The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Live?

I am of two minds when it comes to "Fat Acceptance." Treating people like human beings is one thing. Pretending that obesity isn't a disease is a grotesque disservice to our children. I don't quite know how society walks this line.


I haven't read the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" but I've read an article written by the author, and heard the author, Gary Taubes, interviewed. He sounds like an intelligent man with much to say. I don't argue that there isn't some merit there--I'm saying that, in terms of fat loss, Physics Supercedes Biology. There is nothing simple about the process of weight management, but the simplest is the incontrovertable truth, completely undeniable scientifically, that if you take in fewer calories than you burn up, you lose weight. PERIOD. No argument is possible, because any argument would disagree with or violate the basic laws of physics, laws of conservation of matter and energy.

Now then...grasp something. My position is that people who are carrying enough additional weight that it would make another human being are dealing with emotional issues more than lifestyle issues. Just a matter of observation and conversations with these folks, over the course of fifty years. The amount of physical and emotional pain, the lack of energy, the discrimination...I'd have to believe that people are much dumber than I believe them to be not to think there is a secondary pay-off, a REASON for the armor.

Now, then...if I'm right about that, then you're talking about ego survival needs that are huge, and mostly subconscious. What will it do to stay where it is? The process of weight loss ALWAYS involves creating a caloric deficit. As hard as it may be to do this, it is brutally simple.

And the part of you that wants to keep the weight on has a simple solution: it complicates it all. Rather than look at the physics, let's look at the biology! Fast and slow metabolisms, genetic, food allergies, processed food as opposed to! How can we possibly sort through all of this?

How about the biochemistry of it all? "Good Calories and Bad Calories"--if I can just get the right balance of fats and carbs and proteins, I don't have to reduce the number of calories, I can just...

How about my social networks! Peer pressure, social obligations, advertising, supersized drinks...

How about relationships, horoscopes, the area you live in, your birth order...I've seen all of these factored in. And many of them have merit. And all of them are irrelevant compared to Calories In, Calories Out. You can eat the very worst calories in the world, and if you don't get enough of them, you will lose weight, starve, and die. And you can eat the very "best" calories, and if you eat too many of them, you'll get as big as a house. Until you have dealt with the physics of it, all you are doing is avoiding confrontation with the actual demons driving you. We've all got them, yours just parade in public.

"So while the general idea that you need to reduce your input, increase your output, or do both has some merit, it's not that simple."

"Has some merit"? You must be kidding. You're saying, in effect, "well, conservation of matter and energy has some merit, but..." No. It is exactly that simple. You cannot find a single animal that can take in fewer calories than it burns up without losing weight. Yes, there are additional levels of complexity--but look at ANY other factor and your efforts will dissolve into a welter of competing opinions. Everything else is insanely more complicated, which is why there is a new diet book published every week. Most of them tries to obscure this truth. And they make hundreds of millions of dollars because people don't want to face this truth. And truth it is. If you disagree, find me a single instance of an animal or human being taking in fewer calories than they burn, and gaining fatty tissue, or even maintaining. Go ahead. Please. A single case.

You would be making medical and scientific history, friend. Physics supersedes biology.


Oh! And the Tibetans are great for kids. But I ask Jason if he wants "easy" or "hard" and about half the time he wants "hard." Most bad behavior (in my mind) is an ab-reaction to stress. Teach them to control stress response, and the behavior improves. Learn to manage your breath under stress, and integrate that response to the level of habit, and stress just doesn't hurt you any more.


Marty S. said:

"For instance, lets accept that being overweight will shorten your lifespan. A longer lifespan may not be a goal of every individual.
Your three criteria for being happy/successful are
1) a great body
2) a great relationship
3) Financial success

if you live too long the body goes, your partner passes and unless financial success implies Bill Gates type money your money goes. So why would you want to live that long."


O.K., Marty. In essence, you're asking the most important question a human being can ask: "why should I bother? Why get out of bed at all? What's the point? It all ends in the grave..."

I think that any thoughtful person has asked themselves these questions, and if you don't find a good answer, why, you do just vegetate or retreat from life.

Let me be clearer before I answer. I say that the safest way to approach life, and to access our greatest growth potential, with safety, is to work on all three major aspects of life simultaneously.

1) Body. Feel good in the morning, have enough energy to work all day and party on the weekend, if you look at yourself naked in the mirror, you match your own criteria for an attractive body--you'd want to boff yourself. I guess that means 'a great body" but that's not necessarily an underwear model.

2) A great relationship. Soulmate. Absolutely.

3) Financial success. Enough money to support yourself and two other people, doing something you love doing. Money as a tool, not an obstacle.


I've never met a single human being who didn't want one of these three. And more than 95% of people want all three. They may not say it directly, but their actions, unguarded complaints, and voiced frustrations say that they are lying--to others, and to themselves. They want these things, they are just afraid that admitting it, or having it, will somehow cause more pain than pleasure.

There are no direct words to really answer these questions, but there are experiences that answer them just fine. Life is best lived when it is in alignment with our basic animal drives, our emotional needs, our intellectual bent, and our spiritual growth. The only reason there is any question about any of it, is that many of us are no longer in contact with our animal drives, the most basic level of our existence.

People will say: "I'm not motivated! I don't care about anything!" but start choking them, or set their pants on fire, and suddenly they are motivated as hell.

THEY THINK TOO MUCH. And their emotions are a tangle that Alexander the Great couldn't un-knot. Any animal has a survival drive, and tries to move away from pain and toward pleasure. In some ways, I consider that the most basic intelligence test: do you hurt? Does your heart hurt? Have you figured out how to spend your precious days doing things that feed your hungers and make your heart happy? Are you surrounded by love? Trying to move away from pain and toward pleasure involves, ultimately, means understanding long-term benefits as opposed to short-term gains.

Human beings, like other animals, will try to supply themselves with the basic needs: comfort/shelter, food, sex, control of their immediate environment. I've met people who have voluntarily withdrawn from the sexual game, and the healthy ones are the ones who know that they can get well laid whenever they want, but decide to commit themselves to a higher purpose. Or feel that they are beyond that point in their lives: often these are people over sixty, especially those who had long and happy relationships with a spouse who died. I've met some people who seem completely content, never complain, and don't seem to leak energy at all.

