Monday, 21 February, 2005

Final Fat Rant (maybe)

It's good to question one's beliefs from time to time.  That was one of the primary motivators for me to start this series on why we're (as a nation) getting fatter.  Sometimes questioning your beliefs leads you to new knowledge.  Other times you just confirm what you already knew.

In my last post on this topic, I identified the factors that I think contribute to what some people are calling an obesity epidemic. I was going to discuss each of those factors in detail, but then I came to realize (with a little helpful prodding) that there's not much to discuss. I could talk about why those factors exist, but that's not the issue. The question is how those factors contribute to making people fat. The answer is simple: those factors combine to require that people actively think about what and how much they're eating and to exercise restraint in food choice. Yes, folks, the spectre of personal responsibility raises its ugly head once again.

I tried. I really did. I looked long and hard for any evidence that some outside force was making people eat too much or exercise too little. There are those who say that food companies are to blame because their advertising is so effective or because they purposely sell "addictive" foods. To hear these people talk, you'd think that Big Food is little more than a drug cartel. Sorry, but I don't buy it. Every bit of research I did pointed right back at the individual who didn't have the discipline to control his consumption and do a small amount of exercise.

Many people say that they can't afford the time or money to exercise. This one really blows my mind, because most of the people who use this excuse spend more than $100 every month on digital cable and TiVo, visit restaurants more often than they eat at home, drive status symbol cars that cost well over $500 per month, and can tell you everything that happened on the latest episode of American Idol, The Sopranos, and Desperate Housewives.

A recent survey showed that in American households the television is on for an average of eight hours every day. Eight hours? Granted, they're not talking about a single person watching TV for an average of eight hours per day (although I've met a few who probably come close), but eight hours per day? Most people don't spend that much time at work when you factor in weekends. Do you think they could give up an hour or so per day to go for a brisk walk?

Unless you've given up your absurdly expensive cable TV and started eating more reasonably priced and healthier home cooked food, don't even bother me with any crap about exercise being too expensive. Walking costs you a few pairs of shoes every year. Push ups and sit ups are free. Debra and I are looking at joining a new gym near the house. A $150 signup fee and $28 per month (paid month to month, not all in one lump sum) gets both of us a membership. If you can't leave the house for some reason (have to watch the kids, for example), you can get a good used treadmill or other exercise equipment pretty inexpensively. Absent real physical injury, there's just no excuse other than laziness for being sedentary.

I know that there are some whiners out there thinking "That's easy for you to say. You've never been fat or had to watch your diet." That's not true at all. I weighed 140 pounds in 1982. At the time I kept very active with martial arts and running marathons. Three years later I had a job, a wife, and "no time" to eat healthy or exercise, and I spent most of the next 15 years doing mostly nothing. When I crossed 160 back in 1987, I thought to myself, "Jim, you're getting fat." When I crossed 170 a year later I had to buy new clothes again. I still did nothing about it. I topped out at 200 pounds a couple of years ago and finally said "That's enough!" The only difference between me and the whiners is that one of us knows who's responsible for the problem. And it sure as hell ain't McDonald's, even though I have scarfed down more than my share of Big Macs.

Anybody who's capable of picking out and paying for larger clothes to contain his bulging waistline has said to himself: "Maybe I should exercise a little bit and watch what I eat." Anybody who's had to loosen his belt a notch because his belly's grown too big has also said to himself "I should do something about that." The first time climbing a flight of stairs made you short of breath you said to yourself "I need more exercise." Any self-aware individual knows who is responsible for his excess weight, knows that it's unhealthy, and knows what is required to fix the problem. Complaining about it or trying to blame somebody else isn't going to make the fat go away. Neither is money. Even if some brain damaged judge and jury award millions of Burger King's dollars to fat people, those people will still be fat. They'll just have more money to spend on getting fatter.

Being fat is a personal choice. People gain weight because they choose not to exercise the restraint necessary to remain thin. People remain fat because they choose not to put forth the effort required to get healthy. It's as simple as that.