Of Things Big and Small

The fats of life

Most of us won’t mind losing one thing: weight. Few are those who are free from the fright of fat. Literacy and awareness expands this fear into fat-talks about low and high density lipoproteins. People talk about good and bad cholesterol. In modern times, there is abundance of everything and indulgence is proliferating. So, people drink, eat, exhaust, then eat and eat. Hedonism demands a high price of our health, they say. This consumption has caused not only health erosions but also a different body-culture.

Once upon a time, to be fat or full in the body was a sign of prosperity, fertility and also sensuousness. Fatness was even considered to be fun (as long as we are not at the butt of it). Almost every one of us would have had a fatty or ‘motu’ or a ‘moti’ in our circle of friends. With Harischandra’s honesty each of us can introspect - When we were in their company, it was fun. Even today, the very thought of them gives a good feeling. Fat was celebrated in our culture - Look at the rock sculptures of temples and other works… look at the paintings of Ravi Verma... Look at the motifs of historic builds… This was the case even with the other civilisations… the angels and women were cherubic and fat… figures were fuller and rounder. The men, women and other beings were always filling the space... fat and full...

Fat was fantastic in films also. Ask the folk who live south of India. The actresses were plump. Watch them especially in the mythological movies with their figure-tight, flashing and glittering attires. And so were the heroes. Most of them prosperously grew into a barrel shape and resembled close/distant cousins of Obelix. Then there were fat people specially built for comedy roles. Fat was fun.

But it has all changed. Now, being fat is not fantastic anymore. There are serious concerns of being fat or obese. Generations have become extremely figure-conscious. Look at any flip-and-forget magazine… there are ads promoting weight reduction and figure corrections… liposuctions, pills exercisers, uplifts… so on. There are photographs of before and after treatments, hilariously honest like our honourable politicians.

The ideals of today: Men in boxer shorts showing off their six-packs with whitewashed teeth, and women, anorexic but for being ample in the bust and protruding well in the posterior. If the inside of your stomach can touch your spine, you are beauty queen material.

But in reality, fatness and obesity exist in all countries amongst all ordinary mortals. Obesity, especially childhood obesity, is viewed as a problem in USA (and they blame India and China for eating away the world’s food produce!). Spending on obesity-related problems is expected to be a fifth of the total healthcare spending (now about $150 billion) in the US. WHO says that deaths due to obesity are more than those due to under-weight.

Prosperity and consumerism could be contributing but experts say lifestyle and type of foods are the major reasons. In Malaysia, where food is primarily non-vegetarian and fried in viscous palm oils, two out of every five adults fit into overweight/obese category. Eating out after sunset and late into the nights has become a regular urban habit and this also contributes to fat accumulation. The metabolic rate slows down at night and fat accumulates easily with high calories and higher cholesterol.

While genetic make-ups of individuals affect physical chemistry, in most cases consumption giving way to temptation is seen as the fitter reason for fat-forming figures. The BMI benchmark we have been brainwashed into qualifies you for overweight category if your BMI is greater than 30. The traditional school of thought says ‘Control Food, Control Fat’.

But modern science says it is not that simple. Leptin is the hormone in charge of the feeling that food is enough and if this does not tell the brain that the stomach is full, then we tend to overeat. Another complication is that the brain itself might be slow to respond (Warning: Do not reach for another potato fry!). Experts advise to eat slowly, stop eating when you are still feeling not full and wait for 20 minutes (because brain takes 20 minutes to respond) before you reach for the next helping (In the meantime, swallow the secreting saliva). And then there are the diet-control methods.

Mexicans advocate a menu of healthier foods. Indonesians suggest fasting. The Poles prefer eating at home for weight control. Japanese support short sleep-naps similar to the siesta of the Spanish and the Italians. The Indian recipe includes turmeric and yoga for weight control. Honey with lukewarm water also is supposed to control fat.

One of the RD surveys had turned out amusing results on the fat people front. For people of many countries, weight reduction and shapely figures are issues quite high on priority. Indians feel that weight issue matters for career progress in work places. Many Indian wives and husbands prefer their spouses to stay in shape. While for Brazilians weight control is a serious issue, Hungarians are happy about their spouses being just the way they are!

But physical figure is just a formality. What really matters is how human you are from inside. This is what a friend of mine from the MOTI (Malaysia’s Overweight Tamilian Indians) says. She has a Sumo wrestler’s stature and a soft human nature. She believes that if nature has chosen to keep you fat, why bother?

I cannot argue on that fact of life.

Apr 08, 2011
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Rajoo Balaji

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