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July 17th, 2004


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11:25 am - A Quest for Strength
I was five-foot seven, weighed 129 pounds, fit into a size 4, and I was obese.

Now, generally, the word "obese" has a certain connotation to it. It's an ugly word -- ego-damaging to say the least, unpleasant at best. But it's the image, the mental image, that goes along with the "O-word" that really makes you sit up and take notice.

"Obese" makes you think of "that other guy," for one thing. It's simply not a word that anyone joyfully embraces as a self-description. It also makes you think of that thousand-pound guy in the Guiness Book of World records, or the roly-poly plumber with a butt crack the size of the Grand Canyon who fixed your toilet that one time, or that one really big opera singer. That fat dude over there? Yeah, man, he's really obese. Dang, that lady can sure hit the high notes, but she's pretty obese. Geez, what the hell are his parents feeding that kid? He's frickin' obese!

Well, you get the point. With the emotional connotation that goes along with that word, I'm surprised you can say it on prime-time television.

What people fail to realize (and what I didn't quite comprehend) was that "obese" is a medical term with a specific meaning. Obese is supposed to refer to the percent of body fat on a person as compared to the rest of their body or to the person's Body Mass Index, or BMI. Not being a medical person, it's still a little unclear to me whether or not both of these go into the description of "obese" or whether they're used more or less interchangeably, but for now, I'm going to focus on the body fat percentage thing.

It had been one of those days. I'd barely made it to work by five minutes to eight, and hardly had the energy to concentrate by 5:00pm. I, a person who used to be able to work happily and consistently from 7:00am to 9:00pm, couldn't quit working fast enough. Hell, I was practically turning into a clock-watcher. It was really unlike me, and I felt guilt eating at me more and more as time went by and I limited myself to nine-hour workdays.

I was drained, exhausted, and I hadn't done *anything* of note that day other than sit on my ass and type. I would have gotten up from the computer and gone upstairs to take a nap, but that seemed like way too much effort. I felt like a zombie, or even better, like a wrung out dishrag. I was just hanging there, surfing the web, zoning out, when I happened upon some diet and fitness sites.

"Metabolism Calculator! Check your Basal Metabolic Rate" exclaimed one particular site. Hmm. Actually, that was rather interesting. Due to a recent illness, I'd spent nearly two months unable to eat solid food. In fact, I hadn't been able to tolerate anything but liquids, and we're not talking about SlimFast or Boost or other hi-calorie, hi-protein liquids. No, it was clear liquids, period. Do you realize that a gallon of chicken broth has like 10 calories? Okay, perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but the point is, it's practically impossible to not drop weight like mad if all you can have is clear liquids. It's like barely holding off starvation.

One thing I did know is that you're not supposed to fast, or drastically cut calories (below, say, 1000 calories a day) if you want to lose weight because when the body thinks it's starving, it will throttle back and hold onto every single last inch of fat as long as it can. The body is pretty chintzy about fat. Hey, it worked hard to store it up. It's been saving it for years. And then you come along with your Hollywood 48-hour Miracle Diet and expect it to give it up? Your body is going to say, "My fat! My beautiful, beautiful, shiny fat! You want to take it away? After all my hard work? Fat chance, bubba!"

The body will fight you with everything it has. It will lower its own metabolism so that it doesn't need as many calories. You'll probably notice it because you'll tend to be a lot colder, particularly fingers and toes. It can be 80 degrees out, and your fingertips will feel like you're getting frostbite. You can be shivering at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. While this can be almost pleasant at times in the heat of summer, mostly it's just painful. They tell you not to starvation-diet for just this reason: once the body has throttled back on your metabolic rate, when you do start eating again, you'll tend to gain all that weight back in spades while the body sits back and says, "HA! Try and take away MY fat stores, will you? Take THAT, bucko!"

I have a real love-hate relationship with my body, but I'm afraid that most of the time it's a bit heavy on the "hate" side.

Getting back to the metabolism thing, since I'd probably been living on about 200 - 300 calories a day, I knew there had to be consequences. I was able to eat more by that time, but having been over two-hundred pounds not long before, I didn't think I wanted to gain it all back immediately. The metabolism calculator piqued my interest: the recommended number of calories for your average adult was about 2,000, but I was pretty sure that my body, in its avarice, had likely cut that way back. I wondered what it was now.

Now, there are a lot of BMR calculators out there on the web that purport to tell you how many calories you need at rest, but most of them are based on age, height, and weight. They don't take into account people whose metabolisms may have been reduced due to illness or dieting. They don't take into account people who may not have what they expect to be a "normal" ratio of body fat, muscle, and bone. All in all, you have to be pretty careful about depending on the numbers from a calculator like that.

This one, however, was a bit different. It actually had several methods of determining your metabolic rate, and explained the formulae and the relative accuracy of each. The one that was said to be the most accurate went into a bit more depth than the others. It not only asked for height, weight and age, but also for frame size (it gave a way to measure that) and body fat percentage.

Of course, I had no way of knowing my body fat percentage, but I really wanted the most accurate metabolic calculation. This led me on another Google search for "body fat calculator" and "body fat percentage." After sifting through the fifty-gazillion sites that wanted to sell me weight loss pills, I found something associated with the U.S. Navy that explained how to get an idea of your body fat percentage through a series of measurements. I took out my trusty tape measure, and got to measuring.

I measured my wrist, my forearm, my waist, my neck, and God knows what else. I could have built a tailored suit with the number of measurements prescribed, but I did want accuracy, so I did it all. I punched the numbers into their handy-dandy calculator, and hit the submit button.

The number jumped out at me: 36 percent. I glanced at their translation chart, where they showed where various ranges lay for underweight, normal, overweight, and so forth, looking for where 36 percent fell in.

There it was, in red letters yet, at the bottom: "30%+ -- Obese."

OBESE??? I was a size FOUR, for God's sake! How could I possibly be obese? Obese was that other guy, that Guinness guy, that opera singer! Obese was big, and round, and ... dammit, obese was not a size four!

I did all the measurements again, more carefully this time. I typed them into the calculator, making sure I wasn't confusing pounds with kilograms or inches with centimeters.

Again, I hit submit.

Again, the site hit back with a rating of obese.

I sat back feeling as though I'd been slapped. I had almost forgotten my original goal, which was the metabolism test. I was in complete and total shock.

I was obese.

(...)

(4 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:cookiegirlie
Date:July 17th, 2004 12:54 pm (UTC)
(Link)
If you're obese, I'm a fucking whale.


Stop wasting so much time on google, sweetie. It's not good for you.
[User Picture]
From:otterprincess
Date:July 17th, 2004 02:05 pm (UTC)

0.o

(Link)
Ditto what Cookie just said. 0.o

*HUGS*

I suggest you step away from that thing and talk to your doctor if you ahev concerns. You know you have to build up your muscle mass form being sick, but that doesn't mean you're obese.

:( *HUGS* You are NOT Obese. That is a trully distasteful word btw. :? Worse than Fuck if you ask me.

*HUGS*
[User Picture]
From:zootnarf
Date:July 17th, 2004 05:13 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I got my BMR tested at Bally's gym. There's a fairly new invention that accurately tests your breathing rate for 5 minutes and tells you your BMR. Even with the measurements you took, and especially with your unique situation, your actual rate could be wildly different from what you calculated. Mine certainly was. I think it was only $20-$25 for the test. Totally worth it. I had already figured out through trial and error how many calories I needed to maintain and how many to lose weight, but it was nice to have the confirmation of the test.
[User Picture]
From:mrsveteran
Date:July 17th, 2004 06:06 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Thanks for the vote(s) of confidence, guys. It was a bit of a shock at the time, that's for sure. :-) What you have to understand, though, is that when they're talking about health risks in being overweight, they don't mean it's unhealthy to be a size 18 or 24 -- they mean it's statistically unhealthy to have a certain body fat percentage. Mostly, they just assume "overweight" by height vs. weight, but that's wildly inaccurate for a lot of people. Someone can appear "fat" and actually have a perfectly healthy body fat percentage.

Or someone can have their ribs and collarbones sticking out and be obese, apparently. :-) There's quite a difference between the word when we use it as an adjective, and what the term refers to medically.

zootnarf: Yeah, eventually I did have the BodyGem test done. (It was like $50 bucks with a local shop here.) Actually, the results from the last web-based BMR calculator whose formula included the body fat percentage was exactly 3 calories off the breath-tester, so I think that one's about as close to accurate as you can get without machinery, or at least, for me it was. I'll have to recheck it and do another breath test thingy now that I've been working out for awhile and see if it still matches up. If it does, it's sure a lot cheaper to go with the web one. :-)

In case anyone is interested in getting your metabolism tested, there's a website where you can look up locations of where they offer the test here: http://www.healthetech.com/locator/ I'm not entirely sure this is the same thing zootnarf is referring to, but if not, it does basically the same thing: little gadget that you breathe into for a few minutes which tells you your base number of calories you'd need if you did nothing but rest. Rather a nifty thing.

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