Tag Archives: overweight

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 day I ate my grandma’s spinach soup

As far as my memory can tell, I’ve been fat – or at least overweight, for most of my 39 years of life. There are three periods when I wasn’t. As a toddler (based on photos from the 1970s), when I was doing my National Service in the Navy Band (I remember losing 5kg in the space of 3 months due to the rigours of this vocation), and right now.

Looking at the photos of my childhood time, it seems I began to look fat from around age 6 or 7. In the days past of Asian/Chinese society, chubby kids are a good thing, it suggests health and “prosperity”. But that view is not perhaps as popular today in modern, first-world Chinese societies.


Photo from noobcook (with recipe)

I had a maternal grandmother who was a great cook, and she raised me from young. I lived with her until around age 17 – and so, I ate well growing up. I remember one time she accused me of not eating my veggies – as almost all children are at some point or another. In a huff, I sat down at the dining table, where a large (really large, enough to serve a table of 6) bowl of spinach soup was sitting, still fresh from her stove, and I wolfed it all down in front of her. She was speechless.

If there was any reason that caused me to give my grandmother to think I avoided my greens, I hope she did not see it anymore after that incident. To be honest I don’t ever remember disliking vegetables, nor did anyone ever said I did after that.

Still when I think back, I feel remorseful for incidents such as these. I know now the responsibility of feeding children, as a father myself today. I know my grandmother meant well. Having said that, to date, I also have the nagging feeling that she was not aware of the dangers of a late 20-century diet, as well as we are today. She fed me as any grandmother who was born before the days of artificial flavouring would – to the best she could afford to.

So, I ate well as a child. I remember bite-sized pieces of breaded fried chicken breast meat which she made just for me (I think I’ve always preferred breast meat because of my grandmother’s fried chicken). I remember potato+luncheon meat cubes stir-fried with red onions. Her curry chicken remains a legend in my extended family. Only the wife of my eldest uncle, i.e. my aunt, can get the recipe right today.

My grandmother also fed me a few things that, when I think about it as an adult, makes so little sense that I’m forced to question just how severe the lack of knowledge/understanding she had on nutrition. She regularly made me a hot drink at night when I was not even 12 years old, usually close to 10pm. Milo hot chocolate was one option. The other? Nescafe coffee. Yes, I was having instant coffee before 12 years of age, at 10pm at night.

What is just as startling is that I had no idea of the impact on my health. How would I? I was a child. To my grandmother, I believe, it was simply giving her favourite grandson a hot drink. I vaguely recall on one occasion, my uncle (her second son), scolding me for making my grandma make drinks for me so late at night. I did not understand why that was wrong. Neither of us had any ill intentions.

My point is, was I overweight for most of my life because of the eating habits that I grew up with? Did my grandmother unknowingly inculcated these poor habits in me?

It could be. Though that is no reason for me to begrudge or blame her. She loved me, and in a typically maternal way, that manifested through the gift of food.

She once told me that, with MY kind of personality (friends – you’ll have to decide what that means!), I will never get married until I was past 30 years old. Feeling slightly shaken by this challenge, much like the veggies episode decades ago, I swore silently to myself to get married before 30 (which I did) and more importantly, give her a great-grandchild to play with and cook for.

I could not fulfil this wish. My grandmother died unexpectedly in 1996. I still miss her deeply.

My first child was born in 2002. She has never tasted my grandma’s cooking. My mom – the doting grandmother of my kids – is a good, experienced cook herself, and she’s a very close match in many ways, sometimes superior. What my children will also benefit from in terms of diet and nutrition is also my hindsight, the one I gained from growing up with my grandmother. I temper my grandmother’s good intentions with it. While this means many a lecture and reprimand about eating vegetables, I have on several occasions stir-fried potato and luncheon meat cubes, or made fish and chips. My grandchildren – these days I think I will live long enough to see them – will have to contend with my advice some day – I might just challenge them to eat a whole bowl of spinach soup some day.