Anti-deception belt buckles

Anti-deception belt buckles

It is that time of the year when I get my HBA1c checked again. Now I know that is a measure of my glycosylated haemoglobin and it gives a weighted average of blood glucose levels over the life of red blood cells (117 days or so). But this is not really how I think of it. It is really a test of my abilities in self-deception. I test my blood daily and therefore should really know what my average blood glucose has been – but I cheat !

If I have had a bad day with my diet, a night out for a meal and a drink, I tend to forget to do my bloods just afterwards. If I have forgotten to do my exercises I tend also, quite conveniently, forget to check my sugar levels as well.  I don’t want to see the results of my failings. Until that LED screen on the glucose meter frowns a high value at me I can pretend to myself that little has happened. When I check a little later, having been good and exercised properly, my sugars are not that bad. In essence, I manage to check myself at all the best times and give myself the feeling I am doing better than I am. This feeling of confidence all disappears when the HBA1c comes around and destroys my flimsy deceptions with its harsh reading of the true average reading over the last three months. Because it is a three month average it is not even possible to do a quick few days of good dieting and heavy exercise to bring the average down – the HBA1c doesn’t see this recent contrition, it just counts the pastries and sloth of the previous months.

I think we need similar tests of self-deception that we can use before we end up in the mess of being fat and diabetic. I would have loved to have an anti-deception mirror. This mirror would surreptitiously collect images of us and then present them back to us as an average image of how we looked over the last three months. It would not matter if you stood up straight, threw your shoulders back and sucked in your stomach and held the pose you managed, for the first 30 seconds, that you met a new attractive person. It would show you slouched, hunched and belly flopping. This might be a fillip to think about diet or exercise.  These might meet the call Robert Burns put out in “To a Louse” :-

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

I can imagine another two ways to free us from possible blunders. Anti-deception headphones could also be valuable. These would monitor our conversations for words and phrases like “chubby”, “chunky”, “thick around the middle”, “buxom”, “full figured”, “hefty” or “portly”, when used to describe ourselves, and play the words “fat”, “overweight” or “obese” in their stead. But perhaps the most valuable tool, for men in any event, might be the anti-deception belt buckle.

After a certain age men often become aware of a paunch developing around their midriff. It gradually grows until it is quite a size. To the man this becomes recognizable when he can no longer look down and see his feet or genitals without either sucking in or using his hands. To the rest of the world this became apparent when the paunch had grown to cover his belt buckle. I noticed that I, like many men, dealt with this problem by a cunning strategy. By simply pulling my short out from under my waist band, while my paunch may be hiding my belt buckle, the short now covers the paunch and the buckle. I honestly believed that the rest of the world were fooled by this strategy. I thought that they thought “Hey, look at the thin guy over there whose shirt flaps outside his trousers. I wish I was slim like that“. I didn’t imagine they thought, “Heavens that bloke is too fat to do up his trousers properly and tuck in his shirt“. I believe women have similar cunning plans involving ponchos and similar outfits. I would never had pulled my shirt out while I was wearing a suit (It would have looked too wierd) but I was happy enough to deceive myself that this strategy worked when I wore jeans or chinos. A simple belt buckle with a light sensitive alarm could sound a siren, or ring a bell, when it was covered by a shirt to alert the wearer that they were being silly and making a fashion faux pas.

Anyway, I should know in a few days how much I have been deceiving myself when the HBA1c comes in. I am sure when I get this , temporarily at least, I will pull my sock ups, eat better and workout more. Although perhaps not tonight;  as the next test will not be for over three months and tonight won’t figure in the next test !

 

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

Fleeing death on a B.S.O.

I have mentioned before that years of indolence and gluttony led me to develop Type II Diabetes a few years ago. It should really have been no surprise as my usual diet read like a nutritionists warning sheet – “Don’t eat these things!” – pies, sandwiches, cakes, sweets. The only vegetable I enjoyed was the potato and preferable after this had been deep-fried. Added to this I had a serious aversion to exercise. I tended to see my body as just the apparatus for moving my head from place to place, and anything that made me sweat or short of breath was clearly something to be avoided.

For the best part of a decade I had coasted thinking that because I had given up smoking (three packs a day) I had done all that was necessary for my health routine. It was while basking in the glory of my smoke-free life that I received the news of my diabetes and the reminder that I was going to die, and possibly my demise would not be a long time from now. After serious revision of my diet and serious weight loss (over three stones) my sugars were brought under control and I managed to get a bit fitter. I noticed for me, as the scientific research had said, a lower carbohydrate diet and regular exercise through walking brought my sugars close to the normal range.

I started walking every day, the dogs were delighted and they too became fitter. I started jogging and running. I saw my daily turns round the block as my “running away from death” exercises. Then I thought; if walking is good, and running is better, then surely getting a pair wheels will be able to put even more distance between me and the grim reaper with his scythe.  I thus decided to buy a bike. Well, before this. I resurrected an old bike that I had kept in the garden for a decade under a tarpaulin with some holes in it. I freed the bike with two cans of WD40 and banged the chain into some form of flexibility with a mallet. The rear brakes worked, if you had plenty of notice to apply them, while the front brakes thankfully didn’t work ,as when they rarely did grip they did it with a grip sufficient to toss you over the handlebars. After a few weeks on old rusty I noted my sugars were better (probably the exercise of trying to combat the resistance of years of rust) and thus I decided to buy a new bike.

Now I am aware that I am prone to fads. I run at things with headlong enthusiasm  for a month or so then loose interest so I was a little wary in buying a bike. I had quite a shock when I read reviews of bikes which suggest that this was an excellent buy at only £1000. There were also many warning in the magazines about buying BSO’s (bike shaped objects) as they suggested that these mass produced cheap and cheerful bikes were more trouble than they were worth and would not save you money in the long run. Fortunately my Scottish heritage came to the fore, my reluctance to spend money got the better of me, and I decided to buy at the lower and of the market.

After research I found out about B’Twin a French company with a long and established history of bicycle manufacture who now operate in the UK under the Decathlon name. They manufacture the high end bikes but also much more basic, and affordably priced, models. I plumped for the Riverside 120 hybrid bike and the affordable price included free delivery.

B'Twin Riverside 120
During its inaugural run

The bike came within 48 hours and was very easy to set up. Screwing on the handlebars and attaching the pedals were all that was necessary to be up and on the road. It also came with a basic set of lamps. There was a booklet which usefully described how to set the bike dependant on your size which was clearly written and  helpful. The bike only has 8 gears rather than the 18 or 21 which are often offered. This had actually appealed to me as I found that the complicated gearing systems were too much for me, I would jump gear to gear trying to find a comfortable ratio to work in and there was far to much choice. I would either be standing on the pedals trying to use my weight to slowly turn them or my legs would be a blur, like an egg beater, as they whirled against little resistance and I made little, and wobbly,slow , headway. Eight gears are fine – gears 1 to 3 are for going up hills, 4 is pottering or into string winds, 5 to 8 are for going fast – it really is quite simple.

The simple gearing, correct position and absence of years of accumulated rust and resistance have made the bike a joy to ride. I have only had it week or so (so we are still in the possible ‘fad’ territory) but I have used it many times each day. By the end of the week I am faster and fitter that I was at the start and I have enjoyed my time on the bike. Hopefully, I am putting a little bit more distance between me and my funeral but in any event I am having fun. If you are in the market for a cheaper bike, something simple to use day-to-day then I’d recommend this. Even is this is a fad I haven’t bankrupted us and will still have a way to get to the village if the car breaks down.

 

Is Unnecessary Suffering the price of our tolerance?

Is Unnecessary Suffering the price of our tolerance?

Religious freedom; that is, the ability to think freely on religious matters, the right to worship an the manner your religion decides, the freedom of associate with others of your faith, and the freedom to express your faith, through words or actions, is one of the hallmarks of a modern, liberal, civilised society. One of the signs that this has been reached is the tolerance that citizens show towards fellow citizens who do not share the same beliefs as them. Thus in a tolerant society people may disagree, even vehemently so, and believe others wrong in their thoughts and deeds but we tolerate these differences and live alongside each other despite them. We do not insist we all think and believe the same way and do not demand that people act, or don’t act , in the same way. We don’t insist that we all abstain from meat on a Friday, nor that we all observe the Sabbath on Saturday, nor do we insist we all face Mecca while we pray.

However, there are some limits to this tolerance. This tolerance does not allow us to commit acts which are harmful to others and we insist that everyone is equal in front of the law. Or rather, with the rare cases of religious exceptions, we insist everyone is equal in front of the law. We tend to think that these exceptions should be rare, and should be based on a clear picture that they are necessary for religious observance, and do not break the natural rights of others. For example, I am sure that no matter how liberal a state became, and no matter how protective it was of religious freedom, that any modern state could countenance an exception to permit ‘child sacrifice’.

That above example was an extreme and therefore easy choice, but what of the difficult choices ? What about when a religions try to preserve archaic practices which we no longer hold to be reasonable ? What about when a religion demands of its adherents that they mutilate the genitals of their young ? This one is difficult . In the UK we allow a religious exemption to mutilate young boys’ genitals , while we circumcise them, but ban and prosecute anyone who tries to mutilate a young girl’s genitals. We cope with a difficult problem by having obvious dual standards. This is how important religious freedom is; it is more acceptable to be incoherent and duplicitous than to infringe any more than is absolutely necessary on the rights of citizens to practice their religion.

When these practices do not involve the suffereing and rights of people, but rather relate to animals, we become even less logical. It is generally accepted that if we are to kill, to eat, large animals such as hens, sheep or cattle, then they should be stunned into insensibility before the final act of killing the animal is performed. There is a clear body of evidence that animals which are not stunned and who bleed to death suffer pain and distress during this process. (For a summary by the RSPCA and British Veterinary Society see here). Therefore it is against the law to kill an animal by bleeding unless it has been stunned beforehand. Except if there is a religious excemption such as exists for the halal or kosher slaughter of animals. In most cases, even those animals who are slaughtered under kosher or halal regulations are still stunned before slaughter but it is estimated that up to 1 in 5 animals killed under these relgulations are killed without being stunned.

I am of a liberal disposition. I do not agree with this method of killing and think those that do this are doing a great diservice to the animal and to their faith. I argue with them and hope that, given time, they will see the error of their ways and behave better – either by stunning their animals or by deciding not to eat them at all. If you can only eat the animal if it has suffered it would seem inhumane to eat it, especially as there is no necessity to eat meat at all. I will, and have, argued strongly on this topic but because I am a tolerant individual I must tolerate their right to do this. It is one of the costs of maintaining our society, I would not seek to ban them but would urge them to reconsider their practice.

Unfortunately, I fear that an aspect of this problem is not being dealt with fairly and that a lack of openness and honesty is causing unnecesary suffering for animals. Many animals in abbatoires are killed in accordance with halal practice and the numbers killed thus exceeds the number needed for sale clearly labelled as killed under these religious excemptions. It is felt wiser in the slaughterhouse to do more animals this way than needed as they can be sold as normal while an animal killed humanely can not be sold as halal or kosher.

There is obviously no harm which will befall someone should they eat halal slaughtered meat unknowingly, though an observant religious person finding they had unwittingly eaten meat not slaughtered in such a fashion may worry for their souls (Though I believe the religions themselves give dispensation for such accidents). So many animals are killed without stunning but no mention is made of this on the labelling except when it is sold explicitly as halal meat. It has been suggested that almost every kebab sold in Wales is mad from meat slaughtered to halal standard (some stunned, some not) but no mention of this will be made at the point of sale. This is the very definition of unnecessary suffering , if I eat meat killed without stunning when I have no religious need to do so, then that the suffering of that animal was unnecessary and should have been avoided.

We already place labels on our food, various pleasant red tractors, or green trees, to ressure us that our animals had a good life and were well cared for. But we seem reluctant to place a label which lets us know that the animal didn’t suffer at death. I can understand the retailers’ reluctance; they clearly know that if there was a label saying halal slaughter some buyers would avoid that product because they do not want to be party to unnecessary animal suffering. They would prefer that we remain ignorant and continue to make the purchase unhindered by any moral deliberation.  Unfortunately they thus remove a choice we may wish to make to support better animal husbandry.

I fear our legislators also wish to avoid this issue but for a darker and more sinister reason. I believe that  they fear, that should they insist on labels saying ‘humane slaughter’, or something similar, then people may ask for a debate on how far religious exceptions in law can go in our society. They fear that they may unleash public anger. They tend to believe that for every person troubled by issues of religious tolerance and animal welfare there is a bigoted, racist, islamophobic or anti-Semitic  doppelgänger who will be released, and therefore it is best just to keep quiet about all of this.

Unfortunately keeping quiet and hiding secrets never encourages anyone to change. Those to whom you lied never find themselves pleasantly surprised when they find out the secrets you kept from them. It is more likely that when people find the truth they tend to become angry and hostile. Thus, if anything, this strategy of hidding the religious exemptions from humane slaughter is, in the long term, likely to increase animosity between groups and reduce the drivers for change and increased societal harmony. A simple label “killed humanely” would reassure those of us who eat meat, it might make some of us who eat meat think about whether we should continue to do so, and would hardly be offputting to someone who felt that their alternative methods were appropriate (Though it may make them think).

Surely it is just as important to know the animal was cared for when it was killed as to know that it was treated fairly while alive ? It might even be the very least we could do.

 

 

It’s a big fat lie.

It’s a big fat lie.

I read today [OECD] that Britain has the highest rates of obesity, and fatness, in Europe and is the 6th most obese country in the world. There is also  the terrifying statistic that the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1990’s and we face the serious prospect of this bankrupting the NHS. Obesity is a major risk factor, as we all know, for diabetes, cancer, hypertension, heart disease, stroke and dementia – this rate of change should alarm us – but it won’t.

For many years, most of my working life, I ignored a growing problem. This problem was the growing size of my belly and my increasing size. By the time I changed my lifestyle 6 years ago I had managed to create quite a respectable problem for myself. My waist was 35 inches, my weight was 14 stones and unfortunately not being a tall man my BMI was 31.6. I was quite clearly obese. This had crept up on me, I knew as I aged I was becoming less fit but I didn’t look that different to many other middle-aged men and nobody passed any adverse comments. As a doctor, I knew I was building up risks for myself but I was able to  minimise these in my head. Nothing bad had happened, I don’t look that unusual, my blood pressure is OK, I still stay active – it really was easy to convince myself that this was no great deal.

Then came the rude awakening. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes mellitus with blood sugars so high I had the full range of symptoms and was started on metformin instantly, at a pretty high dose. I then went through the NHS’s education package. This told me to take my medicines, eat regularly and sensibly, and take a bit of exercise. With this, I was assured, the thing was manageable and I’d be fine. No-one took a blind bit of notice of the large, and obvious, wobbly bundle of fat I had around my middle even though this was the most conspicuous thing of my appearance. (If you want to imagine me then – not recommended – then imagine a potato with four cocktail sticks as limbs, that was me to a “T”). I sat on classes with other similarly shaped people and we all pretended that there was nothing amiss, nothing that eating a stick of celery couldn’t sort out. I went to the gym, where the rhythmical bouncing of my and my new friends’ bellies, while we tried to jog on the treadmills, was almost hypnotic to watch. Through it all no doctor, no nurse, no dietician, no-one said – for goodness sake get rid of that belly ! They were all too polite to mention it.

When I received the diagnosis a cold shiver went down my spine. I’d worked in an area where I’d seen the consequences of diabetes. I’d spoken to men about to have their feet amputated, I’d given rehab advise to folk after their stroke, I’d completed forms confirming that a diabetic man was now blind, and I’d consoled widows after their spouse’s fatal heart attack. I knew my mortality risk was now considerably increased and I knew some of the problems I might face. I also knew, from very cursory information gathering, that my poor diet and obesity were the main factor in this.

I decided to change, I was so scared and shocked, I knew I had to change. I went on a low carb diet and lost 3 stones, I kept on the diet and took regular exercise. I saw my waistline shrink, my belly disappear and my blood return to near normal. After a few months I came off medication and have remained medication free, and with relatively normal bloods, for the past years. A couple of my diabetic pals, who were equally shocked, did the same thing with similarly good results.  But I meet my other pals, who were never troubled by the thought of their weight; still obese, still taking medication and now starting to experience the adverse consequences of this illness.

So I have a personal interest in this report of growing obesity in the UK even though I am a relative neophyte to the world of diets and healthy eating. What are we to do to try and stop this growing trend. It is clear that there are some things we can’t do.

We can’t reduce the availability of food. This is a non-starter, there is no way we can limit what people eat – they must do this themselves. If you don’t sell the double pack of Mars bars I’m smart enough to get around this by buying two packs as is everybody else. Attempt to limit things by smaller packaging could only work if we were happy to accept central rationing of our food, otherwise we just buy more of the smaller packets.

I don’t think that we will get around this by education. I don’t think that there is anyone left that thinks a Big Mac and fries becomes a healthy option because it has a gherkin in it. We all know that a salad is healthier than a bar of chocolate – education is the answer when ignorance is the problem. That is not the issue here.

I doubt we will have much success tackling our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Anyone suggesting we get rid of the automobile, or suggesting we dig roads by hand or get rid of any other  labour saving machinery, is unlikely to have a successful career in politics. We can suggest that people exercise and find ways to make it easier but, unless we are going to have forced marches then we need to find ways to make people want to do this.

