“I have cancer. I’ll be dead in a month.”
“Well, I had a lot of fun in the late 1980s, and the lifestyle is now catching up with me…”
“I don’t know…the doctors can’t seem to find anything though.”
These are just some of the fantasy answers I wanted to give to people who constantly asked me “Are you OK? You’re not sick, are you?” The truthful answer, and the one that I always gave despite wanting to floor people with a horror story, was “Actually, I am healthier than I have ever been.”
This question came (annoyingly) frequently a few years ago as I went through a very visible weight loss (more than 40 kilos in about 7 months). Around the same time that FFG was emerging, remodeling her body for aesthetic reasons, I was remodeling mine for health reasons. After being overweight all my life, I realized one day that I was closer to 50 (that age where doctors want to start sticking their finger up guy’s asses!) than 40 years old and probably (definitely?) needed to get healthier. But unlike FFG, who wanted to be noticed and to get a reaction, I wasn’t doing it for any public reason. In fact, being a generally private person, I was annoyed when people would ask me about it. Hence, the desire to make them squirm with a tale of impending doom.
This, of course, doesn’t apply to friends. But these questions came from co-workers who I barely knew, casual acquaintances, even people who were almost strangers, such as a vendor at the farmers market who I only spoke to maybe twice a year. In other words, a lot of people who, if I was really sick, wouldn’t be people I talked to about it anyway.
This reaction was interesting to me because it was seldom “You must be doing something healthy”, but just “Are you sick?” It intrigued me. It seems that we live in a society where people just get bigger, we continue to be sedentary and eat too much and drink too much and put on a kilo or two each year and people see that as normal. When people are gaining weight, friends and strangers might notice it, but they probably don’t ask about it. But losing weight seems to be such an anomaly that it had to be a medical problem. Who would choose to put in the effort, to make the sacrifices, that it takes to lose weight.? That it takes to be healthy?
Not many people, I found out! The second part of most of these discussions went something like:
“Wow, that’s great! But it must be so hard? I’ve tried to lose weight and can’t do it. What are you doing? It’s so hard. I don’t want to give up things I like…It’s so hard…I’ve tried, but it is too hard…”
to which I would reply:
“Actually, it is REALLY easy.” Which was sort of my version of “Fuck off and leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you.” While lying about a fatal disease would have been mean, it wasn’t beyond me to piss them off by saying weight loss is easy (which it is…people who say they are trying to lose weight, but can’t or don’t, DO NOT want to hear how easy it is!). Because it was really easy. Sure, it takes a bit of effort to learn caloric content of foods, how many calories you burn doing various things, and how many calories you need each day. And you need to put in a bit of effort to do some portion control…weighing food, for example (how many people know how many grams a recommended serving of meat is? And how small that looks!). And you need to devote time to working out. I did it all in my basement (so that took a bit of cash output for an elliptical machine) but it could have been at a gym, or running, or cycling. There were no sacrifices, nothing I gave up, except for an hour a day of leisure time that was probably spent doing something like watching television anyway. There were no foods I gave up…in fact, I made a point of not removing anything from my diet completely, just to prove that it was all about control. I ate anything I wanted, just in smaller quantities. I didn’t become one of those people who would be picky at dinner parties or in restaurants; friends would invite us to dinner, but then ask what I wouldn’t eat or might prefer: anything…it can all be dealt with by a bit of exercise.
I’ve been reading the health at every size stuff on this blog recently, and as someone who would have formerly agreed with it, I can’t now. Sure, I told myself I was healthy, but I wasn’t. I was a typical Canadian who waited for the elevator instead of looking for stairs to jog up; who thought a good Sunday afternoon meant having a nap; who didn’t know how to read those silly tables on the side of all food packages; who was in denial about their health. This denial, it seems, is common, and quite probably has a direct relation to the ‘health at every size’ movement that has been mentioned on this blog a few times. Recently I have attended a few presentations by exercise scientists and exercise physiologists where they threw out a lot of statistics about what percentage of people don’t get enough exercise, what percentage of people are overweight/obese, and what this costs society in terms of health care, lost time at work due to illness, etc. But most interesting is that a huge number (sorry, can’t remember but it was in the 60-75 % range) of overweight people, when asked, will say they have no health problems despite, statistically, that they have, or are at a very high risk of having, undiagnosed heart problems, or of being pre-diabetic, etc. Unfortunately, health isn’t a perception, it is an absolute.
Almost. During my undergrad years, I took a course on philosophy of health where we spent many hours discussing the WHO definition of health: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” Pretty open to interpretation, and maybe a topic for discussion…and more discussion…
But based on that definition, why do I feel more healthy? For one, at a very basic quantifiable level, I am not often tired. When I was working out a lot, I seldom slept more than 5 hours a night. Now, 7 usually suffices whereas the big me needed at least 8 hours plus the occasional nap. Similarly, I seldom get sick. I live in the southern hemisphere, where it is currently winter, and my city has an unusually bad flu outbreak…I missed 2 days of work last week with a cold, the first days in 2 years. A few years ago, I probably would have been enduring the horrible flu my friends and colleagues are suffering. On a less quantifiable scale, I feel like I can participate more in the world, and live a fuller life. There isn’t much (anything?) that I don’t feel I could do or at least attempt. If someone challenged me to run a marathon…I might not make it, but I wouldn’t balk at starting training. I garden, I hike, I do whatever I want and don’t worry that I can’t finish, that it will be too hard. I get pissed off when it rains on Sunday and I can’t spend 2 hours cycling, which as a Canadian living in Australia is an amazing experience – had I moved here when I was fat, I wouldn’t have had the thrill of pacing a kangaroo down a country road! Fitter people can enjoy a broader range of experiences, and that seems to fit that WHO definition of health.
For his blog see: waggadventure.com.