Avoiding the 'F' word


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Category: Health Care Date: 25 Feb 96

One of my most humiliating experiences ever was doing a fat test. I had it done at Ellerslie Gym some months after I had given birth to my second child. There should be some legislated compensation for the carnage pregnancy leaves in a normal, fit, female body.


Nine months of sedentary activity, water retention, lugging around a growing foetus, watching helplessly as your belly stretches and then blows up huge like a balloon. No taking stairs two at a time, no running around the Savannah, no lifting anything over ten pounds. Itís nine months of enforced flab. Then the brat decides at birth to mark you for life - if the pain hasnít already done that and stretches your hip bones.


Babies should be put in Madame Tussaudís Hall of Horrors along with other tortures like thumb screws. You are now no longer a person. You are a cow. Then, dutifully, healthy breast feeding over, you are left with a wreck that can make you lock the bathroom door and cry - this funny, stretchy thing across the belly - where did that come from? These saggy bits here? They donít belong to you!  And why do thighs have to grow with babies? I decided I wouldnít succumb to the atrophy baby making sets into train. An unfortunate prelude to this was the compulsory fat test at the gym.


In this tiny office, a gym instructor with muscles like Popeye - he looked like he ate nothing but spinach and peanut butter - took out pincers (or tongs), and did the worst. He put them on my stomach and pinched - holding my fat in his pincers. I held in my stomach. I tightened every muscle. But the pincer is indomitable. It can squirt out the fat from anywhere; even from your elbows. The instructor then airily announced that the ratio was high. As if I couldnít tell by now! I went straight home, and like millions of women all over the world, got depressed. Women are more susceptible to fat. Childbearing women more so. A bit of chocolate here, some fried chicken there, and a fold appears. Skip the gym for two weeks and everything falls down again. Its a tremendous battle and lasts all your life. But everybody - men, women and children - can fall victim to it. Iím not talking about a little bit of plump flesh, but about the bits that can give heart attacks and pressure the liver. The kind of fat brought on by too many beers, by long hours in the office, by hurrying to shop and cook, by fast foods which shut up the kids and lay on the flab.


A muscular, healthy body in men and women is an economic thing. Not everyone can afford it. How do people who work and then go home and deal with children, groceries, lessons, cleaning, cooking and laundry get time to exercise? Most people are lucky if they make it to the gym once a week. Advertisers realised early on that they were sitting on a gold mine of guilt, greed and vanity. So they first thoroughly mussed up our heads with mixed messages and made money off it. If you drink a particular soft drink you will look and be young - part of the ďinĒ crowd. You canít miss the special offer on burgers, fries, coke and ice-cream. At the same time you are bombarded with images of Naomi Campbell and Schwarzenegger look-alikes. So we spend on fatty food, and repent, and spend on corsets and massages, butt boosters, and save up for liposuction. And now we can spend on Olestra... if you donít mind some faecal urgency (defined as the need to go right now).


Olestra. It is fat free fat. Made in America. By Proctor and Gamble. Researched for the past 26 years. It causes anal leakage and faecal urgency, as well as loose stools and abdominal cramping. Last month, after a 20-year battle, the US Food and Drug Administration gave P&G the permission to market Olestra. It looks and tastes like fat - it is fat which passes through the body as if it were fat free. The company, which has spent some US$200 million on research on Olestra, expects to make half of that within a year. Hereís how it works. Olestra, which is fat, passes through the gastrointestinal tract without ever being digested. As far as the human body is concerned the fat never entered it. What makes Olestra a miracle product, is that unlike counterfeit fats, it doesnít break down when heated. It can be used as cooking oil in frying fish, plantains, chicken and chips. It also has the same texture as real fat. The scientists saw that once up to eight fatty acids were attached to a sugar molecule, enzymes could not do their usual job of cutting them apart. The molecules simply passed through the intestines without being absorbed. But before we rush out to buy Olestra, letís look into why there was a struggle for a quarter of a century to get it on to the market. While experimenting, scientists found that the prototype of Olestra was so liquid that it passed right through the body and came out the end - the dreaded anal leakage. Whatís a little leakage countered the company? Some people suffer from it when they consume too much fat of any kind. Besides, they say, they have corrected the trouble by making it more viscous.


Olestra is also the first food additive with negative value. It actually flushes nutrients out of the body. This is serious. Olestra reportedly has a knack of picking up ďpassengersĒ on its way through the digestive tract: vital nutrients including vitamins A,D,E and K. There are other risks. Olestra washes out cartenoids, the nutrients found in green vegetables, which may (it is not yet proven) help safeguard against prostate and lung cancer, heart disease and muscular degeneration, and can rob the elderly of their sight. Another fear is that in an Olestra-flooded market people will simply eat more, or eat other fatty foods, rather than switch to a healthier diet of fruits and vegetables. When Olestra comes here, and it will, (so very soon - itís a money spinner), I will campaign for a return to Elizabethan values - to voluptuousness and sumptuousness. Then, I will ignore the fads, start eating more vegetables, and run up the stairs on the days that I canít make it to the gym. That way at least I wonít have to take the risk of anal leakage or faecal urgency after eating a bag of fat free chips.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur