Week 2 – Obesity is Contagious. Who knew?

January 20th, 2011

This week’s weigh-in:  230.5 lbs. 

Loss to Date: 5.5 lbs.

To Goal: 60.5 lbs.

First, I want to thank everyone for the encouragement after my first note and subsequent status updates.  Your support is more important than you know.


There’s even a book about it.

Of the many, many, many (get the point yet?) works I poured over the last couple of years in preparing my dissertation, one keeps coming back to mind, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler (the last half of that gloriously unweildly title is actually the new paperback edition).    It was about real social networks, not the virtual ones like Facebook, and how our social relationships affect our individual behaviours.  Now the context in which I was reading it was the effect of living abroad on expatriate voters (something that can be explained fully by buying my dissertation once it’s published), but the chapter on the social relation network effects on health keeps coming back to haunt me.  After a lot academic gobbly-gook and charts that one would need a grad programme in mathematics to understand, they came up with a simple conclusion:

Obesity is contagious.

So simple even Oprah got it and had them on the show.  The plain language version is fat people tend to have their closest relationships with other fat people.  What doctors, nutritionists, health fascists, would call overeating is their normal and by reinforcing this attitude, they make each other fatter.  Kind of like the opposite of that attractive friend who seems to have all attractive people as his/her friends.  The same logic can be extended to any number of bad behaviours: smoking, drinking, drugs, etc.

If you’re thinking, this is just a fancy way of saying “peer pressure” you’re probably right, or at least close enough.  Remember, one of the goals of an academic is to get people to pay to read stuff they already know in a way to make it seem like they learned something.

At first, I was tad dismissive, largely because it seemed to minimize the importance of individual choice and responsibilty.  No one ever forced me to order KFC.  In my own circumstance, most of the friends in my inner circles whereever I’ve lived in these past few years were not fat.  Even casting the net wider to include passing aquintainces, I seemed to be the proverbial outlier, every group’s token fat friend.

Now, not so dissimive.

Why?  If obesity is contagious, maybe the opposite is true. Now that I’m here in Ottawa for the time being, I look at my friends and co-workers and see people who are all in some way, shape or form associated with fitness.  Without naming names, it seems like everyone I closely associate with is involved in fitness of some form.  Their goals, training regimens, and diets are different, but they’re all busting their arses to get into or stay in shape.  Even the path I’ve chosen came from a friend’s suggestion as something we could do together in the new year.

I would love to say the cure for obesity is for fat people to hang out more with skinny people.  If that were the case, I’d find a way to drag it out to 300+ pages, charge $30 bucks a copy and get on Oprah, myself.  With our obesity rates in the Western world rising, we’re running out of skinny people in Canada to be friends with (Just thinking about this gives me the idea for a parody of George A. Romero’s zombie films), but I certainly wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t hang around people far skinnier than me.

I do need your encouragement, but not for the reason you may think.  My particular brand of self-depracating humour may lead some to think I’m down on myself.  As I have had to explain in the past, for whatever maladies I may suffer, a deficeit of self-esteem is not one of them.  I like me.  I think I’m awesome.  To parapharse Churchill, I am not in the business of modest men.  The problem of thinking you’re great when you’re overweight is you’ve convinced yourself you’re fine when you’re not.  No problem here.  It took a diagnosis of sleep apnea (and a tortuous trial period with a CPAP machine) to get me to ramp up my fitness the last time.  It was when a few seemingly minor changes in the second half of the year had a rather dramatic downward effect on the waistline that I even thought of pursuing weight loss.  How dramatic?  Working on Parliament Hill, I wear a lot of suits.  The sales people at Moore’s on Bank St. love me.  I try to hit their buy one, get one sales and bought six suits at one sale there last September for just over a $1000.  By December, they all needed to be taken in.  It felt like I was wearing clown pants.  It was you who saw me constantly hoisting them up and encouraged me to build on this unforeseen turn and get a plan together.  You made me want to be better.

Sometimes you need to let the excellent be the devil of the good.  I’ll need to be reminded of that a few times in the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, I’d would like to single out a couple for recognition:

The owner of Nate’s Deli – for deciding that serving Ottawa its best smoked meat sandwiches for 50 years was enough and calling it a day. I thank you.  By closing down, selling your building, and letting it be demolished you have deprived me of my favourite greasy concoction and removed a great temptation.

The students of UofO and Carleton – for voting in that awful OC Transpo U-Pass.  You’ve made the bus so crowded in the morning, I’ve walked to work everyday since you returned to classes.

I want to finish by saying, in the coming weeks my successes will be ours and we will share in them.  The failures, however, will be mine alone.



4 responses

  1. […] you wonder why obesity is contagious despite not being caused by a virus? The obese are now in the majority, let’s not encourage […]

  2. […] the bus schedule is rather inconvenient, like when I’m taking an early morning flight. Its overcrowding was one of the factors that lead to me going on my weight loss journey. Non-Transitway destinations […]

  3. […] I started this journal of my weight loss journal, I argued with rising obesity rates that obese was the new normal. It’s been almost two years since that entry, but the Globe and Mail caught up last […]

  4. […] high blood pressure, etc), most fatties don’t think they’re unhealthy. As I wrote at the beginning of this journal and reiterated last week, as obesity rates go up, most fat people think they’re normal and […]

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