He who does not mind his belly will hardly mind anything else.
~ Samuel Johnson
As I write this, it is only a few ticks of the clock past breakfast and I’m already contemplating lunch, my thoughts trending toward chicken tenders and, if temptation wins over cholesterol common sense, a side of mac n cheese. It is not uncommon for me to be thinking about eating right after I eat – what I want to eat, or should eat, or shouldn’t eat. It’s not that I’m obsessed with food, but I am obsessive, by nature and by nurture, and when it comes to eating my psychological wiring has its benefits and its detriments.
On the plus side, while I’m no gourmet, I do favor flavorful food (who doesn’t?) and food with a flare (i.e. spicy). As such, my myopic pursuit of the next thing to go in my gullet usually results in something delicious (to me) in my gullet. So I consider that a benefit. But the detriment is that by and large (large being the optimal word), what I consider to be delicious is not good for me, and after such a meal I am remorseful and repentant, vowing (once again) to do better next time. Which, of course, I usually don’t, keeping me in a spin cycle of gluttony and guilt, thoughts of spaghetti, for example, and shame, filling my head and swelling my stomach.
Which leads the conversation to my belly. Given what I’ve just told you, you might surmise I am obese (and in need of therapy and/or a nutritionist). But I’m not (obese). Nor am I thin. As a friend recently pointed out, after I lamented my body shape (think an upside-down pear), “You’re not fat, you just have a gut…like most middle-aged men.”
You might think this was a put-down, but it was just the opposite; it was his way of making me feel better about myself and stop bemoaning my expanded waistline as nothing more than the natural process of the mature (in years) male. And in many ways, he’s right. A quick gallop on Google provides ample info on the issue, including this from Dr. Zhaoping Li, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at UCLA, on why men have a tendency to develop pot bellies: “Think of it (the belly) like the trunk of a car. Just like people loading up a trunk for a picnic at the park, you can put things there; no problem. But if men eat too much and don’t get enough exercise, then just like a jam-packed trunk, the belly space is going to run out of room. Once a man has a full potbelly, the body starts storing fat elsewhere, which is extremely unhealthy.”
So there’s the (dry) rub. Like my friend said and implied, having a pot belly is not such a bad thing for a man of my years, and maybe even normal. But then again, how to know when the trunk (belly) is ajar, so to speak, and in position to damage to other parts of the car (body). And make no mistake, this situation is dangerous. According to many medical experts, excess belly fat can cause or contribute to Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, High blood pressure, Colon cancer, and Sleep apnea, to name just a few physical problems.
Also, there are mental maladies stemming from having a big gut. Or at least, I think so. For me, it’s a sprinkling of denial (I look pretty good when I wear an extra large hockey jersey and cinch my sweatpants with a tight belt and walk hunched over), embarrassment (I look crazy wearing an extra large hockey shirt with belted sweat pants and shuffling along bent over), and anger (why me!). The last emotion is the strongest and most frequent, as I feel betrayed by my body, which after so many years where I could (and did) eat all and anything (yes please, supersize the order), I now merely have to sniff a croissant and my midsection will blow up like a beach ball.
But while age may bring with it a widening waist, it also gratefully brings wisdom. And what I’ve learned over the years, is that it is never a good decision to fight or doubt nature’s blueprint for the body. If the schematics call for increased circumference around my midsection once I hit a certain age then there must a be a good reason. And if there is a good reason, then it makes sense for me to embrace the change, and to control only what I control. Which is my attitude.
So moving forward, I will be grateful for my belly, thankful it is serving as a default storage space for my excess fat. But I will also try to make sure it doesn’t turn into something more, say change from the trunk of Mini-Cooper to a Suburban. By letting go of the struggle born from my self-consciousness, and accepting that the days of eating a plate of chili cheese fries and whipping off the shirt later at the beach with nary a worry are gone forever, I think I can find peace.
And with that said, it’s time for lunch. I wonder if there is a good place nearby for salad, that also sells mac n cheese.