October 20th, 2004

A Visitor from Seattle, and a Reality Show Just for Me! Sort of.

Cheryl came out for a weekend (which strikes me as amazing, because that's a long flight for a two day stay) and we went hiking up to Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliffs. Thanks to the recent rain, the falls were not the thin drip they can sometimes be this time of year, judging by photographs I've seen. But not the still-half-frozen monstrosity of last spring. The leaves in the mountains were slightly past peak, but still truly wonderful, and we had a fantastic time.

Sunday Roland, Cheryl and I went out to see the trebuchet, where they were launching very small pumpkins, in an effort to increase distance. Those squashes were tossed a good long ways.

In unrelated commentary, there is Finally a Reality Show Just for Me! The Biggest Loser turned out NOT to be a horrifying example of evil anti-fat prejudice, but, in fact, a really interesting mix of reasonable weight loss thru diet and exercise strategies. While the trainers are disturbingly low body fat, they are not mean people, and the contestants not only are not mocked by non-contestants, they are actually not even mocking each other. Of course, that many hours of exercise is appalling to contemplate, even tho I do go for long hikes and have recently been digging a trench in the yard (for the generator). Going from sedentary to that level of activity must do heinous things to these peoples mood stability, but they are not being mean there, either -- showing a few tears, and a couple of out-of-control babbling moments, but nothing exploitative.

I'll be watching the next episode, to see if they can maintain. I appreciated that they followed up at the end of the show saying what has happened to the woman who got voted out since she was voted out (she did indeed continue working out and eating better and lost additional weight, but not a ridiculous amount). The setting is gorgeous. I'm sure there will be book tie-ins telling people at home how to do it. I'm betting this will spawn a boom in weight-loss thru diet-and-exercise (I guess that would be the old-style spa vacation, hunh?) vacations, charging excessive amounts of money to make vacationers stay on the treadmill five hours a day with very little to eat. Fat camp for adults. Dunno what I think of that, other than to say it's a reasonable counterweight for the eat-until-you-pass-out cruise vacation that has hitherto dominated.

So I'm very excited about this, and at the same time, I keep thinking about _The Obesity Myth_, by Paul Campos, which I recently read. In addition to the ground covered years ago by Laura Fraser in _Losing It_, Campos has a bunch of interesting interpretations of ongoing longitudinal studies and research done since Fraser's book, that can be summarized relatively simply. (1) It isn't about weight per se; it's inactivity. Weight loss won't fix the health problems we're collectively panicking over (to the extent they are real), but better fitness will. (2) To the extent that there is a weight/BMI/whatever range associated with optimal mortality (living the longest), it is at the top end of the current "normal/healthy" range, and covers most of the "overweight" range. Being underweight, or at the bottom of the BMI "healthy" range, is comparable to mortality rates way up in the obese zone. In other words, we're being sold a bad goal. And of course (3) dieting doesn't work. Even when it's called lifestyle change.

If Campos is right (and I don't doubt that he is, at least the above summary), I'm a little irritated that I worked so damn hard to get just barely on the right side of the overweight line, particularly if being a little heavier might actually be a lot healthy. Grrrr. The ambivalence with respect to the reality show revolves around the participants. A couple of them probably have BMIs in the high 20s/low 30s, and so really shouldn't be losing weight. Of course, the flip side there is they all self described as fairly inactive, and the footage suggested relatively low initial levels of cardiovascular fitness. Being on that show probably did not hurt them, particularly since both trainers are going for volume-fullness through green vegetation in various forms. The teams should wash out the people who can't lose much weight fairly quickly, so the show shouldn't be doing any major harm. My real fear revolves around most attempts to motivate people to lose weight. You can say "do it through exercise" and "worry more about performance/fitness and less about numbers on a scale" until you are completely out of breath, and a lot of listeners will still decide to skip breakfast lunch and dinner so they won't have to work out and they can still have a lower caloric intake than expenditure. Which inevitably leads to binging.

I guess a perfect reality show for me would be set at the Cooper Institute, and it would involve a bunch of people so out of shape they have to take a break walking up a single flight of stairs at sea level, or walking all the way around the block or whatever, and training them to a point where they can run a 5K and walk a 10K. Or something comparable.
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