# Halves, Wholes, And Rounding

Recently I have been trying to lose a few pounds and get down to an aspirational target weight. As an inevitable part of that process, I have left the happy land of whole numbers and entered the territory of halves, wholes, and rounding.

Whole numbers are great and, for the vast majority of purposes, are perfectly adequate and indeed preferable. The whole concept of “rounding” basically was developed solely to avoid those confusing and inconvenient fractions when calculating paychecks or the cost of a single gallon of milk. But there are times when more precision clearly is needed, if only for purposes of positive self-image, and the fractional numbers thus must enter the equation. The two obvious instances are when you are focused on weight and age. (Quarters and halves also come in handy when you are telling the time, of course.)

Every child starts out with their parents measuring their age in weeks, then in months, then in half years. And virtually as soon as the kid develops sufficient speech skills, accounting for those half years become very important. The child realizes that age is associated with positive attributes–like being able to stay up later–and insists that the half year be noted when their age is given. They are four-and-a-half, not just four. Later, when adulthood is achieved and moving up in age isn’t viewed quite so positively, those half-years are discarded and we are perfectly content to stick with our age at the last birthday until the next birthday rolls around.

When losing weight is at issue, the mental calculation is is the opposite. The downward movement of a quarter pound or a half pound on the scale is a crucially important milestone to be celebrated as an incentive to continue whatever you’ve been doing to shed the weight. Trim supermodels and Hollywood stars presumably don’t do this. But when losing weight is your goal and personal resolve is a key part of the process, you think of your weight in precise half and quarter pounds, with no upward rounding permitted.

Downward rounding, on the other hand, is perfectly appropriate.

# Shrink To Greatness

The coaches recognized that Oregon was a fast finesse team that specializes in up-tempo offense that sprints to the line of scrimmage and runs plays faster than anybody else.  So, how to go about mentally and physically preparing your defense for that challenge?  The Ohio State coaches decided to approach the game by asking their defensive linemen to go on diets — reasoning that, by shedding a few pounds, the big boys on the defense would feel lighter and faster, and therefore better prepared mentally for the game.  The rest is history, as the Ohio State defense held the fast-paced, high-powered Oregon offense far below its normal point output.

So, should we all go on The Ohio State Football Team diet?  Will the Silver Bullet Regimen replace the Beverly Hills Diet as the weight-loss approach of choice?  Probably not, because it likely wouldn’t work for most of us.  As the Buckeye players learned, when you’re a 6′ 5″ 300-pound athlete who is running sprints and practicing every day, you can lose five pounds in 10 days just by cutting out honey buns and candy bars.

I came to this galling realization by the confluence of two events.  The first was seeing a photo of LeBron James after following a low-carb diet for the summer.  He’d lost weight and looked great.  The second was putting on a bathing suit for the first time this summer and passing a mirror.

So I thought, say, maybe I should check out this low-carb thing!  I’m not saying that following a low-carb diet would make me look like LeBron James — we’re both from Akron, sure, but he’s a lot taller than I am — but the vast expanse of pulpy flesh I saw in the mirror certainly indicates I need to lose a few stone, pronto.

On a low-carb diet, you’re supposed to eat meat, eggs, and cheese.  Check!  You’re supposed to eat fruit and nuts.  Check!  You’re supposed to eat vegetables.  Ugh, really?  You’re not supposed to eat bread and crackers.  Wait, what?  Yep, I read it right — any wheat, barley, rye or gluten grain, whether in bread, pasta, or cracker form, is to be strictly avoided.

This sucks!  I love bread and just about any form of baked goods.  I crave crusty artisanal breads, steaming dinner rolls, flaky biscuits, stone-ground crackers, and crumbly muffins.  Heck, I even like a plain piece of toast with a glass of milk.  And having to avoid bread really limits the lunch-time options.  If you eliminate sandwiches you’ve effectively cut out about about 90 percent of the available noon-hour venues.  Following a low-carb approach in the white-collar world will be a challenge.

Ironic, isn’t it?  Archaeologists and researchers believe that bread and beer are two of the crucial building blocks of the human march to civilization.  Now we’ve got to avoid those two dietary items that helped to pull us out of the hunter-gatherer phase unless we want to look like bloated beluga whales.  I’m going to try, but I’m really going to miss crunching through the crust.

# Squeezing Into “Skinny Clothes”

Conventional wisdom dictates that, if you haven’t worn an article of clothing for a year, you should just get rid of it.  If twelve months have passed without it being taken off the hanger, the reasoning goes, issues of style or fit make it highly unlikely that you will ever put it on again.

I disagree with the conventional wisdom for two reasons.  First, I’m cheap.  Second, I think that, if you haven’t worn that jacket or pair of pants for a year due to weight gain, you should keep them around as a tangible reminder of how far you’ve let yourself slide.  Stepping on a scale, unpleasant as it might be, is an abstract exercise.  What difference does six pounds make, really?  But if you try to put on trousers that you haven’t worn since last fall and you realize the waistline now cuts off your circulation, you’ve got a powerful, concrete, and embarrassing indication of where you stand.

I have a sport coat that is about 30 years old.  I know this because I have a picture of me, UJ, and Dad taken in 1986, and I’m wearing it.  It’s been hanging in my closet since, donned with decreasing frequency until all wear stopped during the 1990-2010 interregnum.  At that point, my packed on poundage made any effort to struggle into the jacket look like the scene from Tommy Boy where Chris Farley rips David Spade’s jacket to shreds.  It was humiliating — but I resolved to keep the sport coat, anyway, as a reminder and a goal.

At the start of 2012, I decided the time had come to get back into “jacket shape.”  Nothing extraordinary — just trying to eat a little less, drink a little less, and exercise a little more.  I’ve made progress, and recently I took the plunge and tried on the jacket.  Happily, I was able to put it on without spraining a shoulder or sending a button rocketing into the bathroom mirror.  It’s still a tad snug, but I felt a real sense of accomplishment.  I’m glad I’ve kept it around.

# Butt Belts And Budgets

Our political leaders’ approach to our budget woes reminds me of a curious device that we found in my grandmother’s basement, long ago.

We called it the butt belt.  It was a machine linked to a canvas belt.  You stood on a platform, slipped the belt around your keister or waist, and turned on the motor.  The belt vibrated and you leaned back, letting the contraption shake your rump like crazy.

The marvelous concept was that you could just stand there, let the machine do all the work, and the mechanical jiggling of your flesh would make the pounds and cellulite melt away.  Heck, you could even eat a sandwich back there, while the machine whaled away.  And after you were done shrinking your ample butt, you just turned around and let the magic belt cause that stubborn belly flab to vanish.  A few sessions with the butt belt, and you’d be ready to slip into that new bathing suit!

Of course, the machine really didn’t work, which is why we never found Gramma down there, getting shaken all over.  We now know that if you’ve overindulged, lost any sense of dietary discipline, and let yourself go, getting back into reasonable shape is going to require some really hard work on your part.  You’ll have to get some exercise and sweat, reduce your caloric intake, and change your habits to stop the constant snacking if you really want to make progress.

Hey, President Obama and members of Congress!  Standing immobile and hoping that the butt belt machine will magically turn your blubber into muscle won’t do the trick!

# Killer Yoga And New Year’s Resolutions

Most of us tend to think of Yoga as a New Wave, gentle, and physically safe form of exercise.  The New York Times magazine has an article that reminds us that isn’t always the case.  In fact, yoga can cause serious injury.

The article notes that yoga has been associated with lower back, shoulder, knee, and neck injuries and even more serious problems such as stroke, ruptured Achilles tendons, and nerve and brain damage.  It appears that many of the injuries come from overdoing it, by trying to achieve even more contorted positions, or holding poses for extreme lengths of time, or maintaining a neck-based position on a hardwood floor.  Some of the more extreme forms of “yoga” that are offered these days — like the “hot yoga” classes that one of our good friends takes — are an example of how Americans often try to push the envelope with exercise regimens.  Sometimes, unfortunately, we push through the envelope and cause serious injury and long-term physical damage.