The rest of 'em? They've been hurt, or rejected, or consider themselves failures in the dating/marriage market to the point that intimacy isn't worth the cost. But the vast majority of us want all of these. Let's look at them.

1) Shelter/Comfort? This requires applied energy, which means either building it yourself, or trading for it. In our culture, such trade is in the form of money. Abundant physical energy makes it MUCH easier to earn money. Partnership with a significant other increases security (on average) and resources. Incidentally, the easiest way for a man to improve his attractiveness is to have his own house.

2) Food? Requires money and energy.

3) Sex? Requires having the attractive qualities that hit the hind brain. Some mixture of physical vibrancy, intellectual smarts, emotional warmth, the appearance of fertility or the ability to protect children. Good genetic material. Most mating rituals involve these things. The MAINTENANCE of a relationship requires a subtler, deeper set of skills, although they are associated. Love and sex aren't the same thing, but when you are sexually attracted to someone you love and trust who can ALSO be a good business partner...that person is lifetime partner potential.

4) Control of immediate environment. Money or power come in here. Getting thrown out of your apartment for non-payment is a humiliating experience. Sleeping on the street is no fun. Working at jobs you hate, living in neighborhoods that are unappealing, having to take crap from authority figures...just being able to raise your children as you see fit...all of these things require money and power.


You're never going to really have "just enough" of anything. You are always going to have either more than you need or less than you need. If one of the simplest principles in life is to avoid pain and seek pleasure (which, to work in the long term, must be modified with other moral and discipline principles) then you want a safety net. You want enough money to help through the hard times. You want a relationship that is so strong and deep that you can, again, get through the hard times. You want a body that is a plus and not a minus in every situation: that can run for a bus, carry a wounded child, dance with a new love, and resistant to illness and disease.

Since it only takes a couple of hours a week to be in GREAT shape, and the average American watches television for 19 hours, I simply don't believe it is a matter of "no time." And when people talk about all the pain that they feel: loneliness, health, bad backs and joints, entire theory of human life leads me to the conclusion that some part of them NEEDS the weight, and until they come to grips with it, they are going to continue to get non-optimal results.

Who doesn't want to be beautiful by their own standards? If it is a matter of feeling unsafe when sexually alluring, who wouldn't want to be powerful enough to feel safe enough to be beautiful by their own standards?

Every baby is born knowing only life, and fighting for each breath. They are intense and ready to live...and babies that don't have that quality are diagnosed as ill, and often die. A person without the drive to be all they can be, now, regardless of what happens tomorrow, has, in my mind, taken so much damage over the years that they have given up.

When I meet someone who has given up on their childhood dreams, who has forgotten the search for love, who neglects their body, I confess: I assume I am looking at damage. Such a manifestation doesn't match animal behavior, nor does it match the march of human history, nor do I consider it to be in alignment with the spiritual path (except for the voluntary renunciate). Love, health, and striving for a good hunt or harvest are a part of every human culture since the beginning of time.


And if our love will one day die? If our money means nothing in the grave? If our bodies shrivel up and blow away..?

What in the world does that have to do with the Now? Now is the only moment that has power, it is the only time we are alive. You are robbing your days of passion and aliveness to worry too much about tomorrow. At the same time, you must think of tomorrow if you would behave appropriately today. That's called being an adult.

Security and shelter need energy and partnership. They also contribute to resting deeply, and attracting a mate.

Physical health and fitness make it easier to work hard and long, increases functional intelligence, and makes it easier to attract a partner (energy is intoxicating!)

Love inspires us to believe in ourselves. Sex leads to children, who force us to mature and give us wisdom. Makes us want to provide security and shelter for our families (which needs energy)

All three of these things interlock. Ultimately, they teach us what we need to learn of this life. Understanding this life helps us to sort through the competing spiritual teachings to find a true Way to deal with our inevitable death.

Why be the most we can be? Why strive to learn the limits of our existence? Why love, strive, care...since we die? A question as old as humanity. Got no motivation? Have someone stick your head in a swimming pool, and you'll find all the motivation you need. THAT is the truth. The rest is just the damage we accrue as we pass through life, and the chattering in your head.


Evan Robinson said...

You seem very married to the idea that all calories (carbohydrate, fat, protein) function identically in the biochemical system that is our body. Let's try an analogy:

According to Einstein, e = mc^2. Energy bound in matter is the mass of the matter times c-squared. We take advantage of this property of matter in a two specific ways: atomic weapons and fission power.

If you assume that Einstein is correct and that all matter has that property, then it doesn't matter what kind of matter you use to build an atomic weapon or a fission power plant.

But it does matter. If you trade steel for the plutonium or uranium in an atomic weapon, it doesn't go boom.

It may be that under combustion (which is how caloric content is determined), one food calorie is identical to another. I have read little to no science on this particular subject. But our bodies are not incinerators. The insistence that different categories of food behave exactly the same way in this complex biochemical system seems to me unjustified.

We acknowledge the difference between carbs, fats, and proteins as food inputs. Why can't we acknowledge that they might have different effects upon our metabolism?

Do you honestly think that there is no difference (in terms of metabolism) between a diet consisting of 3000 calories/day of refined white sugar versus 3000 calories/day of pure beef fat versus 3000 calories/day of cooked pork?

I don't. I think I'd be much more likely to pass a lot of that fat out unmetabolized and I expect that I'd gain a lot more weight (and be much less healthy) on the white sugar than the other white meat.

YMMV, of course.

Pagan Topologist said...

I still believe that there are some people (not including me, this is a scientific opinion, not a personal experience) who will die of starvation if they eat fewer calories than they burn. Losing fat is simply not possible. They lose muscle mass until they cannot function anymore and then die. There may not be many such people, but I have seen it happen to more than one person I knew.

Lynn said...

-- "So why would you want to live that long. --

Because life is so damned interesting! I have two of the "three criteria" (and I'm not saying which two) but I consider those just nice to have. All that's required for happiness is to be interested in something and to cultivate that interest, and the more things you are interested in the happier you are.

Anonymous said...

Hello, your reference to Gary Taubes came across my Google Alerts. When you get a chance, you may enjoy reading some of this blogger's posts. He goes into detail about the disconnect between our definition of a calorie and how it relates to the first law of thermodynamics. You may still hold your opinion, but I think this could show you the topic in a new light.

And here are a couple more links of interest.

