The Fat Epidemic

Jay Ashman posted on Facebook about and article stating by the year 2030, 39 states will have obesity rates over 50%. Alarming indeed. Don’t forget every state in the U.S. is currently at least 50% overweight or obese. These numbers are based on the BMI, something I abhor. The BMI is just a ratio of weight and height and it doesn’t take into account body composition. It’s a way to quickly get a gauge of a body type from an epidemiological perspective. If you are lean, yet lift, you’re probably going to be overweight or obese. “Overweight” consists of a BMI 25≤x<30  whereas “obese” is x>30 (how many of you sprouted giant boners over that “greater than or equal to” sign? Edit: You probably had a limp wiener since I originally put the signs backwards…jeez louise).

America, reporting for duty, sir!

This topic has been dear to me for years, though I used to be a bit more rabid about it. For example, in my senior English class we studied Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest, most ballsy, and badass satirical writers in history. We had to write our own “Modest Proposal”. I don’t have a copy any more, but my proposal consisted of placing all of the world’s fat people a space vessel and shipped directly into the sun. Despite my logical, well thought out validation, my overly obese teacher was not amused and clearly disappointed.

The truth hurts, yet truth is real. We don’t have to tip-toe around this subject; “overweight” and “obese” are faulty versions of saying “fat”. It isn’t offensive to state someone has a particular characteristic, especially when it’s something they can control. If your friend is being an asshole, then tell him politely he’s being an asshole and discuss how you can mitigate his assholeish tendencies. If someone is complaining like a baby, then explain to them why whining about it isn’t going to help themselves or the group. Note that you shouldn’t say, “Cry me a river you fat fucking baby,” to adolescents dressed like gangsters in a dark parking lot, even if it’s a quote from “Varsity Blues”, because then you’ll get punched in the back of the head like I did when I was in high school.

Sugar coating the fat issue is only going to make it worse (oh my GOD I’m on fire!). It’s not derogatory, because it’s fact. Not to mention there are scientific tests like “body FAT measures”. I’m not suggesting we go around declaring people fat and insulting them, but we shouldn’t have to feel obligated to search for a less “hurtful” term. If anything, being objective will act as a motivating factor.

Why is western civilization so fat? It’s undoubtedly a combination of many factors. Since the ’70s, the government has recommended carbohydrate rich diets. Each decade arrives with more unhealthy processed food. With technological advancement, more people have un-active, white collar jobs resulting in low activity levels. The lengthy work weeks and numerous forms of entertainment mean people don’t take the time to exercise. And even if they do, the fitness industry had adapted to try and bank on achieving results by “quick and easy” short cuts. Desirable body image has been reduced to frail, gaunt celebrities — possibly as a result of the white collar and technology societal shift. Society’s mindset has lost the concept of hard work and revolves around the “gimme now” mentality.

Regardless of the underlying cause, people simply don’t care. If they did, then they would do something about it and not be fat. Sure, it’s not easy; nothing of worth ever is. The lack of care and effort is my biggest issue with the fat epidemic. People are so irritatingly quick to say, “Well, some people can’t help it.” That’s bullshit. There might be a tenth of a percent of people that legitimately can’t help it (I think it’s much lower); everyone else is just making an excuse. Type II Diabetes is a result of destroying proper hormone function through poor habits. Can there be lasting damage? Definitely. Does it prevent the person from exercising and eating healthy? In almost all cases, no. If a kid grows up with an unhealthy family and is fat by 11 years old, he is definitely in a hole, but eventually has the autonomy to make a decision to live a different life.

I honestly think that society has bred a helpless mindset that looks to other people to resolve problems. As a result, motivation and habitual change are nonexistent. I know; I’ve been a trainer for a “Biggest Loser Challenge”. It’s so hard for a very fat, unhealthy person to do make a change like removing soda from their diet. It’s so hard to not sit on the couch and eat snacks. At the end of the day, some people are just not willing to do what they need to do to change their life. This is why Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped personal training; you can’t help someone who isn’t willing to help themselves.

What are we supposed to do? Honestly, there isn’t much you can do. Perception across an entire society is dependent on decades of change and influence. We can’t save the world at once. The best we can do is educate and help people that enter our social circles. Facilitation is always brought up when trying to motivate behavior change, but facilitation means precisely dick. It’s easy to spend 15 minutes, three times per week exercising. There are 96 blocks of 15 minutes in a day; 672 in a week. When someone can’t take 3, 6, or 9 of those 672 weekly blocks, they just don’t care, no matter how much you facilitate it.

