Addressing Obesity In Others…

I’ll state from the start that I’m less trying to initiate a discussion, than I am sharing the experiences of a career fitness trainer.

Discuss if you wish, but I reserve the right to delete, ignore, and to pass judgment based on my experiences.

As a career fitness trainer, I’ve been privy to discussions on obesity at many levels. My expertise has been sought to advise, to consult, and to help in framing such discussions.  I’ve seen the obesity of others addressed by family, friends, and coworkers from every possible angle.

Hint: these discussions almost never go well, and often have a negative, and even a contrary result on the individual’s behavior in matters of eating and drinking.

In cases where it’s a parent talking to an adult child, a spouse talking to his/her partner, friends talking to friends, or co-workers talking to their contemporaries about the need to lose weight, it can go south very quickly — even if the intentions behind those conversations are good.

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The primary example of such good intentions usually cited is “for reasons of health”. That is, an individual wants to guide another individual towards weight-loss for reasons of improved health. And though that may be the foundation for many of these discussions, it’s my opinion that at the root of them it often relates as much to what the person looks like, as it does to their level of health or wellness.

Even in matters of obesity, human beings have the ability to cleverly mask their prejudice with so-called good intentions.

I have a client who has been with me on-and-off for nearly a decade. He’s approximately 80-lbs overweight. His parents speak to him regularly about the health implications of his obesity.

Though I am certain the parents of this man, who is now 30-years old, do have concerns that relate to his health, he is also the face of the family business. And as the face of that enterprise, I am just as certain that the parents of the young man would prefer he be at an aesthetically more pleasing weight.

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Each time his parents address this with him, they speak in terms of improved health, but often segue into matters of appearance. This can send my client into a depression, and his eating and drinking tendencies often increase. He has confessed this to me.

Did I mention he was not far from a healthy weight when he began working with me…?  The whole reason he became a client was because his parents wanted him to trim down a little for photographs and videos that he would appear in on behalf of their business.

As he resisted and went in the other direction, his parents applied even more pressure, to which he resisted more, and the snowball effect was an 80-pound weight gain over an approximate 4-5 year period.

The pressure from outside, as gentle as it might be, was not always gentle.  For my part, I have tried to do my best to provide him with beneficial workouts, and I’ve encouraged him to eat in support of those workouts.

This is not an isolated case. I have known many like this, too many, and have known of many more.

I once had a client who was a contestant in the Miss Los Angeles pageant. She was in my studio one day with her mother there to photograph the session. Suffice it to say that if you’re a contestant in the Miss Los Angeles pageant, you’re drop-dead gorgeous to begin with, and probably quite fit, despite the very slight muffin top hips.  I was demonstrating an exercise for the young woman when her mother said in a voice loud enough for people in China to hear…

“Look at her, she’s fat!” pointing to the muffin top.

I wanted to hang myself. Instead, I just stood silently, broadcasting the most apologetic look I possibly could toward my client. I was grateful that she wasn’t obese, or she probably would’ve been disowned. And that feeds into my message more than a little bit…

If we have the ability to be judgmental and prejudice over people that we love being 5-lbs overweight, it probably gets much easier for us to be inexcusably judgmental over people we don’t know who might be 100-lbs overweight. Many people I know carry that level of prejudice and more. They put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the individual who is carrying the extra weight.

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No adult who is overweight, be it by 5-lbs or 200, is ever unaware of their situation or caught off-guard by it. Never.

From my perspective, whether a person desires lose 5-lbs or 50, they need cheerleaders, not false natured pundits of change hiding behind the facade of good health. There is no doubt that if I were the only voice in the ears of my weight-loss clients, they would be less likely to push back, even subconsciously, to their own detriment as many do when guided by the so-called voices of love.

By today’s sideways and prejudiced thinking, opioid abusers are now most often seen as full-on victims of doctors, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies, while obese people are seen almost exclusively as weak gluttons. This, in my opinion, is not the case.

Though we all do get to make choices about the foods that we put in our bodies, we all exist in ever expanding systems of complexity in which corporations and marketeers work harder than ever, and more intelligently, at leading us into lesser choices.

I can’t go an hour online without somebody putting information in front of me demonstrating how the corporations behind our technology and behind our pharmaceuticals work hard to lead me into being more dependent on their technology and their pharmaceuticals. With that in mind, I can assure you that the corporations behind our food products are working just as hard to get us to eat more, and more frequently.

