My height is 6’4”, and on a good day I weigh 185 lbs. I’ve had this physique since my late teenage years. My friends used to call me “giraffe” and “beanpole” because of it, but it was never an issue. Back when I was growing up, in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, skinny people ruled.
Every cool dude had a visible ribcage, a distinct waist, and, oh my, a thigh gap. A paunch? A chubby face? Love handles? What the hell was that? We had no idea. Those body outgrowths were for the old folks who lived in the world of old people. The young populated a different reality where thinness was the golden standard of attractiveness.
When I entered the pool of fledgling surgeons in the early 80s, I remember discussing the chances of performing bariatric surgery (procedures that treat obesity) with my colleagues. All of us agreed that the probability of it happening was zilch. There were 6 morbidly obese patients available in the entire country with about one hundred thousand surgeons eager to scrub in for the job. Arguably, we had better odds of winning that crazy jackpot than performing a Roux-en-Y bypass surgery.
FYI: Currently, American bariatric surgeons perform close to 200,000 procedures every year.
Those were the halcyon years when lean people were in the overwhelming majority, not just in Russia but in the United States as well. Slenderness was strongly associated with good health, and medical professionals consistently maintained that leanness was synonymous with healthiness. No self-respecting doctor would have implied that being overweight was better for your health. Not yet.
The situation clearly changed for the worse in the early 1990. That’s when a new obese phenotype (a set of characteristics) started to form as a result of the interaction of our genotype and the obesogenic environment.
There was a seminal and very unfortunate development in the healthcare field. The healthcare professionals, who rightfully foresaw the dire consequences of obesity, overreacted. They declared a war on obesity:
Cut portions! Cut calories! Cut fats!
The chosen strategy of restrictions forced overweight people to endure hunger, deprivation, and enormous strain. This strategy elevated the level of stress to all new heights - American nation started oozing stress hormone cortisol by the kiloton. Chronic stress is our mortal enemy, and this strategy backfired.
The increased levels of cortisol elevate insulin levels causing the blood sugar to drop and trigger cravings. Unfortunately, it is in human nature to crave junk foods, sweet foods, and fatty foods. They comfort us and temporarily reduce stress, and they make us gain weight.
The misguided war on obesity, just like the war on drugs, proved to be an ultimate failure and only contributed to the obesity epidemic.
Today, Americans find it very difficult to come to terms with the debilitating disease of obesity. There’s a certain degree of desperation in how people try to find justifications for it. We are a nation of believers, but believing in something and being delusional about something are two different things.
Creating militant myths and memes, such as body fat acceptance, body positivity, or body shape diversity, in my opinion, only contributes to the problem. One charming meme, which suggests that every self-respecting man over 40 must accumulate a certain amount of fat, eventually got the moniker “dad bod.” I am not sure what does “dad bod” channel anyway. Derision? Endearment? A mixture of these conflicting sensibilities?
Only if you are Leo DiCaprio!
This meme got the best of me in the most peculiar way. My well-wishing, endearingly derisive friends and relatives badgered me for years about my skinny physique. It’s true, my rangy body stuck out like a sore thumb in the nation where 34 % were overweight and 36% were obese. The well-wishers wanted me to look like a ‘normal’ middle aged man. Their constant nagging about adding some flesh to my bones started to wear me down, and it was only a matter of time before I gave in.
Eventually, I started eating more ... a lot more. I supplied my muscles with copious amounts of protein, fats, and complex carbs. I also didn’t hesitate to add refined sugars to my diet. Hitting 210 lbs was my goal. I wanted to swiftly placate the ‘well-wishers’ and be done with it. But simply adding fat to my frame was out of the question. I was ready to force feed myself, like a goose subjected to gavage, if I had to, but I also reserved the right to stay as fit and healthy as I could.
I like good nutritious food, and I enjoyed the huge portions at the beginning. And even when the heartburn and bloating started becoming an issue, I didn’t change the way I ate nor the portion sizes. I initially ignored the symptoms, and then I started buying over-the-counter indigestion medicines to mitigate them. Even after I had developed the entire list of GERD symptoms, I stubbornly refused to modify my eating regimen. I was a man of my word.
It took me a year to put on 17 lbs. I was still working out like crazy to keep my body fat in check, though. I didn’t want to get a full-size dad bod, but I was fine with a little bit of flab.
I was ecstatic when I finally reached the 200-pound threshold. 210 lbs goal was within my grasp! Just a few extra months of bulking would get me there. But it was around this time that I began to notice the first warnings of a serious problem.
My indigestion started getting worse and worse. What would a person with advanced degrees in medicine do in this situation? Admit he was in trouble and change his ways? Nope!
I asked my physician for stronger medicine instead. I replaced my over-the-counter antacids with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), the nuclear bombs of the antacid world. PPIs don’t just neutralize gastric juices like Maalox or Mylanta do, they knock down the very production of gastric acid itself.
When gastric acid is removed from the digestive process, you can feel it immediately. In my case, my digestion slowed to a crawl. Lumps of undigested food were lingering in my stomach for hours. PPIs had dramatically worsened the symptoms of abdominal distress. Bloating, burping, nausea, and flatulence totally got out of control.
If I hadn’t been focused on my goal, these symptoms would have forced me to stop. But I was making steady progress - the changes in my body were already visible and to my liking. I even started to appreciate the art of bodybuilding. On top of all that, the noticeable increase in my physical strength tickled my machismo.
I clearly remember the day when I topped the scales at 203 lbs. It was a momentous day that changed my life forever. “Fantastic!” I thought. “3 lbs in two weeks. Not bad, not bad at all!” I was in a great mood.
After my customary vigorous thirty minute morning workout, I felt energized and ready for a good nourishing breakfast. I prepared my usual bowl of oatmeal with crushed almonds, protein powder, and blueberries. I also planned to drink a mug of coffee with milk and a piece of cheesecake. I felt ready to tackle the day.
The trouble hit shortly after breakfast. It began with some discomfort in my chest, and then the nausea came in. Intense pain followed, which quickly became too strong to endure. But I didn’t panic. Not yet. “It’s not a heart attack… No way… I am too fit to have a heart attack”, I tried to convince myself.
My train of thought wasn’t irrational. I was 99.9% sure that the pain was related to GERD, which I’ve been living with for almost a year. So long as I waited it out, it usually went away, I reasoned.
But this time, things only got worse - the ache turned into the classical “elephant sitting on my chest” event. I started sweating profusely and my legs got so weak I could barely stand.
I tried to use deep breathing to reduce anxiety and fear. It helped a little at first but, all of sudden, I felt a sharp piercing pain… as if the elephant had pushed a dagger out of its ass that cut straight through my breastbone.
It was time to get scared in earnest. I was just about ready to pick up the phone and call 911, when, suddenly … I burped… the pain immediately lessened… I burped again… The pain vanished shortly thereafter.
I monitored my vitals for half an hour afterward to make sure that the heart was OK. As it turned out, my blood pressure, heart rate, breathing pattern, and pulse were normal and stable.
This incidence served as my wake up call. It finally dawned on me that my GERD was out of control, and I couldn’t just go on ignoring it. My body was sending me clear signals. The abuse had to stop. No more bulking. No more crazy, noxious diet. It is better to be thin and healthy, then buff and sick or, even worse, buff and dead.
According to Richard G. Bribiescas, Professor of Anthropology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Yale, women are more attracted to the ‘dad bod’, “marked by lower testosterone levels, less muscle mass and more fat.” I hope it was professor’s April Fools' Day joke. And if it wasn’t, he should be yaled…oops, he is already Yaled. If people think that ‘dad bod’ denotes something positive, they should talk to Chris Pratt. The actor became famous as Andy Dwyer in the hit show Parks and Recreation, which required him to get chubby and keep the weight on. He doesn’t mince words when he describes his ordeal with ‘dad bod’. 'I was impotent, fatigued, emotionally depressed. I had real health issues that were affecting me in a major way. It's bad for your heart, your skin, your system, your spirit,’ said Chris. According to MensFitness.com, when it comes to dad bod, “… about 50 percent of women are indifferent, only 15 percent exclusively date men with a "dad bod." And 38 percent of women want their guys in tip top shape.” Take that, professor Bribiescas!
I failed to achieve my goal, but, instead of being disappointed, I was just happy that I dodged the bullet. I stopped taking Prilosec and cut my portions in half. This step reduced the intensity of symptoms but didn’t eradicate them. I knew I had to do more to get rid of the symptoms completely. I had to find a way to counteract the impact of gastric acid on the esophageal lining (mucosa).
It took me many months to come up with a winning formula. It was a simple but very effective algorithm, which was based on the physiology of digestion and metabolism.
Shortly thereafter, I stopped feeling sick. I quickly got back to my healthy weight, and, I admit, I lost some muscle strength. However, I compensated it with an increase in stamina. I felt as if I discovered a new source of energy.
I realized I was onto something. I had found a simple and effective technique that was going to hit the disastrous war on obesity at its very core.