Category Archives: Health Potion

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)


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.

What would it take to persuade you to exercise?

“What would it take to persuade you to exercise?” asks this article, Changing Our Tune on Exercise, at the NY Times (27 Aug 2012).

It’s something that I think is very important. For years and years, I’ve always been too lazy to exercise. I still am.

“For decades, people have been bombarded with messages that regular exercise is necessary to lose weight, prevent serious disease and foster healthy aging. And yes, most people say they value these goals. Yet a vast majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — have thus far failed to swallow the “exercise pill.”

Exactly! Humans aren’t logical. We know exercise is good, but that’s no guarantee we’ll do it. No pain, no gain, right? Yes we know, but it seems our desire for the gain isn’t as strong as our desire to avoid the pain.

According to the article, researchers now say we should not be offering the prospect of “future health, weight loss and body image” as incentives to exercise. Instead we should “portray physical activity as a way to enhance current well-being and happiness.” It seems, people won’t bite if they see the benefits of exercise as distant or theoretical. The benefits must be reaped in the short term, immediately.

Well, so much for long term investment! We are still hedonistic, materialistic creatures of short term gains. But there is a point.

Essentially, Dr Michelle L. Segar, a research investigator at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, says we should stop positioning exercise as punishment for being fat and unhealthy. We should instead advertize exercise as a means of gaining daily, palpable benefits. She adds,

“Physical activity is an elixir of life, but we’re not teaching people that. We’re telling them it’s a pill to take or a punishment for bad numbers on the scale. Sustaining physical activity is a motivational and emotional issue, not a medical one.”

They say that different people have different motivations for keeping fit. Many do so for the classic reasons – to lose weight. But for some, such as the elderly, it is the conversations and companionship at gyms that are a bigger draw. For the younger ones, the need to look good is an important motivator.

I started out knowing that I needed a trainer to exercise. I never and still don’t have the will to exercise voluntarily. For more than two decades I knew I had to exercise, but I’d only succeeded in doing so by myself, maybe twice, and obviously my success was limited.

As my children grew, I began to feel that I owed it to them to live longer. I was tired of being fat. I was also motivated by appearance, except I didn’t realize it when I started. It was the sight of an ex-colleague who appeared at a reunion dinner missing practically half of her original mass, that really inspired me. I would go on to train under her trainer. And only the day(s) I found myself fitting into “slim fit”, size S and 29″ pants did I began to realize that, hey, the appearance factor is a BIG, AWESOME thing. It thrilled the hell out of me that I could finally look good. And it didn’t matter that I am age 39 – hey I look even better, I think, than some 20-somethings.

So, regardless of your motivation (or lack of), nowadays whenever someone asks me why I did this, among the words I use will always be something they may not have expected. Vanity.