I remember the last time I ate McDonald’s. It was late 2001, not long after 9/11, when I was gut-deep in the rubble of a national tragedy-induced food binge where I ate everything I could sink my teeth into–Carl’s Jr.; Taco Bell; Jack in the Box; and, many Sundays, all too many McDonald’s cheeseburgers at the discount rate of 39 cents each.
When I woke up on Mondays for class, I never understood why everything seemed impossible–getting out of bed, breathing without intense heartburn, and–prepare yourself for a TMI moment–going poop. In fact, sometimes it took days.
But this all changed for me when I read online that the intestines could store anywhere from 5-25 lbs. of poop, or, as health professionals call it, “partially digested, putrefying matter” (Believe it or not: it was once called “food.”) caked to the walls of the intestinal tract. Where were all those Sunday 39 cent cheeseburgers going if they weren’t coming out on Monday? Or Tuesday? Or…? You get the point. (I’ll save the effects of not pooping for a later post.)
After coming to terms with the aborted food babies trapped in my intestines, I launched into what would become a 10-year battle with weight loss that began when I started analyzing the calories of all the food I was consuming, which is what I first thought of when I read Steve’s McRunner post last week. In Steve’s post, he uses the case of the McRunner, a man who ate McDonald’s every day for a month and then ran a marathon, to argue that McDonald’s isn’t too blame for America’s obesity epidemic, which I agree with, but rather Americans increasingly unhealthy lifestyles should bear the burden. (Also, agree!)
However, where Steve and I differ is in the understanding of what makes a healthy lifestyle and what doesn’t. For Steve, healthy is smoking, drinking and occasionally gorging himself on McDonald’s double cheeseburgers, which he then makes up for with a regimen of 25 sit-ups and 10 push-ups per burger and then running about 10 miles, something he can afford to do because of his exercise habits, caloric intake and heredity. But what he fails to take into account here is that based on calories in, calories out, Steve is actually consuming more in this one unhealthy meal than he is burning off with all those sit-ups, push-ups and miles.
Let’s do the math: One double cheeseburger is 440 calories; three equals 1320.
If you follow “the runner’s rule,” a person burns about 100 calories per mile. Ten miles equals 1,000 calories. Depending on intensity and duration, 75 sit-ups burns about 30 calories, and 30 push-ups burns even less, but for the sake of argument, let’s give him another 15, leaving Steve with a deficit of about 275 calories.
And that doesn’t even include his Hi-C Orange soda.
Now the math doesn’t matter so much to Steve because he’s already in good shape and runs 30-40 miles per week, but if you live a sedentary lifestyle, it’s pretty startling to see the truth in the numbers.
So let’s take it a step further: To lose a single pound, a person needs to burn 3,500 calories, or 17,500 sit-ups, making sit-ups perhaps the second worst exercise you can do to lose weight. What’s first? Push-ups. Why? Because while you do burn calories doing push-ups, it’s an exercise best known for its strength-building qualities, not its fat-cutting, meaning if you do 17,500 of them, there’s a chance you could gain weight, not lose it. You could argue that push-ups build muscle, which, in turn, raises your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the amount of calories you burn in a single day if you never even get out of bed, because muscle burns more calories than fat. But even then, we’re talking about single exercises as a means of canceling out unhealthy meals, not what we should be talking about–and what Steve hints at without really digging into the math–a complete lifestyle change.
Steve has never been fat, so, of course, he doesn’t quite understand the mental anguish, self-doubt and nearly insurmountable self-consciousness that comes with being a fat person, but I can break it down simply: Steve, imagine you had a small penis. (For the record, I have only seen Steve’s top-half naked. I don’t know about the bottom.) And I mean really small, like a baby’s. Better yet, like a baby mouse’s. Now imagine someone said, “We have all these techniques and devices that may help you make it bigger, but some may work; some may not. Just try a little everyday and see what happens.” (Now every time I see Tony Little’s Gazelle exercise contraption, I’m going to think of a penis pump.) And then someone said, “Or you can completely change your lifestyle, and you’ll have guaranteed results. But it also means for life.” (Given the analogy, let’s say that lifestyle change meant you could only have sex once every other month. But only for a few minutes. And then you’d feel completely guilty about it. Possibly work-out until you vomit.) Could you do it? Would it be worth it?
That’s basically what it means to be a fat person trying to lose weight. You can’t eat the double cheeseburgers anymore–or the pizza, the ice cream, the Hi-C Orange; basically, anything you enjoy in life, you can only have in moderation, but considering we’re also talking about an addiction (Let’s be real here: If you are way overweight, like I was, you have an unhealthy relationship with food.), you probably shouldn’t get too crazy, even in moderation.
Moving away from the little penis analogy (That was solely for you, Steve.), it’s not about stealing moments to work-out, as Steve suggests in his post, because that doesn’t work when you are already fat. Doing all the push-ups and sit-ups you can muster between commercials while watching “Jersey Shore” won’t make you lose much at all. Skipping rope for 30 minutes a day will only burn 330 calories. Swimming will do about the same–if you can get over showing that much skin in public, something many fat people struggle to do. That’s not even one double cheeseburger.
I don’t think Steve and I disagree in principle at all. We both think people should be healthier, and we both don’t think McDonald’s should be blamed for people’s unhealthiness. We both agree that people should be more active; however, it’s in the application where our paths diverge.
Steve’s “doing the little things” approach can be encouraging for some, but coming from someone who has never had to be worried about his weight, the tone can also be misunderstood for condescension. Just walk around the parking lot, fat person, and you’ll lose weight, too. To echo Elissa’s comment to Steve’s post, it’s certainly not that simple.
The only solution is a complete change in lifestyle. No more double cheeseburgers and Hi-C Orange, instead you’ll be eating a steady diet of lean meats, complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and lots of water. Don’t forget your vitamins and regular exercise, a combination of cardio (Here’s where that walking, swimming and jumping rope comes in.) and strength-training. It might not be easy, but it will improve your quality of life.
Now drop and give me 20 push-ups–just leave the penis pump at home.