I am not a doctor. I am not a dietician, or a nutritionist, or an over-reaching politician. I am, however, fat. I have YEARS of experience with fat. I have my Ph.D. in Feminine Chubbiness.
My journey through the world of American fat began when I was nine, and one of the mean kids in my class called me “Porky” to hurt my feelings and to make me cry. It worked. When I started my fat life, there were two other girls in my class who were fatter than I was. I did not notice this until I got my fat tag. Since that first experience I have consistently compared my girth to that of others in different groups of which I was a member, including groups waiting to board planes. I do not focus on clothes or hair or skin color or even height. I suspect this habit of mine may not be uniquely my own, or even limited to fat people, but I will make no absolute assertions concerning it.
From my experience of fat, I have decided there are certain things that have little to do with fat, and one of those is food. I know that sounds counter intuitive, but wait a little. I’ll explain. Some people pretend they think that family history has nothing to do with fat, but they know better. Look back along my family line, and you’ll see a rich assortment of sturdy women. It’s true that there is more flesh in my generation, but down through the ages rail-thin delicate types are as rare as star sapphires.
Saying that food has little to do with fat does not mean it has nothing to do with fat. It is a factor, but I suspect it may be far less important than other factors. One other factor that is more powerful than food is exercise. Exercise does more than just burn calories. It makes a person feel better. The sweat helps purify the body. The increased heart rate releases some combination of hormones that improve mood. A significant number of fat people find they gain weight when depressed. Yep, the elevation of mood from a hard workout (or actual hard work) helps the body maintain greater health regardless of the body’s size or shape.
Another factor of weight is not calories at all. It’s hydration. Lots of fat (and thin) people know drinking water and allowing the kidneys plenty of easy work actually improves their function.
Exercise and water are more important than food in regulating healthy weight, but they are not the most important factors. The main problem leading to American fat is lack of proper rest and sleep. I’m serious. Look at the way the fat America scenario has been working. With each passing decade, reporters and skinny folks are working themselves into a frenzy about the fat epidemic, and it hasn’t made for fewer fat people. Even those who are most worried about it have to admit that worrying about American fat has done absolutely NOTHING to reduce it.
So, if it isn’t McDonalds that’s making people fat, what is? With each passing year people have more and more reason to stay up late at night and to stay inside. When I was very young, I went to bed at 8:30 and my parents turned off the TV. We moved and I went from living in a small town near lots of friends who all played outside to living outside town and having no friends to play with near me at all. I started my TV habit after that move. I exercised less. I started staying up later and my weight…well, I gained.
The only times I have SPONTANEOUSLY lost weight have been when I have fallen in love, but the love diet never lasts. Eventually the rose fades; the pounds come back. Ask a career fat person about this, about his or her experiences with fat, and I’ll bet at least one experience involving the elevating powers of romantic love will be linked to weight loss. But, Cupid is fickle trainer. He never lets the feeling LAST.
What are we doing that is different than earlier generations? What are we doing that works AGAINST the natural inclination of our physical selves to seek health? We are all working longer hours, staying up later, watching screens of various sizes and brightness. That’s the difference. Our metabolisms are turned on their heads. Our hormones are out of whack. We’re not just fat. We’re exhausted. What do we do when we feel tired–sugar fix, carb fix, pizza fix.
Want to lose weight over the holidays? Go to bed at 9:00 p.m. No TV. No computer after 8:00 p.m. Don’t use an alarm. Turn off all the lights and just snuggle under the blankets. When you wake up naturally at dawn you’ll have enough time for a nice walk and even a shower before you have to get to work. Drink plenty of water. Enjoy the treats people bring you. Work out a little each and every day. Break a sweat at least four times a week. Urinate often.
Who can do all this? Who has the will to do all this? I’m telling you, the food is the least of fat America’s problems. It’s not the food. It’s the rest.