Marty S said...

Lynn: Everyone's point of view is based upon their own life experiences. The feeling expressed is based upon my experience with my parents. My father had many things he was interested in but his two favorites were painting and reading. In his early seventies, Parkinson's disease took his ability to paint away from him. In his late seventies he developed Macular Degeneration which left him blind and meant he could no longer read. His mind was sharp as a tack, but he could make no use of it in a body that no longer functioned. For the last five years of his life he prayed every day for death. It was heartbreaking to watch him suffer that way and I wouldn't to put my children and grandchildren through the same experience.

Steve Perry said...

Evan --

You need to look into how stars are powered. Because the white coat guys down at the lab haven't figured out how do something doesn't mean it can't be done.

Barnes isn't saying all calories are equal -- he is saying that if you eat more than you burn, you gain weight, and if you burn more than you eat, you lose it.

If the tank is out of gas, the car doesn't run, doesn't matter if you use regular or premium. It's the nature of the machine.

Anybody who argues with this is trying to sell you something, and it isn't science.

There are people with hormonal problems who have screwy metabolisms -- about 3% of of those who are clinically obese, last time I checked -- and for them, dieting and exercise are problems. That doesn't excuse the other 97%.

Nobody gets fat by not eating anything; nor do they get skinny by eating more than they burn.

That's how it works in the local universe. Period. Full stop. End of statement.

Pagan --

We all will die if we eat fewer calories than we burn. It's just a matter of how long it takes. I'd like to see the stats that show how many people burn protein over body fat to the extent that they will starve while staying fat. If this is true, it will have to be exceedingly rare, and even so, it doesn't gainsay the physics of thermodynamics. Just doesn't, sorry.

Scott Carpenter said...

Great post, Steve. Brings to mind the song "Stretch" by Ryan Montbleau:

"Take me under and make me understand.
Block my lungs off and make me appreciate the air."

Christian M. Howell said...

"Why Live?"

I ask myself that everyday. I guess it's because I can't let my enemies win.

As far as weight loss, etc. I've figured exercises that work sitting down.

That's creativity. Americans are lazy. Most people will take any opportunity to slack off everyday.
Then they complain there's nothing they can do. Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

When I realized I was out of shape, I did something about it. Not some fad diet, but exercise. I did lower my calorie intake also but now brisk walks and moderate lifting keep me in shape no matter what I eat, but admittedly I eat less per meal. Another part of the discipline I guess.

Marty S said...

I am technically obese(BMI 31). I do not believe its because I eat way too much. My guess is that I average about 2000 calories a day. My problem is that to burn those calories I would need to exercise. Currently my greatest exercise in a normal day is walking up and down the flight of steps between the two floors of our house. Could I cut down on the time I spend watching TV and that I spend on the internet and do more exercise? Sure I could, but I rather spend the time the way I do. Its more fun to me and I don't care enough about the weight to spend time on doing exercises I don't enjoy. When I go out with my photo club on a shoot and hike through the woods, or I go sightseeing on vacation I don't mind the exercise because I'm enjoying what I'm doing.

Lynn said...

Marty, yes of course everyone's experience is different. Many people, sadly, reach a point in their lives when they are no longer able to pursue their interests or even in some cases no longer able to be interested in anything. I have the utmost sympathy for these people and their families. But such sad cases are yet more proof that being actively interested in something is what makes people want to live longer.

Personally, I want to live forever because I don't want to miss anything but I realize that my attitude could change sometime in the future.

Lynn said...

Oops. I was responding to Marty's earlier comment. We just posted at approximately the same time.

David Brown said...

It was Franklin P. Jones who said, "You are what you eat." Well, yes. But you also are what your body does with what you eat. If your body has a small stomach, a short small intestine, lots of brown fat tissue, and a very active thyroid gland, chances are you can eat a lot or a little and excess calories will be metabolized by gut bacteria producing heat or excreted in the feces more or less intact. Why do most experts act as though every calorie that passes between the lips gets metabolized in some way or deposited on the hips.

Andrea said...

I work with a lot of trauma survivors (I'm a psych nurse), and the majority of them have an eating disorder. About 1/3 are anorexic or bulemic, the other 2/3 are binge eaters/overeaters. With the overeaters, I've heard quite a few say that they feel safer when obese, and that a lot of their childhood issues come up when they start to lose weight. This is the case with me.

For myself, I have made a commitment to lose weight and get healthy, and have been to the gym 1-2 times per week for over a year now. I lost 30 lbs and was starting to deal with the emotions that came up, but then I quit smoking and gained some back. I'm still motivated though, and after 3 months of no smoking I'm starting to improve the eating again and have increased my gym time and other exercise. I think this time I'm going to just have to go to therapy and deal with the childhood crap once and for all, if I am ever going to get fit and stay fit. I find that lifting weights is a great exercise for me, because it makes me feel powerful. This can help counteract the other stuff that comes up emotionally. I may still have night terrors, but dammit I can bench press 115 lbs and I feel good about that.

Anonymous said...

Conflating weight loss with fat loss - weight with fat in general, really - seems like a profound error to me.

Mike Ralls said...

I have this quote on a sticky note in my office wall,

"What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of what his body is capable." - Socrates.

Scott said...

"Yet that weight is not normal, since two-thirds of American adults exceed it. And judging from the latest research, it is not necessarily healthy either. According to a study recently published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), people in the government-recommended BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 are more likely to die from a variety of diseases than people with BMIs of 25 to 30....

...people who qualified as "obese" (with BMIs of 30 or more) did indeed have a higher mortality rate than people in the "normal" range, as did those considered "underweight." But people who were merely "overweight" had the lowest mortality rate of all.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, but "overweight," using the BMI, which is almost as useful as a crystal ball, aren't necessarily fat.

BMI doesn't take into account things like body composition. Most of the pro basketball players and thin-skinned weight pushers come in as "overweight," according to BMI. You can have a bodyfat percentage less than somebody who just won the Mr. Olympia contest and be considered obese or even morbidly obese, using nothing but a height/weight ratio.

People who are quick to point out that being overeweight gives them an advantage are fooling themselves. It doesn't.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I'm torn between the part of me that says I should leave my weight alone, since I'm in the normal BMI range and the doctor isn't bugging me, and the part that says I should lose ten pounds.

Marty S said...

Steve: Relative to this discussion, I was searching the net for information on how a person's body build affects their optimum weight. In doing so I came across a number of articles that suggested that certain exercises can adversely affect bone growth in those who have not attained full maturity in that area. Particularly in young children. I know you do certain exercises with Jason. Are you aware of these theories and are you sure that the exercises you and Jason do are safe for him. Don't mean to butt in, but I just wanted to let you know in case you never heard of these theories as I hadn't.

Steve Perry said...

From what I have gathered, many women see themselves as too fat when they aren't; most men seem to be more comfortable with their physical forms when they are a few pounds past their fighting weight.

The BMI is like a slide rule compared to a calculator that gives pi to fifteen places -- it's an approximation.

Your best tests are how you feel and the mirror. If you feel great, if you look good, then that trumps BMI.

Trick is, you have to be honest about both observations ...

Steve Perry said...

(more) BMI is not a measure of fitness, nor of fatness, it's a ratio of weight to height, and mine is 27, which makes me overweight.

In order to get down to a 25 BMI, I'd have to lose twenty pounds, which, was it all sub-q fat, would leave me with zero. I'd look like a scarecrow.

As I stand, I can pass the pinch-test. I can get to my best fighting weight after a one-day fast.

Could I be in better shape? Absolutely. But I am in better shape than the BMI indicates.
Don't use BMI as your benchmark. It's hooey.

Marty S said...

Steve Perry: I buy your statement that the BMI is of limited usefulness. The problem is if you read enough on the net about the subjects of weight, hunger, and exercise you eventually get the feeling that its all hooey and nobody really knows anything on the subject. Given any claim in any article, you can find another article that contradicts that claim and both authors appear to have some credentials.

Steve Perry said...

It's not about credentials, Marty, when it gets to the basic science. It's true or false, and all the other dancing that goes on to offer distraction is just that.

The blood-type diet, the corn chowder diet, boiled eggs and cabbage or tuna and brown rice or grapefruit, nothing changes the facts:

If you burn more than you eat, you lose. If you eat more than you burn, you gain.

Find me, as Barnes says, a case where it doesn't work that way. One will do.

If you are happy with how you look and feel -- and not just pretending to be, then whatever anybody else says doesn't matter. If you want to lose weight, then you have four options -- I'm leaving out amputation or moving to the moon:

1. Eat less.
2. Exercise more.
3. Both 1 & 2.
4. Photoshop.

All the rest of the theories will -- if they work -- come down to those in the end.

Professor Timonin said...

My problem - if, in fact, it is a problem - isn't that I don't know how to lose weight. I have no issue with the statement "eat fewer calories than you burn, and you will lose weight", or the correlated statement, "decrease input of calories, or increase burning of calories." Those are simple facts. My problem - again, if it is a problem - is that I'm happy now. Exercise does not make me happy. I enjoy the food which I cook and eat. I take no issue with the arguments about HOW to lose weight, I take issue with the idea that if I don't lose weight, I must be damaged somehow.

Anonymous said...

Oh please with the atomic bomb and steel analogy!
To begin with steel is not an elemental substance; it's chemically altered iron.
Let me address the reason that iron is not used as the fuel for an atomic bomb.It's not radioactive! Radioactivity occurs exclusively in heavier elements (ie more mass) This is because the number of atomic particles are too great for the internal
forces to hold them together in a stable manner. These particles break away (ie the element generates radiation in the form of these particles and the energy
released when the bonds break) Fissile material needs this property to break down
the element rapidly, repeatedly, and in an exponentially increasing manner. Once enough of these bonds have broken and particles/energy have been released the element
eventually becomes stable (ie no longer radioactive) This is simple high school
chemistry. Sure it's naive to insinuate that a 1000 calories of sugar and a 1000 calories
of pork fat are identical in every way(no one by the way made that assertion). From a caloric standpoint the energy available in both is indisputably identical. Chemical composition does not equal chemical energy, however.
Sure sugar would trigger effects from your pancreas the fat would not, but that's why
it's diet and exercise. And diet doesn't just mean caloric content, it means the quality of
food. Your health would suck on 2000 calories of only any single food, balance is the key.
The arguments about inability to lose weight are disingenuous when looking at
intake/outtake honestly. Case in point, has anyone ever not lost some weight following
a procedure that physically limits the amount of food you can ingest at any given time?
Didn't think so!

Marty S said...

Professor Timonin and I are exactly on the same page. I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I eat few vegetables. I only like to exercise as a by product of something I enjoy doing. Bowling, walking through flower gardens etc. I eat three meals a day. I prefer to look foward to them because they contain food I like rather than as an exercise in fueling my body. I don't buy that only doing what I enjoy means I'm damaged some how

Professor Timonin said...

Marty - well, I do like vegetables, especially when they're in season - I can't hardly wait for tomatoes - but I also like chocolate cake. And beer. And cheese. I'm not completely sedentary - I walk when there's somewhere to go - but I don't like the sort of exercise available at a gym, and I don't see much point in walking or running or jogging for their own sakes. Am I little overweight? Yes. But would I be happier if I were trimmer? I'm not convinced that I would be.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Oh, I feel fine - I have sufficient energy, blood pressure's OK, etc. And I'm technically not obese - BMI of 24. But I was a little thinner a couple of years ago, I don't care to gain any more weight, and I might look better if I lost ten pounds. Then again, maybe I look good enough at this weight. Hard to say really.

My husband has more serious weight maintenance issues, since he both has diabetes (so good to keep the weight down to manage it better) and medications that he needs to take for other conditions that have a side effect of weight gain. So he's constantly somewhat heavier than he's supposed to be, and keeps trying to monitor his diet and exercise to minimize that. Sometimes not being a lot overweight is the best you can do.

On exercise, it makes a big difference what kind of exercise. I don't like to go to the gym, particularly, either. But I walk the dog every morning before work, walk every day at lunchtime, and sometimes swim or walk in the evening, so I get some exercise. And I'm now doing some other exercises before work - if I use exercises where I see a concrete benefit (e.g. less lower back pain, or more flexibility) in my daily life, then I find them worth doing. Trying to be the strongest and most athletic woman I know isn't so much my thing.

