No Bullsh*t: Obesity Is a Disease—What Are You Gonna Do About It?

TAGS: lifestyle, BMI, obesity, david allen, shelby starnes, weight loss, training

I’m hairy, much hairier than the average human. I have hairy genetics—my dad is a hairy SOB as well—and I just don’t have the willpower to take care of it. I’ve gone through periods where I was trimming and shaving on a regular basis. I did a bodybuilding show and was pretty much devoid of body hair for a couple of months. I’ve gone through times of maintenance and told myself that I was going to keep up with it, but I failed. I know my girlfriend prefers me to not wear a back sweater all the time, but it’s just so hard to keep it off. Why can’t someone just come up with a pill or an easy way for me to get this jungle off my body?

I use this fable (it’s a fable because I love my back hair—it’s awesome) to illustrate a very common story that I, and probably many of you, have heard from some of your more plump associates in regards to their struggle with weight. With the recent announcement from the American Medical Association (AMA) that obesity is being recognized as a disease, many people in the fitness industry are throwing up their hands in outrage. What does this mean and is it really a big deal?

First off, a person is considered obese if he has a BMI of 30 or higher. Most significantly muscled up humans will fall in this range. This poses an issue for those of us who enjoy holding on to larger amounts of muscle. For example, I had to pay an increased health insurance premium because I was 20 pounds over the limit (at six feet, two inches, the limit was 220 and I weigh 240), which came to about an extra $16.00 a month. However, going by body fat guidelines for obesity (which is 25 percent for males), I was well within the healthy range. As much as this sucks, the fact of the matter remains that those of us with muscles causing them to be in the BMI range of 30 or higher make up such a small percentage of the obese population that neither the AMA nor most insurance companies feel any need to make some sort of exception.

On the flip side of the coin, there are those who actively destroy their bodies. These are the people you see on TLC and are measured in relative tons. They usually can’t walk, have people who feed them the worst food imaginable (or best, depending on your viewpoint), and look like Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. I recently learned that in my city of Memphis, Tennessee, they weigh these people in something call "Memphis units" or MUs. A Memphis unit is 200 pounds. So if someone comes in weighing 625 pounds, that person weighs over three MUs. I find that to be incredibly hilarious and incredibly sad at the same time. These people are going to die because of their weight, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They all die from some complication of being so incredibly heavy. This will sound harsh, but most of the time, the chances of these people losing weight and not being obese is hopeless. They’re so far gone that they reach a point of no return. Sure, every once in a while, they make a change for the better, but after talking with most of my friends who are doctors and nurses, they rarely do. And that’s probably expected because when you can’t get out of bed and your entire life is food, you aren't too likely to change.

The majority of obese Americans fall somewhere in the middle of all this. They aren't bedridden human mashed potatoes, but they also aren't packing their meals for work or hitting the gym everyday afterward. They struggle between the desire to enjoy foods and life events that promote fat gain and the social pressures to be smaller and healthier. The declaration of obesity as a disease by the AMA was purposed toward helping these individuals reach a healthier body weight with the hopes that doctors and insurance companies would take obesity more seriously and provide better treatment and payments. Whether this is going to lessen the responsibility of the individual has yet to be seen, and your feelings toward that will probably be a reflection of your own personal and political beliefs. As someone who has worked with many obese people, I will give my thoughts on the subject.

One of the driving points I try to get across to my personal clients is that I'm here to help them reach whatever goals they may have, but they have to take responsibility. No matter what I say or do, I can never influence them as much as the person in the mirror can. Each day that they wake up and look in the mirror, they will see a body they earned. It might not be what they want to see, but it's usually (there are exceptions) what they deserve to see. Because of that, they can choose to change as they please. What I’ve realized from all this is that some people have what it takes and some don’t. Better yet, some people have the desire and some don’t. I’ve changed people’s lives forever and I’ve watched people walk out my door to continue on with the life they’ve been living. I’ve watched clients go from overweight and weak to competitive powerlifters and figure competitors, and I’ve watched clients lose tons of weight, radically change their lives, quit training all together, and put all the weight back on. This is why I say that I can never influence anyone as much as they can influence themselves.

Changing your entire life can be tough. Just imagine if I told you to stop working out and start eating junk food all day. For many of you, that would be impossible. Well, that’s the same drastic change that many times we ask obese people to make. Somewhere among TV shows, internet memes, and personal relationships, the fitness industry has put out the idea that every person needs to be fit and healthy. Well, I don’t think they do. I think people need to be whatever the hell they want to be. I don't have any problem saying that improving your physical health improves your mental health, your emotional health, your spiritual health, and your sexual health. But if you’re cool with having a belly so big you can’t see your dick or an ass big enough to buy two airplane tickets, go for it. It’s your body and your life and you should enjoy it to the degree that you want to. Any life you live will require sacrifices, and no one is better than anyone else for making health a top priority. Like Shelby Starnes says, it just makes you a better you.

So after all that, what are you going to do about obesity being a disease? I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to keep training. It’s who I am and it’s in my blood. I will never be anything other than this and I don’t want to be. I push myself to improve and I need it to make it through life. If my life and pursuits inspire someone, I'm more than willing to help them. I'll give them my knowledge and support. I won't shove my fitness down their throat or beg them to try to live healthier lives. If they go down a different path, good for them. I’m going to stay on mine.

I’m going to spend my time around like-minded individuals not because I dislike people unlike me but because I prefer traveling my path with company. I'm as guilty as anyone of trying to push my passions and beliefs on other people and judging people before I know them. But as I grow, I realize how foolish and useless this is. I wish more than anything that this country wasn’t getting fatter by the minute, but after many years of education, people know what makes them fat. They just do it anyway. So the AMA can make obesity a disease or not. People will still be responsible for making their own decisions just like you and me. What are you going to do?

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