Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Fattist

A new word has been added to my vocabulary.  It is fattist.  

fattist is a person who discriminates or exhibits extreme prejudice against fat and/or fat people.

"-ist " words, like fascist, racist, bigamist, capitalist, usually define pretty nasty characteristics.  As a family, their unsavory attributes are right up there with the "-ine" nouns - - caffeine, codeine, morphine, amphetamine, and of course, nicotine.

I think the -ist  word more applicable to me is environmentalist, for the body is simply an encapsulated eco-zone and maintaining its health is all about balance and mod-er-a-tion.   

Fascist, on the other handis synonymous with fanatic and fanatics are not balanced souls, they are extremists.  Herman Goring, the third highest ranking official in Nazi Germany, was not only institutionalized for his morphine addiction but weighed well over 250 pounds by age forty.  He had  "the hind end  of an elephant," according to one U.S. diplomat and "his reputation for extravagance made him particularly unpopular as ordinary Germans began to suffer deprivation" during the war years.  

So let us dispel any comparisons between two words simply because they sound alike.   If a weighty individual masticates many times a day it does not suggest he or she masturbates with similar frequency.  Nefarious inferences linking fattist to fascist are similarly flawed and may be used purposefully to discredit the input of a moderately sized person who suggests ways in which healthy body weight  is achieved and maintained.   

Although my Mom was tall and healthy, as opposed to tall and fat or thin, I've no doubt I inherited my body image attitudes from my father.  He was an award winning athlete.  He played handball three times a week well into his seventies.  A knee injury finally forced him to return to the more benign exercise of swimming.   In high school he had held the 100 meter free-style record in New Jersey.  

Ironically, Dad died in Florida of Parkinson's Disease, a degenerative affliction which slowly robs the body of its muscular control while leaving the mind otherwise intact.  In that regard, death has no mercy and in the end makes no distinction between fat or thin.

I have three cats.  Two I like and one I don't.  The one I dislike is named Buddy, but I call it Butt-stran.  I don't physically abuse the beast, though I hiss at it from time to time.  It knows I don't like it.  Cats are very perceptive that way. 

Why the negativity toward Butt-stran?  Simple.  Because the cat is a glutton.  It lives to eat.  It dominates the food bowl.  It prevents my other two cats from snitching even a nibble until it is ready to lumber off for a nap or to take a human size dump, which it refuses to bury.  While the other cats are neat about their scat, Butt-stran could care less.  Is Butt-stran fat?  Well yeah, but not much heavier than my other cat Texas.  It is Butt-stran's attitude that rankles me.  Fat seems to have an attitude.

I've used the word "it" to refer to Butt-stran.  Fact is, Butt-stran is a her even though I think of it as a him.  Butt-stran is also the favorite of my friend Dave, a midwesterner of prodigious girth.  Dave lived with me three months of every year for thirteen years.  Like Butt-stran, he loved chow time and was always the first to be seated at the dining room table.  He sat directly across from me and had the habit of grunting with pleasure as he ate.  He always cleaned his plate to a shine. Not a morsel of food was ever left.  Had he been a little Italian boy, he might have made his mother very happy.

Dave wasn't getting fat at my table. He did his real eating out in his motor home in front of his wide screen TV.   There he feasted in what might be labeled an orgy of food and relaxation.  

As his belly became larger, the memory of his feet grew more distant.  He gave up lace shoes for Velcro tape sneakers with large colorful springs built into the heels, a sort of  Bauhaus form-function design.  Similar to Butt-stran, his toilet etiquette suffered. It is hard to aim the stream when it can't be seen.  

Of course, when you get really fat, you don't like to do much but eat because you're always hungry.  Its called homeostasis, the body's desire to maintain the environment it has obtained.  Thus, the similarity to the cellular cravings of an "-ine" addiction.  Can one blame themselves for their hunger when it is the little birds in the molecular nest that are chirping for more and more worms?  

There is a theory that obesity is genetic destiny.  The Samoan culture's island existence is presented as evidence of this Darwinian observation.  As famine periodically wracked the island, those who survived are thought to have been individuals with the largest fat-cell reserves; sure they got skinny from starvation, but they had just enough excess to see them through to a change in fortune. When these survivors reproduced, their DNA was passed on, helping to sustained their offspring through future periods of deprivation. Thus the family tree became thick of limb and stout of thigh.   

Dave was all about that theory.  He would complain that his weight was a result of genetics and that I was just one of those lucky thin guys.  Of course, as Dave sat in the RV munching pork rhinds and pistachios watching the game,  I was out on the farm doing hard physical labor which caused my body to sweat profusely and burn fat; calorie after calorie of fat, long after the actual exertion had ended.   

As we learn more about obsessive-compulsive disorders, addictions, and all those -oholic words, we see how recovery is thwarted by misconceptions and false belief systems.  Once I asked a girlfriend to spot me a twenty so I could meet some of my buddies at a bar.  She flatly refused. 

"I'm not going to lend you money to go drinking." she said.

"Ah babe, come-on, that's what guys do.  Men drink!" 

"And where did you learn that? she spouted back.

I guess I learned it from watching my Dad and his friends drink.  I believed it to be true. 

