Fat and Health: Reflections of a Low-Class Mainer


By Patsy Nevins

The Total Transformation (Minus the Weight Loss)

I’m Patsy Nevins and I’m what you might call a bad fatty.

I wasn’t always a bad fatty, though. My body is actually breaking down with aging and because of many years of over-exercise.  Conservatively, I estimate that I have walked 65,000 miles.  In addition, I lifted weights a lot, pushed myself to do, at times, 1500 stomach crunches per day for years. I wore out an exercise bike and some other exercise machine after putting over 4000 miles on each of them.  Was that about health?  Hell, no.  It was about trying to control and sculpt my body and also trying not be seen as a ‘cripple,’ to show I could measure up to able-bodied people. I believed, without question, everything I had been told about fat and health. I needed to be thinner. I needed to be active every minute of every day or face cardiac arrest.

I don’t think that way anymore, but I continue to be active. To this day, my husband and I go to our son’s house very early in the morning 3 or 4 days per week, any day school is in session and our daughter-in-law works.  We get our granddaughter ready for school, walk her to the bus stop, and then, once she is on the bus, we walk home.  If we come directly home, this involves 40-45 minutes of walking.  On days we do not go over there, I walk around the neighborhood 30-35 minutes or so and that is more than enough. (Neither of us drive, by the way).  These past few days, we decided to go to some different stores…a Family Dollar and the drugstore and to Subway to pick up sandwiches for lunch.  Yesterday, I walked 75 minutes after leaving our son’s house. Today, it was over 90.  I was worn down and in a great deal of pain.  Is that particularly healthy?  I am sitting here, thinking I need to wash the kitchen and bathroom floors, but my sane side says that I should rest and save it for another day.  I guess I am just a lazy fat slob. (Of course, someone once said to me that I have already exercised so much that, if I never walked again, I should have enough ‘health benefits’ logged to last me until I am 110.)  That is also one of the claims I have seen going around, that you gain 2 hours in life expectancy for every hour you exercise, in which case I should be challenging Methusaleh.  Another popular one (have you noticed how much they LOVE arbitrary numbers?) is that we need to take at least 10,000 steps per day in order to be healthy, on which Sandy immediately called bullshit.) Anyway, I’m done feeling guilty about it. I do what I need to do, I do what I want to do, and what I can handle physically. End of.

Sleeping Giants? Not Really

Some of you are probably reading and thinking that I’m exceptional, but I doubt it. One of my many pet peeves involves the claim that Americans, fat and thin, are more sedentary than ever before and that we must DO something about it! How many Americans are really that sedentary? They don’t want me to count the walking around parking lots and in stores shopping, trips across the street to the convenience store, cooking, dishwashing, sweeping and washing floors, putting away laundry, scrubbing the bathroom fixtures, sink, sideboards, stove, and microwave, all the playing with, running after, and taking care of my granddaughter, my 20 trips per day to the kitchen or bathroom for a drink or a potty break or just getting up to stretch my legs because I stiffen if I sit too long.  We are not supposed to count standing or dancing around in the shower while we bathe, or putting out the trash, or going to the mailbox.  People who are sexually active are not supposed to count sexual activity as movement, which I believe it is (unless you are a corpse, in which case it is just plain disgusting.)

Besides, how many people have lived ‘sedentary’ lives, as defined in today’s insane world, and still lived to a ripe old age?  Sandy repeatedly asserted that some moderate activity is probably good for you, but also pointed out that no one can establish any real health benefit for more than 30 minutes per day of something like walking.  My mother is a prime example.  She did not exercise. (I was, in fact, considered a ‘weirdo’ by my whole family for always being out walking, which was partly for the exercise and the adolescent desire to be thinner and partly to escape my insane, abusive, alcoholic parents when I could.)  Two or three times, when I was in high school, Mother thought walking looked like a good idea and decided to walk with me. She made it about 100 yards before doubling over with a stitch in her side and practically crawling back to the house.  She lived to be 85, 40 of those years with only one kidney because she inherited kidney disease from her father and grandfather.  In the years I knew her, my mother’s mother specialized in walking from bedroom to kitchen to couch to someone’s car because she was always ready for a ride and she loved to be waited on hand & foot. Probably that fact, along with using lard instead of olive oil, accounted for the fact that she only lived to be 90 instead of 110.

The Maine Motto: Don’t Get in My Face.

