Fat? So?

Hey, it’s the New Year! Get off your ass and lose the weight.

Photo By David Robert

Fat is a dumb thing.

In Nov. 1’s Editor’s Note, RN&R editor Brian Burghart wrote about how difficult it was to lose those last 10 pounds that were stubbornly clinging to his belly. The reader response to his plea was overwhelming: “It’s OK to fail. You don’t need to succeed. It’s dumb to even try.”

What is really dumb is that so many people have given up trying to lose weight and seem to be encouraging others to follow in their overloaded footsteps. Obesity is an epidemic in our country and continues to worsen. We have become a nation of fat people. Experts talk about obesity as a complicated problem with no easy fixes, and to a great extent, they are right. But it is also a fairly simple problem: We are eating more calories than we are burning up.

It’s the junk food, stupid
Americans eat gobs of calorie rich, fat-producing foods, much of it from fast food restaurants. A monster burger and a shake at Carl McWendy King’s is more than 1,100 calories, and that’s before the fries. Most of our calories come from simple sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, the stuff that keeps you craving more calories. When we are finished eating, we sit and watch TV, stare at a computer, pull on a slot machine or slowly stroll down the aisles at Wal-Mart. When we get bored with TV, we can get up and walk a few feet to the big smorgasbord known as the refrigerator and graze to our hearts’ content (well actually, not to our hearts’ content). Exercise? Americans feel that they spend too many hours working or driving to work to have time to exercise. It’s no surprise we are fat. Perhaps the surprise is that we are not fatter.

We all understand the problem and also understand the solution. Knowing what you have to do and actually getting off your butt and doing it, however, are often two very different things. The bookstores are packed with great, easy dieting plans. , frustrating and doesn’t always work. In fact, the whole concept of “losing weight” as opposed to changing your lifestyle is part of the problem.

I am an active person who hikes, cross-country skis, practices yoga and mountain bikes as much as possible. In fact, when my family says that I am addicted to exercise, they are right. I also love to eat. It is one of life’s great pleasures. Until a few years ago, I merrily ate my way through anything I could get my hands on and got away with it because I burned it all off on my bike or skis. But somehow, either I didn’t exercise enough or my metabolism changed, but I started putting on a few pounds. I started to hear my skinny friends—the ones who always kick my butt cross country skiing—asking me if I was sure I wanted to eat that cookie. When one wafer thin friend said, “When is Tim Jr. due?” that was the last straw. For the first time in my life, I went on a diet. (Well, except that brief attempt to make my weight class before a high school wrestling match. This diet plan involved starving myself the day before the match and sitting on the toilet just before the weigh in.)

Nice place to visit
I chose the South Beach Diet. Its focus on lowering carb intake while eating healthy foods seemed to make sense to me. I stuck to the diet rigorously for two weeks, and it was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done. The cravings were so intense I was ready to pop a valium to get my brain to stop the screaming: “Chocolate. Eat chocolate now!” To make matters worse, it was the middle of ski season, and a low-carb diet is not exactly conducive to cross-country skiing 30 kilometers. One day, living on turkey and cheese, lettuce, eggs, grilled fish and salads, I totally bonked on the way back from a ski. Every five minutes, I had to rest my queasy stomach and attempt to stop my head from spinning. My body wanted a lot of carbs, now, but there was none in the tank.

The next day, I had a banana before my ski, and I was fine. After two weeks, I lost 10 of the 15 pounds I needed to lose. Then, in order to maintain my sanity, I stopped the diet.

The diet was a royal pain, but I learned some things that have helped me keep the weight off: Eat fewer carbs, and those you do eat make them more complex, whole grain carbs, like oatmeal. Eat less sugar (duh). Eat more healthy protein like fish, soy and chicken, so you don’t crave the carbs so much. Eat smaller portions and continue to exercise. And when you reach your late 40s, you confront a new reality. You need to exercise more to drop the pounds that just sweated right off when you were younger. But it’s all worth it because losing the weight will not only make your healthier, it also makes you feel better. My skinny friends are still faster cross-country skiers then I am, but now I can only blame it on their better technique and lung capacity, not on the extra pounds I was dragging around.

You get what you put into it
What about those other five pounds I wanted to lose? Last summer, I through-hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail. For two weeks, I hiked all day, burned a ton of calories and then arrived at camp to boring backpack food. After a few days, food just became fuel to get you from point A to point B. It was just not as important as hiking past spectacular viewpoints or swimming in a mountain lake.

I have lost 15 pounds, and it is still a struggle to keep it off. Food still tastes really good, and there is a lot of it out there.

Those of you who need to lose 50 or 100 pounds, you have a really tough road. But it is a road we all should take, and we really only have ourselves to blame if we don’t. (Personal responsibility, what a concept.) It is time for everybody who needs to lose weight to quit whining, back away slowly from the table, put the food down, and get up off your large posteriors and go for a walk, a hike or a ski.

If you have a friend trying to lose weight, be supportive, and feed them reasonable portions of something healthful. If you have to watch TV, watch The Biggest Loser. It is hokey and often obnoxious reality TV, but it will make you want to exercise. Large folks working their asses off to lose a few pounds will remind you why you want to lose 15 pounds now instead of 50 pounds two years from now.

Most importantly, if Americans are going to lose their collective weight, we really need to change our mindset. Something is definitely wrong if your idea of exercise is the dash to buy some piece of electronic wizardry after the doors open at the day after Thanksgiving sale. We are fat because we shop instead of ski. Sit instead of move. Eat too much and too often. And we don’t make exercise an essential part of our daily schedule. The fun is outdoors, get out there.