Fatpocalypse Now (or, what is healthy living, anyway?)

Tim Boden

Tim Boden has been a grumpy old man since he was about 13. Born and raised in the darkest East Midlands, he now lives in Australia as part of an ongoing project to avoid getting a proper job and settling down for as long as reasonably possible. His interests include comics, beer, rugby league, 20th-century history and other things mostly favoured by middle-aged men who spend a lot of time in sheds. He has very strong opinions on vegetables.

Fitness January 2012Hands up everybody who made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight or get fit. Okay, you can put your hands down now. And up again. And down. Pick up some weights, do it faster. That’s it! Feel the burn!

It’s sad, really. Our great-grandparents’ generation happily subsisted on treacle and lard, safe in the knowledge that they’d be killed by galloping syphilis or a cave-in down t’ pit long before their diet got to them, but for us pampered darlings of the 21st century, the biggest threat to our health is our own lack of willpower. We’re constantly being told that we’re in the throes of an ‘obesity epidemic’, that if we don’t all shape up then the NHS will go bankrupt, children will die before their parents, and the collective weight of our nation of chubsters will cause the ground to crumble beneath our feet and collapse into the sea.

So how do we avert the prospect of imminent Lardageddon? Well, there’s the problem. Nobody seems to be able to agree. Thanks to a combination of genuine scientific uncertainty on certain matters, sensationalist media reporting, unscrupulous hucksterism and good old-fashioned stupidity, finding clear and consistent advice on what exactly constitutes healthy living isn’t easy.

Oh, sure, there’s a standard message: eat lots of fruit and veg, try and move around a bit. But beyond that, it gets tricky. Some people will tell you that starchy foods should be the foundation of a balanced diet, others will say that carbs (it’s always ‘carbs’ with people who don’t trust them, as if using words of more than one syllable gets in the way of valuable exercising time) will just make you fat and diabetic and you should be filling up with protein instead. Likewise, some people can’t get enough protein, even going to the point of buying those ridiculously vast jars full of mysterious protein-fortified powder from shops that somehow make a living selling nothing but, whereas other people will claim we’re all eating too much protein and you can totally get by living off nothing but nuts and berries and tears wiped from an angel’s cheek (providing those tears are organic, of course).

Then there’s the fact that society actively works to make even the basic advice surprisingly difficult to follow. We have this ridiculous situation where people actually pay to go to places to exercise, because the labour-saving devices we’ve invented mean it’s quite easy to have very little choice but to spend most of your working day sat on your arse. We’re told ‘don’t eat more than 6g of salt a day’, but not that, unless you’re actively looking out for salt content in food and deliberately planning your meals around it, you’ll be very lucky to not exceed that ration by lunchtime. We’re constantly being lectured about ‘binge drinking’ – with the official definition of what constitutes a ‘binge’ being generally around the minimum of what it takes for most people to even start feeling the effects – when we live in a society that drinks to get drunk, and requires drunkenness for social lubrication. The papers can print all the pictures they like of girls puking in bins; the fact is, British culture is so repressed, most of us wouldn’t even have been conceived it it wasn’t for binge-drinking. If the government truly want to tackle the nation’s drinking problem, we need the country’s best philosophers and sociologists to get together and figure out a way for us to loosen up a little without needing mind-altering substances to do it for us.

But I digress. In the midst of this constant fretting about one’s health, one thing seems to be overlooked, and that’s how lucky we are. We should be amazed and astonished that as a society, we have grown so comfortable that overeating troubles more people than undereating; that we have to be reminded to move around more, rather than working ourselves into an early grave. And given how much we also hear about the loneliness and indignity faced by the elderly, who wants to live that long anyway?

So don’t worry about it too much. Life’s too short to spend wracked with self-loathing because you had a second slice of cake or because the only kind of marathon you can get through involves a DVD box-set  If the biggest problem you’ve got is a bit of extra weight, you ain’t doing that badly at all.

Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’ve earned myself a jam tart. Typing counts as a work-out, right?