Today’s blog is a long one, and not generally played for laughs. If you decide to go for it strap yourself in tightly, but feel free to bail out at any point if it gets too much…
I don’t generally recommend books – especially non-fiction ones – but I’ve been reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes and I think it’s something that most people should read if they get the chance. For non-overeating, regularly exercising fat-knackers like me it’s reassuring to find somebody answering the questions we’ve been asking for most of our lives like “why do I get fat when none of my four brothers, who eat far more than me and exercise less, don’t?”, and for sedentary, habitual overeaters it offers explanations for why they might overeat and be reluctant to exercise that look beyond the hateful and inappropriate stereotypes of gluttony and laziness.
More importantly, it also exposes the hypocrisy of those nasty, nasty finger-pointers who eat junk food like it’s going out of fashion and do bugger all in the way of regular exercise yet still remain slim, who have the audacity to take the moral high ground and claim their trimness is somehow related to their ‘better’ lifestyle or ‘greater’ willpower. In so doing it explodes the myth, through careful analysis of decade’s worth of research, that weight maintenance follows a simple model of calories in versus calories out and explores the complexities of the underlying biological, physiological and genetic differences that might make one person a racehorse and another a carthorse regardless of pretty much anything they might do in relation to food and/or exercise.
Now to be fair, that racehorse/carthorse analogy isn’t Gary Taubes’, it’s mine. He actually uses cows for his models, comparing a Jersey milker to an Aberdeen Angus, erm, eater. But the principle’s the same, and it just so happens that the horse analogy is one I came up with independently some time ago and which I feel, for whatever reason, more comfortable with*.
In either case, though, the simple truth is that if you grossly over feed a thoroughbred Darley Arabian you won’t end up with a carthorse and if you force feed a Jersey milker you won’t get an Aberdeen Angus. More importantly, if you reverse the process and underfeed the cart horse and Aberdeen Angus you just end up with anxious, miserable animals that are too weak to move and eventually die of malnutrition, and when you carve up the carcasses you’ll find they’re still carrying huge amounts of ‘unburned’ fat, and the appearance of weight loss will largely be down to wasted muscle tissue. I put that bit in italics, ‘cos it’s important…
My own route to plumptitude has been a complex one, though not in terms of cause and effect but more in terms of getting the complexities acknowledged or coming to understand them. Along the way I’ve spoken to a variety of NHS dieticians, the vast majority of whom have been unhelpful and sometimes aggressively judgemental. The odd one (and I think it is literally ‘one’) who was at least unaggressive and non-condescending seemed to believe me when I told her what I eat in the average day and accept that I wasn’t making up my exercise regime, but ultimately could offer no long term solution to my problems beyond the usual vicious cycle of ‘eat less / exercise more’ which my body has adapted to and defeated many times over. The most aggressive totally disregarded out of hand everything I told her about my eating and exercise habits as ‘self-delusional’ and informed me, when I told her my lunch usually consisted of a single sandwich or wrap and one piece of fruit “such as an apple or banana”, that a banana is “a meal in itself”. But I digress…
Now where was I? Oh, yes… My route to plumptitude has been a complicated one, and though I was a ‘bonny’ baby (predicting trouble at some point down the road) fat-knackerhood would never have been signposted in my early childhood. I might have been a bit ‘chunky’ as a pre-teen, but not in any way that could be regarded as fat. When I was admitted to hospital, at age 11, with appendicitis, even that puppy fat had largely evaporated.
Following the op for appendicitis I went home complaining of severe stomach pains. The night before being discharged, in fact, I had screamed the ward down, to which the nursing staff responded with an enema and sedative. I didn’t feel 100% the next morning, but I was hyperactive and wanted to get home so kept my gob shut. Over the next week I suffered chronic pains. The GP was called, and asked me if I had been to poo. I told him I thought so, but as I couldn’t be specific he gave my mum some ‘shitting powders’ and left.
About a week later I went back to the hospital for a routine post-op check-up, and hearing of my stomach pains they kept me in for observation. When I came out three or four months later I looked, according to my family, like a Biafran famine victim. I could hardly walk or even stand, and what little flesh there was on my bones (there was pretty much nothing in the way of muscle tissue) hung on them like wet clothes on an airer.
The stomach pains I’d been getting had been caused by peritonitis, which had proved particularly pernicious and resistant to antibiotics and had tried several times over the preceding months to finish me off. It had succeeded three times (to my mother’s knowledge) but each time I’d flat-lined they’d somehow managed, against all odds and expectations, to get me jump started again.
They couldn’t jump start my appetite, though, and when the veins in my arms got too small for needles they had to make incisions in my ankles and push tubes up to connect to the veins in my legs. I’ll show you the scars if you like, but don’t ask to see the one on my stomach ‘cos it’s an ugly brute! As nobody expected me to come out of the operating theatre alive the surgeon went at it like Jack the Ripper, and the stitching looks like the handiwork of a certain Victor Frankenstein on an off day, possibly an off day incorporating the alfluence of incahol…
Anyhoo, cutting to the chase when I did get home I was still very reluctant to eat, but my mum was so desperate to get my weight back on I was offered food pretty much constantly. After a month or two my metabolism got in on the act too, and I ballooned.