I do see the weight thing, though, as less of an issue of whether you'll die sooner than an issue of whether the weight's affecting your quality of life in the meantime. Sometimes it is (diabetes, for instance, can affect quality of life in all kinds of ways, apart from the possibility you'll die younger). But I can buy that sometimes the quality of life hit in trying to keep weight off may be worse than the quality of life hit in leaving it on (especially if it's just a matter of being technically overweight as measured by BMI, as opposed to having actually noticed problems from said weight).

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts on weight loss and obesity. Ive been wrestling with this one for 75% of my life 1: the fat acceptance movement, the key word is acceptance same as any other group. Ive been hazed, had rocks thrown at me by other kids at school. have had my life in high school (many years ago) be a living hell because i was painfully shy and FAT. that was the main thing and the unending taunt. lardo, fatso, fat ass you get the idea. fat people are almost the last group it is ok to make fun of. people in the US have an unhealthy view of bodily perfection one damn few people can attain. whatever the appearance there is still a person inside. 2: Steve is right the basic equation is true less calories + more exertion = weight loss.. only how peoples bodies react fall all over the bell curve... i have had friends who ate 2x to 3x what i did and remained skinny rails while if i ate that same amount i would explode, we were all spending too much time playing video games and watching movies so exercise wasn't a factor. In preparation for army basic i put myself on the pritikin diet and went from 245-250 to 188 pounds on a 5'9" frame i was still by american standards unattractively fat still obese by the bmi standards. but i had hit a brick wall i couldnt go any farther using the methods that got me that far. The army got me down to 168 but basic training is a insanely active life most americans wont even do a 5th of the activity that they do.

Lessons i have learned the hard way 1) if you are out of shape and have been so for most of your life it will be harder for you to lose fat and get in shape, there are epi-genetic switches that you can throw that will change that but it will takes work butt breaking work and consistency. If you were always active doing physical stuff your body will react quicker and better than the sedentary book worms. 2 the US is designed to make fat people. some european transplants have ruefully admitted that it is easier stay slim in europe. The culprits overheated houses and the automobiles. turn down the heat in your house and do some walking. you will be amazed at how the weight comes off.

3 forget the exercise magazines and actors if you have 90% of your time to focus solely on your appearance and weight then you will look great too but most of us have limited time and resources. I wish someone had told me when i was a stupid kid that the bodybuilders on the covers used steroids and that a normal person will get hurt trying to approach there workouts... i would progress get hurt and ultimately fail.. ohh and some of them have surgery too on top off that.
4 try to follow Jack Lalanne's advice eat foods made by the good lord not man... I have a cns lesion caused by formaldehyde poisoning thanks to the little blue packets and Monsanto

Pagan: yeah there are some people on the outside of the bell curve my wife is one such she is naturally stronger and faster than i am. she does any exercise and bang you can see the difference. that changed somewhat now that she is battling a thyroid condition but yeah some people have blast furnace metabolisms most people however fall on the inside.

Finally i give a damn weather Marty or Steve Barnes or Perry have six packs or beer guts. They all seem like interesting people to share a beer and some conversation with. if you are happy and basically healthy that's good enough.

Last point obesity is not a disease to my mind that robs people of choice. no one chooses tb or cancer we can lose weight if we choose to. Weight and health are two different animals. on the one hand you have James Beard who was huge, lived to a ripe 80 something and enjoyed his life. On the other you have John Candy who died too young because of health problems due to his weight. You you are matters more than your waist or poundage.


Anonymous said...

Have to agree with those who argue that there is much more to body fat percentage than simply caloric intake versus energy output. In general, less caloric input and more energy output will reduce bodyfat.

However, the complex interplay of hormones and metabolism is completely ignored by this thinking, making it oversimplified to the point of near-uselessness.

For instance, my mother is as sedentary as a person can be without actually being bedridden, and has avoided physical exertion her whole life, in addition to being a sugar addict who eats very large quantities of very fatty meats, processed donuts, etc. She also smokes, has heart failure, diabetes, etc etc. Yet, her muscle mass has always been extraordinarily hard and dense, and whereas she used to be wraithlike in thinness, in her 60's, with all her health problems now, and spending most of her time sitting, eating sweets and junk, now, she is merely a tall, strong, erect-standing, somewhat lean and fit looking woman with a bit of a rounded belly, but certainly not a fat gut or thighs or rear. She has always believed that anyone who is overweight must be a pig, stuffing their faces day and night, because in her body, that's what it would take to be fat. Lucky her.

I also know that it is possible to eat 1200 calories a day and get moderate exercise and still be quite overweight, only to then become thin as if by magic, when a hormonal situation was addressed by a prescription that corrected the hormones, and was NOT some weight-loss drug.

I've seen women balloon up into obesity because of nothing but using the Mirena hormone-laced IUD as birth control, despite no real change to their eating or activity levels.

So whereas we all know that in order to be healthy, animals (including us) need physical activity and a reasonably healthy diet, that is not all there is to the equation, and the formula of "caloric in versus exertion out" that works for one person doesn't work for another, and merely cutting calories won't necessarily make some people thin until they are in a state of malnourishment and are consuming their own muscle, while the fat sits there unchallenged.

Hormones play a part in how energy is stored, and accessed.

Lifestyle matters also, and that is why many Europeans who live in America fall prey to the American obesity; it isn't that these people suddenly lost the taste for healthy food and became lazy, but rather that they found themselves in a place where there was no longer the possibility of walking downtown and shopping at various markets, doing socializing as well as commerce largely on foot. When they find themselves in a place where they literally cannot walk to something that is only one mile away because there are no provisions for pedestrians or anything but cars, and life consists of sitting, they too tend to start looking like Americans.

So... my mother can eat half a pound of 20% fat hamburger at a sitting, shelf-stable icing-coated manufactured 'snack' cakes, and have a lifelong aversion to moving, without being fat, and some people can exercise and eat moderately and never lose the spare tire. It's not equal or fair, and people really are individuals, not identical widgets.

Still, everyone would benefit from American cities being restructured from mere conduits for cars, to walkable, social neighborhoods of mixed commerce and living areas instead of the insular sprawl and suburban situation we have now. But some would still be heavier than others, but probably more in line with what we see in places where walking is the norm and sitting all day, the exception.

Anonymous said...

sorry, who you are.. not you you are. langdon

Anonymous said...

