Don't Let a Potbelly Weigh You Down
( Originally Published 1956 )
SAM MORRIS was eating his second dessert. It was a huge wedge of apple pie, and after the first bite he looked around the table and asked, "Where's the butter?" "I put it away when I cleared the table, Sam," his wife said. "Who wants butter with dessert?"
"I do," said Sam plaintively. "You know I always like butter on my pie, Ella. Makes it richer."
His wife put the butter back on the table, and Sam slathered some on his pie. His two teen-age daughters giggled, and one whispered to the other, "Look at old fatso. He's still hungry!"
His wife looked at him in distaste.
"That's the trouble with you, Sam," she said, "too much rich food. You don't see me eating dessert the way you do. If I don't have it every meal you make a fuss. You'd just better remember what the doctor told you!"
Sam didn't like to remember that. The doctor hadn't listended to Sam's excuses. He had been blunt and unsympathetic.
"It's not your glands, Sam," the doctor said. "And you didn't inherit your fat. All you inherited was the family appetite. You just eat too much. Nothing else wrong with you—yet. But there soon will be if you don't get rid of that potbelly."
"O.K." thought Sam. "I'll show that old M.D. a thing or two. I'll lose weight, but I won't go on that diet he gave me. I'll find some way to do it without starving!"
Sam decided that steam baths were the thing. For weeks he was steamed, roasted, parboiled, and massaged. His appetite increased, he ate more than ever—and gained seven pounds.
"The only thing I reduced," he said afterwards, "was my pocketbook." He tried too hard to be jolly, to make jokes, to be the cutup or the clown. Everybody expected it of a fat man. People loved a fat man . . . or did they?
Sometimes he wondered. Especially at a dance, as he watched his wife whirl by in the arms of a slender man. Maybe he worried a little, too. But he couldn't show it.
"A fat man worry? That's a good one!" That's what everybody would say. So Sam would get up on the dance floor alone and do a few comical steps to prove that he was still light on his feet. Or he'd rush around getting drinks for all the wallflowers, and bask in their gratitude.
At home he would put on a record and prance around the living room, trying to inveigle his wife or daughters to do a few practice steps with him. Occasionally Susie, his youngest daughter, would. But after a few steps she'd always push him away and laugh. "Gosh, I can't dance with you—your stomach gets in the way!"
Sam had to face it. He was no longer a lady's man. Eighty excess pounds prevented his being a Clark Gable!
Anyone who is as much as fifteen pounds heavier than the optimum weight for his particular physique is considered overweight. There are 25,000,000 overweights in the United States, and 5,000,000 seriously obese.
The overweights dig their own graves with their teeth—workmen and executives alike. Your vulnerability increases with your pounds. Studies of fifty thousand overweights by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company showed that the mortality among them was 50 per cent higher, especially when they were also suffering from cardiovascular-renal diseases, diabetes, and diseases of the liver and gall bladder.
Your chances for living go down as your weight goes up. Generally speaking, people who are 15 per cent overweight have a death rate 22 per cent higher than persons of normal weight. Those who are 15 to 24 per cent overweight have a 44 per cent higher death rate. And the ones whose weight is 25 per cent higher than normal have a death rate 75 per cent higher.
If you're overweight at thirty, it isn't good; at forty, it's a definite danger signal. Studies by life insurance companies show that the overweight develop diabetes, heart disease and other life-shortening conditions earlier, and die younger, than those whose weight is normal.
At the Benjamin Franklin Clinic in Philadelphia obesity and success are considered the two biggest killers of executives.
Dr. Paul Dudley White emphasizes the need for exercise and a lean diet to stop the rising incidence of coronary disease.
The American Journal of Public Health says that America's problem is that of an overdeveloped country. Our obesity is related to our national prosperity, just as malnutrition is to poverty in the underdeveloped land.
There are more excuses for obesity than there are reasons for it. Did you ever hear a fat person say, "I'm fat because I'm a glutton?" Never! "My whole family is fat," he'll tell you, "and I inherited it. I really have an appetite like a bird." The answer to that, of course, is "Sure—a vulture or an ostrich!"
Jim Bishop, in writing the Jackie Gleason story, gave the answer to Gleason's overweight. Jim stated briefly: "He's a hog."
Obesity is not inherited. Dr. Herluf H. Strandskov found that, except for the factor of body type, your weight is con-trolled by your environment. You may inherit the family cookbook, but not those pounds. Change the eating habits of the family if you can. At least, change your own, and watch the "inherited" fat disappear.
When Sam came to me for advice it was because of his wife. "It's the way she looks at me," he said, "so disgusted-like. Different from the way she gazes at that fellow she loves to dance with—the golf professional at our club. After all, she's my wife—I want her to look at me like that!"
I put him on the scales, and he almost broke them. "You," I told him, "are the result of a lifetime of over-eating."
"I guess that's right," Sam agreed. "I was brought up on a dairy farm, and we all loved to eat."
"Always ate lots of butter and rich cream, didn't you?" That was an easy guess on my part.
"My mother," Sam said wistfully, "could make the best strawberry shortcake you ever tasted! She topped it off with mounds of whipped cream, flavored with sugar and vanilla. When I was a kid I'd stand and watch her bake, and I'd get so hungry waiting that I'd roll six or eight chunks of chilled butter in sugar and eat them like candy. Maybe that's where I got such a taste for butter."
"I'm sure it is," I said. "And now you'll have to re-educate your tastes."
"But will that help?" he asked. "I've always been fat."
"You've always eaten too much," I reminded him. "You'll have to cut out fats, starches, and sugar, and eat high-protein foods. You know, a calorie is a unit of heat, used in computing the energy produced when food is oxidized in the body. Technically a calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one thousand grams of water (more than two and one-fifth pounds of it) one degree centigrade."
"Is that a fact!" said Sam.
"Here's what you'll have to remember, Sam," I went on. "One single gram—about one twenty-eighth of an ounce—of protein or carbohydrate produces four calories. One gram of fat produces nine calories."
"Sounds like there's a good way to cut the old calorie count," said Sam, "without starving to death."
"Most people don't realize how much fat they eat," I said. "Every time you eat salmon, sardines, or tuna fish in oil, each serving gives you one to two tablespoons of fat. The nuts you munch while you watch TV give you the same amount, and the meat in a sandwich contains another tablespoon or two. Anyone eating the average American diet consumes at least nineteen tablespoons of fat daily."
Each man kills himself in his own fashion. But the over-weight victim of a wrong diet definitely lessens his hold on life. One American out of every 4 is overweight because of overeating—or eating the wrong foods.
Fat puts a strain on the heart. For every ten pounds of extra fat you have, there must be a half mile of blood vessels to serve it. The heart must work harder to pump blood into these fatty areas.
Eating affects your blood pressure. Immediately after meals a rise in blood pressure of six to eight millimeters occurs, lasting about an hour. Blood pressure, in general, is higher when weight is higher. High blood pressure was almost 3 times as common among the overweight between the ages of thirty-five to forty-four, studies of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company revealed. It was twice as common in the fatties over forty-five. Hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerosis are some of the leading causes of death among the obese.
An increase in weight of two or three pounds a year may not appear significant, but after twenty years that accumulated extra weight constitutes a hazard to health. The aver-age man who gains ten pounds is not aware of the fact or if he is, he invariably adjusts to it physically and mentally. Only when his weight increases to the point where it is a physical handicap does he consider going on a diet.
If you weigh ten to twenty pounds more than your skeleton and age call for, you are overweight. An increase of twenty pounds or more constitutes obesity—and there's danger ahead! As many a businessman has found on applying for an insurance policy, as much as twenty pounds of overweight raises the premium rate.
The normal body is to per cent fat. Obesity and over-weight are often confused: A man may be overweight be-cause of muscle without being obese, while another may have flabby fat on a small frame without being overweight. According to tables of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, your optimum weight is determined not only by your height but also by your frame. A man of small frame who is 5 feet 10 inches tall should weigh 144 to 155 pounds from age twenty-five on. The man with a medium frame can weigh 153 to 168 pounds, while the desirable weight for the one of large frame is 161 to 175.
A group of New York University researchers contend that as you age, your muscle diminishes and your fat increases. This means that you are carrying an increasingly dangerous proportion of fat if your weight remains constant through mid-life.
Applying their fat-to-muscle ratio, these scientists take your optimum weight at age thirty as the point of departure for determining your correct weight through later life. You should decrease your weight by a total of 5 per cent during the next ten years. After reaching the age of fifty you should hold that weight constant.
Overeating is the commonest dietary error committed by older people, who need fewer calories than the young. The maximum need for calories ends when you are 25. Thereafter, the intake of food should be cut, the amount of the cut de-pending on your work schedule and energy output. Why the reduction? Because the basal metabolism rate, which records the transfer of calories into energy in the body, goes down with age.
Mrs. Vera W. Walker, of the American Dietetic Association, recommends the intake of more protective foods after forty. This is necessary because so much of the malfunctioning of the chemical processes in the cells of the body is due to cellular malnutrition, caused by dietary errors.
Dr. Donald B. Armstrong, of Scarborough, New York, says: "The individual who is constitutionally tough has the best chance of coming closest to the limit of the human life span." Environmental circumstances and living habits can create marked ups and downs in the individual's resistance to disease and to insults or injuries to various tissues, which complicate the physiological process of aging. Body weight plays a leading part in creating such ups and downs.
Excess weight is expressed in fat that crowds the abdominal cavity and the joints. It also appears between muscles that have grown soft, as those in the lower part of the back and the buttocks. When the knees and spine bear too heavy a burden of fat, a chronic condition called osteoarthritis can develop in the joints. A body carrying too much fat is under a backbreaking physical strain, so the fat man puffs, pants, and perspires. His heart beats faster. His face is always red from his extra exertion.
"How do you like carrying that eighty-pound suitcase with you everywhere you go?" I asked Sam.
"Huh? Where? I don't—" Sam started to protest. He stopped, looked down at his potbelly, and didn't say any more.
The late Dr. Edward Spalding gave one of his patients, Arman H. Best, a good object lesson in the folly of being overweight. At the start of Best's checkup, Dr. Spalding handed him a pair of bowling balls and said, "Carry these around with you until you leave the office." When Best be-came exhausted and complained, the doctor said, "What are you kicking about? You carry more excess weight than that around with you twenty-four hours a day. Ridiculous, isn't it?"
That was the inspiration for Best's losing fifty pounds during the next two and a half years.
Dr. Anton J. Carlson has written that the prevention of obesity in all people past thirty appears to be a prophylactic imperative—a must—in preventive geriatrics.
Fat creeps up on most of us by just a few calories a day. A dietary excess of only 8o calories (the amount in a slice of bread) will cause a 165-pound, chair-bound man to gain at least 13 pounds in five years.
You get fat simply because you eat too much. This doesn't necessarily mean that you stuff yourself with huge quantities of food. It does mean that you take in more calories than the body can use. This is surprisingly easy to do, particularly if you have poor eating habits.
Do you munch on potato chips as you watch TV? These innocent-looking crispy snacks are 37 per cent fat. And one ounce of fat produces 3 times the number of calories produced by one ounce of protein or carbohydrate.
The mayonnaise you put on your salad is 70 per cent fat. And how often is your wife tempted to try a new recipe which begins with one cup of "light as a feather" shortening? The eight ounces in that cup provide your body with 216 calories, which you probably don't need and would be a lot better off without.
Sam wanted to believe that his obesity was glandular. Like many others, he blamed his overweight on his basal metabolic rate—the rate at which the body uses energy—and on the glands which regulate the metabolism. Practically all scientific tests and clinical studies, however, bear out the fact that if a fat person is continuing to gain weight, he must be eating larger and larger amounts of food. Even if the functioning of certain glands is contributing to the overweight, a loss of weight is impossible until the food intake is regulated.
At the age of thirty or forty, the body's energy requirements slow down, and you need fewer calories to maintain your weight. As the average man gets older, however, and his physical activity decreases, his eating habits stay exactly the same—or even increase.
If you are a chairwarmer, 1,900 calories a day will hold your weight. If you get around a bit, 2,400 calories a day will allow your weight to remain the same. You can remain lean on 3,000 calories a day if you're a hard, active worker.
Dr. Frederick J. Stare, professor of nutrition at Harvard University, says that if a man or woman will cut just 500 calories a day from his diet, no matter what that diet has been, and take a little mild exercise daily, he can lose about one pound a week.
Dr. Stare opposes Spartan diets unless there are specific medical reasons for them. He says: "If a man cannot keep himself psychologically happy at the same time that he is losing his pounds, he will become a trial to himself, his family and his friends. And he will be putting the pounds back on within a short length of time."
This is the difficulty Jackie Gleason has with diets. The famous comedian has had a weight problem since he was about sixteen. Jackie is a complex, unpredictable person, and reducing is complicated for him because he possesses an appetite that parallels that of Henry VIII.
He finds it impossible to diet successfully while leading what for him is a normal life. So he gets himself committed to Doctors Hospital in New York City, and goes on a strict diet for periods ranging from three to six weeks. One time, 265-pound Jackie was able to get down to 185 pounds. But he admitted that he was a wreck, and his friends will tell you, "Jackie's not as funny when he's thin!"
Dr. Stare balances up his calories with the acumen of the businessman balancing his books. If he enjoys a drink or two before dinner he cuts 500 calories off his dinner. He decides whether he will have cocktails or cake. Cocktails have fewer calories than desserts. Two martinis contain 286 calories; two Scotch and sodas, 214 calories. Just one slice of apple pie has calories, and one slice of frosted devil's-food cake has 356.
"Avoid the snacks that come with the cocktails," Dr. Stare warns. They pile up a mountain of calories. Ten potato chips carry 108, one shrimp contains 16, cocktail sausages have around 43 each, a handful of peanuts add up to 84, and those small olives have 5 each. Dr. Stare continues: "You can cut out those 500 calories by saying no to foods that you won't miss very much."
You'll avoid 568 calories by refusing a frosted chocolate. If you by-pass only one slice of bread and butter, a small Danish pastry and one teaspoon of sugar for your, coffee, plus a dish of ice cream, you'll be able to cut out another 500 calories.
Dr. Stare says that excessive calorie intake is the most wide-spread nutritional problem in the United States. Americans generally eat far too many rich, belt-stretching foods which are low in vitamins and minerals.
Doing violent exercise won't melt off those pounds. You would have to walk 36 miles, bend over 2,500 times, or play 216 holes of golf to lose one little obnoxious pound of fat.
When and how did you put on your weight? Was it when you quit chasing blondes and started sitting down to hearty meals with those beefy fellows at the club? No matter how you gained it, you'll have to lose it with knowledge—of what you're eating and what it's doing to your body.
Why do you overeat? The reason for it often has little to do with actual hunger. Is your eating a habit? The stuffing habit that you formed when you were a growing boy? Or do you eat too much because you are emotionally disturbed? An insight into the problems responsible for overweight is necessary to achieve a cure. First, you must understand the reason you eat too much. Then you can be helped to lose weight.
Don't fall into the habit of eating too much because of sociability. Comedian Joe E. Brown's stock in trade is his enormous mouth. He was dining one night at the home of a Broadway producer. The dessert was strawberry shortcake.
"You must have some, Joe," his hostess urged. "It's a new recipe."
"Got to watch my figure," Joe said. "But I'll compromise. Just give me a mouthful."
"All right," said the hostess, and she heaped his plate. Sam Morris came to me because he was fat and miserable.
Fear of losing his wife and the knowledge that he was no longer attractive in her eyes made him a determined man. His home and his future happiness were at stake. Shall we follow him through his problems?