Trade Day again


Unfortunately, the rest of you is gradually going to get bigger and bigger too, until you’re just a quivering mound of fat.  Luckily it takes decades to run its course.

I had forgotten that the first Thursday of July is Trade Day (or Day of Commerce) in Kristiansand, year after year.  It seems to usually take me by surprise.  Not so the people of the surrounding countryside.  I did notice on the commute bus that it was fuller than usual.  In fact, there was hardly a free seat by the time we came to the city.  Still it was not until I saw the crates on the pavement that I remembered.

Extremely regular readers may remember that I have reported from Trade Day almost yearly. In particular the sight of an unusual number of chubby housewives, or something like that, invading the city for the occasion.  My primary theory is that they come from the surrounding countryside, but I have no explanation why women outside the city would be visibly fatter than those in it.  So I have also speculated that maybe these come from the same area as their slightly slimmer sisters, but that they stay out of sight except in dire emergencies, such as half price on frying pans.

In any case, they are back, and they are fatter than ever.  In fact, I think this is getting too far. Perhaps I should say, even I think so.  I find chubby women decorative, but this goes beyond merely chubby.

I’ll briefly repeat my observation of body mass and femininity.  Skinny women, with some few exceptions, tend toward the boyish, or “unisex” perhaps more correctly.  When they fatten up, they normally become more womanly:  Their cheeks grow rounder, their breasts grow larger and heavier, their hips and buttocks grow larger and rounder, and their thighs softer.  But at some point – which varies from family to family, it seems – this process stops.  Perhaps all the feminine fat cells are filled to the max. Whatever the reason, further weight gain seems to just settle wherever there is free space on the body, gradually transforming their feminine curves to a quivering mound of fat.  And once again, they become near indistinguishable from their equally fat brethren. Unisex again.

There is also the detail that it looks unhealthy.  At some point you know that these people will have a problem walking up stairs or a hillside, in extreme cases perhaps even on flat ground, though there are still few of those around here.  But we are starting to see more and more American conditions.  And we know that Americans spend a lot of money on their health and get rather less health for it.  Some claim that this is because socialized medicine is inherently superior in some way.  I think it can all be explained by the fact that most Americans are fat and lazy.  And now we’re getting there too, even the women.  It reminds me of a comment I once saw to the effect that America is a shining lighthouse, and the purpose of a lighthouse is so other people can steer clear of it, not straight at it!

Apart from that, the day was hot but despite the blue sky there was a fairly strong breeze that kept the city from overheating completely.  There was much less wind in the valley where I live, however, so I did not get the house cooled down until right now, around midnight.  Even then it is barely bearable.  Sleep quality (and even quantity) suffers from the heat.  Ironically the basement is downright chilly.  I should have rented that instead, I sometimes think.

I can’t imagine how people can stand being fat in this weather.  Fat is a good insulator, to the point where whales and seals use it to survive the cold of the arctic waters. And unlike clothes, you can never take it off. Wouldn’t it be nice if humans put on weight in the autumn and lost it again in spring? In Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia trilogy there is such a mechanism, but then again the seasons there last for centuries.  I suppose “bone fever” is not really an alternative here on Earth. Although I do expect to lose a few pounds during the Mexican flu, if I survive it.  And it seems all but a few people do.  But that is a concern for another time, if ever.

Dentistry, summer and fat


“Faint praise coming from you” my self-sim seems to think.

I have lost count of how many weeks I have gone with a loose tooth. It was one of the three ceramic teeth and was fastened on the root of the original with a thin metal bar. This is, I believe, the third time it has been broken. Hopefully it will be a while till next time. Perhaps that depends on my computer shopping habits, however.

I have written in the past about this peculiar pattern. At first I thought the rule was “Every time you buy a computer, God kills a tooth.” (Patterned after the infamous “God kills a kitten” meme, which I am sure Google can explain to anyone who may have been spared it until now.) Later experience showed that I could buy desktop computers without breaking teeth, so I amended it to “Every time you buy a laptop, God kills a tooth.” This time, however, the tooth broke while I still considered buying a laptop for a friend. Actually in part I did this to test whether the cosmic law only reacted to buying for myself or whether it was the objective act of buying a laptop that invoked it. Instead I found that it was the decision to buy. Perhaps at some future point, I will break teeth even by looking at a laptop to covet it?

In any case, I got it fixed at a sufferable cost, and in time before the summer vacation. (Not mine, I don’t have vacation in summer, but presumably the dentists have. Summer vacation is almost sacred up here in Norway, where the summer is short but intense, with warm bright nights that don’t invite to get up early next morning for a long day of hard work.) The dentist’s equipment had broken down today but he borrowed that of a colleague; they are a small team of dentists working together and sharing office services. Despite the unfamiliar workplace he seems to have done a good job.