To those who have commented that they dont like or enjoy exercise. It doesnt have to be "exercise". The joy of movement is inherent to the human. If it's not there it is because it is buried under something. Movement with awareness is the basis of many forms of athletisism and meditative pratices.Create your own and watch what happens. You cant seperate the mind from the body. Enjoy the joy of just doing without the baggage of being fat or fit.

Steve Perry said...

Langdon said:

"... caloric in versus exertion out" that works for one person doesn't work for another, and merely cutting calories won't necessarily make some people thin until they are in a state of malnourishment and are consuming their own muscle, while the fat sits there unchallenged. "

You have stats on this? Studies? Research, and not anecdotes?

Nobody is arguing that metabolic rates don't matter when it comes to how hot the motor revs; what Barnes said, and what I seconded, is that biology doesn't trump physics.

Say it again: Biology doesn't trump physics.

If you can find out how much nutrition you need to maintain homeostasis, then adjusting your exercise or diet upward will cause a weight loss. And I'll back up Barnes once again: Show me a case -- one will do -- where burning more than you take in results in a weight gain. It doesn't. It can't. You have as good a chance of making a perpetual motion machine as demonstrating this.

Nobody said it was easy to lose weight. But "hard" and "impossible" aren't the same.

People who say, "Oh, I don't eat anything and I pack on the pounds." are trying to rationalize something that isn't rational. Ask any family practice doctor how many times she has heard this one.

If you don't want to change your diet or exercise patterns, fine, don't. That's your business. Might be a host of psychological reasons why you won't or can't, and I'm not arguing otherwise. But offering up, "Well, I tried, but my system is wonky and I can't lose weight -- I eat a carrot stick, work out all day, and I still balloon up five pounds." isn't valid -- unless you are eating carrot sticks by the truckload.

People who smoke or who are alcoholics or drug users have a raft of rationalizations as to why they do it. They enjoy it, they don't care that it's unhealthy, it's their life.

All true. But listen to them, then listen to people who are obese and offering up their rationalizations and see if you can't hear the echoes.

Marty S said...

Steve Perry: In some sense you are correct. If I change my eating habits and I change my exercise habits I could certainly bring my weight down, although based upon my previous experience when I did make a serious effort in that direction, I'm not sure I could bring it down as far you might think. However, it is also correct that we all make choices that reduce our life expectancy in the name of enjoying what life we do live. You chose to compare being overweight, with things that have a negative association with them(smoking, alcoholism, drug use), but there are many other actions we take our life that reduce our life expectancy, but we do anyhow to increase our enjoyment of life. For example, once a week I make 100mi round trip to play bridge with my best friend. Based upon highway death statistics I reduced my life expectancy by a half-year during the eight years I have been doing this. I justify this risk both because I enjoy the bridge game, and because its how I maintain a friendship of 47 years. So, if along with avoiding foods we like, but are bad for us, we all avoided, unnecessary driving, skiing, swimming and all other activities which reduce our life expectancy, I think we would lead very dull lives indeed.

Steve Perry said...

Marty --

Being in good general health is not something I equate to "dull," and you are making an argument that doesn't speak to the issue.

I link obesity to smoking and drug use because it is a disease that offers many of the same possible benefits leading to a shorter, less-fulfilling life:

Diabetes, bilary calculosis, respiratory insufficiency, nocturnal apnoea, cardiovascular diseases, arterial hypertension, arthritis of the spine, legs, and feet, fertility problmes, cancer.

This isn't my opinion. I'm not making this up. Ask your doctor. Ask any doctor who doesn't have webs between his toes. The studies are everywhere and overwhelming.

If you smoke tobacco or crack, you probably know the risks. If you carry a hundred pounds extra you around, you ought to know those risks. If you do and choose that path, fine. Part of the reason I speak to this issue is because a lot of folks don't seem to know, or put their fingers into their ears and yell LA LA LA! loudly if somebody tries to tell them.

Sticking one's head in the sand doesn't make the wolf vanish.

Your life, spend as you wish. But offering that it doesn't matter simply isn't so. You can dance around it as much as you like, but it does matter. And there are people who might hear me say this and take notice. My way might save somebody's life.

I don't see how yours does.

Of course, it depends on what you want. I favor a long and high-quality life. If you think short and lower-quality is better, no problem. Go for it ...

Marty S said...

Steve Perry: Actually, I have diabetes, high blood pressure, and COPD. Now no one can say for certain, how much of my current condition is due to my being overweight, but since my father and grandfather, neither of whom were even close to being overweight were both diabetic I suspect, I too would be diabetic without the weight. As far as the breathing problem, again my father suffered from breathing problems, my son has suffered from breathing problems since he was ten and I started having breathing problems, when I was only 170lbs. As for quality of life, my greatest concern is loss of my mental facilities as dementia also runs on my mother's side of the family.
The important thing in life as far as I am concerned is for a person to know what he/she wants for themselves and to make the decisions that give them the best chance of achieving their personal goals. My goals and your goals can be different, but both valid for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Langdon said:

"... caloric in versus exertion out" that works for one person doesn't work for another, and merely cutting calories won't necessarily make some people thin until they are in a state of malnourishment and are consuming their own muscle, while the fat sits there unchallenged. "

sorry Steve i didnt say that LOL

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was the one talking about "caloric in versus exertion out" not always equaling weight loss in the same manner for all people, and that some can become unhealthy from undernourishment even while still possessing excess fat due to using protein stores before completely exhausting fat stores. And I will endeavor to dig up something not anecdotal for you on that, although I wasn't trying to say that a person wouldn't lose weight at all that way. Rather, I was attempting to illustrate that a person can start metabolizing protein stores before completely exhausting fat stores. The efficiency with which our bodies access stored energy for use varies dependent on many things, and the simplified understanding is that fat gets used up before protein gets accessed. But the reality is much more complex.

As for this thought:
"Say it again: Biology doesn't trump physics."

I admire the intent here, but molecular endocrinology and the interplay of hormones at a molecular level are not simple Newtonian machines and systems.

So the obvious understanding of 'eat X number of calories and put out X number of ergs, and you will lose X weight of bodyfat in X amount of time' is well-intended but assumes the human body is a simple Newtonian machine, which it isn't.

That said, while it may take twice as much physical exertion and half the ration for person A to achieve a certain BMI, that it does for person B, still and all, anyone can improve their health by getting more exercise and eating more healthfully.

