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Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success

Overview


Ted Spiker may be the coauthor of numerous bestselling diet and health books, but the man just can’t resist a good burrito. Or a bad burrito. (He’s also eaten a 76-ounce steak, asserted that his wife’s post-pregnancy jeans were the best-fitting pants he ever wore, and was asked by his own childhood doctor if his “feminine shape” embarrassed him at the beach.) In Down Size, Ted takes readers on an inspiring, candid, and comical journey, exploring the art and science of weight ...
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Down Size: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success

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Overview


Ted Spiker may be the coauthor of numerous bestselling diet and health books, but the man just can’t resist a good burrito. Or a bad burrito. (He’s also eaten a 76-ounce steak, asserted that his wife’s post-pregnancy jeans were the best-fitting pants he ever wore, and was asked by his own childhood doctor if his “feminine shape” embarrassed him at the beach.) In Down Size, Ted takes readers on an inspiring, candid, and comical journey, exploring the art and science of weight loss through
his own struggles as a pear-shaped man in a not-so-pear-shaped world, with research about food, exercise, and the psychology of losing weight. He reveals twelve truths about successful weight loss, in areas such as temptation, frustration, nutrition, and inspiration. Some truths:
• Redefine the Definition of Data
• Leave Behind Your Extra Gland
• Think Process, Not Outcome
• Train Shorter, Train Harder
 
Combining science, personal stories, expert interviews, and advice, Down Size is an entertaining, field-tested, and research-based look at how men and women can finally find the body they want.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/15/2014
Spiker’s intimate, hilarious, and sometimes poignant guide to weight loss offers practical advice to anyone who has ever struggled with weight and body image. What makes this book work, where so many diet guides do not, is Spiker’s painfully honest disclosures, from his long list of “top temptations” to his record of weight gain and his “maximum waist size.” Spiker, coauthor of the You series with Michael Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz, doesn’t just describe his own struggles with weight, but offers stories from other people who have struggled with food and have figured out a healthy response. Spiker also calls on professional input from a number of experts, including colleague and friend (and TV celebrity) Oz. Readers looking for the standard diet book fare—recipes, lists of dos and don’ts—won’t find that here. Instead, they’ll find a refreshing and inspiring book with a wide range of suggestions for reframing their lives, including sustaining motivation and concentrating on process instead of goals. Most importantly, Spiker advocates personalized diets over a one-size-fits-all approach. Throughout the book, he gently nudges and encourages readers, winning their trust by sharing personal moments from his own weight-loss story. Agent: David Black, David Black Agency. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594631917
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press
  • Publication date: 10/16/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 192,865
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Ted Spiker is co-author of the bestselling You series with Drs. Mehmet C. Oz and Michael Roizen and the bestselling Abs Diet series with David Zinczenko. An associate professor of journalism at the University of Florida, Spiker has worked as an editor at Men’s Health magazine, writes for many magazines, and is the author of Big Guy Blog for RunnersWorld.com. He lives in Gainesville, Florida.
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Read an Excerpt


Introduction: Easier Said Than Done

As I scrolled through the comments on my semester’s-end evaluations (the place where students can rate their professors anonymously), I stopped the cursor on one sentence. In its brevity, it whispered among the hundreds of other observations. In its content, it sounded like a stadium full of cowbells, amplifying the angst I feel every burger-loving day. Most students use the rating system to praise or slam the class, the readings, or the instructor, but one person, under the heading “Additional Comments,” had noted, “Wear slacks that aren’t as baggy.”

Though I could debate the appropriateness of an undergraduate chirping about my appearance, I couldn’t argue with the comment’s simplicity and veracity. Sure, your class is fine. Your pants? Not so much, big boy.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in an XXL body with a shape that’s genetically and gender-ly damning: I’m a man with a classic pear shape. I carry my extra weight not in my gut, but in my hips, butt, and thighs. Therefore, pants with an accurate waist size fit too tight from belly button to knee, and pants large enough to scoot over my hips droop from my waist like a turkey’s wattle. I have not found an off-the-rack, well-fitted pair of pants since 1989 (probably the same year I last said “belly button”), and if given the choice, especially when on display in front of 275 students, I’ll opt for too baggy over too tight. That means I leave the house just about every day with the question that has hung over my head for most of my adult life: Why can’t I get the body I want?