Instead, do your best to educate in very simple and direct ways. Don’t create a mountain, just a hill. For example, suggest going for a walk around the block on a daily basis and tell the person to mark it on their calendar. Consecutive days make a chain on the calendar, and suggest that they don’t break the chain. Give them smaller goals in their diet. Stop drinking soda. Eat breakfast. Suggest simple things instead of lecturing them about insulin sensitivity and the paleo diet. “Crawl-walk-run” them through the process, but be concise and supportive. The support is probably most important. This “me generation” cares what other people think. It’s not common for someone to generate their own resolve and determination, but it can be contagious in groups.

Support is the only way you can help your family and friends. Don’t preach; ease them into it. Coaches and gym owners have even more responsibility to reach out to new clients and retain them. This, of course, is normal “business duty”, but you should only be in this business if you care. Shit heads that own local gyms that thrive on signing un-used memberships are only part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. Make a difference in helping people lose fat. Teach the basics, but be personable. Welcome them, make them laugh, and challenge them as much as their personality can handle. Give every client a chance. You’ll always have a few that aren’t ready to commit, but you can always help the folks on the bubble.

For the ladies.
You don’t have to be a monster like Vince Urbank to set an example.

Gym owners and coaches also need to set an example with their physiques and lifestyle. No, you don’t need to be a bastion of rippling fitness, but you shouldn’t be a frumpy mess. The same goes for all of you other readers, trainees, lifters, and competitors. About 60% of this nation is at least “overweight”. Don’t allow yourself to represent this unhealthy, lazy part of the population. 70’s Big has never been about sheer mass due to fat accumulation, even through the “Adult Males > 200 lbs” phase. It’s not a mistake when the guys in the Hall of Fame are lean and jacked. Unless you’re highly competitive in your sport, you’re not doing anyone any favors by carrying excess fat. I’m not suggesting you work to be under 10% body fat, but aim to look like you’re strong while being strong. It’ll set a positive example, even if you don’t actively help people. For example, I’ve had many people over the years tell me, “I started exercising and lifting weights after seeing you around here.” You can’t complain about the problem if you look like you’re part of it.

Yes, the development of fat acceptance in the Anglosphere is disgusting, unfortunate, and even scary. There are always complaining discussions attributing blame, but the truth is that real change starts within the mind. It isn’t easy to be lean, strong, powerful, or fit. It isn’t easy for a fat person to change their habits and behavior. It takes hard work, will power, and commitment. Pride yourself on the ability to do these hard things and set an example. There will soon come a time when you meet someone that says, “I can’t.” Become a part of the solution, as you wear short shorts, and teach them this foreign phrase: “I can.”



81 thoughts on “The Fat Epidemic

  1. “Eat breakfast.”

    Justin, I think this is a phenomenal post and I agree with virtually everything you have to say here, but come on, are you still on the whole “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” thing?

    • I don’t want to be a D-bag, but THIS IS THE “CRAWL-WALK-RUN” SHIT HE IS TALKING ABOUT!!! It’s a simple change to get a person in the habit of doing something consistent and thinking about their food intake.

    • Everyone, be nice to fat people. They join our ranks all the time, so don’t scare them away.

      Yes, breakfast is important to someone who is fat. You’re suggesting that not eating a protein laced meal in the morning won’t help them? The research (and I haven’t checked the quality of it) shows that fat people will lose body fat by increasing protein intake and not doing anything else.

      • Yes, but my point is what’s the difference between them getting their protein intake in the morning as opposed to any other time during the day? Save for pre and post-workout, there really isn’t any scientific data to show that it’s preferable to eat at any singular point of the day.

        A lot of people (including myself) practice intermittent fasting which usually involves skipping breakfast and haven’t been affected by it all. If anything, I feel I’m much more effective in training and in life when I don’t consume a metric fuckton of food right when I wake up and instead wait to break my fast at noon or 1 PM.

        Point is, I just don’t agree that eating breakfast is necessary at all.

  2. Excellent work, Justin. This made me see the error of my ways. Whenever people asked me how they can make steps to get into shape, I always told them to get the fuck under the bar. A bunch of quizzical looks and dissatisfied looks later and I realized that approach didn’t work for people who aren’t immersed in this like we are. You have to learn to walk before you can run. Thank you, Justin.

    Second, BMI has to be the biggest load of bullshit ever. I am a National level Beach Volleyball official working towards my International certification. At the Junior World Championships in Halifax, I was officiating and everyone was subject to a BMI test. BMI is the standard by which International referees must abide by as far as physical fitness. The fireworks explode in my mind and my temples throb anytime I hear about BMI. I clocked in at 6’0 tall and 213lbs. My BMI was 30. Thank the good dude that the doctor recognized: “You are pretty wide, thick and have a lot of muscle mass, but you should bring the weight down.” As is the case when I travel for officiating, eating clean can be difficult, therefore I was a tad heavy. But the fact that an international governing body for Volleyball that has some extremely physically fit athletes, uses a sub-par and total bullshit method of fitness evaluation for its officials is completely beyond me.

    Shit, that was a mouthful (clap for obese joke, now!)

    Stay classy, everyone and keep it moist, ladies.

  3. True BMI story:

    Years ago during my “I have little kids and can’t find time to workout” excuse-making days, I attended a health fair sponsored by my employer. Making my way around to the BMI exhibit, I noticed that the two smokin-hottest women were working there. One of them convinced me to step on a scale. I never LOOK heavy – I can gain about 30 pounds of fat before anyone would notice. But my BMI was well into the orange territory. I wasn’t in bad shape, just not great shape. I hadn’t been to a gym in years but was still at least mobile and somewhat active. Anyway, one of the hotties looked me up and down and said “Well, do you work out or something?” Me, without a second’s hesitation: “Yes. Absolutely.”

  4. Regarding BMI:

    for people like us who lift, or athletes in general, I agree BMI is bullshit.

    HOWEVER. just as gym owners trainers and coaches should lead by example.. i think we shouldn’t go around crying BS to BMI because it gives people the wrong idea. Several years ago i read a study about BMI.

    In the International Journal of Obesity in June 2008, “Accuracy of Body Mass Index to Diagnose Obesity In the US Adult Population,” of 13,601 subjects, the following results were found,

    “BMI-defined obesity (≥ 30 kg/m2) was present in 21% of men and 31% of women, while BF %-defined obesity was present in 50% and 62%, respectively.”

    So basically how I’m interpreting this is that you don’t have to have a high BMI to be fat. (we know this…visceral fat..”skinny fat”)

    But here in lies the problem. Everyone goes around saying BMI isn’t a good measure of fat-assed-ness, and for a lot of people (lifters, athletes, old people) it’s not. But somewhere out there, theres a guy who has a BMI of ~30 and he’s thinking yeah well BMI doesn’t mean that much I don’t LOOK obese. And maybe he’s not. But maybe he IS carrying even more body fat than it looks.

    The way I see it. if you’re NOT a highly active person, you better take your BMI seriously. If you fall in the obese category, whether you think you look obese or not, maybe you need to have your BF% checked before ignoring it.

    • I believe the original intent of BMI (and perhaps to this day) was to measure “large, sedentary populations” so it could work for analyzing, well, the U.S. It doesn’t work on athletes, and certainly not for individuals or small groups, especially when they’re athletes. That’s why I hate that its used in the military (though I haven’t seen it in a few yrs now), and at a doctor’s office for a physical.

      “the interest in measuring body fat being due to obesity becoming a discernible issue in prosperous Western societies”…”BMI was explicitly cited by Keys as being appropriate for population studies, and inappropriate for individual diagnosis. Nevertheless, due to its simplicity, it came to be widely used for individual diagnosis, despite its inappropriateness.”

      *I believe the reference to prosperous Western societies indicates they’re fat and lazy, so it seems reasonable. :p

  5. Keeping the next generation from becoming fatticapped is a worthy cause, but we’re already fully engaged in the short shorts revolution. Can we really fight on 2 fronts, El Capitan?

  6. Tomorrow your post should be about anorexia. It’s easy to forget in times like these with alarmingly high obesity rates that it’s such a problem in society; in fact it even seems paradoxical. Many think anorexia is easy, but it isn’t – you’ve got to be hungry for it.

  7. I agree with just about every point here. Common backlash from the fat community is “I can’t help it” or “I was made this way/its how my body is.” Bullshit. Go tell a kid with leukemia “its not my fault I’m fat” or “theres NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT.”

    This is my biggest argument against socialized health care. With rising obesity rates (in this case, BMI is useful in that its used on “large, sedentary populations” and not a single person/athlete), the issue with this country is its health, not its health care. Pushing some 1000+ page policy is trying to put a band aid on the problem. I can’t support taking tax dollars to pay for preventable fat epidemics.

  8. The only part Left out is the criticism of the easily offended fat people being a stress on society an the healthcare system. The tollwhich the healthy people pay in their premiums that insure us basically for emergency only.

  9. I f*$%ing LOVE this site. As a coach, I agree that most people in life are ‘on the bubble.’ Those are the ones you can help.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  10. Great post.

