Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Inevitable

My ex-boss, the one who threatened to disown his fat sister if she didn't get a gastric bypass, was (and is) married to a woman who was obsessed with nutrition and fitness. She was a very nice person, and she was very smart (a microbiologist at a hospital), but she was a little overboard with the whole diet thing. She made home-cooked meals every day, setting aside a specific amount for her husband's lunch the next day. Meals were planned to be low-fat, low-sodium, and the conventional idea of "healthy". She also made sure the store was well-stocked with plenty of fruit for him, and kept some fat-free organic yogurt there. The surgeon general would have an orgasm over this guy's diet. The wife also exercised the man like a dog, making him go on long walks every day, regardless of the weather, and making him do other things like sit-ups and biking as well. He wasn't skinny, but he was about average weight for a fiftyish man.

So imagine his reaction when his doctor called to tell him that his "bad" cholesterol levels were through the roof! Talk about a total freak out! He ranted and raved about how he does EVERYTHING RIGHT, and it's just not fair, and he couldn't imagine what went wrong.

Now, I never learned to keep my mouth shut around the guy, because I'm just not capable. So I thought it would make him feel better if I said that there was a strong genetic component to cholesterol levels, and that it wasn't necessarily anything he was doing wrong.

Well, you'd have thought I'd suggested he copulate with a two-headed goat or something, he was so mad. "What, you mean I don't have any control over this?! That all the dieting and exercise has been for nothing?!"

Control. The magic word--it became immediately clear to me that people want more than anything to have control over their own fates, and he was a huge control freak to begin with. He'd rather have been responsible for having bad health than have good health based on simple luck. He was also annoyed that he'd had to diet and exercise all this time, only to feel like it was for naught over one surrogate endpoint. I didn't continue talking to him about it, but I could have pointed out that cholesterol isn't an absolute indicator of health, and that it could be managed (at that time, I didn't know that statins were pretty much useless).

No matter what you eat, no matter how many crunches you do, no matter how many pounds you lose, the biggest risk factor for death is being alive. Treat it badly, treat it well, whatever you do, your body will eventually wear out, have a part go bad, or get crushed by a falling piano. And now that we're learning that conventional wisdom about weight loss, dieting, and exercise prolonging our lives is not necessarily true, people are starting to question whether they'd rather spend the time they DO have running on a hamster wheel and weighing portions, or doing things that are more enjoyable. The cool thing about Fat Acceptance is that it frees us to think more carefully about how we want to live our lives. Once you realize that you get what anybody gets--a lifetime--you can consider what would make that life well-spent.


Sarah said...

This post really got me . . . I was trying to explain to my sponsor why it bothers me so much that I get cravings, and get bloated during my period. She said, but that happens to everyone. I told her, I feel like I should be "above" that. I should be able to control every aspect of my body. I don't know how to let go of that. But seeing posts like this from reasonable, smart people whom I respect (i.e., you) helps. So thank you and thank you for letting me vent here.

Karen said...

Someone's going to yell at me for this one, but I hear that religious attendance has dropped in recent decades. I submit to you that this isn't precisely true. We've simply substituted science for religion.

See, we don't know that "doing everything right" will get us into Heaven, reincarnated favorably, what have you, simply because no one can "reliably" say they've witnessed the event. But we know that if you do eat right you'll be in perfect health. The whole idea of science is that they witness the effects of what they're telling you before they tell you to do it. So we KNOW. We do. Right?

Shannon said...

Oh, that cracked me up! Must . . . link . . . to post! ;-D

RioIriri said...

I understand how you feel; we are indoctrinated to believe that we should be in total control of our bodies' processes, but all that stuff is autonomic! You never hear anyone apologize for breathing too much!

You raise a good point. Many scientific experience are done in controlled settings to minimize variables. Hell, it's big business these days to raise genetically manipulated mice to control for specific genes, and to have genetically identical mice to keep variables to a minimum.

In the real world, variables are virtually limitless, and there's always something that somebody didn't consider when real-world applications are undertaken.

Karen said...

Oh, absolutely. I have a bit of electronics background and am quite familiar with the problems associated with troubleshooting finicky machines. No two machines are the same, despite being "identical." They are made with different parts which may have different weaknesses, they are never used exactly the same way under exactly the same conditions, and the people working on them don't know everything there is to know about how they can fail. Every engineer I've ever heard of has had at least one "now, why is it doing that?" moment in their career. I see absolutely no reason to believe that we know more about the human body than we do a VCR.

Anonymous said...

wow. My DH knew that about cholesterol. He is one lean mean machine and he is constantly asking if he should get his cholesterol checked out (we eat reasonably healthy...we don't buy a lot of junk food and I try to get at least 2 veggies in at dinner time and when I can they are fresh veggies). Ever since one of his friends (reasonably healthy guy of late 20's) had to take meds for his GENETIC cholesterol issues he has been obsessed with it.

Hell...even the commercials for the drugs say that there is a genetic component to high cholesterol!!!

Karen said...

But, Sandy, you'll notice how all genetic components are minimized. There's always the unstated assumption that, if you work hard enough, that genetics, too, can be overcome. People are desperate for answers and control. They truly believe that if something is 80% genetic that just means they need to work 80% harder to achieve the desired results.

If anyone has actually seen a study of anything anywhere that has studied what is actually necessary to overcome a strong genetic tendency I would be grateful for a link or reference.

kellycoxsemple said...

I have a former boss like that too (although I am much more fond of mine than you are of yours). He leads an impeccable lifestyle of healthy food, vigorous exercise, and the happily recommended red wine in moderation. He is the PICTURE of good health. Despite having both a healthy lifestyle and appearance, his cholesterol levels are unbelievably high (near 500).

Anonymous said...

[i]There's always the unstated assumption that, if you work hard enough, that genetics, too, can be overcome.[/i]

Well of course...I mean...everything that happens to us is our fault...right? We didn't eat the right foods, drink the right drinks, use the right creams, take the right meds...just because there are difference of opinions and you never know who is right or wrong or who did a good complete study and who just jumped to conclusions shouldn't mean anything...you should do it the "right" way anyway and you would be healthy with no issues at all!


It amazes me how people really have no clue what the word "statistics" mean...statistically, you are going to at some point. Statistically, you are going to get some form of condition such as diabetes or high cholesterol at some point as a normal part of aging. Statistically, you could be thin and still die from some kind of disease. Statistically, you can live a long and healthy life being fat.

The only thing that will keep you on the "good" side of the statistic is if you generally eat well balanced meals with plenty of fruits and veggies and partake in moderate exercise. Nothing else is really going to matter.

Tangerine said...

Wow, good use of a Sandman quote, if that was intentional...

I wish my mom could understand this, but on the other hand fear of all of our family's heritable diseases is the strongest motivator keeping her doing positive things for herself like exercising and cutting back on drinking. I wish she could do them out of self love and not out of fear and not feel like a failure when she doesn't get perfect results and instead realize that it all helps her have a better life... it isn't all or nothing.

RioIriri said...

I am so glad someone got that :) I was wondering how long it would take!

Karen said...

We have, unfortunately, been trained that health, like heaven, is an absolute quality. You are either there, or you are not, and only your actions affect it. The problem with the genetic component is that you can't control it. And it so rarely gets presented as a "do the best with what you have" angle. People are led to believe that there is a single achievable "perfect" state, and if you aren't there, then you, and only you, are at fault. After all, you can overcome being born a brunette with a small sacrifice of time and money, why not cholesterol?

Mercurior said...

i call it the cult of the body, weight watchers and over eaters anonymous, while they may help some people (just covering my back here), but generally they are the new churches, new cults, new religions.

you are supposed to deny yourself certain things, to be "rewarded" with applause, if you "sin" you are pilloried by the group. you are never told the commandments you must follow to be thin only if you pay them will they let you know exactly what to eat. and it fits in with the formerly fat, when there are born again religious people they are frequently more radical than the real long timers.

this is an interesting blog


this is a good site about statins


how some of the side effects are worse than the so called "disease"

This book by a highly qualified doctor tells the story of his complete loss of memory when he took the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor.