Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2011/ Wagons and Hedges

Wagons and Hedges

Falling off the Wagon

It's finally happened; I am entangled in the clutches of the Dietary-Industrial Complex. I have become one of those people, obsessing about my weight and counting calories and being even more of an unpleasant nuisance to those around me than I was before. In other words I am on a diet. I have reduced my portion sizes (again). I have been refusing delicious free food that nice people offer me. I have been avoiding potlucks and other social gatherings where food might tempt me. I have resolved not to eat before bedtime. I have cut out most of the variety in my diet, because otherwise I won't finish eating my pot of rice and beans before it goes bad. I am drinking lots of water.

I'm telling myself that this is not a diet, that I am trying to embark on a permanent lifestyle change. But who am I kidding? Day by day I am falling off the wagon; eating a bit more each day, snacking on a few too many candies and roasted squash seeds, feeling my resolve crumble. I miss noodles and potatoes. I crave muffins and cheesecake. I am less willing to be a little hungry, a lot less willing to refrain from eating when I am not really hungry. Maybe I will lose a few pounds, but it is going to be a struggle to develop better habits.

I did not want to be on a diet. I have been overweight for a long time now, and I felt smug and superior for not dieting. But I have been obese for over a year now, and now I weigh nearly 200lbs. My waist has been getting bigger, and I have almost hit arbitrary 40 inch threshold that doctors take as a flag for increased risk for heart disease and a number of other ills. I gave blood in January and my blood pressure was higher than it has ever been. Some of my shirts have been getting tight. I saw cheap underwear at a surplus shop, but it only came in "medium" sizes that I have been too fat to wear for five or six years. It has been getting harder to find clothes that fit at the thrift store, and I am too cheap to spend money on first-run clothes that would fit.

Then there is the diabetes, the genetic black cloud that hangs over my head. Diabetes runs in my family, and it is only a matter of time before some combination of stress and carbs and obesity combine to kill off my pancreas. Then life will get hard -- maybe too hard for me to take. Putting off the diabetes as long as possible is a wise strategy.

So I can't fool myself any more. Yes, I walk and bike. Yes, I'm vegetarian. Yes, I have reduced my portion sizes once already. Yes, I don't look obese at first glance. None of that has been enough.

The first few days of food restriction weren't that pleasant, but I am surprised at how quickly I adjusted to eating less food. I became more aware of when I am hungry as compared to when I am stressed or sleepy. Now when I eat two small portions equal to one of my old portions I feel uncomfortably full. I find myself thinking about food a lot, but I am not starving.

A big problem in my diet was eating too many treats. I would regularly eat 1000 calories of treats in a day -- a package of wafer cookies, or a couple of servings of noodles. Ironically, I have attempted to curb this habit by purchasing more candy. Instead of eating a cookie that costs 100 calories and will be gone in 30 seconds, I suck on a delicious butterscotch candy that costs 20 calories and lasts 20 minutes. Even if I eat 10 or 15 of these candies a day (and believe me, I easily double my ration of 5 candies a day) I am coming out ahead. Fortunately I have found cheap (and supposedly Canadian) "Nana's Own Butter Toffee" candies available at several stores in town, and I still adore them.

I don't like that I have become such a jerk to others about food. I don't like refusing people's offerings of food and socializing. (On the other hand, I have earned a reputation as being a pig who ate two or three times his share of food, so maybe I am not much further behind.) I certainly don't want to be judgemental of other people who are overweight or obese, and I don't want to make people who are heavier than I am feel bad when I refer to myself as fat. Some of the people who are most tolerant of me are overweight, and I like them a lot. But I also see some of the heavier people around me struggling with all kinds of health problems -- knee problems and back problems and arthritis and high blood pressure. I see some of them in chronic pain, and I know that I am running out of time if I want to avoid or postpone those health issues myself.

I hate you, Dietary-Industrial Complex. First you make all kinds of cheap, starchy, delicious foods available for my enjoyment, and you advertise those delicious treats heavily, and then when I go ahead and eat them you tell me that I am fat and unloveable and will be fat and unloveable until I lose weight. You're a liar, Dietary-Industrial Complex. I'm unloveable regardless of my weight, and losing weight is not going to solve any of my problems in the short term. In fact it is making me even less sociable than I was before. But maybe it will help in the long term. Maybe.

And maybe not. I am worried what will happen the next time I weigh myself. Maybe I have not lost any weight -- maybe my weight will be even closer to 200lbs. Maybe I will have lost too much weight; as a lifestyle change, I would prefer to lose weight slowly and consistently. Dealing with rapid weight loss followed with a plateau is going to make me even more discouraged than I am now.

Even as I fall off the wagon, I want to believe that some of this change will stick. Who knows? It has only been a few weeks (a few long weeks). Time will tell.

Hedging My Bets

In some sense, losing weight makes sense. I don't want diabetes, and I don't want chronic pain, and I don't want a heart attack if I am going to survive it. But in another sense this diet is ridiculous. I don't expect to live long enough for weight loss to make a difference.

I won't admit this in public, but I am genuinely and deeply frightened that the Calamity is coming. I don't know what the Calamity is, exactly, but there are lots of possibilities. Maybe the bees will die out. Maybe the oceans will acidify catastrophically. Maybe the wheat rust that is ravaging crops will hit hard. Maybe it will be drought or flood that wipes out cropland. More likely, it will be something that blindsides us but is obvious in hindsight.

The danger is that our food supply (or some other fundamental resource) becomes scarce, and as a result we begin to fight, which escalates into war. Drought causes lots of damage; war causes more.

What really frightens me is the time scale of such possibilities. I can conceive of scenarios where society is devastated within five or ten years. Even typing that out gives me the heeby-jeebies.

If such a scenario should come to pass, then all of this dieting will be nonsense. My issue in such a world will be getting enough calories in a day, not overeating. Carrying a few extra pounds would be an advantage in such a situation, so long as I can switch to a low-consumption diet easily.

Who am I kidding? If the Calamity comes to pass, I will be one of the bodies stacked like cordwood. I won't be one of the survivors. Once again, dieting seems foolish.

On the other hand, maybe the Calamity won't come to pass, or maybe it will come to pass but it won't affect me directly. There are seven billion people on the planet. That is a lot of human ingenuity that could in principle be harnessed. Maybe we will come to our senses and find some solutions to the problems that hang over us like guillotines. Maybe. If life was to continue as usual then maybe dieting makes sense again. I am not optimistic, but it could happen.

So I am hedging my bets. I am losing some weight in the event that I live long enough to benefit from this lifestyle change. But I am trying not to obsess over losing a lot of weight. According to my BMI I should be losing 50lbs. Maybe if I was serious about losing weight I could lose that much -- but I am not sure I want to. Why put all my eggs in a basket that predicts continued food abundance?

As usual, I am being pulled in too many directions. I can't resolve the contradictions and can't predict the future, so I am stuck taking half-measures and doubting myself at every step.

EDIT: And of course, tonight I fell off the wagon. Five devilled eggs, blue cheese, half a butter tart, a granola bar, a cookie, a quarter sandwich... let's just hope I can crawl my distended belly up that wagon again tomorrow.