases. Your mortality may be lessened by early intervention. Of course this can also mean being kept alive longer by the wonders of technology, and I’m not just talking about a ventilator,. I mean the pharmaceutical industry.

4. And let’s just finally say, OK,just for a thought experiment, I’ll give you absurd notion that what Americans define as overweight is still a longer life. I will take fewer years that are active, rich and full, over a choice of more years where because of my weight, I can’t walk up stairs without being winded, sit on my behind all the time passively watching the world go by, live on 15 drugs, and struggle every time I visit the bathroom.  That was no way to spend my 30s, and I have no interest in another decade like it. Minus the drugs, that is a pretty close analysis of where I’ve been actually. 

This kind of shoddy science is maddening because it is so easy for most people who want to make no effort at their own health, or have given up, read it and say “see? Fat and happy is where it’s at.” And besides my anger at ending a sentence with a preposition, that mentality just escapes me.

Never once have I been OK with my obesity. That struggle has led to some pretty dark, self-hating places over the years. And an argument could be made for total health that says a mental balance for 60 years is superior to angst and turmoil for 62. And that is true. But I can make the case that I have ALWAYS felt like a lean healthy person trapped inside an obese body. I have never felt this is the way I am supposed to be. Getting right with that is my only way to mental health, and without it, I would not have physical health at all. I want it all, truly.

The danger here is that people will choose the crappy headline they want that reinforces their own status or behavior. Good science is done when we are open to change if the evidence supports it. My LDL A-B test is still out, and if it comes back that my bad LDL truly is high, I will adjust. What I won’t do is throw up my hands, dismiss paleo or lowcarb as fads, go back to the S.A.D. (standard American diet – no accident it spells sad) and beg for the pills that will make my tests come out better.

That’s not good enough for me, and it shouldn’t be good enough for you either. This isn’t a matter of sucking it up, getting tough, and white knuckling our way through the difficulty of constant exercise and low fat diets like the conventional wisdom says. I tried, I failed, I hated mysefl, andI was miserable. This is about getitng in touch with our roots, biologically and kicking to the curb any dogma that says 100 calories of coca cola is equivalent to 100 calories of avocado.

We need to say that it is not OK to be obese. It is going to bankrupt our healthcare system, with or without “Obamacare.” The expectation that I see all around me, is that once you get to a certain age, that illness is normal. We’ve accepted the diseases of civilization as a natural consequence of time. Yet we marvel at people from a time before oleo margarine, who lived in to their 90s working their asses off. Now, by the time you’re 65, if you’re not a client of the scooter store, you’re considered a medical marvel.

What we need is a bigger does of honest public conversation like this post from uber-blogger Jessica Gotlieb. You’re not doing anyone any favors by continuing to act like obesity is OK.

I love this article, and I am glad someone who is not obese had the courage to write it. It is not hateful, It is honest. In a culture that values facade over substance, we need more of this. Read it. It’s not a long piece.

This is the Obesity Message We Need To Hear

The problem is, we’ve lowered the expectations for conversation in this culture. So any discussion with a word that is not dripping with positivity and encouragement is automatically assigned a moral value. I dealt with this all the time when I would use the word FAT out loud in reference to myself. People lose their minds. They act as if I just blurted out the N Word. Apologies to Louis CK for just doing that white person thing of using the phrase “the N word” which makes you say the word in your head, and now I’m responsible, but I act like I didn’t say it.

Yeah, anyway….. fat is not an insult. If people want to add to it, that’s on them. I am a fat man. I can say that without adding loser, slob, or worthless human being. I’d be lying if I said I’ve never added those. But calling fat what it is, is not a judgment in and of itself. And before everyone starts in on me, yes I know I am a much less fat man than I once was! I know! But as of February 25, 2013, I am still quite quite fat. I’m healing my whole body, inside out, and it takes time.

So let’s talk about what causes obesity. One of the landmark books in the anti-sugar movement is Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. It has made a much bigger impact, and is also written in a more accessible mainstream manner than his predecessor work Good Calories, Bad Calories. The title with the word FAT gets more attention. People respond when you call it what it is, though they may not do so in public. Both titles use words we’re not supposed to use when talking about health. His directness is refreshing. (This is not an invitation for a side discussion on political correctness.)

Well meaning people misinterpret my desire to continue to get healthier as some sort of indication that I not happy about progress so far. Many  think if I just sit where I am now, 250 flabby pounds, give or take 20, that is good enough. The definition of “skinny” in the US, and especially here in Central PA, is so out of whack. And no, it does not help matters that we go extreme in both directions and fill our fashion magazines and celebrity gossip with impossibly thin, unhealthy women. But for goodness’ sake folks, the answer to anorexia is not excess.

I know, this is a radical idea in 2013. That life, health, or fitness would not be reduced to the binary extremes. Crazy. Everything else we’re presented with in the public square is an all-or-nothing affair, why not health? Remember the 2012 election? In this corner, we had a radical muslim socialist who hates America and the Constituion and wants to kill your grandma. In this corner, we have a wall street meets Dr. Evil figure who would deport or enslave anyone who isn’t already a millionaire, doesn’t pay taxes and therefore hates America, and wants to kill your grandma.

It isn’t. I am really proud that I got off the couch and within two years inched my way to a half ironman finish. But that’s not the end of the story, it’s not even halfway. It’s really only a prelude.

And the story isn’t about a finish line. Life isn’t a finish line until you’re in the ground. Even then, you leave a legacy. Will it be motivating or discouraging? Will it be positive? Will it inspire? If we settle for good enough, we aspire to nothing.

I’m not ready to settle. I don’t accept having to make the word chin a plural in my life. I don’t accept obesity as “just the way I’m built.” And you know, it’s a funny thing. As soon as I became unsatisfied with myself enough to start doing something about it, it’s amazing how satisfied I have really become.

I’m worth it. You know why?

This man knows why.

stuart smalley


2 thoughts on “Lowered Expectations Part Two

  1. And to make matters worse, every time I saw a report on this study, it was accompanied by an image showing an obese or even morbidly obese person even though the story is clearly about carrying just a small amount of excess fat.

    I am enjoying your posts, keep up the great work.

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