All posts by Leon

About Leon

Trained in literature but not so much in music, web or nutrition, Leon comes from the era of hand-coded websites and still remembers the day the first GIF appeared on a browser and "Wow" was not a game.

It’s ok to be “pleasantly plump”? Millions of New Year Resolutions resolved

pleasantly plump

No, I think it’s just denial. :)

According to this research report, people who are slightly above ideal weight, based on BMI, are at lower risk of dying. Quite simply put: it’s good to be a bit fat.

Is it? I think the problem is what do you mean by 1) plump 2) “BMI above normal”.

This reminds me of the funny little incident last July when my doctor told me, then weighing 67.7kg with a BMI of 23.7, that “ideally your weight should be two kilos lower“.

The point is that when people rely too simplistically on BMI as an indicator of ideal weight, you run into situations where people become mistaken that all that matters is the number, not the actual state of health. I mean, BMI measures weight against height, but it actually doesn’t consider, to put it crudely, shape. The shape of one’s health and one’s actual shape.

The findings, by scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were immediately challenged because the report didn’t consider gender, age, fat distribution, or fitness levels, all factors that influence the risk of disease and death.

That’s to put it simply. Unfortunately, I suspect most people still don’t get it. And while the “report also shouldn’t be viewed as a free pass to overindulge, ” I think somewhere along the line, someone’s going to quote the headline out of context and overindulge.

OK, so here’re the problems:

Plump in fat or plump in muscle?

A person may be interpreted as “plump” because his BMI is a little high. That’s what my doctor thought. Clearly, being a busy polyclinic doctor with patient quotas in the hundreds, he didn’t really look at me very carefully, so I’ll quote my friends instead.

“You? Fat?” Incredulous look.

“Don’t be ridiculous! You’re too slim already!” Incredulous look.

But the doctor said I should lose another two kilos. My trainer wouldn’t really agree. While I can afford to lose a bit of fat, I cannot afford to lose more weight. I.e. muscle mass. There’s a difference, big big difference.

Two people with the same weight but different fat/muscle ratios can look very different. For example, these two women are about the same weight:


As the post succinctly says, “Just as a pound of feathers will look different from a pound of granite, so will a pound of muscle to a pound of fat. Fitness is more than a number on a scale. Two people may weigh the same, be the same height, but be in completely different shapes.”

For a very thorough look at this topic, see this great post at Julianne’s Paleo & Zone Nutrition.

The report suggests that being midly overweight is ok. But the real questions are: is it ok to be mildy fat? If it’s actually good to carry a little extra weight, are we talking about carrying more fat? Or is it really about carrying more muscle (which usually, hopefully, implies carrying less fat) ?

I’m afraid this report only serves to highlight the problematic thing that is BMI. As this article so nicely puts it, “BMI does not distinguish between the Michelin Man and the Terminator“.

Another one for the denialists

I see a lot of fat people these days in the streets, more than ever. They say America has an obesity problem. I think I can see it here in Singapore too, growing right before my eyes. Last year, I read an article/blog post on the internet where a woman (not Singaporean) was bitching about the fact that she couldn’t care less about being fat, that it is fine to be so, that fat people should be proud of it. Even scarier is the fact that a lot of comments to that article were in support of her sentiments.

My sense is that, the more fat people there are in the streets, the more fat people think it is ok to be fat. That it is the norm. It’s impossible for me not to be judgmental about this, but all I can say is I don’t think this is a good trend. And when headlines say things like it’s ok to be pleasantly plump, it only serves to make matter worse.


Further reading: The Problem With All of This ‘Overweight People Live Longer’ News (The Atlantic)


The “Sorry We’re Out” Moment


How many times have you been caught in a situation where, having identified something you can eat, the item is out of stock or not actually what you think?

I was at the western food stall just now, going to order grilled fish with salad, and some pasta by the side. “So sorry, we’re out of grilled fish. And pasta. And salad too. How about the fried fish?” Then goes the dieter’s brain. Calculate calculate calculate… this fat, that fried, so many carbocalories….. “Any more salmon?”

Thankfully yes. And fusilli in tomato sauce. And coleslaw. Not ideal, but better than fried fish.

“Is this breast meat?” I pointed to the picture of a grilled piece of chicken. “No, no breast meat. All thigh meat,” goes the Indonesian grill stall lady.

Chicken noodles, breast meat please. “Sorry ah, no more breast meat. Drumstick ok?” goes the Chinese noodle stall uncle. Before I could calculate, my mouth strangely said ok. It was an “out of ideas moment” – the sort that you regret making approximately 1.54 seconds after uttering. Or I was simply being too polite. Even though I hate drumstick. I paid up, resigned to the… let’s just call it an experiment. “Drumstick, extra 50 cents,” mutters the uncle matter-of-factly. Grrrrrrrrrrr. And it was an awful meal. Never do that again.

Two sets fish please. Mmmm, can I change the sides? “Sorry sir, the discount sets are fixed. Would you like the fries spicy or non-spicy?” The friendly chap at Botak Jones is a little apologetic. I’m after all a regular (of their Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken)  Umm…… one normal, one spicy please. You see the problem is that I’ve ordered already, so I’m too polite to change it. Especially when there’s a queue behind me.

One slice of papaya please. “So sorry,” the lady at the fruit stall frowns as she prepares to pack it, “The papayas aren’t sweet today. Would you like to have a slice of honeydew instead? They’re very sweet!” No, thanks, I said happily, the papaya is fine.

Wow, so many ways to die


Sometimes it doesn’t occur to us just how much marketing there is. And how “marketed” is the marketing. As in, have we ever thought about exactly what is being marketed here? Do we unconsciously assume that advertisers market for your benefit?

The food industry is a prime example of the veil marketing casts on people. The ads look great, the food looks fresh and brightly coloured and attractive, and the words call out its lively benefits to you. Or does it?

It’s funny, but when you’re on a diet, ads like this become exercises in warding off temptation, and by definition, it is from evil, the evil of spare tyres and clogged arteries and sugar overdose.

Funny how, once you’re aware of the dangers, these ads become almost horrifying in their brazen mission to get people to consume cuploads of caloric catastrophe. And with such vibrant colours!

It’s really ok to want to look good

Recently I met some old friends. At a kid’s birthday party. At a society AGM (oops, haven’t attended one for years).

On both occasions, I received certain remarks.

Me: “Hey man, you look good!”

Friend: “Thanks! But, surely, not as fit as you.”

And just yesterday, the one I got was, “I also want” as my friend cast his eyes on my torso.

Now I’m not here to boast. I’m here to say that, it’s perfectly acceptable to want to look good. I think many people, who feel they do not look good enough, whether it is because of having a bad shape or having bad fashion sense, feel they don’t have the capacity to look good.

When I was fat, I would look at myself, pinch the fat around my tummy and then have vague feelings of resignation and acceptance. Then it’s forgotten. Until the next time I do it again, be it in the shower or while snacking on something.  Every day or so that we do this, we slowly, gradually accept that this is it. It’s noorr-merl.

It’s normal that other people are slim(mer), that there will always be others who look better.  I’m “ok” with that. It’s a thought that lasts maybe a second. Then it’s back to normerl life.

But you still want to look good.  And, as I said, that’s perfectly acceptable. There’s nothing wrong with vanity.  Vanity is not a crime. It may not be something you want to brag or talk about, you may even think you don’t need it, or deserve it. But you can have it, really.

I can tell you, getting rid of that vague feeling of normerl life takes only about 6-12 months of committing to a exercise-and-diet regime. After that, you can look good. Really good, and be the target of envy. It is possible. It is entirely doable.

Changing your body this way is like walking into a portal into another world – you are surprised that this other, more beautiful world actually exists. You always thought it was just the stuff of fantasy. And when you are there, you don’t want to go back to the normerl world. You’d rather be ab-normerl in a world where being fat used to be the norm.