    As a FFB (former fat boy; 330 – 190 @ 5’10”), I agree that there is no excuse but that you also have to baby step people into it.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say that negative re-enforcement (as suggested by “If anything, being objective will act as a motivating factor.”, though I know you mean well) did not work for me. If anything it made me want to stay fatter longer because “fuck them”. Then again I’m a stubborn mother fucker.

    • agreed here. I’ve helped by my parents lose weight and a few people I work with. Getting them in the gym is half the battle, keeping it simple and straightforward is the approach that has worked for them.

    • I agree with you. I wouldn’t say, “Okay FATSO, let’s get you in the gym!”

      I’d say, respectfully and within the context of the conversation, “Well, objectively you do carry some fat. With some basic diet tweaks and training a few times a week, you can really improve that.” This would be after leading them into this topic by asking their goals and stuff.

      I’m a tactician, man. I know how to do it.

  11. “Overweight” consists of a BMI 30≥x>25 whereas “obese” is x>30

    Hate to have my first post be about nitpicking, but this sentence bugged me that I had to correct it

  12. A friend of mine who works in human resources for a large corporation told me that funky fat people are starting to become an HR nightmare. He told me about a couple of instances where employees were too fat to properly wipe their asses. It got so bad that other employees would refuse to sit in chairs where the funky fatties had recently used. Imagine being so fat as to not be able to clean yourself properly. How do you tell an employee thst they have a stank ass problem.that must be rectified?

  13. You’re preaching to the choir here man. The problem, as you have stated numerous times before, is that people just don’t give a fuck. People in our generation (mid-20s and younger) were part of this fucked-up, entitled generation of assholes who grow up believing that they’re all special and different and that any affront to their self-esteem must be met with hugs and cookies.

    I finally gave up on the false idol of self-esteem and gained some fucking respect for myself and am half of what I used to weigh (over 450 at one point). Getting into strength training is what does it for people: it fixes the structural problems, reduces body fat, keeps lean body mass, keeps the ego in check and FORCES you to pay attention to what the fuck you’re doing. But again, most people will never do this. Shit gets too real for most folks. I’ve quit trying to convert people and just resigned myself to the fact that most everyone who’s fat is going to stay that way.

  14. “If a kid grows up with an unhealthy family and is fat by 11 years old, he is definitely in a hole, but eventually has the autonomy to make a decision to live a different life.”

    Exactly. Going into 7th grade I was a chunky kid, always had been, husky jeans and all. I weighed 120lbs. That summer I decided I was tired of being fat and I wanted to get in shape for football. I had no clue as to what I was doing. I ran, lifted some old weights my grandad gave me, and quit eating like a pig. I lost 15lbs over the summer.

    I still ate garbage, but I had just got out of 6th grade and was able to figure out that I shouldn’t eat most of a pizza for a meal. It involves dedication, will power, and, at some point, a little education. I certainly didn’t get any help from my parents, but I was able to lose the weight. For the most part it’s a path I’ve maintained.

  15. In the words of Arnold, “Come on, let’s get serious.” Two years ago the U.S. debated health issues, sort of, for the first time in about a decade. The debate completely ignored the elephant in the room: the American people.

    According to the CDC, Obesity (being fat) is the LEADING cause of preventable death–i.e. death from heart diesease, liver disease caused by fatness, other cardiovascular disease, diabetis, etc.–in the U.S. and has been for years. It blows tobacco, venereal disease and alcohol out of the water. When a person engages in risky behavior and gets a health problem like hepatitis (drug use, unprotected sex, etc.), for some reason we don’t have any trouble saying they have TB. But when someone engages in risky behavior (over eating and not exercising) we all have to tip toe, even though way more people are dying of being fat than anything else. It’s maddening to no end.

    The piece meal approach is definitely wise. People from time to time ask me for fitness/health advice becuase they know I’ve competed in weight lifting. I agree that encouraging them to eat whole foods and more protein and to start some form of exercise is the way to go. People need a steady stream of reinforcement before they can really commit to something. On the other hand, it annoys me to no end seeing people’s facebook updates about how far they “ran” today. One person in particular keeps putting up stuff like “ran my 5k in 40 minutes today!” Um…that’s not running…but good on you for trying to do something, sir.

    Oh shit the “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” marathon is back on. Later fellas.

    • Hellz yeah!! Last night, I got home from my soccer game, and was a little sore from DLs the day before. Thought a little foam rolling and stretching was in order. Turned on the tv, and here comes Honey Boo Boo indeed. I’m waaay more stupider than I was b4.
      Y’all best Redneckognize…

    • Nice post. It is interesting that we need to tip toe around obesity as if it is something out of the individuals control. Obesity is, in most cases, very controllable and more obvious than smoking or VD. The squeaky wheel isn’t getting the grease in this case. Smoking and behavior surrounding VD are certainly addictive, equal to or more strongly than overeating is, but those folks seem to be demonized more than fatties. I don’t support smoking or activities resulting in VD but it is a very interesting comparison you have brought up.

  16. Last week again I was in Copenhagen. First time in Scandinavia for me. I spent the first couple of days thinking “shit, everyone is really young here but they have kinda crappy skin.” Then I realised that they’re just slim over there, and I was seeing lots of 30-40 years old and mistaking them for 20 somethings because they weren’t tubs of lard. It was only when their hair turned grey (gray) that they really looked a bit old.

    Point being that modern life is not incompatible with maintaining a healthy level of fat. It does require structural changes that I doubt people in the UK and US are prepared to make. For example > 1/3 journeys is done on bikes in Copenhagen. There were bikes everywhere! This is practical because people live in apartments so the distances aren’t too large. (Really good, big apartments!) In the UK you just can’t get a family sized apartment if you’re not a millionaire. They also have a different approach to food. People still eat lots of convenience food, and not the kinda food we’d go for, but it’s still much higher quality than you find around here. For example there is very little white bread and the take-away sandwiches all had a lot of salad in them.

  17. Justin,

    Since you’ve now mentioned your modest proposal to send fat people into the sun in a couple of posts on the topic of fat people I think it may be time for you to reread Swift’s original which was actually in defense of the Irish poor and indirectly proposed solutions to the problem (doesn’t sound like your paper was in defense of fat people). Your teacher may actually have been upset and disappointed because you didn’t (and apparently still don’t) understand satire rather than because he was fat.

  18. I agree that our sense of helplessness is a huge factor, but I’d like to see your take on all the shit in our food (USA in particular). I read somewhere that our generation has a lot less testosterone than our fathers did, and I feel like that’s at least partially due to the soy/hormones in our food. Thoughts on organic vs. commercial meats? My fault if you’ve already made a post on it, but this post on fatties in America brought it to mind.

  19. speaking of crappy diet as a cause: There was a segment on NPR the other day (Rush isn’t on in the morning) about glycemic index and the importance of eating lower-index foods for weight-loss… and nowhere in the entire segment were the words Meat, Eggs, Protein, or any form thereof mentioned a single time. For “healthy fats” they recommended nuts only, and wrapped up with a comment about how steel-cut oats were so hearty compared to regular.

    Bunch of hippie, quasi-closet-vegetarians are in charge of our nation’s ideas of health, fitness and appearance.

    We have our work cut out for us!

  20. I literally just had this convo with a lady at work not 15 minutes ago at work. This is what we’re up against.

    Phone rings…lady at work who knows i train this is how the convo went:

    lady “hey chris i was wondering do you want to buy some protein? we’re buying a ton of it”

    me “hmm…maybe how much are you buying”

    lady “5lbs in cake batter flavor”

    me “that’s ok I buy it in 10lb lots (2-5lb bags) from samsclub for $37.88 free shipping.”

    lady “oh ok, but this is cake batter flavor!”

    me “umm…ok”

    lady “I don’t need this much (5lbs?) cause I only drink 1 or 2 shakes a week”

    me “Ohhhhkayyy, don’t want to get too bulky?”

    lady “Exactly.”

    me “Ok gotta run”

    I’m sure all of her nutritional information came from The Biggest Loser or The Dr. Oz show but c’monnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

  21. As I read someone somewhere say, Mother Teresa never lifted a barbell and and she was an awesome person.

    You are allowed to be fat and still be a fantastic human being. And I won’t ever harass you about it.

    BUT if you complain about your weight, bemoan your love handles, excuse your insatiable Diet Coke addiction or belittle my ‘fanatic’ gym routine I WILL TELL YOU WHAT IS UP.

    So I’m less of a missionary to the cause and more like a reactionary to the cause. Anyway, yes, support your overweight friends, gravity is already against them.

    • AND, just wanted to note. I think (my lady senses tell me) the most unhealthy men in my office are the two thinnest. The other men in the office admire/aspire their low BMI and encourage them to eat more but I watch these guys eat bulk bags of candy and triple servings of garlic bread for lunch. And they are the model of health here! Even among the male population, the scale is the only way these guys know how to measure health.

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  31. Bumping this old post after finding this very interesting article about a bioethicist suggesting increased shaming fat people can help obesity rates:

    One of the replies from an eating disorder ‘expert’ (against the argument) includes:

    “Deciding whether to smoke or not is a behavior,” she said. “The weight your body is is not a behavior.”

    That comment pretty much sums up Justin’s whole argument about fat acceptance and lack of personal accountability.

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