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Take a good look around in any room, social setting, store, or playground.  Though the temptation may be to blame an individual’s weakness for their excess bodyweight, they are increasingly tempted, if not outright lead into lesser eating choices.  That’s why it’s happening to so many more people with each passing year, myself included. This, all done by companies that make a little more profit with every pound that we gain.

So if you have a concern that a friend, family member, or coworker might be overweight, and you truly are concerned about their health, maybe mention it to them one time, and then let it go. After that, channel your energies toward the ever-changing structures and institutions that have allowed obesity to be on the increase.

Hint: It begins with your vote each November.

Lastly, and I cannot be more clear about this, if you use the word ‘fat’ in any fashion when addressing or describing an individual who might be overweight, that is moral equivalent of using the N-word… Jhciacb

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Paul’s Left Foot…

Paul is my neighbor across the street. He’s a retired Hispanic man, probably in his late 50s. Paul is about my height with a large Buddha-like belly and skinny legs. He is a genuine person who’s always been gracious to me. We often stand in the middle of the road shooting the breeze when I’m in-between sessions. We make small talk about music, travel, and current politics.

Paul’s yard is mostly dirt due to regional drought conditions, but it’s lined with well planned shrubs, flowers, and has several trees in strategic places. Despite that it’s mostly dirt, the yard is well groomed and pleasing to look at. Paul spends a good portion of each morning walking around his yard raking the dirt, trimming the shrubs, occasionally bending down to pull weeds, but most often just surveying and inspecting his landscape.

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In the 3 years I have lived here, I’ve seen Paul in his front yard almost every day. Most days, even in winter, Paul is shirtless, seemingly proud of the belly that blazes the trail ahead of him.

A couple weeks went by recently and I hadn’t seen Paul. Because he’s not a supreme physical specimen and due to his age, I began to wonder if he had a stroke, a heart attack or worse. After the third week of not seeing him I walked across the street to speak with his wife one morning. She explained to me that Paul had lost his left foot due to diabetes and was hospitalized. She told me he would be coming home soon and would have nursing care coming to the house to help him with the transition.

“After he settles in” she told me, “you can come over and visit.” That made me smile. I then offered my sympathy, asked her to say hello to Paul when she visits him in the hospital, and made sure she knew I would be available for any help they might need once he returns home.

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A few days ago Paul came home. One morning his wife reached out and asked if I would help get Paul’s wheelchair out the front door and help him into the car for a medical appointment. This would be the first time I had seen Paul since his return home. When I stepped into the house he was in his wheelchair with this back to me. As soon as he knew I was in the house he began crying and said…

“I’m sorry Roy, I fucked up. I really fucked up. They told me what to do — I knew what to do and I didn’t do it. I’m really sorry Roy…“

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I couldn’t understand why he’s being apologetic to me, but he was clearly embarrassed, distressed, and regretful.

I assured him that I wasn’t being judgmental, that I was there to help, and I that I will continue to help whenever needed. I gently suggested to him that he look forward and think about the future and recovery now. I helped get the wheelchair out the front door and ease Paul into the car. During the process, he never quit crying and expressing his regret.

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Before they drove away, I told Paul I’d stop by in a few days and we could catch up a bit more. He looked down, mumbled something I couldn’t understand, and they drove away. I haven’t seen Paul since, though I plan to knock on his door in the next few days to visit with him.

I’ve been chewing on his words though, quite a bit over the last few days. It was one of the most human experiences I’ve had in recent years. Those words keeps resonating…

“They told me what to do — I knew what to do and I didn’t do it.”

It doesn’t get any more human than that, does it…? We all know what to do about so many things, yet so often we fail. We know what to do, and we just don’t do it.

When I think about this — really think about it, I am reminded of the importance of being forgiving and accepting of others as I hope they will do so with me.

I think about the human side of failure. I think about perfection being within anyone’s grasp, yet I look around and I see so little of it anywhere.  The idea of knowing the path to perfection yet never getting there was at the heart of most of Augustine‘s writings. There but for the grace… Jhciacb

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From Out Of The Fog…

I’m feeling a little more fitnessey these days. I had kind of checked out there for a while, despite that fitness is both my passion and my livelihood.

Approaching last year’s presidential election, and certainly in the months afterward, the mood of the nation changed. As our national depressive episode unfolded, I began to identify and to contemplate the things that matter most to me. And as much, I began discarding the things that were a lesser priority in my day-to-day life.

As odd as this may sound, through this self-exploration, I found the ideal of fitness; things like lunges, the best salads, and reaching a certain heart rate a few times per week, were a lower priority in my life than how I should be conducting myself as a citizen. And not just for me either, but for my clients.

