You know what I had for lunch yesterday? A McRib. Mmm-mmm. A slab of pork dripping in barbecue sauce topped by chopped onions on a roll. Insert image of Homer Simpson drooling.
OK, I know what you’re saying: “Cranky, stop, you’re encouraging readers to eat unhealthily.” Oh, I hear you. Here’s my well thought-out response: I don’t give a shit.
Yes, I can afford to lose
more than a few pounds. I suffer from my share of aches and pains. But you know what? I’m 59 years old. Show me a 59-year-old who doesn’t battle at least minor health problems and I’ll show you a 59-year-old who is dead.
Whenever I get together with former schoolmates, the first thing we do is compare health notes. The surprising thing is that often I’m in better shape, despite my indifferent health regimen. My classmate who ran track, still runs 5K races and bicycles? He had a recent bout with the Big C. When I had a lunch with another classmate and we discussed medical procedures, he mentioned one that I’d never heard of. I asked him what it was, and when he explained, “First they go in through your penis,” I yelled, “OK, you win!”
My brother is six years younger than me. He is a retired cop with a gym membership who does all the home improvement on his and our mother’s home. Guess which one of us needs a hip replacement? That’s right, while I was sitting on the couch with a bag of chips, I wasn’t putting any strain on my joints.
I know people who exercise regularly that always seem to be suffering from shin splints, torn knee ligaments or injured feet. The people who are the most persistent in their exercise routines are often the ones who seem to be wound tighter than a drum. I think they get so worried about their health that it actually makes them stressed, and stress is the biggest killer of them all.
I know that nothing has ever made me feel so unhealthy, has made me jump with pain and discomfort, as stress. I hear someone wail, “I’m ten pounds overweight SO I’M GOING TO DIE!” I think, “Well, with that attitude, you sure are, but it’s not gonna be the food that kills you.”
For the record, I’m not reckless. I don’t really sit on the couch with a bag of chips. (Much.) I limit my intake of red meat, I eat my vegetables, I usually eschew dessert when I go out to eat. Certain foods seem to affect my metabolism, so I avoid them. (For example, whenever I eat a full-size Tootsie Roll, I get a pounding headache; ergo, ixnay on the Tootsie Rolls.) I’ve never smoked, I haven’t even smoked pot in 25 years and I rarely have more than one alcoholic drink per day. But here’s the key point for me: I’m not anal about it. If I feel like ordering a juicy cheeseburger, I do so and don’t sweat it.
We’ve become downright psychotic about weight issues. Walk through a supermarket checkout line and check the tabloids. "Which Celebs Are Anorexic?" next to "Ha ha, Jennifer Love Hewitt Has Cellulite." "How to Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Minutes" next to "Try Our Sinfully Luscious Chocolate Cake Recipe." I mean, wtf?
And don’t get me started on the crackpot diets. I always say I’m going to publish my own health guide. Here’s the entire text: “Exercise more. Eat less. Eat healthier. Royalties, please!”
Now I’m not encouraging everyone to be blasé about their diet. There are people with addictive personalities, eating disorders, heart problems, serious health issues such as diabetes: if that’s you, please watch what you eat and follow your doctor’s advice. Nor am I pooh-poohing exercise; its cardiovascular benefits are clear. (Though I'll point out that, after spending an hour on the treadmill, if you treat yourself to a Starbucks latte, you've just put all the calories you've burned back on!)
My biggest objection to all this health fanaticism is the sense that the “experts” are trying to pound all of us square pegs into round holes. Everyone is genetically different, but our tolerant, diverse society often seems intolerant of our body diversities. Some people are genetically programmed to be overweight. Trying to make them thin is about as pointless as trying to turn a gay person straight. Some people are genetically programmed to be thin. They wonder why you can't be as healthy as them, you lazy sod.
Every deviation from the norm is now an “epidemic.” There is an epidemic of obesity among young people. There is also an epidemic of anorexia among young women battling body issues. There is an epidemic of flabby kids from lack of physical activity. There is an epidemic of kids bulked up on steroids. In summary, there are too many fat kids and too many skinny kids, too many soft kids and too many over-muscled kids. Maybe we can get the heavy kids to give some of their weight to skinny kids, get the steroid kids to give some of their muscles to the flabby kids, so we can all fall within the “norm.” Then maybe we can learn to goosestep together.
At my old job, we had a saying (which I believe came from a Bill Hicks routine): Keith Richards = alive, Jim Fixx = dead. Meaning Richards, despite indulging in every type of debauchery imaginable, apparently has the constitution of a bull. Fixx, the author of The Complete Book of Running and the man who made jogging a popular exercise activity, dropped dead of a heart attack at age 52 because of a genetic heart problem.
Sure, following the experts’ advice to the letter gives you a better chance at living longer. Buying 20 Lotto tickets gives you a better chance at being wealthy than buying one.
Here’s how I look at it. When you’re a kid, you’re always being told what to do and when to do it. Go to bed, wake up, do your homework, eat your vegetables, clean up the mess in your room, turn that music down. In school, bells ring to tell you when to change classrooms or when to go home. And you think, “Gee, I can’t wait until I’m all growed up, and can do what I want!”
Then suddenly you are all growed up and on your own, in college or young adulthood. And you stay up too late, drink too much, eat too much junk, sample illicit substances, hang out with the wrong people, all to explore your newly earned freedom.
But then the realities of adulthood begin to settle in. You start a career, doing the 9-to-5, so you have to watch when you go to bed and when you wake up. You get married, and have to accommodate your schedule to someone else’s. You have children, and your free time is filled with teacher conferences and school activities and play dates and trips to the mall. Your money and time are spoken for. You can no longer do what you want. You think about that little boy who dreamed about being “all growed up” and you want to tell him, “Be careful what you wish for.”
So I rebel. Every once in a while, I happily, and without one iota of guilt, give in to a craving, and go grab something deliciously unhealthy for lunch. It reminds me that I still am all growed up.
And you know what? That McRib tasted gooood.