I’m a typical Mainer, alright. For those not in the know, we have a good number of people who drink, smoke, eat a high fat diet and usually don’t exercise much, but who manage to live to be very old.  Mainers seem to excel in that kind of thing.  We can also, especially the older Mainers, be very independent and often cantankerous and not appreciative of anyone telling us how to live in our own bodies. Even the majority of Maine people who swallow all the bullshit they are fed by the media about the ‘health risks of obesity’ and so on.  Maine has one of the highest rates, by percentage of population, of people who still smoke of any state in the country.  The convenience stores would have to close their doors without the drinkers and smokers. We don’t take to the kind of nannying that has become so popular in our culture.

Of course, that doesn’t stop the powers that be from trying. Maine TV networks have been running ‘healthy living’ PSAs on and off for some time now. As far as I can tell, they have had very limited success with them. One of my favorites was one which showed a couple at the dinner table.  The voiceover said, “How much is on your plate? Probably too much.”  What was on their plates was a scoop of mashed potatoes, a serving of peas, one of carrots, and one smallish slice of meatloaf. Strangely enough, I would have thought that they would consider that a balanced meal. It used to be. Most people these days, even fat positive people, seem to believe that, even if we are not completely healthy, we need to live the best life we can live to maximize our ‘health potential.’  What the hell is going on in a world where people routinely throw around phrases like “maximizing health potential?” Hell if I know.

No Safe Space

So Maine is not the place to go yapping about healthy lifestyles. That said, the message has gained some traction in our culture. All these beliefs about fat, food, and health are so widespread that I notice a great many ordinary, lower to lower-middle class (the majority of Mainers) accept them and parrot those lies without even thinking about it.  We live almost directly across from a very successful convenience store, which is also doing a huge business making and selling homemade pizzas, submarine sandwiches, and now they have added Southern- style barbecue.  I go in several times in the course of most weeks to buy a sandwich, a pizza, or some small grocery item.  I went in Sunday and picked up a couple of chocolate bars and the cashier (a man in his 40s, a smoker, lower income himself…you don’t see a lot of PhDs clerking in convenience stores) muttered, “Ah, junk food run!”  I didn’t feel like spending 15 or 20 minutes trying to educate him or raise his consciousness and I know he meant nothing by it. Yet it is representative of how completely people buy the BS we are constantly sold, even people who themselves may smoke, drink alcohol, perhaps do not exercise, and who eat a pretty standard American diet.  Even if they eat it, they still internalize the constant message that what they are eating is junk.

Opening My Eyes…

I, on the other hand, do not believe in junk. Part of my awakening on THAT subject, aside from what Sandy was teaching me, came from reading labels and seeing first-hand that at times, something which is labeled ‘junk’ has more actual nutritional value than some other food labeled ‘healthy’.  After reading Sandy’s blog post about the subject, I tested it out with a chocolate cake I had in the house. He said that the cake contains flour, eggs, oil, and milk. Some cakes contain fruit. Chocolate cakes contain chocolate/cocoa, but are labeled ‘junk.’ Cauliflower, which is mostly water, has traces of a few vitamins and a little fiber, is labeled ‘healthy.’ The chocolate cake I had was store-bought, so it had a label with nutrition information. One twelfth of that cake had 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 200 milligrams of calcium, 15% of daily RDA of iron, 10-15% of several B-vitamins.  Yet, I am supposed to believe that cake was junk food and that I should have been eating cauliflower instead.  People often discount potatoes as a REAL vegetable, yet potatoes are one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables you can eat.  Just ask the Irish.:)

And It Goes On and On and On and On…

These days, there is no escape, for anyone, from messages about how we should be. Diet isn’t the only thing that our children are routinely lectured and shamed on. I hate the way children who are not athletic or who are not interested in sports are made to feel less than. Shaun, my younger son, was a decent baseball player and a skateboarder. He played until he was 16.  However, he hated school and scraped by in most subjects, so he was never on a school team. He only had a few friends, and they were generally nerds or weirdos social outcasts of some kind.  All through middle and high school, they spent every hour they could find playing Dungeons and Dragons and reading fantasy novels.  Everyone told me that Shaun was the brightest of all of them, the most creative, that he could create whole worlds of his own and who new species of characters.  Yet, he ‘failed’ to be the son his father always wanted. That title was claimed by our older son, Prince Eric, the boy who, according to John’s mother, can and could do no wrong. (Of course, he spent the first 14 years of Shaun’s life constantly bullying him and causing him to feel inadequate, but that’s neither here nor there.) Eric’s only shortcoming, in his father’s eyes, was an absolute hatred of team sports, but never fear…he LOVES hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, biking…you get the picture.)  I am the only one for whom Shaun has always been fine as he is. As far as I’m concerned, no one should be victimized by that mentality for any reason. It’s not any less healthist when you make the ‘good’ kids fat.

