Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fat city

Note to readers: my photo challenge post is here!
Do you notice that when you see a picture like this of fat people their faces are almost never shown? I wonder if this is to preserve a sense of their privacy or whether it's to make me feel like maybe this could be me. Here's a thought I'd like to run by you: Are advertising, economics, and obesity related? If so, how?

Advertising: on the one hand, svelte, young, attractive women are shown in ad after ad on TV, because they know that you will pay attention and look. But food ads are, more and more often, using overweight men and humor to pull you in to buy their product. If you notice, beautiful women are used to sell everything but food. Notice how seldom you see an overweight woman in an advertisement for anything except diet aids. If you're a fat woman, you feel discounted. On the other hand, we are seduced into eating food we don't need and we don't really want, but subtle cues pull us in. Oh, they're good.

I moved to Bellingham, Washington from Boulder, Colorado. One of the first things I noticed is that the people here are definitely larger than they are in Boulder. Of course, Boulder has more athletic and outdoorsy people than most places. And up here the winters are long and people are not as active as they might be. But there's something more: there seems to be a greater acceptance of being bigger. You just don't see really big people walking around the streets in Boulder. Here, it's an everyday occurrence. My "what is normal" meter has been recalibrated.

Economics: Another reason more people are obese is that almost all fast food is extremely fattening and unhealthy, and people on the lower economic rungs of society cannot afford to eat as well. They eat at McDonald's and Taco Bell, while affluent people buy more healthy (and expensive) food. Anyone who has seen the movie Super Size Me knows what a diet of McDonald's food did to that poor man in just one month. It's very expensive to live in Boulder, so maybe people are more well off. I know we couldn't afford to retire there.

Obesity: Anyone who reads these days knows it's become an epidemic. To qualify as being obese, you need to have a BMI over 30. To calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), several different websites are available, but this one is my favorite, because it allows to you compare yourself to other people who are the same age and sex as you. At 5'3", I would need to weigh 170 lbs. to be considered obese (my current BMI is 23, and boy do I work at it!).

When you don't feel good about yourself, it's so tempting to reward yourself with food, and so begins the vicious cycle that keeps so many of us in prisons of our own making. But there is a way out: take one small step. Start exercising, just a little bit to start, like walking around the block. And become willing to feel your feelings and allow yourself to see what a little hunger feels like. Just a little bit. My tendency is to try to fix things by doing too much too soon, and then getting discouraged. A little exercise and a little hunger can go a long way.

This has all been on my mind lately because I'm trying to lose a few pounds in order to get into a pair of jeans that stubbornly won't fit. I refuse to buy new ones, and every couple of weeks I take my favorite jeans out of the closet and try them on, to see if I am any closer. It's a good incentive builder. Still have a ways to go.


  1. I am fighting that battle right now. I was on track until this asthma thing flared up. I get winded walking to the kitchen. (Probably a good thing now that I think about it...) My BMI has shot up in the past year.

    Maybe once my health improves and the weather cools off (we're making up for the cool July), I'll get back on track. Your hiking trips will serve as a great motivater!

    You have some excellent points about economics, advertising, etc.

  2. Minneapolis is a great city for walking. That's how I get my exercise.

  3. another ecomonic downside of being overweight is the strain it puts on our health care system. I wish we'd get a tax break for being a member of a gym, or having a low BMI, or something! It's hard to see people destroying their health and eating terribly...but you're right, unhealthful food is cheaper....

  4. Oh, don't get me started. I was 56 before I really started having weight problems. It has been a horrible battle; weight training and aerobic exercising does NOT do much for me in the weight loss battle. I owned a gym for pete's sake. So I know what to eat and what to not to eat as well as how long to exercise and which ones to do.

    After all is said and done, the only way I lose weight is to go on a 900 calorie a day diet (Weight Watchers). I am not nice on 900 calories. I am at least a 150 pounds away from looking like the woman in the photo, but I feel that is how much I weigh. Nuts, isn't it! Call me frustrated. :D

    PS: Excuse my rant.