As national monuments began being swallowed up or downgraded, as verbiage, finger-pointing, hatred, and ignorance manifest between politicians and constituents in equal portion and on both sides, and as I began to identify as much decay as growth in many of our social structures, the idea of fitness as a priority for anyone took on a tone for me that I can only refer to as petty.

More recently though, I’ve been reconnecting with the ideal of fitness, far beyond the light of beast-mode, PRs, being bad-ass, or doing sinister justice to a pair of jeans. It is an ancient ideal that I have been connected with since childhood, and now maybe the time when I need to be connected with it most:

Fitness, the quest for a greater physicality and increased abilities, is a responsibility. And yes, I genuinely believe that.

That ancient ideal is that families, businesses, communities, and larger societies all operate better and more efficiently when the individuals within them can operate and function at a higher level, with greater independence, and become less susceptible to the illnesses and injuries that might disrupt our contribution to those social structures.

And the basic tenants of that ancient ideal are these…

– Indulge a little less

– Eat a little better

– Move a little bit more

I can’t imagine why this is so hard for so many people, yet it is. And yes, I believe the inability to connect with these three simple bullet points is a part of the problem… Jhciacb

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Epidemicology…

Caveat: I chose not to cite any data sources in support of this essay. There is much conflicting data on the topic of obesity and health. The opinions expressed here are based solely on my experience in health & fitness, my observations, as well as books, data sources, and websites which, it turns out, all agree with me.

Not Really…

We are all familiar with the term, obesity epidemic. We see reports, studies, and media programming that remind us how dangerous yet widespread the obesity epidemic has become. We are led increasingly to believe that being overweight is unhealthy, avoidable, and wrong.

I’m not going to argue in favor of, or against obesity. I’m going step back and share my big picture perspective that obesity is less an epidemic and more the unavoidable result of our increasingly complex food system and shifting cultural values, and that fighting obesity on an individual basis will not slow or stop the expansion of the expansion.

The Flow…

While it is true that obesity, as defined by the CDC, has increased steadily over the last 6 decades, I believe that any large scale reversal of that pattern will not be the result of the individual mechanisms we use to fight obesity on a personal level, such as gastric related surgeries, liposuction, excessive dieting, excessive exercise, nutritional supplementation, and pharmaceutical support. With these means being more available and more used than ever, and obesity still being on the rise, that math does not add up. It simply demonstrates that, collectively, fighting individual obesity is not working to reduce obesity overall.

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Though some individuals find success with using exercise, diet, and medical/pharmaceutical technologies to reverse or to avoid obesity, a majority of people who use these resources will not find success in the long-term. I believe any permanent change to the cultural obesity trend will be the result of both large and small changes in our food system, over time, which are organized and called for by society as a collective, similar to the changes in civil rights, animal rights, and global ecology that we have seen in recent decades.

Those efforts to change the food system are already forming and gaining traction, but the arc of their results is a slow turning. Examples of this are laws requiring calories to be included on menus, local food movements, transparency in food manufacturing & marketing, and social awareness created by the propagation of literature; books and documentary movies on the subject.

As It Relates To Health…

We have been fed the ideal over time that obesity is intertwined with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and the probability of early death – a lesser quality of life notwithstanding. Increasingly though, there is data that suggests that obese people who exercise regularly, and include reasonable amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets are no more likely to suffer from these ailments than people of average body weight. Some call this fat but fit. I call it, doing one’s best within a failing system.

Still, many people who fall into this category of larger, but healthy, attempt to fight their obesity by the means mentioned above, because they feel a social pressure which suggests they are unhealthy and undesirable. Whether or not they are unhealthy is coming into question, and that fruitless debate continues. Being socially or personally undesirable is simply a matter of bigotry.

As It Relates To Vanity…

Yesterday I visited a friend in the hospital who, for the last 13 months, has been dealing with the severely debilitating consequences of a lap-band surgery gone bad. I am removed from the internal thinking which led to her to the decision to have lap-band surgery, but from the outside looking in, though she might have been overweight at the time of the surgery, she was attractive and seemed to be in good health.

That is, her surgery was as much about vanity and/or social pressure as it was about health. My friend will remain in the hospital for at least several weeks. Her life has been in jeopardy as a result of this failed surgery on at least two occasions, though it appears now she will ultimately be okay.