On my way back to work, I noticed how hot the day had become. It was by now rather late in the workday, around 15 (3PM) and the heat in the city felt almost tropical compared to the cool days of the past couple weeks. I have thoroughly enjoyed the cloudy weather with occasional showers, since I am not really made for heat. The newspaper claims that the heat will last for a week or more. I would not be surprised, the south coast of Norway is a naturally sunny place all year long with only scattered rainy days. No wonder people from all over the country come to relax on the beaches here.

One recurring concern when the word “beach” comes up is the extra pounds from the dark season. They just don’t seem willing to leave in order to render you good-looking in swimwear. Of course, this is hardly a concern for me, since I get violently ill if I eat more than a few grams of fat. And even were it not so, I have long since given up on swimwear. Not so much because of the skin disease that makes much of my body look like that of a toad, but mostly because melanoma runs in my family. I can only hope that I realized this soon enough – I have mostly stayed out of the sun since I was around 20 – but I certainly don’t want to run any risks now. Life is short enough as is.

Fat is not known to make life any longer, at least in our time when there is an excess of it. And that was the thing I noticed on my way back from the dentist: Norwegians really are growing fatter. Norwegians and Sims. One of the most eye-catching changes in The Sims 3 compared to the earlier versions is the wider range of body shapes, from fat to skinny to muscular. A goodly number of the inhabitants of the imaginary town are shaped like couch potatoes, and unfortunately so are also those in the real town where I work. It used to be that Norwegians were still lean and active compared to our American cousins. Well, they are still ahead of us in sheer obesity, but not in overweight.

To make this clear, the border between “normal” and overweight is set pretty low. Unnaturally low, I believe, as studies show that mortality is actually slightly lower in the barely overweight group than in the “normal” group, which includes some decidedly skinny people. I am not sure who set up those categories. They should probably have been set a little higher. But in any case, technically obesity is a different group from overweight, and at this point the health cost is obvious. It is hard for the obese to move around efficiently, and their hearts are hard pressed to keep the blood flowing through the bloated body. Hypertension and diabetes are almost unavoidable if enough years pass in such a state.

Norwegians have become overweight to the same degree as Americans – about two in three is now above that artificial line – but we have far less outright obesity. I am afraid this is only a matter of time, though. Looking around today, I saw a lot of fat. There is definitely more of it than there used to be when I was young. Unless someone finds a miracle cure, we will have the same wave of chronic lifestyle diseases as our American cousins, with all the cost and suffering involved.

After work I went home and trotted out the manual lawnmower again. As the voices in my head remarked: “I am become death, the destroyer of grass.” (Thank you, Oppenheimer.) But better it than me. I can do without a tooth for a few weeks, but not a heart.

Fat chance

Today I had a chance to test a hypothesis. Based on one data point, I’d say the hypothesis failed. Hypothesis: Brainwave entrainment may counteract fat poisoning.

Regular readers will know that I get fat poisoning if I eat more than a few grams of fat in a single meal (about six hours). I start feeling cold regardless of the temperature in the room, a cold that comes from inside. (A thermometer, when I can be still long enough, confirms that my body temperature usually is lower than normal, not higher, so it is not fever shaking.) I start shivering and then shaking. My body goes stiffer than usual, so intense exercise to heat me up is out of the question – it would tear my muscles as it is basically the opposite of warming up. Finally come the worst symptoms, fear and diarrhea as the muscles in my digestive tract join in the dance to keep me warm. Queasiness, gut pain, violent bowel movements and in extreme cases the beginning of a rectal prolapse. Not a pretty sight, but you can see it many places on the Internet if you are curious. The final symptom is irresistible drowsiness and deep sleep, regardless of the time of day.

Since some of the symptoms are neurological, I have wondered if brainwave entrainment could have an effect. So when I got the first symptoms, this came to mind. I also put up the heat in the bathroom to max, it has a radiating space heater. Walking in place in front of the heater, I played an alpha wave entrainment track with my eyes closed for about 20 minutes. Luckily it was only a small attack. I had not expected one at all, since I haven’t eaten all that much fat. I have eaten more rice chocolate than usual lately – usually I only eat one 1-2 wafers of thin mint dark chocolate a day, exactly because even a small bite of chocolate takes a big bite out of my fat ration. A lot of the tastes we enjoy through the day are fat soluble, so I tend to be very protective of my fat rations.

On the bright side, I did not feel serious fear. But this is explained by the fact that I did not have colon spasms. This again probably comes from the heat and activity that I set in early, and the fact that it was a very small attack. So the total attempt at treating the attack was a success. But the brainwave entrainment part was not: There was no noticeable different in my body’s reactions either as I began entrainment or after 8 minute, the time at which entrainment should normally be complete.

So at best entrainment may be attempted to minimize the risk of panic, but not the things that would cause the panic in the first place.

