Friday, January 18, 2013

Fat is the New Black

I am not fat. Oh no.  Down south, I'm plump, out of shape, big-boned, solid and (my favorite) well-fed.  Clinicians refer to this condition as obesity, which just sounds rude and is evidently an epidemic. Advertising execs opt for a more neutral tone with plus-size, women's (so if you're skinny, you clearly aren't a real woman) and queen sized.  I've always thought I was Candis; descendant of some people that tended to run on the large side of life, and a sizable minority of people that tend toward litheness. 

In my lifetime I've learned the secret to why I (and the other pandemic of obeseites) are the way we are.  It's because we're lazy and stupid, at least according to pop culture. One person, a relative by marriage, not blood (thank the Lord), told me that fat people lack discipline.  Researchers have, at various times, said obesity is caused by: pasta, eggs, fat content, lack of exercise, red meat, fried foods, butter, cheese, and soda.  Newer studies have suggested it is diet soda, an evolutionary response to modern food sources, a food addiction, a virus and the BPA content of canned foods and water bottles that causes weight challenges.

Considering the millions of people that struggle with weight, I'm sure there are a million reasons.  Here are mine: I truly am big-boned, with a shoulder measurement that some high school linebackers would like to have.  I have huge feet, too (sorry, I'm married) for what its worth.  My diet has yo-yoed with the best of them.  When I was young and unaware of the wider world, I ate what Mama made, tons of vegetables, cornbread and chicken, and spent hours on my bike, trampoline or in the pool.  I was still solid.  Middle school found me on Slim-Fast, which strangely enough made me feel like I was starving constantly and caused me to gain 5 pounds.  Then there was high school, when at my insistence, Mama took me to a nutritionist who instructed me to eat no more than 900 calories a day. I did, faithfully, enduring chronic hunger and migraines, until the day when I developed an unstoppable nosebleed that required a doctor to pack my nose. That was the end of that.

In my 20s I became very active, spending my time kayaking, canoeing, swimming, hiking, even caving and rock climbing. I also ate like a very hungry horse. All the time. I lost around 55 pounds and was very close to ripped. That upside down heart on your calf? I had that.  This lasted a while before I headed off to Alabama and moved in with my now spouse.  They say love makes you plump; I say love can double the fun pretty fast. So now I'm 30, and 50 pounds heavier than I was in high school, almost 90 more than I was at 25. 

What's the point?  Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes, for one. I have a 50 year old friend who competes in triathlons, but will never stop being a "big" woman.  I have family members that have never been more than 10 pounds or so above "perfect" weight and take blood pressure and cholesterol medicine.  I've got perfect clinical numbers, despite my weight putting me in "grave danger." 

The South tends to produce obese folks at a higher rate than a lot of regions. Plenty of people would assume that this is because we're lazy and stupid, which of course just makes them lazy and stupid.  We live in a region where nothing says "I love you" like food, in a region where poverty has been taking a toll (especially on minorities) for approximately 150 years, and where more and more convenience, processed food is taking the place of technical know-how in the kitchen. This is clearly a perfect storm, a complex event, something to address with creative, realistic solutions. What the "obesity epidemic" is not: an opportunity for ridicule, patronization, and condemnation.  It is not the forum to assume you know everything about someone based on the size of their shirt. 

Dr. Oz, who I rarely read, wrote in an O Magazine  article last year that one of the myths of health is that you must be a certain BMI or weight.  Not true, he says. The real deal? Everyone should eat the healthiest food they can, like lean meat, whole grains and fruits/vegetables; get plenty of exercise; let your body find your perfect weight. Common sense is often missing from the great weight debate, but this is it and I couldn't agree more.

 For years I've listened to people comment on my size, my sister's size, my spouse's size; to be real honest: I'm done with that. To the person who once made a comment about  a dress ordered in a size that was too small  ("it's an opportunity to lose weight"), the one who commented on the fattiness of fried food while staring at me ("that'll make you obese"), the one who feigns concern ("I'm worried about your health") and the one of has spent years calling herself fat despite being half my size : Be on notice. This is your only warning.  I'm a nice person, but if you continue with the comments both overt and passive-aggressive, I'll have no choice but to bless your heart just before I make you cry. Try me.

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