Wide And Prejudice…

The epidemic which scares me more than the so-called epidemic of obesity, is the epidemic of prejudice toward heavier people. If a person wakes up in the morning and fails to eat fruit and Greek yogurt for breakfast, fails to remove the pile of clothes from the treadmill and put in a hard 30 minutes, or if they fail to stop at the gym on their way to work, they are not a bad person. And doing any or all of these will not make them a good person.

Being a good person is more related to mindfulness, kindness, and noble effort. Being a bad person, I suspect, is more related to disrespecting people, institutions, and animals – period. Body weight and body size have nothing to do with one’s character. Judging somebody for their shape size or weight does – period.

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The Slow Turn Of A failed System…

When I look at our social values as it relates to body image, male or female, young or old, and when I observe what it is that we revere and what we are willing to do in the name of looking better or being leaner, I often shudder.

I don’t fault anyone for wanting to pursue or maintain an attractive appearance, and I have certainly put effort into that ideal through the years. I’ll suggest though, for those who strive to improve their physical appearance, that before they begin, they closely examine the potential for cascading consequences which may result from the means they choose.

The quest for a smaller stature, and the emphasis we place on it is as old as culture itself, and I’m not arguing we abandon that pursuit. I’ll suggest though, similarly to civil rights, animal rights, ecology, and government, that the system we have allowed to place us here, and that we are all caught up in, is more in need of repair than any of us as individuals. I believe the arc of this system improving is on the rise, though obesity may still be a social issue for a few more decades.

That obesity is a contributory factor to poor health is, in my opinion, still just a theory. That we treat obese people with a greater guard, is simply a shame. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from the Dharma Violets. Enjoy!

The Goal Of Absence…

The Ghost Goals…

A 450 lb. deadlift.

A sub 7-minute mile.

A complete marathon.

A bodybuilding competition.

Swim 50 meters underwater on a single breath.

A reverse 1 ½ half dive with a full twist in the layout position from a 3-meter springboard.

These are some of the athletic feats which have fallen into the goals category at some point in my life.  I am glad that I was able to do all of these at some point in my life, even if I can’t do any of them today.  Though I am not training or preparing for a specific athletic competition or endeavor these days, I still workout consistently and with one goal above all others.

Med Head…

When my father died of complications from Parkinson’s disease over two years ago he was taking 19 medications on a regular basis – NINETEEN MEDICATIONS.  To be fair, some of those medications were useful in staving off the symptoms of his Parkinson’s, and served to enhance his quality of life.  Others though, were prescribed to offset the unwanted effects of his primary medications.

At the time he passed my father also had a neurologist, a cardiologist, a nephrologist, a urologist, a general practitioner, and I believe one or two other physicians whom he saw on a regular basis.  I won’t suggest whether or not any of them had a personal interest in my father’s wellbeing or whether he was just a number or a daily appointment each of them.  For the last two years of his life, my father saw some combination of these physicians weekly.

I do know this; each of those physicians prescribed at least one medication to help my father deal with his Parkinson’s and its related effects as they manifested within each of those physician’s specialty.  Or, they prescribed medications to help offset the unwanted effects of medications which were prescribed by the other physicians.  I call this the cascade of fragility; the more medications my father was on, the more fragile he became over time.

What my father's medicine cabinet might have looked like...

What my father’s medicine cabinet might have looked like…

Being close to the situation I can say definitively that these physicians did not talk to one another, and that often one medication prescribed would conflict with one of the others.  Though it might have been his GP’s job to manage this process, it seems he was not that effective with this responsibility.

How many doctors talk to each other...

How many doctors talk to each other…

Because my father was on so many medications at one time, it’s hard to say whether any of them were truly beneficial or counterproductive.  In his mind though, they were simply his best chance to win each day.

Goal Revision…

The oldest client I have worked with was 92.  Though he relocated to the desert several years ago, at the time we parted ways he was on no medications, none.  My oldest client today is 90, and she takes only one medication regularly and it is benign.

There is plenty of data correlating regular exercise with a lesser need for medications as we age, despite what ailments, diseases, and symptoms we encounter.  Regular exercise is a medication in itself.  We know the benefits of regular exercise are vast, yet they go widely underappreciated, under used by a majority people, and under prescribed by physicians.   Statistically speaking, most Americans get little or no deliberate exercise.

What I hope my medicine cabinet looks like when I'm 90...

What I hope my medicine cabinet looks like when I’m 90…

While I train weekly for strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, and even to look good, as I get older those are not my primary goals.  My longest term goal is that when I do die, all that can be found in my medicine cabinet are razors, cotton swabs, and Crest For Kids – stuff tastes just like bubble gum.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there’s this from The GO. Enjoy!