A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

I now twit, er... or tweet. Anyway, you can follow me on twitter @Aeon1202

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Something Has Gone Very Wrong

I know a few things to be true:

1)      People are definitely getting fatter.
2)      Guilting, shaming, and attempting to regulate them via government mandate (a soda ban? Seriously?) does not work to make them any thinner.  Personally I’ve never spontaneously lost any weight from being told to, “Just quit eating, already!”  I’m pretty sure that advice would eventually make me die, so it’s not very sound anyhow.

Awhile back, a friend of mine sent me a chart like this one.  Take a look, I’ll wait.

Do you see something interesting happening right around 1985?  That’s where it hits.  The percentage of Americans who are obese takes a sharp upswing, and it continues to steadily rise to this day.

The question that Science needs to answer for us is: what the heck happened to us in 1985 that has not stopped?  Before anyone suggests it, no – a large number of us did not suddenly become “weak willed” or “lazy” or “gluttonous”.  The accusation that being overweight is just a lousy character flaw is no longer a scientifically sustainable one.  One reason being that this is also happening to animals.

The same friend who sent me the chart also sent me this article which discusses the sharp rise in rates of obesity among our wild and domestic animal population as well.  Something entered the food supply or the environment of a large number of the animals on this planet right around 1985 that is obviously causing a problem – so what is it?

I’ve heard people blame high fructose corn syrup.  I agree that HFCS isn’t a good thing.  Much like artificial sweeteners, it’s an industrially produced chem-lab experiment that the body does not know how to break down very well.  I try to avoid it.  It was invented in the 1950’s, but didn’t attain widespread use in the American food industry until 1975 to 1985.  Is it the culprit?  I call it possible.

Artificial sweeteners (something I am known to studiously avoid) are older than you probably think.  Saccharine was discovered by accident all the way back in 1879 during a search for useful new food preservatives.  It became widely used in the US as early as 1917.  I gave it up over a year ago now, and I don’t intend to go back because giving it up has caused me to stop being an insomniac, which I find to be ample proof it was doing something very unpleasant to my brain.  However, I can’t blame it for making me fat – because I have not lost significant weight since cutting it completely out of my life.

The chart I showed you seems to be blaming carbohydrates in general.  However, carbs are really just a form of energy.  Since we’re omnivores they, like everything we consume, need to be taken in moderation – but I find it short sighted so simply say, “you’re eating too many carbs!” and leave it at that.  If carbs are the problem, then why did we suddenly start to crave them in excessive amounts in 1985 when we were apparently not overindulging in them before?  What changed?

I read one study that suggested that when someone is malnourished it triggers a gene in their offspring that causes them to eat to excess.  Meaning that since I had a grandmother who often went hungry, she passed on a gene to my dad and I that causes us to eat more food than we need.  Essentially citing a possible cause for the existence of a food addiction gene.

I know a lot of people who do not eat wheat, either because they have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or believe that wheat has been genetically modified into Frankenplant is and is now deadly bad for us all.  The first person I knew who had celiac disease was my cousin’s daughter who is now in her early twenties.  At the time of her diagnosis as a very little girl, not a single person in my family had ever heard of celiac disease before – the idea of someone being allergic to bread was utterly alien.  Now, twenty years later, I plan the menu for parties around what people won’t or can’t eat, and wheat tops the list for many, many guests.  Which means that sometime in the last twenty years, wheat did start making people’s immune systems go haywire.  Why did that happen?  Is it the genetic modification at work?  Is it partially the power of suggestion?  Genetic modification of edible plants is a fairly recent phenomenon, beginning in the mid 90’s, well after the upswing in American obesity.  There may be many things wrong with the practice, and it may very well be making people sick, but I don’t think it can be solely blamed for our fattening process.

The artificial bovine growth hormone was approved for use by American cattle farmers by the FDA in 1993.  Since then it has been blamed for an increase in breast size among young girls, preventing our bodies from decaying normally after we die, and making us all fat.  I don’t like it’s use or think it’s a good idea, but the timeline doesn’t match up to make it the culprit for widespread obesity.

Maybe, some suggest, we have all simply become lazier because our entertainment practices shifted from doing to watching?  The television was invented in the early 1900’s – but every household didn’t have one until around the 50’s.  Still, watching the boob tube can’t be the sole cause of our fatness because we didn’t start to change until a good thirty years after it showed up.  I grew up during the advent of Atari and other video game consoles, but I still remember going to school with some really active, thoroughly sporty kids.  I also know many computer-addicted nerds today, and oddly the ones I know don’t tend to be fat.

How about fast food!  TV dinners!  Nope, sorry – it’s probably not these.  Which you’d think might cause sanctimonious thin people to quit yelling at the overweight to, “Put the McDonald’s down!”  Sadly, it’s human nature to want to feel superior, so even though thin-superiority is looking increasingly like an accident of genetics, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.  TV dinners, as it turns out, went into mass production in the 50’s when we were all still relatively svelte.  McDonalds franchises burst onto the scene also in the 50’s.  It’s true that in the 80’s and 90’s their portion sizes got extremely large, but they have since then both paired portion sizes back in response to public scrutiny and begun using cooking oils that contain less saturated fats.  And these adjustments have not assisted Americans in losing weight one tiny bit.

Personal case in point – in my family of three I am the only one who deliberately and regularly exercises, and I am also the only one who is overweight.  The two tall, screen-staring nerds that I live with who consume fast foods on a weekly basis are both either slim or of normal body weight.  What have I been exposed to either mentally, environmentally or genetically that is making me overweight and not them?  What is either triggering food addiction in my brain and/or grinding my metabolism to a screeching halt?  Here’s a scary thought: of the three of us I am also the only one who deliberately seeks out “healthy” foods.

That same friend I first mentioned?  He suspects whole grains.  You know, the “healthy” kind that the FDA and numerous Doctors and weight loss experts are always encouraging you to consume.  The 80’s is when the big public push toward whole grains and wild rice began and everyone became convinced that anything white or with the hull removed was automatically bad for us.  And, the 80’s is also when our collective weight problem went completely off the rails.

The reason I’m throwing so many theories around is because I don’t know what exactly the problem is, maybe it’s one of them, maybe a few or all of them.  I’m not a scientist; I’m just one of the end results of whatever has gone wrong.  Somebody with a PhD seriously needs to figure this thing out because the numbers are continuing to rise, and they are not stopping.

This is a serious problem.  And the collective shaming of America for being such weak willed big fat fatties is very obviously not the solution.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Concert Series Part 1: Muse

Last Spring I found myself at the Meadowlands just outside of New York City watching the curtain go up on Muse’s amazing rock show and contemplating (musing over?) the path that had led me there.

The concert-buddy standing next to me was a friend I would never have met were it not for the internet making the world a smaller place and drawing together people of similar interests.  To say nothing of the people in my life who care for me enough to encourage me to try new things and meet new people.  Having joined the online fan club of a somewhat obscure European band I’d become hopelessly addicted to, I quickly discovered that they had a number of pretty awesome people who were fellow fans like myself.  Some of them were local to where I lived.

So last year I went from being one of those people who would never dream of meeting up with folks they’d met online to someone who was intensely grateful for having done so.  This is something I would still in general advise people to do with extreme caution, but under the right circumstances it can open up a world of wonderful new experiences.

Having discovered a shared passion for music and a number of other common interests I hadn’t even been expecting, I suddenly found myself with a fun and enthusiastic concert-going companion once again.  Ted’s aversion to crowded spaces makes him a poor choice for concerts and most of my friends (and me too, if I’m being honest) had years ago been dissuaded by the skyrocketing cost of live shows.  After all, long gone are the days of seeing Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and Poison at the Spectrum for twenty bucks a show.

I had almost, almost let myself forget how much I adored live concerts: the energy, the interaction of performers and listeners, the magic of sound and light and lyricism coming together to vibrate inside my chest and make my heart beat in a rhythm shared with a whole sea of people brought together only by the unifying fact of being all in love with the same thing.  An expensive pastime, but to me – totally magical, and totally worth it.

The night of the Muse show was one of those cool and yet intensely humid spring evenings, simultaneously flattening and frizzing my freshly dyed hair and combining with some lingering winter bronchitis to leave my body unsure of whether to shiver or sweat.  In general, it was opting for both.  I had a touch of fever that night too, a fact which I hid from everyone to keep them from discouraging me from going to my show.  Unable to find a concert t-shirt that fit correctly over both my size 18 shoulders and size 24 hips, I had done my usual and opted for a men’s XXXL.  It fit me, as they generally do, like an extremely large, shapeless dress made from t-shirt material that sloughed off my shoulders and left the hemline lingering around mid-thigh.  I looked and felt somewhat ridiculous.

I was also ridiculously happy.

Muse played every song I knew and loved, which for me is nearly every song they have.  A generous helping from their exquisite new album as well as every song that had made me love them in the first place.  Despite never being a song I had favored before, the live number I enjoyed and remember the most vividly was Follow Me, because the way the laser display interacted with the music on that particular song wove an incredible effect within the stadium that I found both enthralling and hypnotic.  Now, whenever I hear that song, I’m right back there again beside my friend watching the lights play with the music over the heads of thousands of people.

The nice thing about being halfway up the side of the stadium is that it’s the perfect viewpoint to see the full interaction of the light show like an electrified carpet spread out in front of you.  The tech that Muse employs in their show is pretty amazing.  They have a ziggurat made from high definition projection screens that can fold down to cover the stage area and then lift and invert to hover above the performers.

 The crowd was good, but more low key than I expected of being so near New York.  We were only four days out from the bombings in Boston so that may have been keeping everyone’s energy level on the low side.  For me personally, I couldn’t yell the way I usually do because each time I tried I set off a fairly explosive coughing fit.

Despite being an English band, Muse played us a beautiful rendition of our Star Spangled Banner.  I have no idea if it’s a normal part of their concert lineup or was a specific show of support since we, as a country, were still hurting at the time.

Muse is a band that’s big enough to pack a stadium but their fans are chilled enough that the lead singer can wander through the rows down on the floor and say hello to people up close and personal without fear of pandemonium breaking out.

My sole complaint about the performance was the guitar that got stabbed through the front of a bass drum in an uninhibited fit of rock n’ roll enthusiasm.  I have such love and respect for the skill that goes into the creation of musical instruments that I can never appreciate seeing them carelessly destroyed regardless of my level of concert high.

I absolutely recommend seeing Muse live if you ever have the opportunity to do so.  They are impeccable experts at their craft, masterful artists and highly skilled entertainers.  They reminded me once again that a stadium filled with fans, lights, and sound so rich and full that I can feel it within me is one of my favorite, most happy places to be.

Note: The video I linked is footage of the actual show I attended, but it's overlaid with audio from the album version of the song.  Unfortunately live audio recorded at concerts always comes out garbled.  They did a nice job synching the audio and video though, so it's still pretty mind-blowing.