And progress toward better health ought to be the goal rather than conformity with some notion of the ideal body, because there is no one true ideal for all body types. We can all have healthier bodies, and health is not about looks and one-to-one comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to post twice in a row, but to Steve Perry:
You hit the nail on the head when it comes to health. I had a friend who was trying to start a "size acceptance" group years back, and whereas it's good to promote decent and respectful treatment of other people regardless of their appearance and/or state of health, the idea that "there's nothing wrong with being morbidly obese" is wrongheaded also.

There's something wrong with treating people unfairly due to their state of health or wealth, but the term "size acceptance" makes it sound as though it's about size at all, and that all we need to do is learn to accept it.

If it were about size, rather than obesity, we would be counseling each other to accept the fact that people come in everything from supertall to supershort, very slight to brick ___house. That's size. But take that motley group of different sizes of normal human variation, and blow them up to 100 lbs of extra body fat each, and what you have then is not a "different size", but a "horrible state of health". And that is not something people ought to come to accept as a perfectly valid way of living, any more than we promote would promote alcoholism or try to "accept" cancer as a social norm.

Should a cancer patient be treated poorly? No! But should we all be taught to accept rising cancer rates as a norm, instead of trying to fight it? No.

We should fight states of ill health becoming normalized, but without creating a scenario where individual liberties are curtailed by some one-size-fits-all 'solution' to which all must adhere.

So, no forced labor camps for the overweight, but also no 'Wall-e'-type ubiquitous social norm of obesity and weakness in the name of acceptance. My best hope is for restructuring cities for health as well as conservation of natural resources, by making cities easier for pedestrians and bicycles, but harder on cars, and reinvesting in trains as mass transit.

Professor Timonin said...

My best hope is for restructuring cities for health as well as conservation of natural resources, by making cities easier for pedestrians and bicycles, but harder on cars, and reinvesting in trains as mass transit.

I'm totally with you on this point, anonymous. I don't object to doing exercise if it serves a useful purpose - ie, walking to somewhere that I'm going to anyway, or even walking, as Marty suggests, to appreciate a patch of nature. I do object to "hitting the gym".

Anonymous said...

" My position is that people who are carrying enough additional weight that it would make another human being are dealing with emotional issues more than lifestyle issues. "

This makes excellent evolutionary sense. What more natural reaction to emotional trauma, which is ultimately a response to physical threat or depravation, than to shift into "hoarding mode". If deprived of emotional sustenance, which furnishes actual nutrition through nurturing activities (i.e. parents feeding offspring), compensatory mechanisms (obesity in those so traumatized) would logically evolve. Such reasoning also clarifies the true cause of "Comfort Eating", where, under stress, the individual intensifies the most basic nurturing activity

As regards obtaining a great physique, wealth and romance, I hold such is accomplished through excellence in one's personal abilities and attitudes. Further, I hold such excellence to consist of three parts: superior physical ability, mental prowess and strength and depth of character. Should deformity or misfortune deprive us of any of these, we must assiduously compensate by excelling in those left. Helen Keller's indomitable character and keen mind freed her from insensible darkness and deafness, and Steven Hawking's genius places his mind among the stars while his body withers. And though frequently slighted for his unexcelling intellect, Muhammad Ali’s strength and fortitude both enabled him to climb to the summit of athletics and to surmount the endemic discrimination that still often cripples African American aspirations.

Marty S said...

Everybody has some emotional issues, unless you can find a way to measure the degree of emotional stress and correlate it with weight I'm not prepared to buy it. The most stressed people in my family are definitely not the heaviest. There are also too many people in this category for it to be a function of unusual emotional stress. I as I have said am technically obese, but looking at people in my age range two of my four brothers-in-law are heavier than I am, a third is about as heavy as I am. My best friend and my wife's best friend's husband are also both heavier than I am. I suspect that you would find that there is a greater correlation between money and weight then emotional problems and weight. All the heavy men I mentioned are in good to excellent financial condition, while the brother-in-law, who is on the thin end of normal had to borrow five hundred dollars to take his cat to the vet. The thin and poor brother-in-law has a degree in accounting and was bright enough to be in the gifted program as a youngster. He has never been able to hold a full time job because of emotional issues which is also the reason he is a graduate of a methadone program.

Anonymous said...

Drink a pint of cold salt water; gain a pound from negative calories.

In other words, conflating weight with fat is an error....

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

For the purposes of keeping track, perhaps the anons in the group could initial their posts ... ?

Whichever anon said this: "I admire the intent here, but molecular endocrinology and the interplay of hormones at a molecular level are not simple Newtonian machines and systems."

This is blowing smoke and flashing mirrors; I didn't say that. However: Unless you can drag Heisenberg and the boys out of the sub-atomic quantam realm beyond what anybody has been able to do yet , you still can't get more out than you put in, up here in the macrocosm-- last time I looked, nobody had busted the laws of thermodynamics yet regarding your double Whopper with bacon and cheese.

We aren't talking about particles and waves coming up to the macroscopic level and making Johnny fat by not eating anything, are we? Because if we are, I want to see the proof.

Lay it out, please.

Steve Perry said...

Oh, and anon, v?, if you are talking to me, I wasn't conflating fat with weight. I don't believe I ever said that the scale was any measure of fitness; in fact, I said that the BMI was a poor way to measure anything, save the ratio of weight to height, and that it paid no attention to the composition of the subject, vis a vis fat or muscle.

When the Governataor won the Mr. Olympia contest, which he did repeatedly, he was, at least a couple of times, passing obese, according to the BMI numbers, which would have been 35 or so the first couple of times he flexed his way to victory.

How healthy was he at six percent body fat? I dunno, but probably a lot more so than somebody carrying forty percent fat.

Steven Barnes said...

Evan--I'm not at ALL "married to the idea that all calories function identically." Geeze--that would be remarkably ignorant. All I'm saying is that if caloric input falls below output, you lose weight. That is primary: once you have THAT handled, then it matters enormously what kind of food you eat. I challenge you to find anything I've ever said that disagrees with this.

Steven Barnes said...

Die if they take in fewer calories than they burn? Sure, if you keep it up until you have no fatty tissue. If you say there are people who burn only muscle, and not are talking about someone who is seriously sick, and needs a doctor badly.

Steven Barnes said...

