‘Fat And Fit’ or ‘Lean And Mean’? Whose Life Is It Anyway!

Being larger than the average sized person is seen as not normal and the first perceptions most jump to, are always negative – that of heart diseases, sluggishness, gluttony and unhealthy lifestyle. Noshir Dadrawala busts both – myths and stereotypes – with this article, which elucidates how being healthy is not the reserve of the lean, how ‘fat’ and ‘fit’ aren’t necessarily opposites, and in fact, how ‘fat’ and ‘happy’ usually go hand in hand!

“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
From ‘Julius Cæsar’(Act I. Sc. 2)  

Recently I received a morning SMS from a fitness guru pontificating, “if you don’t choose to lose weight today, you might land up losing your life one day,” and I thought to myself, “How absurd! Whether you lose weight or not, you will die one day anyways!!” Fitness to me is a state of mind. I have seen the lean who hardly look or feel keen, and then there are those who are ‘fat’ but ‘fit’ and full of life and verve! What’s worth losing is ego and hatred and what’s worth letting loose are positive thoughts, words and deeds.

I am ‘horizontally challenged’ is supposedly the ‘politically correct’ term for those who are fat or overweight. Exactly what is the ‘challenge’? I suppose the challenge is about growing thinner or leaner by the day? Personally, I feel the phrase ‘horizontally challenged’ implies that people who are fat or overweight are ‘not normal’ and that being lean is the right way to be, or shall we say the “in thing”. Frankly, if one is short, tall, thin, fat, bald, white, brown, yellow, black or whatever, then that’s what one is! How is it anyone else’s business? Why make issues out of it?

I know folks who go to the gym or take long walks in trendy shoes and tracksuits at public parks. Most of them, I know, do this more for the ‘PR’ value than the exercise. See, when you go to the gym or take walks, you get to talk about going to the gym or taking walks. It’s a great conversation to have on the bus, train, carpool or at work. What gets my goat is that people don’t even care what one does at the gym – they’re impressed no matter what. To ninety per cent of the world, the physical act of simply going to the gym or taking walks is enough to prove one’s athletic or fitness prowess! And they couldn’t care less if the real reason one went to the gym or took walks was because one had nothing better to do with one’s time.

Personally, I think fat people have all the fun and are fun to be with. Fat people are generally more loving, caring and generous. Remember the expressions, “fat and jolly” v/s “lean and mean”? Well these may be stereotypes, but, when you are fat, you can get away with stuff you can’t get away with or enjoy when you’re thin.  If you are fat, most people who really love you, especially little children, will adore cuddling up with you. Perhaps it reminds them of Santa Claus! But the nicest thing about fat people is their “happy-go-lucky” exuberance. And, believe me, it is infectious!

Most lean people that I know are a ‘kill joy’. I would hate to sit with them across a dinner table. They pick on their food or nibble like rabbits on their carrot and beet salad and spend more time staring at other people’s food plates than concentrating on and enjoying their own. And these ‘kill joys’ are always full of unsolicited advice. Most of the time I get up for a second helping at a buffet only to change my seat, far away from such ‘kill joys’. Sadly, we live in an age where ‘thin’ is ‘in’ and ‘fat’ is ‘out’. In the days of my father and his father it was just the opposite. Fat people were considered “healthy” and thin people were considered “undernourished” or suffering from tuberculosis!!!

Both my father and grandfather were on the heavier side and both lived life king’s size. I am told my grandfather was even bigger than I am and had an enormous appetite. Dad used to graphically describe grandpa’s food plate as, “a huge ‘pyramid’ of rice with a generous helping of ‘ghee’ (clarified butter), and chunks of mutton floating in thick and rich gravy, washed down with tumblers of fresh ‘toddy’”. The old man had never heard of terms like ‘calories’, ‘blood pressure’ or ‘cholesterol’ and so he stuck to his life style well past the Biblical span of three score and ten.

