Monday, May 30, 2011

Why So Long?

I have been wanting/not wanting to write something for quite a while now. What follows is not an excuse, nor an apology, it's just how I feel.

I can actually divide the answer to "why so long?" into a few discrete categories:

1) My back. It's been bothering me since the end of February. My, how time flies. There are rare days when I feel OK, but mainly I feel like I'm on the edge of the precipice. I've been there before. It involves pain more deeply frightening than childbirth, a visit to the ER, heavy drugs and desperately praying to a higher being whose existence I am not at all certain of that I will actually get better. I have been teetering on this precipice since February. It's no use going to the doctor since this pain, in of itself, is absolutely trivial and doctors have no idea what to do. I'm scared because I've seen things deteriorate VERY, VERY quickly.

2) Work. Yes, this is a good thing. My revenues are down as compared to last year, which was down as compared to 2009. Since the summer is basically a work desert, it's better to take what comes now.

3) All I want to write about is how most people are fooling themselves completely about losing weight and maintaining that weight loss. Yes, yes, there are outliers. And more power to you if you're one of them. But when I look at the gonzo "starvers" out there, well, it just depresses me. It may take some time, but when the weight regain hits them, that ton of bricks is going to be mighty painful. The more I read and the more I reflect, the more I just want to encourage healthy eating, in reasonable quantities accompanied by physical activity suited to one's level of ability and to one's life and just leave it at that.

I'm no poster child for anything right now. I'm just trying to keep my morale up and keep on keeping on.

Good thoughts are gratefully accepted.

P.S. Just in case you're wondering: this is a picture of my boyos from 2007. We were visiting a friend's farm in Connecticut. My red headed boy now has short hair. My dirty blond headed son's hair is now almost down to his waist! Time flies. Nice picture. Good times.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fighting Childhood Obesity.

I am very short, though it's all proportional: my arms and legs are proportional with my trunk, my head is neither overly large nor particularly small. You get the idea. I just look like a mini-"regular" person. My husband is short. My kids are short. We're all well below the normal range, but we all look just fine.

I have very light skin. My husband tans well. Both our boys got the red-headed genes from their grandparents on both sides of the family. Like me, they burn in record time and never tan. I used to hate how pale I stayed through the summer, but I never felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

I wear glasses. So do my kids. My husband does not. It means he's saved some money over the years on not having to buy glasses, but the fact that I've been wearing glasses since I was very young, as have my kids, has not made us feel strange or rejected from society.

What's the point of all this?

While different colours and skin tones, heights and visual acuity are all relatively acceptable (OK, so I did get called midget sometimes at school), weight variations are not. We all know there's a bell curve and that usually, most people in a given country or region fall within the middle of that curve. We all know that without the extreme ends and the "somewhat outside the norm" areas, the curve would not exist. It's just a curve that visualizes the fact that we are not all the same. We are not born the same, we do not grow the same way, we do not all die the same way, nor at the same time.

And yet we're all supposed to be slim if we aspire to be healthy. There is seemingly no bell curve. This assumption means that, when it comes to weight, we are all actually born at a perfect weight and that it is initially our parents' fault and then ultimately our fault if we no do grow up and maintain that perfect weight at all times.

Why do we accept the natural physical variety that exists in terms of hair colour, height or visual acuity yet persist in believing that everyone's weight naturally falls within a certain, highly limited range?

By assuming that we can actually nip overweight in the bud, before it even gets its insidious tentacles into our bodies, children, as the latest front in the war on obesity, have become just as fair game for the current anti-obesity witch hunt as adults are already.

Nothing my parents (both short) could have done for me in-utero or once I was born could have changed my height. Only corrective lenses have been able to make my vision relatively normal (it's still not great). I colour my now greying hair to give it a colour that I think suits me (and makes me look slightly younger!). In other words, with respect to certain aspects of my physical being, nothing could be done to change it. For certain other aspects, mechanical changes enhance my "shortcomings", but essentially I am who I am.

So what about my weight?

