Ugly Fat Americans

I hear a startling bit of information on the radio.

I listen to NPR. For those of you who favor reality TV over reality, NPR stands for National Public Radio. It’s PBS (Public Broadcasting System) for the radio waves. Funded by “listeners like me,” charitable foundations, and corporations looking for tax breaks, it’s primarily talk radio with news and information shows that go far beyond what you can find on regular television and radio. News shows focus on politics, foreign affairs, literature, science, and other topics that people who think actually think about.

My friend Jim says that NPR is for liberals. But Jim worships Rush Limbaugh, so I can’t take anything Jim says very seriously anyway.

The other day, on my way to work, the discussion on Talk of the Nation or the Diane Reems Show — I can’t remember which one I was listening to — they can be very much alike at times — focused on the problems with Social Security and Medicare. As you may (or may not) know, both services are in financial trouble, although Medicare is in much bigger trouble than Social Security. Why? Well, the government is paying out more in benefits than it’s collecting and it isn’t earning enough on the balance of funds to sustain it. (I think financial mismanagement is partly to blame for that, but that’s not the point here so I won’t pursue it.)

The man being interviewed — and forgive me if I can’t recall his name or the position that gives him his expertise — presented a shocking piece of information. For the first time in decades, the average life expectancy of Americans is going down. Yes, down. That means that today’s Americans are not expected to live as long as Americans a few years back.

The cause of this sorry statistic: obesity.

The phrase “ugly fat American” takes on new meaning. Not only are we spoiled rotten and accustomed to having our way with the world (thus making us “ugly” in the eyes of the people who really don’t like us), but we are literally fat. And those fat tissues are starting to eat away at our life expectancy.

If you’ve got eyes and you use them to look around yourself in public places, you must have noticed it by now. There are a lot of fat people. But worse yet, there are a lot of very fat people.

Look at yourself. Honestly. How many extra pounds are you carrying around?

Heck, I’m overweight. I’m 5’8″ and weigh about 30 pounds more than I should. Anyone looking a me would likely say to himself, “Now that’s a big girl.” He might not use the word fat, but that’s only because (lucky for him) he hasn’t seen me in a bikini. My height helps camouflage my extra pounds. Those 30 pounds are 20% more pounds than I should be carrying around. And I can feel that extra weigh. Last spring, when I weighed 20 pounds less (can you believe it?) I felt better. Healthier. And my clothes fit a heck of a lot better, too.

I was lucky enough to have a high metabolism until I was about 30. That meant I could eat as much as I wanted and never put on a pound. In fact, for a while, I had trouble keeping weight on. In college, my weight dropped down to 105 lbs. I looked terrible, like a walking skeleton. I began to have digestive problems. I wasn’t anorexic — it wasn’t like I was trying to keep the weight off. I was just too darn busy. Working two jobs, commuting 30 miles each way to school, shouldering an 18-credit course load. I had trouble finding time to fit meals in. Then I moved on campus and got on the meal plan. That fixed me up. They made these warm rolls….

As time ticked on, my metabolism adjusted. Now I have to watch what I eat to prevent myself from getting any heavier. And I have to diet to take off the pounds. I’m on a slow diet now. I’d like to drop 20 pounds over the next few months. Maybe by the end of June. We’ll see how I do. I’ve been at it for a week and have lost 3 pounds. Big deal. But if I can keep that up, I’ll do okay.

Obesity runs in my family. (Yes, it has been linked to genes.) At 5’1″, my mother weighs more than I do. Her brother (my uncle), who died last year, was at least 100 pounds overweight. He did a lot of sitting in front of the television in the last few years of his life, and pretty much ignored the doctor’s recommendations about diet. He developed diabetes (which also runs in my family) and heart problems. We weren’t surprised when he died at age 69. Instead, we were surprised that he lasted that long. Fortunately, I have a good helping of my father’s genes. He’s always been tall (6’4″) and thin as a rail. So was his mom. I think that spared me from a fat fate.

But my 30 pounds of extra weight is nothing compared to some of the people I see when I get out and about. I’ve seen many people who are 50, 75, or 100 pounds overweight. There are people who can easily be described as round. People who, if you tipped them over on their side, would roll down a hill with arms and legs sticking out, just like in a cartoon. People who are so fat, they have difficulty walking, so they wedge themselves into one of those motorized carts at the supermarket when it’s time to do their grocery shopping. And around the house, when they’re not hiding the La-Z-Boy from view with their bulk, they use wheelchairs.

Don’t these people understand what’s happening to them? Don’t they care? Don’t they want to be healthy and active, to live life to the fullest — and longest — possible? Why won’t they get help?

And what of the millions of Americans like me who are “just a little” overweight? How many of them don’t make a conscious effort to stop their weight gains and start to reverse them? They’re 30 pounds overweight one year and 40 pounds the next. Then 50 and 60 and before you know it, they’re spending more time on the sofa in front of the television than moving about — simply because that’s the only thing they can do.

I don’t want to live forever, but I also don’t want my life cut short by obesity — something I can prevent.

How long before the rest of this country wakes up to what’s quickly becoming a leading contributor to early death?

7 thoughts on “Ugly Fat Americans

  1. I’ve become waaay overweight. I work out 4-5 days a week, eat right, and still can’t seem to budge the fat.

    Now, I do have a few medical issues that make this harder – high insulin, low glucose, and auto-immune thyroid disease.

    What I wonder about this epidemic is this: What’s behind the lack of desire to lose the weight?

    For me (until a few months ago), I thought I was just destined to die fat, lonely, and sad. I was HOPING it would end soon. I hated my life. Now, I don’t really love it NOW, but it’s a little better.

    I still have no social life, and I’m still fat and ugly.

    Maybe if we stopped looking at people as FAT and looked more at the REASONS why they’re fat, we can get a handle on this “epidemic”.

  2. A well written article. There is a strange movement afoot where fat individuals are comparing themselves to women and minorities in terms of discrimination. In other words, they are stating that being fat is like being born African American, that they can do nothing about it! In all levels of our society, especially in politics and celebrity criminal acts, we see a perverse lack of accountability and unwillingness to take responsibility for ones own actions. To turn a self induced condition (being fat) into a civil rights argument is one of the lowest forms of accountable cowardice. Even the Americans with Disabilities Act now recognizes some forms of extreme obesity as a protected disability. The fat rights movement also talks a great deal about loving yourself for who you are. You aren’t fat naturally! You aren’t born and created that way! You should love yourself for what you believe in and what you do, not for slavery to excess and lack of discipline. These are things to improve, not condone.

    Historically speaking, the natural human form is a lean and fit one. Our hunter and gatherer roots were based on an active lifestyle that ate fruit, vegetables, and meat without processing and a host of other chemical impurities. We are meant to be lean, active creatures. Sitting at computer eight hours a day and then a tv six more hours is not natural. Donuts aren’t natural, pizza’s not natural, and neither is ice cream. The body wants to be exercised, it wants to eat basic, low processed foods. The heart and joints don’t want to labor with the burden of weight they aren’t evolved to handle. Doing without a one of the best lessons any over indulged culture can participate in. Lessons in humility and restraint allow us to grow and focus our energy on less egocentric pursuits.

  3. I agree about the donuts, but pizza? Bread, tomato sauce, cheese, extras. If it’s made with good ingredients and we don’t gorge ourselves with it, it isn’t bad.

    Of course, it’s not as good a salad with lots of raw veggies, easy on the dressing.

  4. You know, they have found that there is something that each American is drinking or did drink that contains a substance that causes the stem cells in the body to create more fat cells. Interestingly, each of the “new” fat cells contain insuline. No one knows for sure what is going on, but it looks like somebody’s stem-cell project, and it’s not good!

  5. I think I might know a solution to your problem, a lot of it has to do with the things in the food supply in America. Especially carbohydrate containing foods such as bread, rice, cereal, etc. Much of them contain HFCS or Corn Syrup, its a very cheap substance used to flavor food. I used to struggle with my weight. I used to be 5’10” and 230lbs. I went down to 180 by throwing out all the supermarket carbohydrates. I did not do Atkins, I did the Paleolithic diet which is basically meat(chicken, beef, lamb, etc)), fish, non starchy vegetables, and fruit, it was rather easy for me to lose weight this way. I also added good fats in the form of olive and canola oil and a small cup of nuts a day. After I lost the weight I began to add in good carbs such as wholegrains without the HFCS and have kept the weight off. The fact that I eat highly nutritious foods means I have few junk food cravings, in fact I never crave them because I nourish my body properly. And I was someone who always had trouble losing weight. Also with regards to Paleo it has to be real meat, not cured meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, etc, those are all very bad for you.

    Also exercise does not help you lose weight, in fact, you could gain weight by vigorous exercise because you will get hungry. Exercise is useful only after you lose weight to maintain your weight loss. This is key. Things like going for walk or light jog are better than torturing yourself in a gym. Also gyms and personal trainers in my opinion are useless and often prey on people with weight problems, taking advantage of their insecurities. Diet accounts for 85 percent of your weight loss progress not exercise.

  6. @Jermaine

    Actually Jermaine, obese people do face discrimination and mistreatment, as someone who used to have a weight problem, I can tell you that many people I knew when I was fat have treated me much differently when I lost the weight. Its sad but true in this world that people misjudge others by what they see on the outside and its wrong to mistreat another human being because of how they look on the outside, that is the very definition of discrimination.

    • Mike: I am guilty of discriminating (to a certain extent) against really obese people. You know the ones I mean: they’re so fat they need to use the motorized shopping carts in supermarkets and WalMart. How do they get that way? Don’t they care about their health?

      As my weight creeped up, I began to see that I was being treated differently. (Age could have something to do with that, too, though.) Although my primary reason for wanting to drop 30-40 pounds is health, it’s going to feel good emotionally to get back into old clothes (that I’ve saved!) and start looking like my old self. I’m willing to bet that I also get different treatment from strangers when I’m out and about.

      Sadly, appearance is VERY important in our society.

What do you think?