To be honest, I was ravenous during this period and will put my hands up and admit to ‘eating like a horse’. I was also pretty reluctant to take any exercise, but this was mainly because I still felt very weak. As the weight piled on I started to get bullied, and then I was even less incentivised to do anything physical because to do so meant listening to the taunts of (I’m ashamed to say) my siblings who took great pleasure in pointing out every wobble and jiggle or any other physical defect or shortcoming. Not wishing to make an issue of it or cry victim it is a fact that I never had to go outside to suffer abuse about the way I looked: I was a constant source of amusement for my family and lived with it 24/7.
When I was 13 I went on my first diet; a ‘proper’ one with support from a dietician. I stopped overeating then and started exercising more regularly and after a year or so was nice and trim again, but my weight has fluctuated ever since in a vicious cycle that sees my body adapt to any new regimen.
I can actually get thin, and have done so many times in my life, but it has been as a result of near starvation dieting that has bordered on anorexia. I have, on several occasions, been warmed by the concerns of people worried on my behalf about undiagnosed illnesses; one friend in particular made me very happy when she told me I had hands like chicken claws and looked far too scrawny. Sadly, even the most strong-willed of people would find it hard to live on a self-enforced near starvation diet for the rest of their lives, and even if they could all evidence suggests that the body would find its own way of fighting back, as it did and has continued to do with me.
The last time I flirted with anorexia was about 16 years ago, just before I met Ben’s mum. Like most women I’ve met during a skinny phase she made it her mission to ‘fatten me up’.
Since then I’ve been fat once, lost loads again to make it all the way back to a thirty-two inch waist (nowhere near the ‘skinny’ I like but not bad for a bloke standing 5’10 and a few scratches) and then piled it all back on again within two or three years. Each time it gets harder to lose it and harder to maintain it, as my naturally slowing metabolism (old age, my dear) and increasingly insulin resistant fat cells have their wicked way with me.
I believe emphatically (and always have, but now feel I know more about the mechanics involved) that the reason for that fluctuation lies in my body chemistry rather than my eating or exercise habits, and that the ‘switch’ initially got thrown during that period of months when I literally could not eat or exercise and received nourishment by tubes inserted into my ankles.
At present I am, as I said in the opening paragraph, a bit of a fat-knacker, but I’m having one last shot at dropping the weight and maintaining that weight loss through a carb controlled, rather than calorie controlled, diet. Everything I have read about carbs and insulin and the role of insulin in calorie to fat conversion makes perfect sense to me in a way that calories in to calories out never has, and explains why my brothers (and sisters, come to that, though their particular fat chickens are now coming home to roost as age and the menopause takes its toll) have always been able to out-eat and out-sleep me. The results haven’t been that jaw dropping so far, but after years of yo-yo dieting it may well be a case of too little too late for me.
Of course, none of that is to deny the fact that many fat-knackers will be overeaters too, and it may well be that many eat through habit, greed or for comfort rather than FUBAR body chemistry. But that doesn’t apply for all and there are almost certainly just as many thin overeaters who overeat for precisely the same reasons but who don’t get fat. I don’t have to look further than my own family to see evidence of the latter.
For anyone who genuinely has an interest in looking at the bigger picture (no pun intended) I would definitely recommend a read of Gary Taubes’ book. There’d be no point in pushing it under the noses of finger-pointers who embrace the calories in/out clichés, because they have too much of a vested interest in the ‘greedy and lazy’ stereotypes and the prejudices that can be justified by them. That, I think, says more about them than it does about the people they point fingers at, but in the society we live in where stereotypers outnumber stereotypees that will remain poor compensation.
The most frustrating thing for me is that the evidence contradicting the calories in/out theory has been around for decades – some for well over a century – and that the current culture of cause, effect and blame has emerged so recently from such flimsy, flawed and unsubstantiated assumptions. If I’d known that forty years ago I might have achieved victory in the war I’ve been fighting against fat all this time rather than just winning the occasional battle.
Who knows, had I grown up in a society knowing and accepting it too I might not have needed to fight the war at all, feeling empowered enough to live comfortably with the body shape nature (or peritonitis) had given me and to shrug off the uninformed, negative assumptions of people who knew nothing about me.
As I say, though, possibly in my case a case of too little too late, and I hope I haven’t bored your tits off in getting it off my chest.
* Cows, even of the Aberdeen Angus variety, don’t really come across positively as models for human behaviour IMO, even the best of them appearing pretty dopey and feckless. Actually, in some respects they’re probably very good models for human behaviour, but that’s a moot point and not one I care to tackle here. I’m not that keen, to be honest, with comparing myself to a carthorse either, but it does seem the lesser of two evils and at least avoids associations of laziness and greed, because carthorses work bloody hard for their bag of oats and generally have very little control over their own calorific intake.
IN OTHER NEWS: Booked this morning to go and see Harry Hill’s new live show Sausage Time. Not happening until Feb., but already getting excited. Just have to get Christmas out of the way!
IN OTHER OTHER NEWS: In my blog a couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of a woman who had been injecting bathroom sealant and superglue into her arse so she could look like Kenny Everett doing his Rod Stewart impression. I mentioned this in my last blog, too, in relation to ‘skinny jeans’.
In the book mentioned above I stumbled upon a picture of an African tribeswoman who had a similar bum, but as a result of steatopygia rather than surgery. This is not considered an ‘abnormality’ – most of the women in the tribe have similar bums and they are considered beautiful and desirable – but it is an example of genetics affecting fat production, storage and distribution. So both to illustrate today’s post and to bookend the original Hey Fatty Bum Bum blog here’s a picture of an African tribeswoman with a naturally big butt: