Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solving for X

So I've got some food issues.

I realize this is not exactly a shocking confession. It's not like I started this post with the line "So I'm a man now, call me Chuck." or "So I once killed a hobo" or "So I'm a republican". One might assume that anyone who has achieved a level of fatosity (Not actually a word. Don't look it up.) as impressive as my own likely has a food issue or two (or twelve) lurking around in their psyche somewhere. And I don't disagree.

I do, however, believe that not every overweight person on earth is cut from the same cloth. Line up 100 average sized people and ask each of them what their particular brand of crazy is and you'll get quite a variety of answers. Organize a similar line up of people who struggle with obesity and ask them about their food issues and you'll get an equally impressive array of responses.

Some will profess to be emotional eaters, others will confess that they eat compulsively. Some will cite mindless eating as their major problem, while a few will call out an underactive thyroid or other endocrine condition as the reason for their weight problem. A surprising number of respondents will tell you that, despite all visible evidence to the contrary, they don't actually have a problem with food (and it turns out that massive denial of the existence of food issues isn't strictly a "food issue" in and of itself, so kudos to anyone who manages to squeeze through that loophole). And at least a few people will tell you that their problem is that they simply love food.

Me? Always the overachiever, I fall into several of the categories above. And the truth is that I think most obese people do. I also think that obesity is still such an oversimplified condition that most people continue to view it as primarily a character flaw, a problem that can easily be solved by working the factors in the basic formula for weight loss:
As a fan of math from way back, I tend to believe that the above equation is essentially valid. But I also believe that it's incomplete. We all know that consistently taking in fewer calories than we burn will result in a decrease in our weight over time. And yet, despite the simple mathematical certainty we all cling to, the world is still full of Lane Bryant stores, airplane seatbelt extenders, and a zillion blogs just like this one. If it really were just that simple, we'd all be taking turns lifting up our shirts and flashing people who walked by just so we could mutually admire our washboard abs.

So after some careful thought and a lot of intense dry erase board work (insert imaginary movie-montage here, think "Good Will Hunting" only replace Matt Damon with a middle aged fat girl and WAY less actual math), I surmised that the formula above is missing a single factor, one tiny letter that has the power to drastically alter the outcome. I submit:
Ah yes. The elusive "X" factor. What is it, you ask? It is...whatever it is. It's what stands in the way of the first two factors in the equation. I'd like to be more specific, but I can't--and that, I believe, is the problem. It's whatever brand of food-crazy you suffer from, the monkey wrench that turns the mechanics of weight loss from a 2nd grade math problem into algebra. My X may be different than your X, which is different than his X, which might not look anything like her X. We have to define our own X factor and learn how to fight it if we want to make it to the solution side of the equation and achieve the elusive state of "smaller butt".

But any time you add a step to a process, it ups the difficulty level. Not only do we need to eat less and move more, we've got do wrestle with and remove our X factor with every bite and step we take. Keeping two balls in the air? Easy. You’ve got two hands to do the job. But toss in a third, and suddenly you're juggling. Which, it turns out, is WAY harder than it seems when cartoon clowns do it. It takes a lot of practice and no one, not even the most talented circus performer under the big top, doesn’t drop a ball every now and then.

I'm starting to believe that the secret to keeping all the balls in the air lies in accepting that you're going to drop one from time to time...and that’s OK. Maybe on the days when one ball goes crashing to the floor, we hold tight to the two still in our hands. And if it turns out we need both hands to manage just one of them, we drop a second ball and hold on like hell to the one left. And on the inevitable day that we lose our grip on all three we take a deep breath, shake out our fingers, and pick them back up and try again.

I can eat less. I can move more. I can beat back my X factor of the day with a whip and a chair and the words on this page. Lately, I can do all three at once. What effect is all this juggling having on the size of my butt?

Do the math.


  1. Love this...wish you had spelled out the x factor, cause I REALLY need to know, cause I have NO idea!!! ;-)

  2. Maybe x is different things at different times. Less artificial sweeteners? Or less salt? or more cinnamon, hot peppers? When I first started losing weight (8 years ago) my food choices were different than 3 years later... and different still than now. Or maybe x is the motivation to keep doing it, day after day and not giving in to the office mate who INSISTS on giving you chocolate to celebrate Mother's Day, when you've told her over and over that "I'm trying to quit."