  5. When I was in Tennessee I saw the problem for what it is. You can't go outside there because it's too damned hot! (pardon the swearing). I suffered big time because I am used to going out for long walks every day in England. There are only a few days in the year in England when you can't go outside, one or two in the summer when it's too hot and one or two in the winter when it's too cold. In Tennessee, beautiful thought it is, it is too hot from May - October. So I was trapped in the apartment and I hated it. I missed my walks so much. No wonder people get fat, they can't get out and walk over there. Oh, and the portions are MUCH too big. I have noticed that "give an American a cereal bowl, they will fill it, no matter how big the bowl is. Some people just don't seem to have any idea as to what is an appropriate portion of something.
    Blessings, Star

  6. In this society, being thin is not only healthy, its trendy, and its politically correct. I believe another reason the faces aren't shown because it's meant to depersonalize the person and emphasize the fat. Fat people are ostracized among the intellectually eite, as well as those well off enough to eat well. In 21st century America, the poor people are often fat. Isn't that ironic?

  7. Ouch, I have another thought. While obesity isn't healthy( I do understand this), we are still people who deserve to be treated like other people. There is a prejudice in this country I believe against obese people. So often ridiculed and treated differently. We all have our vices, some of us just show them more easily. Just a thought.

  8. I have battled weight problems all my life...I lose and then I gain and yo-yo making it worse each time I try to lose again. And my metabolism has slowed to a crawl because of this. I also try and walk too.. I have arthritis and fibromyalgia, so it hurts a lot to exercise. But I force myself to do it.

  9. What an interesting and thought provoking post. Like many women, my weight has been an up and down sort of thing. I have to watch what and how much I eat and I have to exercise. Like Star said, here in the South it is too hot for several months of the year to do much outside. It takes dedication or a gym membership to exercise appropriately throughout the year.
    Like you stated, economics is a huge piece of the obesity epidemic. It's not just fast food, either. Go to the grocery store and see how much more money is spent when you buy fresh foods and healthy options as opposed to boxes of macaroni and frozen meals.
    Unfortunately, obesity has become so widespread that it is commonplace now and seems to be acceptable to the majority of society. Once upon a time it was unusual to come across people grossly overweight unless they has a medical issue. Nowadays it seems like every other person is at least somewhat overweight. I know as I have often been that person.
    As an end note I'd like to say that I think society in general has gotten lazy. I think that is a large part of the problem. It takes energy and planning to live a healthy lifestyle and the majority of people of my generation don't seem to want to make the effort. This is a problem I see across the board with this younger generation; it's not relegated only to healthy living. It seems that the question has become, "How can I get the absolute most of anything with a complete dearth of effort?" Hence the rise in popularity of the diet pill...

  10. This is a very healthy topic,great post.Glad you found a way to link us to the photo challenge.

  11. Here's another observation: Biology programs us to put on weight for the winter, the lean years. An animal out in the wild wouldn't last long if it didn't eat everything it could get its paws or beak on.

    Our species has become so successful, we have to work at not eating so much, at exercising more. How ironic is that?

    Historically rich people were fat, in almost every culture. Now the saying is "you can never be too rich or too thin."

    Obesity is bad for your health, sure. But I've noticed among the "culturally elite" a bigotry toward fat people. LIke they are terrible people, don't they know any better? (I have an acquaintance who talks like this.) In some parts of the country, like Colorado, people are in good shape, you don't see much obesity. These geographic pockets tend to be well-educated, culturally diverse, and snobbish about health and wellness.

    I've been rich and I've been poor -- and rich is better. It's also relative. But one of the poor man's few pleasures is in eating. If the food source is cheap and plentiful, the poor man will eat (and drink cheap beer.) The poor man will not spend money he doesn't have to go work out at a health club with a bunch of yuppies. He or she will sink into the couch exhausted at the end of the day, turn on the tube, and open the chips.

    All said, some people are way too obsessed with weight. It's one thing if it's your weight, your health and wellbeing. But people should mind their own weight and look into each other's faces, not their waistlines.

  12. Linda! You said it! You actually wrote down in that response what I was feeling but didn't say nearly as well in my post. Thank you.

    That bigotry is everywhere, but not as pronounced here in Washington as in Colorado, and I think it's because it's almost impossible to discount fat people here: they are all over the place, and their faces are filled with diversity, joy of life and humor. In Colorado, they hide themselves away much more.

    But, that said, what needs to happen now? Advertising and mainstream media are losing us and we need to figure out how to proceed, where to proceed. Any ideas, bloggers????