As early as I can remember, I have directed too much thought and worry toward food, fat, and body parts that jiggle. I have cringed about my weight, wished for a different shape, and dreamt about substituting the s for an n in the word husky. I have spent decades feeling the way I imagine most people with body issues do: a psychological cocktail of frustration, embarrassment, and middle fingers to the mirror. Anyone who has experienced a demonic relationship with a scale knows too well the inner conflict. On one hip, you have the long-term pursuit of a better body. On the other, you have the short-term pleasure of spicy sausage sandwiches.

The worst part of it? It’s not as if I haven’t known what to do. Besides teaching, I’m a health writer who has written hundreds of thousands of words about weight loss, diets, and fitness. As a former staffer at abs-happy Men’s Health magazine and coauthor of the YOU: The Owner’s Manual series of books by Dr. Mehmet Oz (a New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University heart surgeon and host ofThe Dr. Oz Show) and Dr. Michael Roizen (the chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic), I’ve spent hours and hours talking with doctors, trainers, and nutritional gurus about eating and exercise. I’ve interviewed hundreds of leading medical experts from places such as Yale and Harvard, I’ve examined weight-loss studies, and I’ve even tried workouts designed for elite athletes.

I also mainline whipped cream.

That’s what makes the arena of dieting so maddening. Even people who don’t deal with the subject professionally know the what. For the most part, we accept the foundational equations of weight loss. Vegetables > fried foods. Exercise > the couch. When eating a scoop of chocolate chips, one should not measure that scoop via dump truck. Most of us also know the übertruth, too: What you eat matters the most.

But the reality is that even if we know what’s right, it hasn’t worked. Not for me, not for millions.

Why? Because that simple “what you eat” is determined not only by a chart of good foods and bad foods, but also by so many nuances, complexities, emotions, and psychological and lifestyle factors that make it difficult for anyone to lay out the perfect diet that works for everyone. That’s why I believe that most eating plans can work. And most eating plans can fail.

Along with all the people who weigh more than they want or who have shapes they don’t like, I have spent way too much time being on diets, thinking about diets, and feeling guilty about going off diets—and repeating the cycle again and again. Many of us desperately try to lose weight, and we pledge that we’ll do anything to do so. But something’s not working. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, the weight-loss industry sees more than sixty billion dollars in revenue every year. These are the two key statistics that perfectly summarize the ping-pong nature of our dilemma: Get fat, get stuck, get going, get stuck, get mad, get sad, get a cupcake. Every so often, whether we’re inspired by a new year or shamed by a double-chinned Facebook photo, we sink our energies into the sexiest of potential solutions—solutions that can work, should work, and do work. But along the way, we forget the most important part of the weight-loss equation: We’re human, and we all have a story.

The short of mine: I’m in my mid-forties, six foot two, and have spent most days unsatisfied with my weight and physique. I’ve lived most of my recent adult years in the 220- to 250-pound range—that’s an overweight-to-obese body mass index of 28–32. I left college at around 180 pounds (a normal BMI of 23) and weighed nearly 280 some fifteen years later (a BMI of 36, which is defined as obese). (Note: BMI is not the only marker for health, and it has its flaws, but it does provide some parallelism for understanding height and weight ratios if you don’t know what a six-foot-two man should weigh.) I love to exercise and have completed mud obstacle races and a marathon. I’ve also won eating contests and broken a bicycle seat. In my job as a writer and professor, I’ve been immersed in health information, so I know the basic facts, as do most of us. Fact: Obesity is really a proxy for other life-shorteners, because being overweight is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and so many other health issues. Fact: Losing weight reduces the risk factors for many of these conditions. Fact: Our health care system is under enormous pressure because of obesity-related problems. Fact: Many experts will tell you that a reasonable expectation for weight loss should be one to two pounds a week, though nobody wants to wait that long. Fact: I ate a bowl of Samoa Girl Scout Cookie–flavored ice cream as I wrote those previous four facts.

For my whole life, I’ve battled to turn an increase in information into a decrease in pants size.

I knew it, but I didn’t get it.

Now I do. Down to a satisfying-for-me two-hundred-pound range, I’ve learned that weight loss and body acceptance are only partially about foods and plans and calories and training. They’re about art, science, and soul.

What I’ve learned is that for any man or woman who wants to lose weight or get healthier or simply learn to accept that his or her body is perfectly imperfect, it comes down to more than grilled chicken salads. Most of us can’t just follow a step-by-step eating plan indefinitely and expect lasting results. It comes down to figuring out not the rules, but the truths—the principles that can guide your actions, that can steer you in the right direction, that can bail you out when things go wrong, that can take into consideration that your brain (and not your belly) is the lead character in the dramatic performance that is weight loss. When you figure out the truths, they’re the ones that can then sustain you when eight of your fingers are knuckle deep in movie-theater popcorn and the other two are tsk-tsking younot to go there.

Though we all know admirable folks who truly can treat food like fuel and not let any baggage influence choices, many of us eat our meals with psychological side dishes—because eating is personal. It’s social, it’s emotional, it’s addictive, it’s fun, it’s comforting, it’s pleasurable, and it involves creating cheese-filled memories with the people we care about.

While it may feel simple to just go on a plan that a doctor, nutritionist, or author recommends, it’s always more difficult than we think, because of the factors that influence decision making. This is why I’ve learned that this whole issue comes down to twelve truths about the body and brain. I don’t believe you can merely take one or two pieces of diet advice, follow a meal plan, and lose weight for the long term. That’s part of the solution, but so is looking under the hood to find what inspires you, what motivates you, what stresses you, what things in your life influence your body shape and size.

In this book, I’ll cover my twelve truths that address weight loss holistically, by examining not just nutrition and exercise, but also things like motivation, inspiration, and temptation. It took me some time to figure out the common principles that successful weight losers share. For so long, I (and maybe you) wanted there to be that one answer that would be it—the secret that could change my body. After years of experimentation and lots of trial and lots of error, I realized this is how it works: In today’s world, the person who wants to lose weight stands in a messy room with a locked door. We all want the master key to unlock the door, because we think that behind it lies the final answer to getting a fitter and healthier body, but our bodies and brains don’t work in a one-problem, one-solution system. There is no master key. To be successful, you have to stop expecting one answer. Instead, look around the room: Some answers will be on a shelf, some will be buried in a closet, and some (which you haven’t even considered yet) will be right there on the floor in front of you. When you put them together, that’s when it clicks. That’s when it works. That’s when we stop flailing. That’s when it makes sense.

Through the stories of others, accounts of my own successes and failures, and the insights of experts who study these issues, I will outline the big-picture truths that help people successfully lose weight. I didn’t have a single epiphany regarding these truths, but a series of smaller ones. It took going through these issues myself, not to mention writing and reporting about them, for me to start getting a handle on how the mind and body work together in pursuit of a healthier, better body.

In the end, when I stopped chasing the easy answer, weight loss got easier.