I was born chubby; seven and a half pounds is what I was told. And throughout school I remained on the heavier side. But even in those decades of the sixties and seventies being thin was not fashionable and so I passed off as a “healthy boy”. Dad was also considered “healthy” and poor mom who was thin, was labeled “frail”, “weak” and “sickly”.

But, today things have changed. Everybody from relatives, peers and friends think I am overweight and “should do something about it”. But what should I do? Good question! Some years ago, a friend introduced me to a so-called herbal diet. It involved taking a spoon full of herbal powder mixed with water or juice along with three herbal capsules as a substitute for breakfast and lunch. I religiously followed the routine for several weeks. The result was hallucinations. The moment I booted my computer at the office, I could think of nothing but a nice fluffy omelet that I could not enjoy for breakfast. By evening I would be ready to eat a horse or that stupid friend. During the day, besides hallucinating, I would be irritable and low on creativity. After all, how can one be creative after a breakfast and lunch of herbal powders and herbal pills? And, so, I gave “Herbal Life” a decent funeral. Did I lose weight? Yes, to be honest I did. But here is the catch. Within about a month I gained more weight than I had lost. And as a parting kick, the programme led to my developing a couple of other medical complications. The bottom line: my wallet, my creativity and my self-esteem lost more than I did.

I have done it all. Walking, exercising, cycling, special diets, you name it! But the weight is here to stay. The fact is, I personally have no problems about being what I am. It is others who feel uncomfortable about my being big. I have always believed that “fitness is a state of the mind and not the size of your body”. One is as fit or healthy as one thinks one is. I put in more hours of work at the office than most people do, travel and seldom tire. I don’t get breathless walking or while climbing staircases, I can still touch my toes standing, do push-ups and sit-ups and what’s more I am ‘raring to go’ each day I get up in the morning. But yes, I am fat. And this makes people think I am unfit. How wrong they are.

Though I enjoy parties, I have started to avoid them. To put it more correctly, I avoid parties to avoid people. Even as a long-lost friend shakes my hand at a wedding reception, he cannot resist the temptation to comment about my weight. I met a relative the other day who virtually started the conversation by advising me to take walks! A diplomatic way of reminding me that I had put on weight! O come on, is there such a dearth of topics for polite conversation?

Frankly, I think commenting on a person’s physical appearance and offering unsolicited advice, however well intentioned, is downright rude and an affront on individual privacy and space. It’s time these “well-meaning” people realize that it is insulting, demeaning and demoralizing for fat people to be told day in and day out to “watch out”, “be careful”, “take walks”, “eat grass”, “try this or try that”. So many times, I have told my ‘well-wishers’, “you mind your business and let me mind mine”. And remember that lots of thin people also suffer from coronary heart disease and cancer. And this reminds me that I was struck with a life-threatening illness when I was enjoying my supposedly ideal weight of eighty kilograms. Fortunately, I put this affliction behind me thirty years ago, and, yes, since the last thirty years I have also been fat. If I may add, fat, active, positive and healthy.

I have every reason to rejoice about my being ‘horizontally challenged’. I believe that I have been blessed with a natural good appetite and an equally good digestive system. And, so, I eat well and I enjoy every moment of my life, except moments when “well-wishers” advise me on what I should or should not eat or how I should begin and end my day.  There was one “well-wisher” who told me that If, I lost ten kilograms of weight I could add ten years to my life. I told him that if I had a bonus of ten years during which I would have to count every single calorie I take in, I would be only too happy to forfeit this bonus.   The “well-wisher” now avoids crossing my path. I hope he keeps it that way.

I have put in considerable effort over the years to lose weight. And it has always been under peer pressure or to please others, at the cost of punishing myself and compromising on my comfort and happiness. Today I am convinced that only I can decide what makes me and keeps me happy or healthy. Why should I allow others to judge for me or decide how I should live my life? Whose life is it anyway?!

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