Marty S.--I agree there is a point beyond which life is not worth living or preserving. I think that a primary human right is the right to decide when our lives will end.

Steven Barnes said...

Marty S.--as long as you are happy with the results of your lifestyle choice, great! But it doesn't take much overeating to cause obesity--a hundred extra calories a day will put on almost a pound a month.

Steven Barnes said...

I don't know of any "experts" who act as if all calories are the same. Could you provide references?

Steven Barnes said...


Good for you! Feeling strong and healthy is more important than being skinny. And kudos on the decision to seek a little therapeutic help. The right listener can work wonders. Good luck to you.

Steven Barnes said...

Lynn--if your doctor says that losing ten pounds would be fine, and you think you'd like the way you look more...why not?

Steven Barnes said...

Marty S.--the exercises that adversely affect bone growth in children are serious weight-training type exercises. We work bodyweight, yoga, tumbling...stuff like that. Perfectly safe, to my knowledge. Thanks for asking!

Steven Barnes said...

Professor Timonin--I have no idea how overweight you are. If you are chubby, and it doesn't affect your joints or back, if your doctor isn't worried, and your love life is fine...great! But if you are experiencing pain in some of these areas related to your weight, and will not or cannot take the steps to reduce the pain then, yes, I take the position that something is wrong.

Steven Barnes said...

I would argue about Ali's intellect. I consider coordination, and the ability to devise and implement complex kinesthetic patterns under survival stress to be an extremely valid form of intelligence. And no one in the history of the sport was better at "solving" the "problem" of an apparently superior opponent than Ali.

Steven Barnes said...

Gain a pound from drinking a pint of water? Sure, but you're just playing games, and avoiding what I'm saying. If you start with the "calories in, calories out" equation, you can THEN layer questions of hormones, metabolism, emotional trauma, types of calories, etc. on top of it, all of this with the intent of creating a caloric deficit. There is nothing other than surgery that creates fat loss other than creating a caloric deficit, whether that is by diet, exercise, or a combination of both. But there is a gigantic amount of motivation in trying to obscure this and keep it complicated. If you START with this reality, then ask: "all right..what would I have to do to create that deficit?" you can work with family, doctor, coach, or your own subconscious to come to a reasonable answer. But while I openly agree that people have the right to live their lives as they wish, I say these things because there are readers of this blog who are looking for answers about their bodies, their love lives, and their careers. I've made a promise to speak only truth, to the very best of my ability. So I have to say the thing that is true here: physics trumps biology. You cannot find a single case of a human being or lab rat that violates this. All else may be valid extensions or complications of this basic fact--but if you forget for a moment that that is the basic reality, you'll chase your tail forever. And it doesn't take much time to exercise enough to lose weight: ask anyone who has ever picked up a kettlebell. "I don't like to exercise for its own sake"? O.K...but would you go to work if you weren't paid for it? We do all kinds of things because they are beneficial to our lives, but no fun at all. If exercise is unfun for you, but you have pain because of weight issues, then look for one of the programs that take less than an hour a week. If you haven't got that much time to take care of your body, I do NOT believe this is simple disinterest. This is avoidance.

Marty S said...

Steve: I'd like to follow up on your analogy with work. From the time I was a teenager my plan was to retire by age 55. I retired on my 55th birthday. While, I worked to be in a financial position to meet this goal, money was not important enough to override my other priorities in life. In 1977 Goldman-Sachs offered me a job paying $80,000 a year plus bonus, a very high salary in that day. I rejected the offer and took a different job $33,000 a year because I had a higher priorities than making money. Things like spending time with my wife and kids. So in some sense I have always had my personal path to enjoying life and followed it and neither money nor weight control were that high on my list.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

From the time I was a teenager my plan was to retire by age 55.

I've been planning more on retiring comfortably at the age of 67. And maybe supplementing my retirement income with occasional consulting or technical translation. Though I'd like to be able to manage a more penny pinching retirement at age 62 if circumstances require that.

If I'd set myself the goal of retiring at age 55, I'd have felt that I needed to weigh money making ability way more heavily than I wanted to in picking a spouse. Going to Stanford meant that I met men who were clearly headed for money, but I prefered the option of including creative guys who could either take off or not in the career world, rather than confining myself to engineers and business majors.

Scott Carpenter said...

With regards to creating that caloric deficit, Weight Watchers worked great for me. It may not work for everyone but I wanted to offer my testimonial.

WW provided an objective and (more or less) simple way to create and maintain that deficit. Before starting WW I had been carrying an extra 35-50 pounds for several years with regular light exercise (e.g. walking the dog). With WW and increasing amounts of exercise, I steadily lost 1-2 pounds per week.

It may not be easy, but it is *that* simple. Take in less than you burn. I have a hard time believing there are more than a handful of people who would burn all of their muscle before their fat when doing cardio exercises. The fat pounds will come off. It just takes work and patience. (And the rewards are great.)

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Of course, part of that retirement planning is that I'm planning to live to be nearly 100.

Marty S said...

Lynn: there are two ways to plan on retiring early. You can make a lot of money and live for decent par of it or you can make an above average income and live cheaply and save a lot. My wife and I took the latter path. Of course spending 23 years at the same company and receiving 28% of your salary as a pension helps too.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Yeah, pension does help a lot. And it's possibly I could actually retire earlier than 67, given that my current job does have a pension, and I have been there long enough to be vested. I just have that "everyone in the computer industry should expect to be at risk of getting laid off every couple of years" mindset, so I don't normally think of retirement planning in terms of pension, more what I'd have to do with 401k and Social Security alone. Also, I'm afraid that, as soon as I retire, some unforeseen health expense or other will soak up all my money. So I think I'd feel insecure if I retire before I'm on Medicare.

Irene said...

I have to second Scott Carpenter's remark about WW. I've not used it myself, but a good friend of mine lost 250 lbs over 5 years through a combination of WW and sensible, balanced exercise. And has kept it off for over a year now.

Me, I dropped 20 lbs over a year by...
eating less and
exercising more.

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Dave B said...

Dear David,
As a practicing vegetarian for over 35 years and a disenchanted American who as quietly and assiduously dug deep into religion, metaphysics, history, Yoga and world politics I enjoy your blogs immensely. I especially accepted the recent 12/15/15 post, "Why Live?" I agree with every word. Right on brother, and Thank You

Dave B