Weight, Pie and TV

I found this rant over at www.janegalt.net

"A random ramble about weight, pie, and television

I have something of a sweet tooth . . . well, actually, more of a pie tooth, since I find all other desserts eminently resistible. Unfortunately for my waistline, my mother likes to make pie.

Anyway, so I like pie. And homemade macaroni and cheese. Warm bread slathered with butter. Steak tartare. Pepperoni pizza. Fried chicken, with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. Fresh pound cake with ripe berries and whipped cream.

What I’m trying to say is, I understand the urge to eat things that aren’t so good for you. And so for a long time, I thought I understand what went on in the lives of those who are overweight and obese. Like me, they wanted to eat things that weren’t good for them. But unlike me, they didn’t do it in moderation. That’s what most people are thinking, when they talk about obesity. “Eat less, weigh less.”

More and more, though, I think there must be something fundamentally different there. I was thinking that last night, after I filed about 5,000 words to various places. That’s because, draped across my couch like an overcooked noodle, I was watching bad television. Maybe you know that feeling, after you handed in your last paper of the term: not happy or sad, but empty. You feel as if nothing will ever happen again. It’s the time for bad television, and thoughts about nothing very useful.

The bad television I was watching was about gastric bypass surgery–those who get it, and those who don’t. And maybe because I was so empty of any feeling myself, it seemed clear, suddenly, that what these people were describing did not bear any resemblance to my relationship with food.

They talked about being hungry all the time when they were on a diet. I’ve been hungry, all the time, but only once, and that was because for reasons too tedious to discuss, for about three weeks, I didn’t have any money for food.

But even then, I wasn’t hungry all the time. I was hungry when I went into a stranger’s house and saw food on their counter (I was canvassing for PIRG at the time). I was hungry when I woke up in the morning, and when I went to bed at night, and at odd moments throughout the day. I was especially hungry after I’d eaten, because it usually wasn’t enough.

But even so, most of the time I wasn’t hungry, at least not that cranky way you get when it’s mealtime and you unexpectedly have to wait an hour. My stomach hurt a lot. But I didn’t think about food all the time. And I would have thought about it a lot less if I’d known when my next meal was coming.

And then these people on the television, every one of them, would describe this cycle where they’d be fat, and that would make them sad, so they’d eat more to comfort themselves. And that is totally alien to me. Food has never in my life offered me comfort. It tastes great, and when I’m hungry, it makes me not be hungry any more. But no matter how sad or lonely I feel, eating a cookie does not produce any sort of emotional reward in my brain. It tastes good. But I don’t feel any happier, or sadder, after I’ve eaten. I just feel full.

I wonder if that’s emotional or genetic. I don’t think my mother ever gave me food to comfort me, to be sure. But is that the reason that I don’t find food comforting–or did my mother not use food as a reward/palliative because food didn’t soothe me? Or her, for that matter; we’re both normal weight.

So anyway, I was just thinking that it pretty much sucks for obese people. I think probably they got handed a terrible genetic hand–some combination of insistent brain signals telling them to eat that I do not have. I was–in that washed out disinterested way that is all you can muster when you’ve finished a big writing project–angry at the world for them.

But then they had these fat acceptance people on, and I was angry at them too. Obesity is bad for you; at the very, very least, it destroys your joints and puts a heavy strain on your heart to pump blood for an extra hundred pounds. Studies showing that being underweight is worse for you appear to have all missed an obvious control: people who are seriously ill often lose weight even long before their disease becomes apparent. If you use a longer lag, the effect disappears. Conversely, the “fat but fit” studies are selecting out the small number of people whose genetic endowments are so remarkable that they can do heavy exercise carrying around the equivalent of a fully loaded weight bar, and then acting as if those results can be extrapolated to the majority of seriously overweight people who find it difficult to walk up a couple of flights of stairs without stopping to rest.

It seems like they’re taking a true statement–“society shouldn’t assume that the overweight are simply lazy slobs with remarkably little willpower”–and extrapolating it to a ridiculous result: “which means that seriously overweight people shouldn’t try to lose the extra weight”. Even if we shouldn’t judge obese people, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to encourage them to do something they find very, very hard. Most people find quitting smoking or giving up sugar really, really hard, but we don’t tell them not to bother treating their diabetes because it’s not their fault their pancreas isn’t pumping out any insulin. Fair just isn’t very relevant. It isn’t fair that every cold I ever get goes straight to my lungs and hangs out there for a month, and I have to carry an inhaler with me everywhere I go, because otherwise I could die. It’s certainly not fair that I could go blind in my eighties like my grandmother. Nature doesn’t care about fair. That’s why it’s called natural selection, not natural distribution.