Thrusday, January 07, 1999

January is fattest month of all

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Let's start the new year on an honest note. We all think we're fat. Except for those of us who think we're too thin. No doubt there are people who think they are “just right,” but I don't know them. Nor do I want to know them.

        The people who think they're too thin probably are gorging on something heavenly right now. Or buying Wonderbras or shoulder pads. Again, I simply do not know. This has never been my problem.

        But I know where you can find the people who think they are too fat. They are in the grocery buying rice cakes that taste like Styrofoam and loading up on salad dressing that tastes like motor oil. They are counting fat grams and calories.

        In short, they are going on their annual New Year's Diet.

Nouveau Spandex
        Those who have heard a rumor that exercise might help are beginning to clog up the gyms and aerobics classes. Their Spandex is new, and they are hogging all the best equipment. The regulars, smug in old sweats, are grousing. But they know this will be over soon.

        “Most people right now are exercising out of guilt,” says Nancy Gaughan, health and wellness director for the YWCA. “They're just out to lose the 5 pounds they put on over the holidays. Then they'll go right back to their old habits.”

        She is pedaling madly on a stationary bike, hardly breaking a sweat. I am sitting on the bike next to hers, motionless, exercising my right to be an out-of-shape American. She looks great. I do not. Do you suppose this means anything?

        “We know so much anymore about diet and exercise,” she says. “But people are still looking for a quick fix, a drive-through better body.”

        Soon we are joined by Jeanne Middleton, a personal trainer who has been trying to rehabilitate me. It is very slow work. “If getting fit were easy, then diets wouldn't make you cringe,” she tells me. I would like to stuff my dirty gym socks in her mouth. But I don't have the energy.

        Personal trainers can help you be more flexible and they can help you tone your muscles. Eventually they can even make you feel better. But they can't make it fun. Or fast.

The UFO Twizzler diet
        Jeanne said a new client came to her, carrying the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. The woman wasn't picky. “Just make me look like anybody in here,” she told Jeanne.

        In the interest of more honesty than is probably good for us, can we admit that the problem is food? Not glands. Not genetics. Not aliens who have beamed us up onto their mother ship and force-fed us Twizzlers and cheeseburgers with bacon.

        Ruth Bamber, one of Weight Watchers' most popular leaders, says she tricked herself into losing weight and keeping it off. She lost 84 pounds 14 years ago, promising herself that she would do this diet and exercise thing only until she was 70.

        “Then,” she says, “I plan to go to Kings Island, sit on a bench and smoke and eat funnel cake for the rest of my life.”

        She says we should set goals that are attainable and measurable. “Realize that you weren't perfect before and you won't be now,” she says. “When you slip, forgive yourself and go on. And figure out something you are willing to do forever.”

        Or at least until you're 70.

        And are we willing to eat fake food and run 10 miles a day forever? Of course not. So that's why we're jockeying for position around the StairMaster and counting fat grams.

        It may be superficial. It may be shortsighted. But here is the truth. Despite knowing we are issued only one body and that replacement parts aren't that great and although we know we'd all feel better if we exercised and ate all the right foods, there is one thing that fills the fitness clubs and the weight clinics this time of year. Fat.

        And if it didn't show, we wouldn't care if we had it.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at or call 768-8393. She can be heard on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.