It's an enormous wall of text, so I've spoilered it all by category.
A discussion of what I know on why we're as obese as we are:
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I live in America. More than a third of all Americans are obese, and living where I do (mid-sized city in Iowa) it's not hard to see why.
The most obvious reason is our food, but not just that, our food culture. The most common adjective applied to Midwestern cuisine in general is "hearty." It's not surprising - the Midwest is primarily composed of farmland, and our traditions grew out of farming traditions. Farm meals are hearty, because farmers work their asses off. Steak, potatoes, chicken, bacon, gravy, greens, corn, "rib-sticking" food, and way too much of it. I occasionally work on a farm of a family friend on the weekends, and when we eat, we eat. We cook whole chickens, giant steaks, pots full of potatoes. We sautee asparagus in butter. We eat most of it. Our host, who lives on this farm more than half the time, and was raised on that farm, pushes food on us. This is also a key part of Midwestern food culture.
I don't have experience eating with a lot of other families (growing up, my family hosted most of the meals, and my mother did her best to make sure I didn't become overweight, and now I host all of the meals, since I'm the only one who can cook). However, I have some, and when I do eat with other families, I get similar sorts of food. Giant steaks, greens cooked with bacon, heavy salads with cheese. This kind of food is Midwestern family-and-friends food. It's not particularly healthy, but that by itself isn't damning. After all, we don't always eat with family and friends, and I don't think everybody cooks like that for themselves.
A larger problem is that the Midwest in general doesn't really understand the notion of portioning. In America we're trained from birth to do everything big. Big cars, big houses, big jobs, big personalities. Big is a sign of success. The kind of food I've described isn't terribly healthy, but the bigger issue is that both at home and when dining out, we get way too much of it. Nicer restaurants are an exception, but in general, both in chain restaurants and local places, you're not so much supposed to walk out as waddle. Add that to the fact that most of our foods are simple carbs, starches, fats, and salts, (name me an American restaurant that doesn't have at least one fall-back hamburger on their menu) and you've got a recipe for problems. But even that by itself isn't entirely damning.
The biggest problem, frankly, is that we just don't get out that much.
We are not the only people who eat really unhealthy food. Basically all of East Asia has a massive hard-on for pork belly, which is uncured bacon. It's really freaking delicious, and while it's true that their portions tend to be much smaller, it's also much more likely that they've not driven to the store to buy it.
Most American towns, especially in the Midwest, are not dense. We are a car-obsessed people, and doubly-so in places like this - there are maybe a dozen bus routes in this whole city, and none run past 6PM, or on Sundays. Walking to the grocery store takes half an hour from where I live (and I live "close" to a grocery store) and there are no sidewalks for half of it. People frequently stare at you when you walk places. (I like to imagine that they're thinking, what is he doing? Is his car in the shop?) There are maybe five bike lanes in the whole town. (I frequently alternate between calling it a city and a town. I do not plan on attempting to stop.) It is, put simply, not a place where you can do much but drive if you want to get anywhere.
None of these things by themselves is responsible for why the U.S. is so obese, (Japan, for example, is very close to the U.S. in terms of cars per person) and there are a dozen other reasons which are far more complicated and contested, including our sedentary lifestyles, the shift in the workplace from active to sedentary jobs, and our mass consumption of corn and corn syrups.
The reason I said all that, though, is because I wanted to talk about weight, and one's attitude towards one's weight.
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I was lucky. Really lucky. Growing up, my mother insisted on feeding me reasonable portions of healthy food, and she forced me to exercise, whether it be running, biking, walking, or lifting weights. I've got a muscular build by nature, and as a child, I built up a large amount of muscle which I've been able to maintain with minimal effort even through some bad periods, so that I never wound up horribly overweight. In college, when I developed some of the worst eating habits of my life, (one of my staple meals was a pan-fried 1lb pork steak and mashed potatoes) I had to walk everywhere, which would frequently total 3-5 miles a day, usually with a massive backpack. Even when I got hold of a car, there was nowhere to put it on campus, so there was no point to trying to drive to class.
After I graduated, I found a job as an Engineer in Iowa, and the effects of my diet, but minus the constant walking, became apparent. I gained about twenty pounds and put on such a gut that my male friends from college actually commented on it.
I hated it. Even though I was solidly dating a girl who I felt sure I was going to marry at some point, (I didn't) I hated it. I felt lazy and weak and generally deficient as a person. And this is not the right way to think about being overweight, and this is where I'm really going with this blog post:
There are several of different attitudes that I've encountered which people have towards being overweight.
-Some people don't give a shit. They're fat, their wife is fat, their kids are fat, and you can go fuck yourself.
-Some people are defensive and self-deluding about it. They're not fat, they're naturally big. They're curvy or dignified or rotund. They're traditionally attractive, and did you know that ancient cultures were more attracted to people who were overweight because it was a sign of wealth? Plus they're genetically incapable of losing weight because their parents were fat, and they probably have a glandular problem, but no, they haven't had it checked. And besides, all those skinny people need to eat a sandwich. This is, in my experience, the broadest group of people I've met, possibly because they're the most vocal.
-Some people are quiet about it. I equate this with acceptance, but often times it's more like despair. They have tried fad diets and fat camps and every other lose-weight-quick scheme and none of it has worked for them. These people typically exhibit the same self-hatred that I felt. This leads to feelings of depression, which leads to melancholy, which is the opposite of motivation, which is what you really need to lose weight.
-Some people are depressed about it, and more so because they feel like they're doing what they should be and it's not working. They do yoga a few times a week, skip breakfast, and wonder why they're not losing weight.
-Some people, like me, are vocally and vehemently self-hating about it. They see being overweight as a sign that they are not capable of taking care of themselves like an adult, of being stupid and incompetent and lazy. This is unhealthy because it leads them to do what I did, and do horrible things to their bodies. (I frequently pulled muscles, and as a result I now have aches all over at the age of 25.) In addition, it causes them to look down on others who are overweight, which doesn't help anybody.
-Some people, though, are honest about it. They understand that they are overweight because they had poor habits, and to fix this, they will need to reshape their habits, often completely.
The key to it, I think, is self-honesty, because it seems to me that a lot of folks, especially in America, where we are taught that it is more important to sound right than to be be right. You probably don't have a glandular problem. Those skinny people are healthy. We no longer live in an ancient culture. You may have a large body frame, but you still have a bunch of fat on your body.
This applies to the other end of the scale, though, as well. You were teased as a kid because you had a naturally larger frame, even though you had very little fat on you. (This one applies to girls more than boys, including my girlfriend, who I will discuss a bit later.) This is a common cause of eating disorders, and any unhealthy eating habits, be they eating too much or too little, can lead to obesity down the road. You were overweight as a child because your parents shoved food on your plate and it was greasy and salty and delicious. You are not overweight because you're a failure as a person, and you're not incapable of losing it. .
For me personally, this has strongly impacted my relationships. The truth is this: I am not a very good person. And I have a strong need to tell that to somebody who will believe me, and that person is, as it has been for much of my life, the internet.
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I date for personality. A lot of guys say that, but I actually do. Most of my girlfriends have been pretty, but very few have ever been really hot. I'm okay with that. I need to be physically attracted to somebody at some level to have a relationship with them, but if my dick doesn't jump off my body to greet them every time they come over, that's all right. I fall in love with a kind personality, a generous spirit, a strength of character, a sharp wit, and a broad mind. And a pretty face.
Because here's the deal: You can fix a mediocre body. You can't fix an ugly face, and as the joke goes, you can't fix stupid.
But that's what's gotten me into trouble. None of my last three girlfriends have been particularly healthy. Two of them were sort of petite, but my current girlfriend is out-and-out overweight, and just hides it well. And it bugs me, but what bugs me more is that it's not enough to push me over the edge to ending it, because I firmly believe that a good spirit is far rarer than a good body. But I still have that attitude I described earlier about people who are overweight. Only, until recently, I didn't admit it.
My girlfriend fell into the second category that I described earlier. She was defensive and vocal about how she was just fine the way she was, until I frankly asked her if she wanted to lose weight, and she told me she did, but had not a fucking clue how to do it, and had tried and failed in the past. She told me this as she frankly gobbled chips and salsa from a huge bag that she'd bought at the store. This, combined with my attitude, was not a good recipe for a healthy relationship, and it wasn't, but I'm glad I stuck with it, because it is now.
I happened to have a gym membership that I wasn't using (a story for another day) and I gave it to her. There was a gym literally a block away from her apartment.
But with her, I fell into the same bad habits I'd fallen into with the previous two girls - I began to push them to exercise. To eat healthy. I felt like I was helping them, and to a degree, I was - in that pushing was useful advice, things I'd learned from my own life. Don't eat starchy foods to get your carbs, eat complex grains like quinoa and amaranth. Don't keep snack foods in your house, because you'll eat them, because they're delicious. Go to the gym even when you don't feel like it. Don't give yourself food-based rewards for exercising. Never say "well I exercised today, so this is okay." Avoid red meat. Eat fist-sized portions. Don't cook in butter.
At first, this sort of thing can be helpful to somebody who's struggling to stay motivated. But nobody wants to be coached by their boyfriend, and for me, that's something that's hard to come to terms with, because I'm a fixer. That's my personality. I see an issue, and I get tunnel vision until it's resolved. Adding to that the negative undertones I developed because of my attitude, and as with my previous two girlfriends, it became a source of bitterness and resentment. It's not been why we ended, but it's been part of it.
As I mentioned before, though, I'm a lucky person. She's as stubborn as I am pushy, and although this resulted in a disgusting number of fights, we eventually came to see one another. I came to understand where her motivation troubles came from - in truth, she had never really tried to lose weight. She thought she had, but she had fallen into the yoga-and-skipping-breakfast category of person, willfully forgetting (as so many of us do) that you can't eat chips after dinner just because you skipped breakfast, and that while yoga and pilates are great for strength and flexibility, nobody ever lost 40 pounds by only sitting on a yoga mat. You need cardiovascular exercise, and she had undiagnosed asthma that prevented her from doing that. In turn, I saw that my pushing only made it harder on her, and on us, and recognized that I am a fixer. (I honestly had never considered myself such.)
This may be the part where a bunch of you tell me "dude you should just dump her if she's fat and that bugs you." I've thought of that. I have dated people in the past for no reason other than my low self-esteem, and I have been very cautious in this relationship to ensure that this was not happening again. The fact is, I need to be honest with myself too. I'm not the kind of guy who gets the bombshell, and frankly, if I am, I'm not the one who really likes her. I've dated a couple of 9s. We didn't get along very well. They were very nice people, but I am glad I'm not still in those relationships. It's far rarer that I find someone who I like spending time with. That may not make sense to you, but it makes sense to me. I want my girlfriend to lose weight. I want to lose weight myself.
But I have had to learn literally everything that I have listed above before I could really come to terms with it. I have come to understand that somebody being fat now doesn't mean they will be fat forever, and often times they simply do not have the knowledge they need to lose weight, and that if you can be patient with somebody you love who is also overweight, it can be completely worth it.
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Plus, post-run endorphin-high sex is amazing.