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November 2003 Issue
Chart Your Way to Health … or Not?
by Michael Fick
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Your diet quality is OK if it’s close to the Mediterranean diet, discussed many times in this column. Your diet quantity is OK if your body fat level is reasonable. You can get a body fat reality check from friends, a bathroom scale, a couple of doctors, and/or a BMI chart (Google BMI charts start with If these leave any doubt, measure your body fat level with a pinch test (ask Google about body fat pinch test). If those tests agree with statistics that you’re overweight, you know what must change: more calories out and fewer calories in, until your pants fall down. That requires actual changes in activity and eating habits, not mere charts.

There are valid cases for some charts, particularly for people who hate physical activity but are willing to force themselves to exercise just enough to stay healthy. These people deserve our admiration, because forcing ourselves to work out consistently requires a great deal of discipline. Charts are also valid for those who find charting and logging food in and activity calories out fascinating or motivating, and it won’t do any harm until distracts them from their sleep, jobs, or weight management.

A third valid purpose for using charts is helping us face facts. You’re heard it many times from people who don’t chart their food and activity -- “Oh, I eat like a bird and still put on weight … it’s genetic” -- and a talk-show caller said her little boy puts on three pounds a day lying in his hospital obesity ward bed being fed intravenously.

Bullfeathers! Buzzards eat like birds too, genes don’t trump the laws of physics, and has anyone inventoried the FURNITURE in this boy’s room lately? At this pace he’s going to need his own zip code by the time he’s old enough to drink beer through that tube and there won’t be any air left on the planet cause he’s converted it all to lard. Don’t you suspect both of these people might benefit from charting at least their food intake?

If you chew The Right Stuff, eschew the wrong stuff, and put on some muscle, the only calculations necessary will be budgeting for a new, smaller wardrobe as the months and years go by. More years will go by, and the money saved by reduced long-term health problems will pay for the new wardrobe. For most Americans, a more svelte appearance isn’t just for fashion magazines; it’s for our health. Every 40-inch belt should have a surgeon general’s warning on it.

I hope this repeated emphasis on weight management doesn’t wear too thin, but excess weight is one of the biggest health threats the nation and a 150 million of its citizens face, yet is one of the simplest problems – in theory – to solve. It doesn’t take chemicals (most weight loss chemicals do more harm than good), it doesn’t take surgery (although many people choose the risky surgery over self-discipline), it is curable (unlike some equally harmful diseases), and curing it puts money in your pocket. In other words, you don’t need no stinking pills, surgery, miracle cures, or deep pockets to manage your weight. The size of our jeans lies more in our heads than in our genes, and I hope each new approach to the problem and its solutions will reach a few more people.

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