Perhaps a better idea would be to get the brain to look for less fat in the first place?  Although I have become pretty good at this, I could still do fine with half the fat I now eat.  We need only very small amounts of fat in our diet, less than 10% of our daily energy expenditure. Even I eat more than double that, and most people in the western world double that again.  (Fat is twice as rich in energy as either sugar, starches or proteins. It is also very compact, so we tend to grossly under-estimate it in our diet.)

Why diets don’t work


Sometimes food just happens. This is a lot less cute when you are 50.

The twin scourges obesity and inactivity are raging through the world, maiming and killing like a berserker army. Each of them encourages the other: Feel free to try jogging with a hundred pound backpack, but be sure to have your last will and testament done first. Likewise, sitting still helps the fat just pile on, forcing you to be even less active, and so on and on.

Given the grim statistics for diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension and the secondary diseases that follow in their footsteps, you’d think the world’s governments would be waging a War on Fat. And you would definitely think it would be one of the hottest topics of science. The world is already spending billions on diets, so why can’t scientists come right out and tell us which one is the best?

Well, you see, none of them work. Or rather, pretty much all of them work, but not in the long run. Losing weight is fairly easy, but large studies show that the pounds come back on. The scientific consensus is that significant weight loss is pretty near impossible (except in the case of chronic illness, of course). It is possible to lose a little weight – like 5% or so – and keep it off. If you get serious about losing weight, however, the body eventually gets serious too. And at some point, it stops listening to you. Basically, your free will starts fading.

This is a disturbing situation, and well worth considering. We all know from experience that we have free will. We can decide to do something unpleasant and do it, and we can decide to not do something pleasant and avoid it. In each case, we clearly see ourselves as having a choice. But the law of large numbers says something else. In the long run, it is easier to ride the horse the way it is already going. In the case of the weight loss, the body will throw at us ever more frequent and intense temptations. If that is not enough, the discomfort will intrude on our lives more and more: Hunger pangs that make it impossible to sleep, chronic fatigue that makes it hard to be active and burn calories. In extreme cases, you may find that there are blank spots in your memory and empty spots in the fridge. You have no memory of having eaten, and you certainly don’t feel like you have eaten, but you have. You may even find that food is gone from your fridge while you slept. The body will defend its fat as if it were its life. And that is no coincidence.

In the wild, too much food is not the problem. For tens of thousands of years, until just recently, hunger was the real risk. A surplus of food was temporary. If you started losing weight, no matter what your weight was at the outset, the body would interpret this as a famine coming on. It still does. And it will do what it takes to defend you from starvation, even if it means tricking or outright overruling your free will.

One clue comes from people with anorexia. It has been known for a while that patients with this mental illness have a very high mortality. But a look at the causes of death shows something less obvious: A striking number of the deaths are from suicide.

Other studies show that a lot of people – especially women – sometimes want to kill themselves but cannot. Humans are basically built with a certain level of protection. When facing death, we shrink back automatically. This is a good thing, and it is in a way unfortunate that it does not always work. As I like to say, the game is rigged: You can kill yourself when you are feeling down, but you cannot become immortal when you are feeling good. But at least it turns out there is some level of defense. But some people don’t have that level of defense. And these are the same people who are able to lose weight indefinitely. In other words, as far as the brain knows, weight loss is just another type of suicide, and it will use the whole range of defenses to avoid it.

The irony of this is of course that in our time, gaining weight above the “well rounded” level is the actual suicide. The body thinks otherwise, however.

What does help, then? First of all, it is best to not have put the weight on in the first place. But the single most reliable predictor of body fat is the body fat of people around you: Friends, family and coworkers. This works even on a national level: A Japanese moving to America will gain weight over the course of just months, while an American moving to Japan will eventually lose some. But it also works on a local level. The people around you seem to somehow calibrate you to eat slightly more or less than you normally would. (I had noticed this effect on myself long before I read about it in popular science magazines, but then again I don’t always know that I am typical enough to be a useful example.)

And physical activity seems to be more important than body mass anyway. As I said, the problem is that being obese makes it hard to exercise. But you have to start at the level where you are. Remember, if you are severely obese, you are literally in the same situation as someone who carries a heavy load, so don’t try exercise that would be suitable for a slim person. That would be like them going jogging with a heavy recliner strapped to their back or something. Simply walking will be great exercise for the obese, and in the beginning you may want to limit yourself to stretches where you can find a place to sit down and rest if you get exhausted. The single biggest jump is from complete inactivity to a little exercise. Once you get used to that, your body will gradually adapt, so you can be a tiny bit more active next week again, and so on.

But trying to simply assert your willpower and stop eating (or eat just tomatoes)? Won’t work. The body comes with failsafe against that kind of crazy behavior. It keeps tabs on you and if your diet works, it will start blocking it.

Perhaps science will have a solution one day. For now, all it has is an explanation, but we can use that to adapt at least to some extent.