Over weight people have lots of similar misconceptions.   I've heard it said that it is easier to stop smoking or give up alcohol because unlike eating, once you stop you stop.  You can't cold turkey on food because you have to eat to stay alive.  Right?  Well, when you stop inhaling tobacco do you stop inhaling air?  Does passing on the vodka translate to no more orange juice for the rest of your life?  Its what you eat that defines your caloric intake not the eating itself.

Sometimes I make jokes about fat butts. I point out huge people and call them Wal-Mart shoppers.  I am working on filtering out such comments.  They make me sound like a fattist.       

Fat doesn't just kill in one sweet, massive coronary. It chips away at your life, trading health and dignity for momentary oral stimulation.   At the top of the "lost list " is sex.  Good sex is a very physical activity.  You need to be in shape to really enjoy it, just like you need to be somewhat in shape to work in the garden, participate in sports, go sking or biking or jogging or just  take a hike in the woods

"Fat farmer" didn't become the deprecating term it is today until the mechanization of the late 20th century created the ag-industry.  Up until then, work on the farm kept you lean and muscular.  Now, in many aspects, the farmer is little more than a glorified truck driver, relegated to countless hours in the tractor cab.  Much of farm-life's daily manual labor has been eliminated through mechanization. 

Why is America fat?  Simple.   We spend our lives seated.  After we sat down, our metabolism slowed, yet we did not decrease our caloric intake.  So our bodies swelled and began to demand ever more food.  

The physical world, "the wilderness," has always been our culture's nemesis.  Our infatuation with new technology surged as we became the Earth's richest nation's following the Second World War.  We love gadgets and have had the money to afford them.  This has resulted in a machine based society that has all but eliminated nature's inconvenient demands for physical exertion.

Yet cross the southern border into Mexico and Latin America and a life-style conspicuously bereft of back-hoes and skidsteers appears.  In cash poor countries, muscle has yet to be replaced by yellow-painted steel and diesel fuel.  You won't see crews of fat men leaning against large rubber tires sipping coffee from insulated cups. The thirty-three ton cement truck is still an electric powered mixing barrel that a thin, sinewy man loads and unloads by hand. 

I am not making an argument for the virtues of muscle bound Luddites.  My point is that fat simply does not co-exist with exercise and a healthful diet.  Fat is not an addiction, it is a lifestyle.  Real change comes by revising many different aspects of how one approaches their day.    A person requires exercise.  Instead of "cramming" a week's worth of calorie burning into a couple super-powerd sessions at a gym, why not integrate this activity into daily chores which in turn reduce our need to purchase energy generated by fossil fuels?  Why not hand wash dishes, push mow the lawn, broom clean the floors, walk to the store?   

But this is where the flawed thinking begins.  We haven't time to do these things, or we haven't the inclination, the room's are carpeted, there are no sidewalks, more joy is found in other leisure pursuits.  Why rise from the chair to change the channel when the remote allows you to stay seated.  Its the way life is and we can't go backward.

Malarkey!  If folks did an energy study of all the places they could burn calories during a day just as energy consultants analyze where heat is escaping from a home or electricity is being wasted, perhaps three quarters of the battle toward staying in shape could be achieved without ever going to a gym.  Sound impossible?  It shouldn't . 

Exercise is empowering.  It exorcises the demons and revitalizes the soul by releasing all those feel good endorphins while maybe even accomplishing some much needed labor.  If you are going to put in the hours on that elliptical machine or stair-master, why not hook it up to a small generator and battery storage unit.  Maybe you could power your refrigerator for an hour while toning those Miracle-tan thighs.  

I think many middle age people get fat not because their metabolism slows down, which it does, but because they hang around with other fat middle age people.  Youth is more active.  It spends more time on foot. Yet with the ever increasing sedentary life-style and dietary habits of American culture, obesity is trickling down to our younger members. When I was in public school in the 1960's, a fat kid was the exception and the brunt of a fair amount of ridicule.   Now fat is common place.  We are a cerebral culture.  We sit in front of computers, communicate by phone, ride escalators and elevators, drive the block or two instead of walking.  We pay to consume vast amounts of energy to do what out bodies are eloquently designed to do.  And the result is fat. 

In physics we were taught that "A body at rest tends to stay at rest while a body in motion tends to stay in motion."  

When my mother would find us kids "glued to the tube" on a sunny day she had an expression; "Come on, lets get the lead out."  And into the great out of doors we were ushered.  That's what we all need to do.  No fancy diets, no expensive surgery; just get the lead out.  Get outside and get cracking!  

When you drive around a suburban neighborhood on any summer day about the only people you see are those in service uniforms; garbage collection, lawn care, cable network, special delivery.  Where are the kids with bikes and dogs and baseball mitts?  The lawn mowers and the rakes and the wheel barrows?  They are either inside on a computer or off at some organized event like field hockey or soccer.  And somewhere there is a parent complaining about how all they do is drive their children from one thing to another.  God forbid anyone walk to anything or that kids do lawn work or that games be played on anything less than a hundred yard astroturf carpet.        

An education in the importance of good diet and regular exercise will not create bulimic or anorexic children.  It will not stigmatize or traumatize them.  These extreme conditions arise in the attempt to make short circuit repairs to the broken rules of moderate living.   They are associated with the malady of fat, not the result of a healthy lifestyle.

So how about  we all make a deal?  Fattists, no more Wal-Mart shopper remarks!   And seated America, come-on, lets get the lead out!         

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