Despite my best attempts to influence my grandchildren in a positive way, the disease of healthism has carried over into another generation. I have two granddaughters, both approaching 7.  The one I help care for is allowed to play video games, watch TV, eat what she wants to eat, and to decide how much to run around aside, of course, from gym class.  The other one has been pushed into early education since she was 2, is pushed into all kinds of sports activities…cheerleading, soccer when she was 3 years old, etc.  She is in the Girl Scouts, plays softball, and barely has a second to call her own.

My older son, her father, is obsessed with staying thin himself, with healthy eating, and virtually every mouthful Sasha eats is monitored.  When she was 2 years old, I saw him run around at my other DIL’s bridal shower, telling her that she needed to stop eating cheese, crackers, and fruit, because she had had ‘too much’ and obviously was not hungry anymore.  I hate eating with my son. He always gives me a ‘You don’t need to be eating that’ look and occasional health lectures.  I guess he does have sense to know that I exercise as much as I really can, though I am sure he would not believe me if I told him that I exercise more than anyone actually needs to for health benefits.

I really worry about Sasha, about her issues with food, body image. I worry how she may either be totally crushed or reach the point when she rebels so much that she self-destructs.  Karmyn seems to have a healthier relationship with food, though I think school is trying to change that.  A couple of times, we have been eating something and she asked me if it was ‘healthy’ or if the chips and dip she loves was ‘junk food.’

Something’s Gotta Give

I am not rich, or famous, or beautiful. I am not a fashion maven. I don’t have any impressive college degrees, only an associate degree from Beal College. I live in a poor state full of people with ‘unhealthy lifestyles’ (even though it is not uncommon for people in Maine to live past 90), and now I am old and “out of touch.” I am also disabled, a survivor of poor, uneducated, abusive parents, and I never had any kind of career. My life is worlds apart from theirs. How can I contribute to fat acceptance? Why should I have the right to have an opinion about things? Why should anyone listen to me? It is strange how you can spend well over 30 years working on fat acceptance and still get the feeling that you don’t belong. Every day of my life, I witness fat people with politically incorrect lifestyles living long lives. Every day of my life, I see stubborn, independent people who, in word and deed, take a stand against healthism. I see the damage wrought by healthism. My life is worlds apart from that of your average activist, but my voice does matter. And I’ll keep using it until I’m heard.

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3 comments

  1. Rebecca · May 18, 2012

    I really really want to read Sandy’s post “calling bullshit” on the 10,000 steps rule, but I can’t find it anywhere on the junk food science blog. Can someone please help me find it?

  2. JoannaDW · May 18, 2012

    I don’t know where Sandy’s remark came from, but Patsy will. She’s logging in tonight so stay tuned. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Patsy Nevins · May 18, 2012

    Sandy’s remark about ‘10,000 steps’ was in a personal email to me. I asked her about it after I saw a headline about it online, & she explained that in real studies, in actual science, especially concerning something like ‘health benefits of exercise’, it is nearly impossible to use arbitrary numbers, & reminded me that countless studies have not been able to find a health benefit for anything more than about 30 minutes of moderate activity per day. I myself, given my history of several long periods of compulsive exercise, have gone through periods of YEARS of taking 12,000-14,000 steps per day; the ‘benefit’ I got from increasing my activity level that much was mostly a lot of added wear & tear on my joints & a faster progression of my arthritis.

    Sandy did do a post on October 29, 2007 about the increasing prevalence of sports injuries among younger & younger people, including those who are not specifically competitive athletes…children whose bodies are pushed to work out harder & in different ways than their bodies are prepared for, but mostly in this one, young to middle-aged adults who require joint replacements in their 30’s & 40’s which used to be done on people in their 60’s & 70’s.

    The post of June 13, 2009 called ‘Paradoxes..compel us to think’, was about a study showing the protective powers of fat in older people & that, at least for men over 65, it appears that the fattest & most sedentary of them have the lowest mortality risks. She also pointed out the fact that cardiovascular fitness is not just or even primarily affected by exercise, but more by aging & heredity. Physical ability, body strength, & body type are influenced largely by heredity.

    I know that this does not provide a complete & specific answer to the question asked, but, since I don’t keep personal emails for 2 or 3 years or more, it is the best that I can do.

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