Weighty matters

In between all the other mayhem going on in the world, the international media have made a big thing about a Lancet article on obesity trends in the UK and US. According to the headlines, 50% of the population of the two countries will be obese by 2030. A less excitable view is that this extrapolation based on limited data is very much the worst-case scenario. Even so, the current situation is horrific: 30% of Americans and 25% of Brits are obese as it is, and increased expenditure on diabetes drugs alone threatens to bust health budgets.

I had my own brush with this problem at my first-ever annual health check at Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital in late May, at which the impertinent, visually impaired doctor claimed I was overweight. Surrounded by tiny 4ft 10in nurses and massively fat Arab patients, he was probably confused. But I decided to humour him and his assertion that I had a body mass index of 27.5; over the previous year or so I had become aware of a gradual apparent tightening of my clothing, so it would do no harm to trim a few inches off to spare me the trouble of demanding my money back for shrinking apparel.

In the following eight weeks I shed 22 pounds, resulting in a BMI of 24.5, which gets me back into ‘normal’ range (to be classified as ‘obese’ you need a BMI of 30). And I did it without really cutting back on beer, a substance that, as Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, is proof that God loves us and wishes us to be happy. I also did it without doing extra exercise, since the idea is for the weight loss to be permanent, and flab lost through a sudden spate of visits to the gym simply reappears as soon as the physical regime ends.

It was easy. And the looser clothing feels great. When I mentioned this to a couple of slightly portly acquaintances a few weekends ago, they expressed great puzzlement. Constant efforts to diet had resulted largely in failure. How did I do it?

When I asked the doctor in Bumurungrad what I should eat less of, he said “everything except vegetables and fish.” My diet was already pretty healthy, with hardly any sugar and limited amounts of fat, dairy and meat. But I simply ate too much; my and my amah’s culinary skills are such that the healthy food I eat is delicious, and the bigger the serving, the greater the pleasure.

My new regime was essentially about cutting quantity, especially of starch. Cut the amount of rice, bread and potatoes by half, already limited meat by a bit less, and bulk up these smaller portions with whole rather than refined grains and all-you-can-eat greens. With less starch, you might feel hungry for 10 minutes after you finish the meal, but then, interestingly, you feel full. Most of us, without realizing it, overeat because we don’t stop shoveling stuff into our mouths in time.

My acquaintances have tried it, but with no luck so far. Their challenge, I suspect, is that they eat mainly Western (indeed, US/UK) meals, named for the lump of meat occupying much of the plate (‘lamb chops’, ‘steak’ ‘roast pork’) with plant-based items added almost as an afterthought. For a couple of decades, purely out of taste, most of my meals have been Asian. That’s not automatically less fattening – look at all the tubby Southeast Asians tucking into curries full of coconut cream. But Asian dishes seem a lot easier to scale down, not least because meat is more of an optional garnish. Restrict yourself to half a lamb chop for dinner and you feel deprived; a spicy gado-gado with tofu is at least as good to eat and filling.

My rotund acquaintances face the same hurdle as Western vegetarians, who fixate on the need for a ‘meat substitute’ and end up eating processed, packaged meat-free burgers and other disgusting travesties full of salt and fat. Most Western-style dishes seem to need quite a substantial quantity of meat to be gastronomically balanced. Maybe those who think a meal isn’t a meal unless it needs gravy or ketchup poured on it are condemned to tubbiness. Or cutting out the beer.

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17 Responses to Weighty matters

  1. Maugrim says:

    Stress is an issue here. I was overseas and grazed with abandon, especially decent seafood, yet I lost weight. I find here that even trying to be conscious of what I eat has little effect with our stress-laden desk bound lifestyles. Dont even get me started about an exercise regime, its filthy outside at present.

  2. Probably says:

    Totally agree. Have been doing something similar myself for the last few weeks and also fololwed some advice from those in the entertainment industry about not consuming meals after 9.00pm (although the more extreme say no meals after 7.00pm but this may present practical difficulties for some).

    Anyway it certainly works as I have shed around 10 lbs without giving up the elixir of life that is beer. Off to have my tuna and chilli salad for lunch now!

  3. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    This post is pushing a 9/10 on the smugness factor. I feel like I’m reading a men’s health magazine.

  4. AHW says:

    I don’t think it’s a problem with all western cuisines – just SOME cuisines (British, American, Australian, German, chiefly) and SOME people (men!). And isn’t it rather a 1950s/1960s view of vegetarians that they focus on meat substitutes? Though I do concede that those awful Linda McCartney frozen meals do include “sausages”.

    I’ve been following a diet consisting of mainly veggies, beans, nuts etc with the meat just a couple of times a week for years! Lots of south Indian style curries (easy on the coconut & ghee), and Middle Eastern dishes, among them.

  5. Vile says:

    Stress is a recognised fat burner, as is fidgeting. Hence the svelte appearance of much of the populace despite a diet largely consisting of oil and salt, with a few bits of rice or noodles thrown in.

  6. Old Timer says:

    I’d be a lot more inclined towards vegetarianism if people stopped using the word veggies to make them sound more fun and edible. It’s the dietary equivalent of the even more repellant “hubby”.

  7. Real Tax Payer says:

    Maybe if we feed enough of the wrong stuff to Henry he will turn into a donkey ( but he’s eating so much bad stuff anyway that will probably happen of its own accord)

  8. Iffy says:

    TFF: Likewise. The saving grace was the pictured Philly cheesesteak (needs more cheese) and fries.

    Of course, this was seasoned with my own smugness for having a metabolism which allows me to eat meat and drink beer in copious quantities, probably to my heart’s discontent but, more importantly, to my waistline’s indifference.

  9. Walter De Havilland says:

    The BMI is discredited as measure of obesity.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439

  10. The Regulator says:

    Eliminate all free radicals

  11. “Save the Free Radicals!”

  12. Stephen says:

    Perhaps if Hemlock walked down the hill to work in the morning, instead of gliding along the Central to Mid-Levels escalator, (walking up perhaps is a bridge too far?) then he would still be free to enjoy Steak and Chips and a Pint without resembling some of the expat “athletes” we see around town.

  13. Walter De Havilland says:

    Burn more calories than you consume and the fat will fall off you – it’s that simple.

  14. Real Tax Payer says:

    I think Chopped Onions IS (are? ) a free radical !

    LOL 🙂

  15. Probably says:

    @chopped onions (who should know all about food indulgence)
    what happened to the blog?

  16. Spike says:

    This approach is well-documented from a number of sources and I’m sure you didn’t just pull it out of thin air; Michael Pollan being particularly notable in writing about “Food Rules” and the ratios of meat to non-meat.

    All of that aside, there’s still too much that we don’t know. Should we drink milk? Why is it that man is the only species that routinely drinks the milk of other mammals? 8 glasses of water a day? Or 4? Or 16? or none? Or W.C. Fields, “I never drink water, fish fuck in it”?

    Here’s the root of the problem, pun semi-intended. In the 1970s, Earl Butz, the US Sec’y of Agriculture under Nixon, decided to give massive federal subsidies to farmers who grew corn. The farmers started growing massive amounts of corn and stopped growing other stuff. The non-rotation of crops is doing massive ecological damage. Meanwhile, with all that corn, more uses had to be found for it, hence high fructose corn syrup and its presence in almost all processed foods. Hence using corn to feed animals that were never meant to eat corn, animals that get sick and require massive amounts of chemicals to keep them alive until they’re fat enough for slaughter. All of this adds up to a drastic increase in obesity worldwide (thanks to the US companies’ global marketing and distribution abilities) over the past 40 years. And it ain’t gonna stop any time soon.

    And yeah, I’m sure you’re self-aware enough to already realize but I can’t help joining a couple of others in pointing out that this is yet another of your “I’m so much better than everyone else” posts. (I probably do them more than you.)

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