Sunday, April 06, 2008
I heard this song recently on the radio and remembered how much I like it and really pretty much anything from REM.
Things are proceeding apace here. I am on target for my next minigoal, although the monthly fun has arrived so it's possible that, even with best efforts, I won't get it this week as I tend to retain water and salt like nobody's business.
I'm perimenopausal so the monthly stuff is more like the every-three-weeks stuff but that's harder to say and wastes syllables.
And we all know about the tragic syllable shortage. Please give generously.
In other news, I've done more trying on of stuff and am pleasantly surprised to report that my hips may be finally starting to obey my command to shrink. I have fitted much better into two jackets lately, the green and white winter one and the navy blue slicker. Neither of these have ever fit me in the hips; they've always either pulled or had to be yanked down or just worn open. Not any more.
I put on an old flannel shirt yesterday. It's two sizes away, but gets on just fine and is not tight in the arms or shoulder blades. Another four inches or so in the chest and it will fit with extreme ease. Heck, it'll probably fit after two, two and a half.
The cranberry blazer is almost fitting perfectly in the hips. Maybe one more inch, inch and a half, and it will lie flat and together when buttoned.
I even -- because I'm insane -- tried on the jean jacket, even though it's three sizes too small and stiff (no elastic). I could button all but the lower two buttons! I have every confidence that I will wear it by the end of the summer, if not before.
I still have swimsuits to try on, but that's for next weekend. In the meantime, minigoal #2, here I come!
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Attitude is everything, it is said.
And the attitude against the obese in our society is, in general, anything but welcoming.
Actually, it's an almost schizophrenic reaction. We live, in America, in a time of not just plenty, not just nonfamine, but excess. Big cars, big houses, big jewelry, big handbags, big heels, big credit card debt, big portions. And it's all fine until it comes to big bodies. Because then the gloves come off, and the party ends, and the sniping begins.
Many of the women here on Spark have heard that old saw, "Well, she's got such a pretty FACE..." as if that excuses the inevitable, whether tacit or implicit, shot to the body. There's even the reverse, as anyone who's heard the term butterface ("Her body's smokin' hot, but her face ..."). The unstated predicate is often something like, "but her face ... could crack a sink."
What of the overweight who dare to exercise in public? Go to many gyms and you'll be rebuffed if you're not already buff. The same is true out on the sidewalks if someone is obviously exercising (as opposed to walking like they're going to the train station or something). It's as if our society wants us all to be thin, but doesn't want to watch us get there. Instant cures and get out of my face seem to be the order of the day.
And it's not like a lot of this obesity should be unexpected. Portions are huge. Messages of excess are everywhere. Nutrition labels can be confusing (who ever heard of a small candy bar as having TWO servings?). Scientific studies disagree, or junk science gets into the communications stream without proper vetting. Conflicting diets crop up (Atkins and Stillman on the high protein/low carb side, many others on the low fat side). Surgery holds out hope for some but side effects and fatality rates conveniently don't get as much press. Some drugs hold out hope (Alli and Xenical) while others are banned (phen-fen). Herbal concoctions and snake oil crop up in not only our bulk folders but as advertisements in the back of our magazines (hoodia gordonii, anyone?).
In the midst of all this is a society that treats the overweight as if we were no good. From missed job opportunities to contemptuous glances on the bus to credit denial to out and out yelling on the street.
When I was shopping for a wedding dress, in 1991, I weighed about 60 lbs. less than I do now. And the dressmaker told me I'd have to pay more for more fabric and continually whipped her hands and measuring tape around my body as she spat out numbers to her assistant. I got out of there as quickly as I could, and went somewhere where I was treated kindly -- and ended up with a better gown anyway.
Shift back even earlier than that, to when my husband and I were first dating and I probably weighed about 50 lbs. less even than that, and I recall walking in Greenwich Village and some drunk came up to my husband and said, "I'd hate to have to feed her."
Jerks are everywhere, of course. But for a society than manufactures obese people at a rate that must be dozens per day, we sure don't treat them well at all. That is a reflection on our society, but where does it come from? Some of it certainly comes from simple weight prejudice. But it can come from other prejudices as well. If poorer folks tend more towards obesity, if people of color tend more in that direction, if immigrants and women also tend to go that way, then isn't anti-weight prejudice, for some of the nasties, a cover for prejudices against those other groups?
An inordinate amount of time is spent in schools, trying to increase self-esteem. And that's the right idea but I suspect that it's not addressing the whole problem. This problem has many parents. In addition to increasing self-esteem, how about working together so that the nasties learn that such behavior is unacceptable? And if the behavior persists, surely there are means of dealing with it, everything from peer pressure to actual punishment.
I am not suggesting political correctness. Rather, I am saying that people should be kinder to one another, and should be rewarded for their kindnesses and should get some negative reinforcement when they aren't so kind.
Weight gain, in part, stems from depression and feelings of worthlessness. Being laughed at, harrassed, teased and put down does nothing to stem those feelings.
Kindness, acceptance and, yes, even love, can help to heal these wounds. We need not be a free-loving hippie commune in order to treat each other with decency and respect.
Be good to yourself. Be good to each other. Don't forget where you've been, and do what you can to help others get to where you are, and beyond. Because we're all worth it.
Friday, April 04, 2008
Individuals aren't the only ones who pay a price for obesity. Societies do, too.
As the population fills out and widens, public accommodations have to keep pace. Newer stadiums have wider seats -- and to seat the same (or more) people, they have to be either wider or taller or both. Wider stadiums sit on more land, so they cost more. Taller ones are also costlier, not only because of more materials but because you need serious equipment to build taller structures. Plus there is more of a danger factor (a potential for more bodily harm due to a fall from an increased height, for the construction workers building the stadium), so insurance costs may be higher as well.
Seats aren't the only things that have to get bigger. Hospitals buy bigger cotton johnnies, and larger examination tables. Plus they have to hire more health aides to move immobile patients.
School districts -- if they can afford it -- are in the market for larger desks. Restaurants buy bigger booths. Public accommodations (parks, courthouses, etc.) have to buy toilets that can take the weight of a 500-lb. person at least.
More weight in vehicles means that gas mileage suffers. Try this thought experiment. Just after filling up, record your current odometer reading and then grab 40 lbs. worth of something unperishable -- lawn chairs, canned goods, umbrellas, kitty litter bags, whatever -- stick it in a box and put it in the trunk of your car. Ride around with it and don't take it out. Whenever you fill up the car next, record the odometer reading and the amount of gasoline purchased. The number of miles, divided by the number of gallons, is your gas mileage. Say, 200 miles and 10 gallons, so your MPG would be 200/10, or 20 MPG. Now that you've done this, take the junk out of your trunk (sound like a familiar phrase?) and do the same. Drive around as always and then at the next fill-up record the odometer reading and the number of gallons. And also pay attention to how long it took to get to the point where you need a fill-up, e. g. six days instead of seven, or whatever. You should see a difference. Keep in mind that traffic conditions, etc. can affect gas mileage, plus you're probably hauling something else around, such as groceries, during these times. This is an illustration, not set in concrete.
But to take it farther -- imagine those 40 lbs. not in umbrellas or compact discs or whatever, but in a piece of you. You can readily see where losing weight can affect something you might not have thought about before.
Automobiles are, of course, not the only conveyance around. More weight on humans means more weight on municipal buses, on trains and on trolley cars, and on airplanes. And more petroleum usage means more pollution, and more scarcity and translates into higher prices at the pump, even if you're buying jet fuel and not economy gas. Not to mention dependency on foreign oil and the geopolitical consequences of that.
Society also pays an actuarial-style price. For all of the people who are obese, some, if not many, will die younger than persons who are not obese. That means orphaned children, families with reduced earning capacity and possibly a rise in suicide rates for folks who've become despondent over loss. And for those who don't die young, it can mean other impairments. Diabetes can lead to foot amputation or blindness, or both. Strokes can lead to speech impairment or the inability to walk, or both. Severe heart disease can also affect personal mobility. Those people may no longer be able to work. They may have to get around using a wheelchair or crutches or a cane. They may need service dogs. They may need more handicapped parking. And they may need more social services, which translates into a need to levy more taxes to pay for such programs.
Of course being obese does not mean that you, personally, or your friends or family or neighbors, are the one to blame for so many societal ills. But there's an old expression: No single raindrop believe itself to be responsible for the flood. The rising tide of obesity is already at flood level. Instead of passing around blame, pass around the rice cakes.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
It's no great secret that being overweight is not good for your health. But is it the weight itself, or is it the attendant health problems (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.) that commonly accommodate it?
And what of people -- such as myself -- who have all of the good numbers (good cholesterol, low blood pressure, no prediabetic indicators) -- but one bad one (weight)? Does the one bad one outweigh -- no pun intended -- all of that other good?
The New York Times ran an article relatively recently, about longevity (while longevity isn't the only measure of health, it's a pretty interesting one). And they addressed these kinds of anomalies/exceptions to the rule in a very interesting manner. Essentially what the Times said was, look at the individual and you don't really see it, but if you look at the overall population, the trend should leap out at you.
Their explanation was like this (which I am modifying and expanding on in this entry): get together everyone who's made it to 50 -- ever -- since Homo Sapiens started. There aren't too many from way, way, way back when, but there are still some from ancient times (Augustus Caesar made it to his 70s, I believe). Now go up in a helicopter over that population and look at the people. How many men are there? How many women? Do they smoke? Drink? Are they married or single? What races are they? Do they have any children? If so, how many? Are they rich or poor? Do they work hard, or do they lead sedentary lives? What levels of stress do they deal with? What kinds of illnesses do they get? What are the causes of the deaths of those who are already gone? What are their diets like? And, what do they weigh, or at least are any of them overweight?
That group of the 50+-year-olds doesn't tell you a heck of a lot. Men are missing more because of violence and wars than anything else. But there are a number of women missing from the population, too, as it used to be that pregnancy was a pretty dangerous thing for a woman to do.
Then cull from the crowd only the people who made it to 60. Out go a lot of the folks from ancient times. The balance starts to inexorably tip in favor of modern times. Ask the same questions. The answers are a little more conclusive, but not much. Now only look at anyone who hit 70 (my parents and my inlaws -- all still alive -- are in this group). Cancer and heart disease start to show up a lot more. A lot of smokers start to drop out of the group. With few exceptions, you don't even see anyone born before about 1400 or so. You still see overweight people in these groups.
Now only look at anyone who hit 80. Smokers drop out almost completely. Chronic alcoholics are gone. Women begin to dominate the group. There's pretty much no one born before about 1800 or so. Alzheimer's disease starts to really infiltrate the population. And weight starts to really play a part. The overly obese just aren't there, for the most part. Oh, and by this time all but one of my grandparents are gone. One dropped out when 60 became the magic number, and the other two drop out for this round. Most of the American Presidents drop out, too.
Now change the magic number to 90. I believe all of the Presidents are gone but Reagan and Ford. Women are something like 75% of the group. Alzheimer's hits the majority of the survivors. Cancer, strokes and heart disease run rampant. My last grandparent is gone. Nearly no one is in this group who was born before about 1870.
Change the magic number to 100. A handful of people are left, mainly women. There may be fewer than 10,000 people left, certainly no more than 100,000. This is since Homo Sapiens came about, about 10,000 or so years ago. Hence there were less than ten people per year of our species' existence who hit this magical age. Virtually everyone is thin although they might not have been for their entire lives. These people tend to have Type B (as opposed to Type A) personalities. That is, they don't experience huge amounts of stress in their lives. Things roll off them like water off a duck's back. I have a great-aunt in this group, and my husband has a grandmother. For them, the greatest life-lengthener, going beyond whatever people from 80 to 90 did (or didn't do), is probably modern medicine. As in antibiotics, dental care, psychiatric care to prevent suicide, vaccinations and improved nutrition. Public health measures also helped them out, everything from eliminating horses (and their waste products) from everyday life to seatbelts. Those measures helped everyone else in the 20th century, too, of course, but for these centenarians these advances helped them for decades.
The point of all of this is that modern medicine, for all of its faults and flaws, has some very good ideas. And when you start to look at trends, there are some major things that can be done to bring you from group to group to group. There are no guarantees that 100 will be hit, or even 80. But when more readily preventable causes of death can be pulled out of the equation, the chances get better, plus quality of life soars, even if it's not as long as we'd like it to be. There are no guarantees that you won't be hit by a bus tomorrow, but simple steps -- not just diet and exercise -- go a long way:
1) Quitting smoking, or never starting
2) Getting regular doctor and dental checkups, including cancer screenings
3) Employing safer sex practices
4) Wearing seatbelts
5) Taking the time to de-stress (this includes exercising)
As for me, I'm working to pull my weight number in line with my cholesterol, etc. numbers. My life expectancy is to about age 81 1/2. Maybe I'll make it. I hope I do, and beyond. And in the meantime, I'd like to spend as much of that time as healthy as possible, without diabetes, without having a heart attack, without having strokes and without cancers or at least without letting cancers become advanced. It can be done. I'm willing to try.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
I'm not talking about health. I'm talking about bucks. It costs money to be healthy, but it costs more to be obese. Check out this information.
* Clothes - Let's take JC Penney, which is a middle of the road retailer that covers Juniors, Misses and Women's sizes. I looked up a white shirt for each size.
Women's (sizes 16 - 26): $25
Women's (size 28 and up; I had to go outside of JC Penney to find it): $30
Now, this isn't exactly apples to apples but not only do the larger sizes step up in price but they also tend to step down in quality and selection. I'm 45 years old. Even if I diet and exercise for the next 20 years, fitting back into Junior sizes is not likely. This is not due to a lack of will, it's more due to the inevitable sagging that goes along with being 45. But even if you pull out the Juniors, the size to price differences are still pretty glaring. The size 28 shirt is 25% more than the Misses shirt, and it's also 20% more than even a size 26!
* Food - Of course, when you're obese, you eat more. But you may also be eating out more. Here's a little scary math.
Most people work about 240 days per year. That's 52 5-day weeks minus 2 weeks (or, 10 days) for vacations and another 10 days for various holidays.
How much does lunch cost in your office? Is it $5? $8? $12? $15? More? It's rarely less unless you bring your own. That $5/day lunch? It's costing $1,080 per year! A $15/day lunch costs a whopping $3,240 over the course of a year.
What about breakfast? Lots of people buy it at work. It might be less expensive but you've still got a big whole in your wallet at the end of the year. Also, what about snacks? Vending machine, anyone? A few dollars here and there and they add up quickly.
If the day's costs total an average of $20 then over the course of a year you are handing over $4,800. This is after-tax money. It is money that is not going to savings, mortgage (or rent), car payments, credit card debt, education or even tickets to sporting events.
Bringing lunch or breakfast or both breaks the cycle. Food isn't free, even if you grow it yourself there's often some sort of cost. But often you can get good breakfasts and lunches for a week for a good $20 - $40. And $40 for a week of homemade/brought in food means you're eating like a superstar. $40/week -- the luxury end of bringing in your own food -- runs to less than $2,000/year. That other $2,800 plus goes to whatever you want.
* Career - here it's a bit trickier. Who's to say whether there is discrimination due to size? It's easy to accuse but hard to prove. However, job applicants who appear to be less well-groomed or less disciplined often aren't hired.
What's the cost of not being hired? Missed opportunities are hard to quantify but we all know the feeling of rejection. And we also know that looking for work, if it takes a certain length of time, tips into the applicant having a harder and harder time finding work. Underemployment, anyone? What's the cost of THAT?
And what about folks who are already employed? What of them? There are also, possibly, missed opportunities. It's the raises that don't come, or the promotions that are delayed and then forgotten. It's the credit that isn't forthcoming. Being obese often means being the largest invisible entity in a room.
What's the bottom line? You guessed it -- it ain't easy being heavy. And it's costly, too.
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