I was born to be round. How round? Probably as round as I am today. I do thank my mother for feeding me nutritious food. She was a pioneer in her day, refusing to stock our pantry with processed junk when all the other families were doing it. Had my mother fed me a steady diet of baloney on white bread with liberal slatherings of "sandwich spread", I might be somewhat heavier today. Had I not gone on a series of fad diets, I might have been slightly lighter today, though menopause plays havoc with the body we thought we knew and changes a lot of the rules of the game.

The point is, though, that I have a genetically programmed weight range and this programming is just as strong as the genes that made me so (adorably, some might hopefully say) short, or gave me my hazel, very astigmatic eyes, or my pretty good intellect (which, I admit, was aided by an intellectually stimulating home environment and some excellent schools, teachers and friends along the way).

Assuming that we can ensure that all children will remain skinny kids hanging out by the water hole or feisty, ultra-athletic mini Wayne Gretskys is as useful as howling at the moon. Saying we are fighting childhood obesity means that we are fighting actual children who were born and will remain round all their lives. That's who they are.

We cannot fight heredity and genetics.

So what can we fight?

  • Poverty, which forces parents to buy the cheapest food that fills a body up. A fast-food meal, overflowing with sodium, processed franken-ingredients and transfats certainly keeps you full longer than an expensive head of broccoli, an apple and cheese that isn't orange and flat.

  • Ignorance. There's a place for all foods in our diets (yes, including fast food burgers), but essentially our diets should be heavily weighted towards fresh, unprocessed (or only lightly processed) products. This means education and awareness and ridding our airwaves of advertising for crap foods. If they could take cigarette advertising off the air, they can do it for ...(insert the name of your favourite junk food here).

  • Prejudice. The fact of the matter is, we weren't all born to become fashion models or great athletes. Sadly, a certain amount of fear and hatred of those who don't conform to the norm is probably part of human nature, but rather than fostering this, we must, as a society, stand up to prejudice and just say no.
But telling the naturally round among us that they are intrinsically BAD? Well, that's just a recipe for disaster, no matter how well meaning we may think we are.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Good-bye Dr. Sharma

About six months ago, I started reading Dr. Arya Sharma's blog with great interest and often great delight. Dr. Sharma, who is chair in obesity research and management at the University of Alberta, seemed to have a lot of interesting things to say. In particular, I was struck by his ability to step outside the usual and uselessly simplistic "calories-in, calories-out" paradigm to see the bigger (and vastly more complex) picture of weight, overweight and weight management. I considered Dr. Sharma to be one of the few nuanced voices in the field--someone who accepted that summarizing good health in a BMI number is far from the truth.

Well, something's changed.

I have noticed in recent posts that Dr. Sharma feels the need to take a more mainstream position when it comes to weight and health. Today's post (which I will not link to) discusses the similarities between those he terms "obesity deniers" and those who question the ill-effects of smoking on health. I won't go into any details. If you really want to read what he wrote yourself, please feel free to do so. Personally, I am appalled (although it is worth reading to then read the comments that deftly deconstruct his essentially fallacious arguments).

I can only hypothesize that Dr. Sharma's move towards the more conventional view that good health cannot be decoupled from an "acceptable" weight is perhaps the result of his close connection with the Canadian Obesity Network and its recent symposium. Perhaps, in the wake of the conference, he's on an "obesity epidemic/panic" high. It reminds me of the ten days I spent travelling with a federally appointed panel examining violence against women. After ten days of hearing nothing but stories of violence and abuse, I came home feeling that no man could ever be trusted and that all women were at risk. Perhaps after spending many months preparing for the conference and then spending several days hearing about morbidly obese, junk-food addicted diabetics who can barely walk from the couch to the TV, I too might feel that "health at every size" is a load of bunk. I don't know. It's just a hypothesis.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I've got some thoughts that have been roiling around in my brain, but I just don't have time to put them down in a coherent, well-thought out fashion.

So, in the meantime, I hope this walrus inspires you: