Andersen: Fit, not fat — Part II |

Andersen: Fit, not fat — Part II

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

In January, I wrote about my cousin Joan and her battle of the bulges. I received many comments, all in favor of Joan’s choice to slim down and challenge the social mores of the American Midwest.

Now that spring is here and summer is just around the corner, a lot of flesh that’s been hidden all winter is about ready to greet the warming sun. This is usually the moment of truth when one realizes that winter habits have brought carnage to the archetypal image of the fit, trim, healthy local.

The dreaded winter pallor is unseemly for self-conscious mountain folks, especially when the only thing tanned is one’s face. The rest of the body pales, literally, by comparison. In an undressed state, one can resemble a bluetip matchstick.

Forgive this digression on vanity, but it’s leading back to Joan, who revealed more and better reasons to honor the body as a temple — and not on the scale of the Taj Mahal.

Before, if Joan sat down on the floor, she had to crawl on all fours to a table or chair in order to lift herself to her feet. Now she speaks of other important, but less obvious, benefits from her diet and exercise regimen.

It is important to note that Joan lives in suburban Chicago, not exactly an environment conducive to fitness. Compared to the outdoor recreational wonderland we lavish here, staying fit in the Midwest requires creativity, imagination and what I would consider deep commitment to certain workout drudgeries.

Joan is motivated, however, so she focuses on the prize — good health and vitality — and pays penance for the geographical obstacles to that prize. What she realizes is an elevated life experience, which ought to be motive enough for just about anything — even a Stairmaster.

“I didn’t speak of the mental benefits of all of this, just the physical,” she wrote, happy to have me share her process in this column. “But the effect on mood, clarity, energy and reactivity is also astonishing. Without sugar there truly are no ups and downs, and I am on so much more of an even keel these days.”

She writes about coping with the trials of a brutally cold and snowy winter and of the concurrent pitfalls of homeownership. Where before her life-changing regimen she may have suffered a meltdown over these domestic challenges, things are different now.

“We are having a siege of broken stuff (cars, sinks, etc.) and I think I would be at my wit’s end, especially with the hideous winter, but I am not phased in the slightest. I don’t get emotional or stressed, and I think I am a much easier person to live with. There are no mood fluctuations with my dwindling hormones, so all of that is not much to even think about. I rarely get emotional.”

Joan says she feels sharper and more capable, “and without the alcohol I’m not falling asleep on the couch at 8 o’clock every night, and I’m sleeping better through the night. Dreams have returned, which is a good thing. Getting good sleep helps with general and mental well-being, too.”

Joan’s view of cultural norms also has shifted, and she views the food industry as complicit in the obesity crisis that’s fattening America. In this she has had a true awakening, becoming what many of her peers might describe as a born-again health nut.

“If you pay attention to the prevalence of food and how much of the bad stuff is pushed on us ad nauseam,” she said, “you can understand why people have trouble resisting the temptations. It’s everywhere. It’s all under the realm of ‘comfort food’ and it’s supposed to make us all feel better, help us cope with reality’s challenges.

“But the truth is it doesn’t really work for that either, especially if it just makes you sick and volatile. My comfort food is my daily lunch salads — just love the ritual of cutting and combining ingredients, and the wonderful blend of textures, colors and flavors.”

I’m happy for Joan. Her loss is our gain.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at

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