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Why am I doing this to myself?

Only you know precisely why you decided to lose weight, but let's tick off some of the likely reasons.    

Live longer

Fat men are more likely to die suddenly than the slender.

--Hippocrates, Aphorisms, c. 400 B.C.

Every day you see plenty of fat people and lots of old people, but have you noticed how few old, fat people you see? All those geezers who make it into their eighties and nineties and call it the ``prime of life'' seem to be the lean, wiry type, don't they? This isn't because people suddenly feel compelled to lose weight sometime in their fifth or sixth decades. As the original hipster pointed out 2400 years ago, it's because the fat ones are dying off early.

This is the most fundamental reason to lose weight: to live longer. Whatever you value in life, you can't enjoy it if you're dead! What's the trade-off between a few bad days in the course of a diet, or even low-level irritation for several months, against living for five or ten more years? Of seeing your grandchildren grow up? Of seeing your life's work serve as the foundation for the next generation? Of finally getting the money out of your IRA? Of a happy retirement on the Moon? Whatever...death disqualifies you from every activity.

Dieting is unpleasant and bad days are wretched, but dropping dead is worse. Tomorrow will be better.  

Better health

Feed by measure and defy the physician.

--John Heywood, Proverbs, 1546

Even if excess weight doesn't shorten your life, you're far more likely to suffer a variety of medical problems that will make the years you live less enjoyable. These range from really big annoyances like heart attacks to lesser maladies such as habitual shortness of breath and muscle aches and pains. A few years ago I went through a couple of weeks where I'd haul a 75 pound computer printer home, use it for a day or so, have it break, haul it to the shop, pick it up, and so on. As I recall, I ended up hauling the sucker back and forth about six times before I finally junked it. Every time I wrestled that beast into the car and out again, I woke up the next day with my muscles screaming for mercy. And yet for years, I walked around with the equivalent of that printer strapped around my middle, day in and day out. No wonder I felt awful! You can get accustomed to almost anything. If you've been overweight for a long time, it's hard to know what it's costing you not just in terms of potential health problems down the road, but in how you feel every day. The only way to find out how great you'll feel without the excess ballast is to see the diet through and experience its happy conclusion for yourself.

If a bad day comes a month or two into the diet, think back to the beginning. Think beyond the hunger to how you feel physically and what you've accomplished so far. And remember that your present situation pales before how much you'll enjoy finally achieving the goal.  

Accomplish more

Great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of anything else that is great.

--Henry IV of France (1553-1610)

There's a not-so-subtle discrimination against overweight people in most organisations, and it's based on the flip side of the argument that finally convinced me to lose weight. It's easy to imagine the following thoughts passing through the mind of a person considering promoting an overweight employee to a position of greater responsibility. ``Andy's bright, trustworthy, loyal, and one of the hardest-working people I've ever met--in short in matters intellectual, social, and professional he is the very model of a modern middle manager. But I have to consider the whole picture. This is a management job, not a technical position. I'm betting a large budget, an important project, and more than a little of my own reputation on whoever I pick. Do I really want to bet all that on somebody who can't even manage his weight...?'' The prejudice is normally far more subtle than this line of reasoning, but don't doubt for a minute it's there. Another barrier blocking the advancement of overweight people is the perception they aren't ``dynamic'' and don't have the energy and stamina to see through difficult tasks.

In my experience this discrimination against the overweight is totally unjustified, but that doesn't keep it from happening every day. As we've seen, most overweight people don't suffer from flaws in character or weakness of will; they just have a broken feedback system. But if others assume there's something wrong with them, the consequences will be no less severe for being unjustified and unfair.

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By John Walker