  13. Hi DJan,

    If you're only here in our country, you will see the series of huge billboards on main streets showing the BEFORE and AFTER image of fat women. The before is showing how big they were and the after is showing how slim they are and you know why? Some people here has resorted to science to eliminate fat, liposuction is the answer to their beer belly. And they just don't know the hazardous effects of it, many has complained, some had died due to it's side effects(anesthesia), and many have become depressed. Well, maybe these people came from well off families that they can just eliminate those fats in one click, 'cos they have the money. But what about those who can't afford, I'd say it's better that we can't afford, 'cos we wont get tempted to go under the knife. Some people I think are still unaware of the benefits of exercising, like what you said, walking, running, patience will do it all! Only, getting fit won't happen overnight, LOL, they have to be patient and work on it, it doesn't to be stressful but it will help a lot . I encourage my relatives, friends to stay away from fastfood chains, instead eat more fruits and veggies.

    Setting a goal is very important when you want to get fit. I remember when I gained a few pounds. I bought a jeans smaller than the actual size 27inches, and my goal is to make that jeans fit back. I ran 5K 3 times a week, do some cardio exercises and that's it! That's all I can say.

    Stay healthy, keep hiking, and stay beautiful!


  14. DJ, You hit on a hot topic. Very interesting, isn't it. We also live in a town where thin is in the minority. Our winters are long, and the average age is probably 65. It's easy to cook and eat comfort foods, and you start to think,"who cares?" My husband is very much into health and exercise and weight training and his almost expert opinion is that your weight is mostly related to what you eat. Exercise is just as important for health, agility, muscle tone and ability, but if you want to lose weight then what you eat (or don't eat) is really the key. I know this is debatable. It's a hard balance to maintain when you're living a hectic, stressful and real life. Unlike TV and movie stars that get paid very well to make this challenge their life and they can afford the time, the personal chefs, the personal trainers and all resources needed to obtain and maintain this balance of calories, exercise, and then the occasional drug or operation, or medical procedure. None of this is real life. I believe in being happy and healthy and whatever that may be for you.

  15. I have been on a mini-trip so have to catch-up. One thing I noticed is that when I would go to France and my mother had only butter to place on my bread, I also ate cheese, food with sauces, etc. I would not gain any weight. Of course I walked a lot more but I believe there is too much sugar in the US food. Check the labels and you’ll find sugar or corn syrup in almost everything. Some items are “low fat” but when you look, they are loaded with corn syrup. One to watch is the low fat ice cream – loaded with sugar, same as sherbet. I remember my Chinese trainees, when I was at work, could not eat in the Chinese Restaurants here, they all said “it’s too sweet.” Here they add sugar to salad dressing for example and tomato sauce. It is true that to buy the better food is more expensive, so this is why there is a diabetic epidemic here. Another problem I see is when you get older you may take medicine which will not let you lose weight. I take high blood pressure medicine and one of the side effects is weight gain, so should one stay thin and have high blood pressure? What a dilemma.

  16. Oooh, interesting topic. I agree with you on most of this, but I have to say, eating unhealthy is actually more expensive than healthy eating. Our family would definitely qualify as low-income, but I make sure that we eat healthy, un-processed food, from-scratch as often as possible. I would love to hit a drive-thru every week, but we cannot afford it.

    The thing is, this kind of healthy eating takes effort. It takes more time to go to the farm stand than the frozen aisle, and to actually prepare and cook a meal, rather than driving thru or popping some preservative-filled frozen concoction in the oven.

    Just because I love a good debate, here is a thought- and please do realize that I am NOT making generalizations here, most poor, overweight people do not fit into this category- but what about the lifestyle choices of some people that include the laziness that involves poor eating habits and no excercise? Those same lifestyle choices also drift over into the job market, creating no desire for job advancement, or the choices that make one unemployed. I don't believe that we can say that every poor overweight person in overweight because they are poor, but some (and I do mean a few, not even the majority) people are poor and overweight because they are lazy. Plain and simple.

    So my question is, what can we do to teach the children of this segment of the population better habits so that the cycle does not continue? I don't know, to be honest, but I am thinking about it.

  17. Thoughtful comment, Tiff. I don't know about the laziness aspect, but I do know there are a lot of people who believe they shouldn't have to do anything but be taken care of, and the really bad part is they are often the ones who hate the government!! How weird is that?

    And you're right: it takes an effort to eat a healthy diet, whether or not it's prepared by a homemaker -- and not the companies that advertise how they can do it for us.

    But it seems more to be a frame of mind. If you have no hope, as Linda said, you just come home from a dead end job, turn on the tube and break out the chips. And the cycle continues. How to break out of it??

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