Monday, January 11, 2010


Facts must be faced. I'm fat. Not "oh my God, did you see that guy" fat, just standard American fat. A bit fatter than I'd like, definitely fatter than my doctor would like, a whole lot fatter than an insurance company would like, but they're pretty unreasonable in that department. In fact, I have a feeling they're at the bottom of all the trouble.

These days, I'd put my overall physique somewhere between Harding and Taft. Maybe Ulysses S. Grant (first-term). Though I'm hardly at the pinnacle of health, once upon a time I would have at least been considered normal. I put the blame for my bold circumference squarely on my genes. But I blame the insurance companies for the feeling I ought to do something about it.

It's a bit crazy. Even at my thinnest, which was fairly thin, the insurance folks seemed to think I could lose another thirty pounds. A guaranteed bona-fide MD told me the insurance charts were extreme. At 35, they seemed to think I should weigh what I did at 13. Hm.

Somewhere along the line, we seem to have gotten some strange ideas. That we can, or even should, all be walking around like a nation of Olympic hopefuls. That we somehow have a moral obligation to try and live forever. Mrs. Porcupine mostly falls into this camp. I do not. Here's why.

Mrs. Porcupine likes to picture us in our 90s. For her, this makes a good deal of sense. Many of her relatives lived well into their 90s. I met several of them. Wonderful people full of life, of sound mind and body until the end. Here's the thing, though. They didn't take exceptional care of themselves. They didn't exercise, or eat a healthy diet. As far as I could see, they were just predisposed to live a long time.

My case is different. I can count on exactly zero hands the number of my relatives who lived to be 90. Late 70s, early 80s seems to be the end of the line for my kin. Lifestyle doesn't seem to affect that statistic much: exercise nuts or chain-smokers, all somewhere between 70 and 80. Given the mileage I've already accrued, I think it highly unlikely that the first of my clan to make it to 90 will be me. That ain't pessimism, that's just reality.

The way I see it, the human body hasn't changed much since we first climbed out of the trees onto the savannah. Your body is designed for a world where food is hard to come by and much work to get. When you do find some food, your body wants to hold onto it and store it as fat, because the famine could be coming.

I wasn't cursed with fat genes, I was blessed with fat genes. My people survived the famine. They survived colonial living. They survived coffin ships. They survived the hard times and passed along their genes. Fat genes.

What happened to all the skinny-minnies? The ones who can eat buckets of fried chicken and never gain an ounce? The ones we normal folks love to hate? Dead. They never made it. The only reason they're still around is because we have made more of them. The only reason those folks have survived is because of us. And because the famine never comes anymore.

Of course, there are other factors. We don't go work the farm anymore, we sit at desks. We drive everywhere. Most of us eat an American diet consisting primarily of sugar, salt and fat. All of that is true. Still, it seems like the same people want to sell us both Big Macs and Dexatrim, gym memberships and life insurance. They want to fatten us up so they can slim us down, all the while overcharging us for our superior genes. Superior, I say. The ones that let us survive. Fat genes.

More and more, I'm inclined to go with it and live more like my grandparents. If you're not too fat to tie your shoes, to climb the stairs, to live your life in general, you're not too fat. That's the way it should be. There's a freedom in that: the freedom to say "please pass the butter," the freedom to say "why, I'd love dessert," the freedom to relax a bit and just live. It's the freedom to be honest and condemn treadmills and stairmasters as the instruments of evil they are. Over port wine and walnuts by the fire.

Now I'm not saying I couldn't do with more carrots and fewer cheeseburgers. I could. Even so, the case for genetics seems pretty strong to me. A look through my family album confirms that. I offer no scientific studies for my conclusions, only history and common sense. Now who is with me?

I have no time for the gym. I'm too busy preserving the human race from famine. A little respect, please, and pass the butter.

Very Truly Yours,




Suldog said...

I found this to be especially enjoyable reading while I was mucnching on some beef stick and cheese, a co-worker's Christmas gift.

More truth than fiction, of course. And, if you're something of a Calvinist, as I am, believing that your time will be up when God decides and whatever you do in the meanwhile won't affect it one iota, even more so :-)

lime said...

i suddenly feel a whole lot better about weighing 20 lbs MORE than the day i delivered a 9.5 lb infant. thank you.

Jeanne Estridge said...

I'm okay with your general premise, but I got lost where you explained that fat people are naturally selected but skinny people were winnowed out, only we made more of them.


Porcupine said...

Hi Jeanne -

Thanks for stopping by.

Well, if I wanted to take myself way too seriously, I'd say I meant that we fat-prone folk survived periodic famine to raise new generations, some of whom were naturally thin. This cycle continued until, at least in America, the famines stopped.

On the other hand, I'm not attempting a serious argument, just being my usual prickly self.

On the third hand, I do think things get lost sometimes. F'rinstance, when we look at increasing rates of obesity, say, we often forget that one factor is we've changed the definition of obesity to include more people.

I do think it odd that, by current standards, my new "ideal weight" at 42 is less than I weighed in high school. What? Nobody thought I was fat then, and the pictures prove it. What gives?

Even so, I won't be sending this essay to the NIH anytime soon.

Land of shimp said...

Hello, porcupine. I don't think we've encountered one another before, as I generally seem to cross paths with cricket (and am grateful to do so).

What a pleasant surprise to meet a quill-sporting friend, who has the good sense to take it all with a grain of salt. Our obsession with weight and exteriors is laughable. Medical wisdom changes every single generation, so whatever we're being told now? They are ever so likely to take the heck back in five years.

Yes, prepare yourselves for the news that antioxidants are bad for you, when taken in in too high a measure. It's coming. I'll bet you a five-spot on it.

We screw up on every known level when we take anything to extremes, and our obsession with weight? Is into the extreme.

People who are thinner are not morally superior. Chances are they are hungrier. Go by how you feel. If you feel unwell, tired, can't mount those stairs without feeling like you're about to collapse? Yup, time to get a bit fitter...but do it for your own sake, not for the approbation of others.

Don't let anyone tell you what weight you will be happiest, or healthiest at. The "experts" will change their minds on any current wisdom, if for no other reason than they will want to be able to keep doling out the advice.

Be your own expert in you. You are the person that knows you best, and the rest can shove off.