Fitness is Fleeting, Fat is Forever. [On The Contrary]
This column first ran in October 2011. As Joe Rusin prepares to run his first marathon this weekend, we meditate on his former form in this Fierce Encore!
A few weeks ago, some generous soul saw fit to bring in a box of extremely delicious buttermilk donuts to be shared by everyone who works in my office. Extremely delicious translates to heart clogging, gut expanding, sleep-inducing goodness. Some office mates sensibly took only small portions, cutting the donuts into pieces for a nibble. Being capable of great gluttony, I of course took the whole thing. As I was taking it, I made a comment to someone about how you could tell by looking at me that I enjoy my sweets. In response I got an incredulous and slightly annoyed expression as my coworker commented, “What are you talking about—you look svelte.”
Here’s the thing. She wasn’t just being kind. I actually am fairly trim right now. I’m not skinny by any sense of the word, and I still have a roundish quality, but even according to the body mass index I am at worst just over the edge of “overweight” and actually usually fall into the category of “normal” (and keep in mind, those BMI calculators are cruel—if you’re trying to lose weight and you want a disappointing shot in the gut, check one out to see how far you’ve got to go. It always seems a little unreasonable.).
This is not a column to brag about weight loss, though (even if I did find a way to work it in). What I find interesting is that when I made what I thought was a self-deprecating comment about my size, I completely believed it. I wasn’t looking for a compliment—I had forgotten that when people look at me the first word to describe me physically would no longer be chubby (I still think I’m roundish). I lost weight by dieting, then started exercising and running regularly, and am currently in training for some races. Yet I still think of myself as a fat guy. Every time I look in the mirror (and this is not an exaggeration), I’m a little surprised at my appearance.
I would posit that anyone who has ever been overweight and shed it feels similarly. Shows like the BIGGEST LOSER and diet plans talk about finding your real self under all of the weight you’ve put on. But the truth is, once you’ve let yourself get to the point of being fat that is your real self.
Unless you’re some crazy method actor who gained the weight for a role and shed it quickly thereafter, you probably didn’t gain weight on purpose. It was a natural result of living life in modern America—eating what is convenient and economic, earning a living doing work that is generally not physically strenuous, and finding leisure in sedentary activities that usually involve sitting and looking at something (whether it be a screen, a book, or spying on your neighbors). It’s simply easier to be unhealthy than to be healthy, and with all of the other cares we have, from work to family, the American life is very conducive to gaining weight.
Now losing weight, that’s tough. Sure, there are a number of diet plans that can shock you into dropping pounds fast. But after those pounds are shed, the real test begins. Because you then have to spend the rest of your life working to keep that weight off. And it’s hard, because you don’t have the visible rewards. People get used to you being thinner, yet you still have to work just as hard to avoid eating poorly and finding time to be physically active. You’re really just an injury or sickness away from expanding back to your true self. It’s kind of like being an alcoholic. According to A.A., people never stop being alcoholics; they just count the days since their last drink. For me, no matter how fit I am for how long, I’ll always think of myself as a fat guy.
This isn’t a bad thing. In a way, it’s kind of reassuring—it keeps you motivated to not become lax as you always feel like you’re staying one step ahead of the chub, like Henry Hill avoiding the mob. Like a mafia snitch, however, you accept that probably some day it will catch up with you, and can only hope it’s after you’ve gotten what you wanted to get out of this life.
The most annoying thing in the world is when someone, who is not overweight, complains about how fat they’re getting. It might be worth keeping in mind, though, that there could be more at play in these socially inept comments. Yes, sometimes the speaker might be an annoying, skinny bitch (or the male equivalent), but it might just be the case that though outwardly seeming fit, deep down the commenter still feels like the soft, squishy self he or she once was and could easily be again.
(And in case you’re wondering, the donut was delicious.)
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featured image credit: Chasing Donguri