The key in the affluent west is that we need people to want to be normal sized, to fear being obese. This is what we have lost. As I walked around I saw other people the same shape as me, it normalised my obesity. Chairs, cars, everything has been slightly adapted to suit the larger body, each step making it easier to be obese and, more importantly, making it easier to ignore your own obesity. I needed somebody to tell me – “Whoa ! You’ve got far too big there. That doesn’t look right” but even when I had fallen ill people were too afraid to mention it. They were happier to let me die earlier or loose my sight, or foot,  than to be accused of “fat shaming”

We would prefer people to be comfortable in their obesity, than in any way upset – but this is precisely what we do not need.  Discomfort might prompt thought and redirection and improvement to their health and life. I wish someone had spoken honestly to me, when I asked “How do I look ?” I wish they had said “you are getting fat” rather than lied with “Fine”. There is no need to be unpleasant about this we just need to be honest. We also need to be careful about attempts to actively normalise obesity. I noted, when in the supermarket today, this is not as strange and impossible idea as I had thought –  three of the covers of magazines (directed to young women) were using obese models. It may be dangerous to promote anorexic stick insect ideals of beauty but it is equally dangerous to promote obesity as a good choice.

The problem of obesity  has unfortunately got bound up in the gender issues of objectification of womenWe  but obesity doesn’t affect only one gender. All of us are at risk when we treat our health and future in a cavalier way like this. There are many vested interests who would prefer us not to think about it; the food and pharmaceutical industries would be much happier we consumed more of their products and dealt with the consequences. The media and beauty industry can sell us their products either way, fat or thin models, it is of no concern to them simply which model sells more copy.

People are free to live as they wish, they are free to be fat or thin as they choose, but they must choose with adequate knowledge. We should not influence these decisions because of our political biases and we should net let people die early because we were too afraid to tell the truth.

 

gallery-1438872521-f2
Cosmopolitan – This photo series shows that “fat” can be as beautiful as any other body type

 

Snack Music

Snack Music

A few years ago I was diagnosed as having Type II Diabetes. It was quite a shock as I hadn’t felt unwell and had not realised just how bad my diet was.  In the first year I used a low carb/high fat diet to get my weight normal and to be able to stop taking medication. Since then I have paid better attention to my diet and started to exercise regularly, I have stayed off medication, my blood pressure and lipid levels  are better than when I was a younger man and I am fitter. I also feel fitter and stronger.

When I look back to see what I had done wrong to end up in this state, it was clear that snack food had been my downfall. Looking back it was obvious quick, easy to eat, high carbohydrate treats had taken over my diet.  Snacks had done it; a sandwich, a cake, a pie, a biscuit, a sausage roll .. there were many ways I could snack instead of eating regularly. I had developed a bad habit of eating easy food with a quick reward. There was no need for preparation, little need for thought, just eat and go.

Over the years this had done considerable damage to my body. I was three stones overweight, no amount of leaving my shirt outside my trousers could hide my belly, I could not run, and eventually my body started to fail. Fortunately I started to have to get up at night to pee and thinking I might have the other old man’s friend (prostate problems) I saw the doctor who, alarmed at the high levels of my blood sugar, started medication immediately.

I use the word “fortunately” as I am glad I found out the damage I was doing to myself before discovering it, too late,  after a heart attack, an amputated foot or after going blind. I have turned some things around and hopefully reduced my risks somewhat. But I was clear that snacks had been my downfall, they had messed up my diet and consequently messed up me.

However, recently I have been trying to learn from my mistakes. If I did this much damage unwittingly, what other damage might I be doing ? Are there other dangerous snacks I have been overeating ?

I realised that in cultural terms I was wreaking similar damage in other areas by snacking. I decided to tackle these problems also before they started to cause problems or disability. I have started first with music. I was aware that over the years I have started to prefer small, easily digestible pieces of music; pieces of music that require little thought or attention and which catch you quickly and satisfy instantly. I prefered the snacks of the musicalworld.

I had been led to this by the mp3 and the download. Rather than listen to a concert or an LP I would listen to a single track. Instead of listening to the whole opera I’d listen to the popular aria made famous recently by its use in an advertisment. I noted that my musical tastes have been coarsened and  are now much more reliant of rhythm and beat – the quick hit, the ‘carbs’ of the music world. I noticed also that often I was guided to music by the accompanying video which makes the emotional impact much more effective while, at the same time, taking away the need to think and consider. I think it is no surpise that the videos are becoming more important as it is not really the music that is being sold now. It is the quick snack, the fast food of the music world, rather than a balanced healthy diet.

I’m starting to see results. This morning was improved by listening to “A night on bald Mountain” and last night was spent in the company of the Dance Macabre  of Camille Saint-Saens. This has been much better for my health and soul than my previous diet and hopefully, over time, I’ll see similar amounts of improvement. Certainly I feel better and I am also much more aware of what I consume musically and that, in itself, is not a bad thing.


Night on Bald Mountain

Dance Macabre


via Daily Prompt: Snack