Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fat in America

I'm fat. Here's the proof:
“Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia ) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.” Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “U.S. Obesity Trends

In my blog, you’ll see a lot of mentions about food. I love food. How things are made, what ingredients are used, how the chemistry works. I make no bones about it. What I fail to mention is that I am, by medical standards, borderline obese. Couple that with a pack a day smoking habit plus a fairly sedentary lifestyle, and you get one pale, overweight, borderline diabetic, middle-aged guy who doesn’t know when to say no to dessert.

I work in a pharmaceutical advertising agency. In addition to getting to delve deeply into details about various drugs, I have to know a little about what we have to disclose. It’s called fair balance. In pharma television commercials, that’s when you see pictures of people wondering around gardening, or running on the beach while a voice off camera says charming things like: “may cause itching, swelling and diarrhea…”. It’s required by the FDA to give consumers a better understanding of the risk involved with taking a medication. And it’s a good idea. One that I’m taking to heart especially now when I’m waxing poetic about seared steaks, heavy sauces and rich desserts.

For people who knew me many years ago in high school and college, I weighed in at 165 lbs. At 6’ 1”, that put me at a total BMI of 22. Today that has shifted to a BMI of 31-32. (My weight is between the milestones stated in the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s Guideline as shown in the Body Mass Index Table)

Most of what’s happening to me and my body IS the result of bad habits accumulated when I was younger, and my body could take anything that was thrown at it. 3 Cheeseburgers all the way? No problem. Double dessert? No problem. All of that changed when I hit my late 30’s. My blood pressure started going up, my metabolism started slowing down. But my appetite didn’t decrease. 165 lbs. became 185 lbs. Then 190 lbs. In my early 40’s, I went on a regimen of blood pressure meds. In the course of one year, my weight went from 195 to 245 lbs. That’s 50 lbs., in one year.

Many years ago, on the plains of the Serengeti, we humans had to hunt for our food. Simple sugars in the form of fruit were sources of quick energy supplies that our bodies could quickly metabolize. If we didn’t use it, our bodies began to find ways to store it in adipose cells. Lipoproteins were even harder to come by. These were the rich fats that we needed for survival. Because of their scarcity, our bodies became extremely efficient at storing these fats. Too good. Now we have vast quantities of fats and sugars at our disposal. What’s more, our bodies are designed to crave these. So it becomes a vicious cycle. As the old saying goes, “all things in moderation”. The problem is we Americans don’t know when to say when.

Case in point, I challenge you to go into any mega-mart. Take a look and see how many people are riding those shopping scooters. It’s staggering. Look further and you’ll start noticing scads of people that you can be pretty sure will be riding those same scooters in a few years. When I looked around, I didn’t like what I saw. Especially since I saw reflections of myself in those carts.

So what am I doing about it? This past Friday, I put on running shoes and shorts, strapped on my iPhone, and started running. It wasn’t pretty. One training program said you should start with a 5 minute run. I ran exactly 2 minutes and 12 seconds-badly. Not exactly Boston marathon material-but it’s a start. Yesterday, I ran in multiple bursts for a total of about 2:50. Again, not much of an improvement, but it’s better than nothing. Today? Who knows how far I’ll get, but the point is I’m getting somewhere.

Tonight, I’ll be putting on a nicotine patch. This will be my fourth attempt this year to kick what is truly a disgusting, nasty habit. What’s more, in a recent discussion with a medical colleague of mine, I found out that when one smokes, it cause the liver in to release fat compounds into our blood stream. Our brain receives the signal that we have ingested fats and reduces our cravings for food. So, there really is a scientific reason behind why people who quit smoking gain weight. It’s not that the food tastes better, it’s that our brains think we are starving. I know that food tastes the same regardless of when I am smoking or when I was not smoking for over a year. So that’s going to be working against me as well.

So why am I telling you all this? It’s simple, I don’t want to die as the result of my own stupidity. They say the difference between ignorance and apathy is “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”. The first is forgivable, the latter is reprehensible. I’ve got grand kids. And, at the rate my family reproduces, I have a good chance of seeing my great-grand kids, but I have to take a responsible role in making sure that happens. So, despite the protesting that is coming from my legs, and the 90+ heat outside, I’m taking charge. This blog is called “All consuming life”. It’s my task to make sure that I have as much life left to consume as possible. I’ll still cook and I’ll still eat and love doing them both. It’s up to me to take charge of where, when and how much I do the same. I’ll keep you posted.

If you’ve taken steps to take control of your life habits, or to start an exercise program, share your thoughts by commenting below. -marty


  1. Wow. I'm completely speechless. In fact, if I had to be honest, I almost started crying a little while I was reading that.

    You know me. You know my history, and you've seen what I've done to change my life over the last six/seven months. You know it's possible. Not only do you know it's possible, you know it's necessary, and you also know now that it leads to what can only be described as one of the most infinitely happiest places you'll ever find yourself in life.

    My entire life and lifestyle has changed 180 degrees in the last 8 months, and I owe it all to the realization that you have hit upon. You WILL die and it WILL be a result of your habits. Spew on about genetics all you want, every time you raise something to your mouth, be it food, or cigarette, you're exercising a choice, and the choice can either save your life, or significantly shorten it.

    I'm about 160 pounds now. I've lost 70+ pounds since January. My total cholesterol is technically "low". My resting heart rate hovers somewhere between 45 and 50 beats per minute. My blood pressure is around 110/60. I owe it ALL to conscious decisions I make every day. Period. End of discussion.

    You CAN do this, and I have a feeling you will. You're smart. You're one of the smartest, sharpest people I know, and you have come to the realization that most people never approach, so you're already halfway there. Remember, baby steps, and nothing happens overnight, and it WILL make your life better. You're doing this not just for you, but for everyone who loves you and wants you to stay around and grow old and cranky.

    I'm so proud of you. You WILL do this, and I can't wait to see you when you get to a nice goal.

    Oh, and seriously, go get "Eat This, Not That" and get the "Supermarket" guide. You simply don't have the time to compare EVERY item the way this guy has. The book is INVALUABLE. Best $13 you'll ever spend in your life. In fact, go today. Buy it.

    Love you Marty, and this was a completely inspiration read. Congrats on starting the best journey you'll ever take.

  2. Marty,

    I remember you in high school as a skinny, funny boy with a lot of flair. We used to laugh so hard about ... who knows what?! And I'm sure you are still that boy even though you are a man! Hope that made sense ... anyway, what I wanted to say is GO FOR IT! And good for you. You sound very motivated and I think that is sometimes the hardest step. I stopped smoking in March and upped my exercise regime. I think I have gained 5 pounds but so what .. I feel so much better.

    I am at 150 lbs now but getting really toned, which is OK for my height, and I know I will never be the 120 lbs I was in college and that is fine. I know it is a tough road though because when I was married and stopped smoking, I balloned up to 170 lbs! That stop-smoking hungry urge really must have kicked in. Good luck, I know you can do it!


  3. Marty, I remember that same funny, slim boy from High School....seems so long ago. I've spent most of my adult life fighting this battle. Somewhere in my 40's I realized it will be a constant battle. That should have been depressing to me but it wasn't because I realized I have the power and I'm in control as long as I want to be!
    I hope I have lots of very productive years ahead of me. I do not want to look back later and wish I'd taken better care of myself so I could enjoy life more!
    I'm checking on you to see how you are doing and tell you to hang in there because you have it figured out - it's all worth it! maggie