Science serves as the foundation for many of the truths I believe in; well-studied data do point us to what’s better for us healthwise. Do the strategies studied work? Yes. But you know what? The most sound studies in the world don’t mean squat if you’re in the minority, and the studies don’t mean squat in isolation—that is, it’s never just one thing that will be the answer; you have to have a three-dimensional picture. That’s why it’s so difficult to determine the factors that work, because in order for science to do its job, it has to use controls that will allow us to see the effect of a single factor. Real life, however, indicates that successful weight loss involves many variables. That’s why I put stock into anecdotal evidence—evidence that may have worked for me, for others, and maybe for you, too. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t mean one element is the answer, only that it could be an answer, part of an answer, or could inspire you to think of the answer that will work. Some in the scientific community place lesser value on individuals’ stories, because so many uncontrolled factors may contribute to the success or failure of a weight-loss attempt. But there is power in stories—sometimes in the literal information, sometimes in the metaphors, and sometimes in the subtle lessons that nobody but you sees.

To me, that’s the missing piece in this whole weight-loss puzzle: Can we arm ourselves with proper amounts of information, experimentation, and inspiration so that we—as individuals with our own stories, struggles, histories, genes, and personality traits—figure out what works best for us? Successful dieters create their own programs that are driven by science, lifestyle, and personality.

The truths I’ve identified don’t work alone: Throughout this book, you’ll see the comingling of many of them, with one truth including elements of others. For example, the power of social connections to help people through weight-related issues (detailed in chapter 11) is part of virtually every other truth in the book.

Ultimately, I hope these truths help address the main roadblocks we confront when it comes to losing weight—whether it’s busting through a frustrating plateau or manufacturing motivation. And I hope they offer hints at solutions for eating well, exercising, and creating the best possible physical and psychological environments for your body. I’m not here to push a certain program (such as All Carbs Are Bad!) or blame others for my problems (wait until you hear what happened to me in PE class). What I want to do is take you through the arc of weight gain and loss; that’s why these truths are arranged chronologically, the way many of us experience weight and body issues: from “oh no” to “aha”—that is, from getting stuck, to fixing the problem, to finding lifelong solutions. For me, these truths revolve around all aspects of the quest for your desired body in terms of appearance, health, energy, and performance.

I have a couple of quick notes before I start. First, I tell you my stories and the stories of others as a way to help you think about the struggles and solutions many of us experience. That doesn’t mean that every answer that bubbles up is the best one for you. At the root of those stories, though, are the truths that may resonate with your lifestyle. So when I tell you that flipping tractor tires with a group of friends helped me lose weight, that doesn’t mean this is the program you have to follow. There are greater points to consider—one, I like flipping tires, which is psychologically important; two, flipping tires has some intensity, which is physiologically important; and three, I did it with people I liked, which is motivationally important. That can apply to any activity. Second, the weight-loss industry often does too much delineating between male and female audiences. While, yes, it does make sense to address some issues by gender, because of the genetic and psychological differences between us, I don’t think that means weight loss needs to be a gender-specific pursuit, especially when it comes to the psychological side. Example: While it’s easy to stereotype men as competitive or women as emotional, why can’t one gender learn from the other’s traditional gender assignments? Why can’t a woman want to whoop some butt as a motivational tactic for losing weight? And why can’t a man acknowledge that the reason he ODs on cheese curls is because he’s upset with what’s going on at work or home, or the outcome of a playoff game or The Bachelor? Of course they can, and there are plenty of real-life examples of people who don’t follow gender norms. So, you may read things that feel male or female, but the gender doesn’t make a difference. Fact is, some men do yoga, and some women flip tires. I didn’t write this exclusively for men or women, and I tried to draw on stories from both genders. And, really, some men could benefit from the lessons we learn from women (and vice versa). My hope is that this book will resonate with anyone who’s been so frustrated with a scale that they’ve felt like drowning their sorrows in their nasty sugar blob of choice. Of course, when it comes to body issues, women historically have had to deal with much more unfair standards and expectations than men. I’m not trying to minimize that aspect of body image and weight loss; I just think if we blur the gender lines a bit, we might see answers in places we wouldn’t normally look.

