LIFE can be really very ironic. Over a century after shaking off the shackles of slavery, we will find ourselves, a mere decade hence, one of the two fattest nations in Europe – alongside our former masters, the English.
How things have come to such a sorry pass, I don’t really know. We couldn’t possibly have frittered away the best years of independence aping our neighbours in every thing they did, could we?
I have a theory though that the demise of our sugar beet factories didn’t help our weight problems either. They say that there’s no difference between sugar made from beet and that made from cane, or whatever it’s made from these days. But, by all accounts, there’s a huge difference in how each is refined. It can’t be just a coincidence that the minute the Irish sugar factories were shut down, the weight of the nation began to soar. Maybe we should go back to growing beet.
That said, I think we’ve become too obsessed about the weight. How do you think it feels to be overweight in a society that baldly states you’re a disgrace and a burden to everyone who is fit and slim? It’s only a matter of time before they start imposing a flab tax based on Body Mass Index, with not even an allowance for a poor metabolism, and then some of us will have to take to the streets declaring that fat is a human right, and anyway, isn’t it in the genes? I think we shouldn’t be beating ourselves up too much over the increasing weight. All of Europe, with the exception of the Netherlands, is getting fatter. Maybe the EU’s food production policies should be reviewed.
But who am I to talk? I’ve spent most of my life trying to lose a few pounds in the interests of fitness – that is, to be able to fit into something that I knew I’d have outgrown again in a couple of months, because the weight loss, the odd time it did happen, could not be sustained. I put myself through hell trying to keep my chocoholism and sweet tooth under control, while the flab fought back tenaciously. Then the dopamine, which had always kept me happy in times of great stress, would desert me unceremoniously, leaving me as cross as the proverbial bag of cats.
Even after all that, I was nowhere near being just a shadow of my former self. Sometimes a fad diet or an impulsive bout of exercise would work and I’d lose a few pounds, and sometimes it wouldn’t have any impact at all. In truth, I nearly always gave up, convinced that I was genetically programmed to store up calories because of some ancestral experience during the Great Famine. I had the big bones of the Celts, I told myself, sympathetically, and no will power to boot.
Now, I’ve discovered a new school of thought which says that the people who give up easily and don’t persevere in the fight against obesity are pure perfectionists. If they can never be svelte, which is society’s ideal image, then what’s the point in losing a few pounds? That, exactly, is my problem with RTE’s ‘Operation Transformation’. I follow the individual leader’s struggles avidly and expect them all, after such self denial and suffering, to appear like pipe cleaners on the final night. When they don’t, I’m inclined to say, what the hell?
Contrary to what you may think, I’m not being flippant or politically incorrect. There’s nothing funny, I agree, about becoming the fattest people in Europe, but it’s slightly better, in my opinion anyway, than being the hungriest. I’m well aware, having spent half a night with a patient waiting for a bed in University Hospital Limerick recently, that the HSE can’t cope with us as we are. What’s going to happen when we finally break the scales and present ourselves at the A&E unable to even fit on a trolley?
I’m saying this because I know that it is most irresponsible to be poking fun at a nation of nouveau fatties in a time of crisis, especially when I’m part of the statistic myself. But I think that we should be more conscious of the sensibilities of those who are overweight, and we should be careful about feeding the image industry. Most of the time, overweight people don’t have to be told that they’re heavy, especially when they can’t find a dress to fit them. A lot of the time, they have low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence which the current aggressive anti-fat campaign is unlikely to resolve.
For me, the biggest mystery of generation Fat is this. If we’re really that big, why are all the chain stores stuffed with so many small and medium sizes? Why is it so difficult to find anything in large or x-large, not to talk of OS, anywhere, apart from a specialist store?
Maintaining a fit and healthy body is vital, of course, but, let’s face it, weight awareness has spawned a major industry. Everyone goes to the gym now, joins a fitness club or cycles to work after a session of aerobics. When I go for a walk, or a dawdle, to be more specific, I meet people I used to chat with on the road, running towards me, eyes fixed on the horizon and too out of breath to even say hello.
And now because people lead such sedentary lifestyles at work, workplaces are going to introduce ‘ the lunchtime mile’ where workers will abandon computer screens and office chairs to take part in some collective activity such as running, walking, cycling or jogging. Thank God, I’m gone from the workplace, because I’d never get a mile done in an hour, and anyway what about my lunch?
Certainly, it’s no laughing matter, but at the end of the day there’s nothing like a fit of laughter to burn up the calories, and maybe we don’t do enough of that anymore.