Lastly, I don’t assume all dieters have the same reasons to want to lose weight. Some want to look better or feel better. Some do it to live longer or get stronger. Some do it because they think they’ll be happier. Some do it because they want to have more life adventures. But I do assume that every dieter is pursuing something. As for me, my goals are a mixture of the classics. Yes, I’d prefer to have well-fitting pants and to stop looking so hippy. I also want to lose weight to try new experiences and challenges, to play better ball, to run faster, to be the athlete I never was as a kid. (When losing weight in the past, I spent too much time focusing on the number on the scale rather than the experiences and connections that were helping me get there.)

When it comes to weight, I’ve had some successes, but I’ve also had plenty of failures. My all-time low came when I reached my all-time high. It was August 2007, and I stepped on the scale for the first time in quite a while. I knew I’d gained some weight, but I’d been wearing blinders when it came to estimating the amount. The needle catapulted to a place it had never been: 279 bleeping pounds. That was 99 pounds heavier than my weight in high school and throughout most of college. My backside had turned into a bounce house.

A week after I weighed myself—and subsequently bought pants in a size that funked me up real good—I had to return to campus to teach my classes for the fall semester. In one of them, Health and Fitness Writing, we’d explore how to report and write about health and medicine. These stories, by nature, can be part informative and part instructive. As a health writer, I’m supposed to not only know what to do, but also at least to be somewhat of a practitioner of the advice I’m reporting and prescribing.

True, I’m no doctor or trainer, but being a health writer and professor whose pants had the waist circumference of a manhole jibed about as well as coffee and mouthwash. It was August in Florida, and a short walk to the classroom across the street meant that I’d be sweating with the ferocity of Class III rapids. The students in that class turned out to be some of the best I’ve ever taught—some of them now work as fitness writers and editors themselves—but as I stood in front of them talking about the class, trying to cool down, hiding my lumpy frame behind the lectern, I could only imagine what they were thinking of the hypocrisy of it all.

This dude has written diet books?

Closest this guy has been to a push-up is the bra he needs.

Hey, Prof, your ass is a bell curve!

I knew what I was thinking, what I felt, what I needed to do.

It took some time, but I finally learned to build a better body and feel satisfied with it, imperfections and all. I’ve spent most of my life stuck, engaged in a tug-of-war with my desires—wanting a smaller body and enjoying bacon burgers. Now I have the truths that helped me balance the competing forces, and I want these truths to do the same for you. Why? Because I believe, from the bottom of my bottom, that every love handle story should have a happy ending.

Up Size: Getting Stuck 1. FOUNDATION

Truth: Your “Extra Gland” Is All in Your Head

Draped only in my underwear, I sat on the crinkly white paper for my annual physical. The doctor finished the usual checks of eyes, ears, and throat, and then asked me a question I’m certain no medical school ever encouraged its students to direct to anyone, let alone a fourteen-year-old boy.

“Do you get embarrassed on the beach,” he said, “because of your femininely shaped hips and chest?”

“No,” I lied, now scarred by another doctor’s visit. (When I was eight, my mother asked if my below-the-chest fat rolls could be tumors.)

It turned out the internist was as on target as he was inappropriate. How could you not be embarrassed when you were a boy with fatty hips and a rear bumper that could stop small trucks? It’s one thing to be heavy or big-boned, or to know you need to lose some weight. But why did I have to be built like a bottle of wine, with a skinny neck and a wide bottom?

The answer, according to this doctor: “You probably have an extra gland.”

An extra gland?

With the nonchalance of someone asking for his dressing on the side, he gave me a half-assed (or, in my case, full-assed) explanation. I was a growing young man who had nearsightedness, a mole on my neck, and an extra gland. Looking back, I wish I had asked him if he had a scalpel so he could remove said gland and then shove it right up one of his own.

Long before the doctor articulated it, I knew my body looked different from those of most guys my age. As a kid, I don’t think I ever really looked obese, probably because of my bamboo-thin neck and “aristocratic jawline,” as it was once described by one of my sister’s friends. But everything except my neck, wrists, and ankles always bordered on doughy. I can’t remember stewing about what the doctor said, and I would never blame him for why I had such trouble losing weight as an adult. I do, however, remember that moment as the one that defined what I thought about my body: I was the man with the extra gland.

The Pursuit of Perfection: What You Want Versus What You Have

In a magazine story I wrote about male body image, I admitted that I admired the bodies not only of women, but also of fit men—a fact that I believe stems partly from the incident I’ve just mentioned. (It’s also a fact that some of my male friends found curious.) As someone who’s never sported a classically strong male body himself, I’ve admired other people’s bodies—not in a sexual way, but in a complimentary way. I didn’t want their bodies. I wanted their bodies.

I used to observe an older man who was a member of the same gym I belonged to. Having belonged to a top-notch facility for more than a decade, I’ve seen the full spectrum of gymgoers: fit college kids, former NFL players, Olympians, newbies, grunters, mirror lovers, women with fake boobs, men who chat up women with fake boobs, men with fake tans, those who do more talking than training, beasts (multiple definitions thereof), and “Matchy-Matchy Men” (guys who own enough pairs of sneakers to go with every color combo of their workout wear). For years, I eyed up one man in particular.

He appeared to be in his seventies and usually wore a tank top and tight gym shorts. He stuck out for me not for his style, but for his body. Dude looked lean and strong. If you’d removed his balding, gray-haired head from his body, you’d have thought he was thirty years old. While many of his saggier peers spent their mornings in aqua aerobics classes, this man lifted weights. He ran sprints on the treadmill. He appeared to have zero body fat. If I went to the gym in the morning, I’d see him there. If I went in the afternoon, I’d see him there. And if I spotted him in the hot tub, I’d say to myself, “Why, for the love of all things au gratin, can’t I have a body like that?”

I don’t think my envy is unusual (though perhaps my confession that I admire the body of a seventy-year-old man is). Anybody who has tried to lose weight has probably fantasized about having someone else’s physique. For a man, maybe it’s Brad Pitt, David Beckham, or LeBron James. For a woman, maybe it’s Halle Berry, Serena Williams, or Kate (Upton, Middleton, your choice). Whatever you like, whatever you want.

I had never thought I’d be holding up a retired man’s body as a symbol of bodily ideals, but there was something about the way he carried himself that just oozed of strength. I figured he must have lived his entire life like an athlete. I admired him, yes, but he also pissed me off, because I had spent most of my life looking like his exact opposite: gooey with periods of not-so-gooey.

One day, I asked a colleague who seemed to know everyone at the gym who this guy was. It felt less creepy than actually approaching the man: Uh, yeah, hi, sir. I really admire the shape and size of your pectoral muscles, especially for a man of your age. My friend knew him. He was a retired anatomy professor.

Of course he was.

As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to talk to him—to learn more not just about how he did what he did, but also about fat and muscle, and to ask him a selfish question: Was it indeed biologically possible to sport an extra gland?

Every one of us who has struggled with weight has both a physical and psychological foundation for our problem—perhaps that literal extra gland, or a symbolic one that’s ingrained in us as we’re growing up and that has an effect on how we see and do things as adults. These psychological foundations influence how and why we gain weight, whether we can lose it, and what we think about our bodies. And they influence our perception of reality: of our ideal bodies and of the actual bodies we have to work with. The metaphorical “extra glands” are the physical and psychological foundation that often come from genetics and from the experiences we don’t control. For anyone trying to embark on a weight-loss quest, leaving behind your extra glands is part of the answer.

Your physique—for me, redwood-thick butt, lumpy hips, and apparently some kind of a glandular issue—mingles with the psychological structures we build: How does your body, and your perception of your body, influence who you are? I had several experiences that, I suspect, contributed to a vicious cycle in adulthood, a cycle that went something like this:

My body is no good, so I try to make it better.

When I try to make it better, I embark on a new challenge.

After the initial success, I lose momentum, stall in my quest, tell myself that my body is no good, then fall short of my expectations.

Therefore, I must eat cake batter.

There’s a fine line between someone’s physical and psychological history and using that history as an excuse: The foundation isn’t about blame.

Throughout my life, I can count on two or three fingers the number of times I’ve felt truly satisfied with my body, but I don’t believe I have ever blamed anything or anyone for this. I have never “woe is me” wallowed; I’ve always taken responsibility for what and why I eat. Identifying these influences that may have played a role in your weight issues isn’t about making excuses or whining or shifting responsibility to some other force; it’s simply about articulating an explanation, teaching yourself how you’re formed genetically (this is the body your parents made for you) and environmentally (this is the body your kindergarten classmates told you looked like a zoo animal)—then dumping both down the garbage disposal.

Understanding these two foundations, I think, is the first step toward turning your body in the direction you want—not because of any magical change it creates in your future actions, but because it gives you a chance to outline facts about your past rather than hide them. It’s how I knew I needed to understand a little bit more about how I was built.

So I called on the retired anatomy professor.

When David Kaufmann came to my office, he insisted on biking over in a driving rain. He had worked at the university where I worked for close to thirty years without ever having bought a parking sticker, because he cycled to work every day. Kaufmann played football, basketball, and ran track in high school, and he was an early adopter of weight training to improve athletic performance. Today, at age eighty, he still lifts weights, runs, stretches, and competes in statewide master’s competitions in the 400-meter run. I wanted to know about fat—how it’s stored and why it chooses to lay squatter’s rights where it does. He told me what undergrads used to ask him back when he taught about the body.

“Students, usually women, would come in and say, ‘I’ve got a big bust, what can I do? What’s wrong?’ Or ‘I don’t have any fat in my chest,’ or ‘I’ve got a big rear end,’ or ‘How do I get rid of fat in my calves?’” Kaufmann said. “They wanted to know a program to change it. But I had to tell them, ‘You have a DNA program that says you’re going to lay your fat down there.’”

I figured if he had students who asked him about their big busts, I could, too.

I stood up. My body shape, I told him, felt too tinged with female traits. I stored fat in my hips and butt, not my belly.

“That’s right,” he said.

Aside from the food, I asked, why am I this way? Why do I have to store my fat like this? I was looking for answers at the cellular level; instead, he gave me one at the jovial level.

“It’s really from your mom and dad’s DNA. Your mom and dad conceived you, and part of your dad’s DNA and part of your mom’s DNA came out with a little boy.”

He paused.

“Or big boy.”

The Physical Foundation of Fat

Though genetics does dictate the location of fat storage, body shape, and so many other factors in how our bodies develop, we also know that genetics is only one pixel in the fat-loss picture. Having spent many years writing about health, working at Men’s Health magazine, and collaborating for more than a decade with anatomy lover Dr. Mehmet Oz, I’ve long believed that changing behavior isn’t simply about directives: Do this, do that; eat this, drink that; yes to this, no to that. Changing behavior, and bodies, requires some knowledge about what we’re doing and why, and how the body works to store and burn fat.

The simple answer is the one we’ve all been hammered with: Eat too much without burning it off, and your body stores the fat to use as energy in case you ever come across a time when you run out of it. In an ideal situation, you eat the right amount of fuel to keep up with whatever kind of energy you’re expending. If one part of the equation is off (ingest too much, burn too little), your body turns into a human pillow.

That’s really the simplest equation that most of us need to know as we’re figuring out what works best for weight loss. Yet, as is the case with any of our biological processes, the system is way cooler than a plus-minus equation, and it’s not quite as simple (as I’ll cover in a few chapters). Some years after my chat with David Kaufmann, I wanted a refresher course on fat, so I walked across the street from my office at the University of Florida to the College of Health and Human Performance to meet Joslyn Ahlgren, PhD, a lecturer who teaches anatomy and physiology, along with courses in exercise physiology, fitness assessment, and exercise prescription.

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