The lessons of yoga injuries are especially pertinent now, with New Year’s Day just behind us and many of us having resolved to lose the weight we gained over the holidays and a bit more, besides.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but easy does it is a good rule of thumb — particularly for those of us who are older and have been desk-bound for years.  Rather than trying to immediately run five miles, or to achieve yoga positions that master yogis can only dream of, why not focus instead on eating and drinking less, cutting back on fatty or calorie-laden foods, and lengthening that morning walk and adding a short evening walk, too?

# Those Too-Tight Airplane Seat Belts

Apparently everyone who flies commercially in America these days is either a supermodel, an elf, or a child under the age of nine.

I say this because, without fail, when I finally plop down into my seat on the plane and fish out the seatbelt buckle halves from under my butt, I need to significantly adjust out the seatbelt straps.  My God, what stick figure could have used this seat on the incoming flight?  I always end up feeling a surge of shame that my middle-aged spread is grossly out of step with the rest of the country.

Interestingly, visual observation of American airports does not indicate that most air travelers are members of the fairy kingdom or just returning from the photo shoot for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.  No, the people hitting the Sbarro and TCBY stands with such gusto seem to be about as beefy as your standard American.

That means there may be another, more nefarious explanation.  Perhaps American exercise clubs, diet food manufacturers, and weight-loss supplement suppliers pay the crews that clean planes between flights to tighten every seat belt to 28-inch waist size, to encourage Americans to vow to lose some weight and use their products?

# A Fat Guy In A Thin Country

Paris makes me want to suck in my gut.

As you walk around the city, you can’t help but notice that there aren’t many overweight people here. Everybody, regardless of their age, seems to be thin, stylishly dressed, and moving fast.  The contrast with America, where you see seriously obese people everywhere, is startling.

Why is this so?  Maybe it is because more Parisians seem to smoke than Americans — at least, that’s the impression I get after a few days here — or maybe it is because food is expensive, and people have cut back a little on the chow-downs as a result.  More likely, it is because this is a city of walkers and cyclists.  On weekdays, you see people hustling down the streets to get to work or riding their bikes as part of their daily commute.  My guess is that few Parisians follow the American model of going to their garage in the morning, hopping in their car, and then driving to a parking garage a block away from their workplace, where they will sit on their butts all day.

I also think there is a strong social disapproval of being overweight — implicit, perhaps, but nevertheless a factor.  Everyone here wears fashionable clothing, from hats down to shoes.  If you want to join everyone else and be part of the haute couture parade, you’ve got to keep the weight off.  It’s hard to look stylish, and Parisian, if you are hauling around an extra 60 pounds.

# Saturday Shoveling

I liked UJ’s post about New Year’s resolutions.  I think almost everyone — except for supermodels, movie stars, and the exceptionally rare individual like UJ who has stayed at his same weight since high school — vows to lose weight in the new year.  Health club memberships get sold, treadmills get bought, and two months later the health club is a forgotten option and the tread mill has become an expensive clothes hanger.

I think more people would be in better shape if they just did the basic chores around the house the old-fashioned way.  Rake the leaves with a rake, instead of using a leaf blower.  Mow the lawn and weed the flowerbeds, rather than hiring a service.  And, when it snows, shovel your driveway and walkways instead of hiring a guy with a snowblower.

As I’ve mentioned, we’ve gotten a lot of snow recently.  Today I set out to shovel our driveway, and I think it was a pretty good workout.  To begin with, it was overcast and cold outside, maybe 20 degrees.  There were about six inches of snow on the driveway.  We’d been driving over it to get to the garage, so most of the snow had been pulverized into a hard layer of compressed snow and ice.  The only effective way to remove it was to use a flat-edged regular shovel and try to jimmy under the edge of the snow/ice layer and then flip it up, uncovering the asphalt beneath.  It was slow going, and with all of the chipping and carrying of ice chunks to the side of the driveway it didn’t take long to get warm and then break a sweat.  At the base of the driveway, where some salt from the road had mixed with the snow, there was a thick, heavy, churned mass of slush that adhered to the shovel when you scooped it up and then tried to dump it on the side.  Repeatedly scooping, shaking, and tapping shovels full of damp slush will definitely get your heartbeat going.  The calorie count website says that shoveling snow for an hour burns 408 calories, about equivalent to one and a half Snickers bars.

When you do something like shoveling, it is of course important to have some good music on the Ipod to help you through your chore.  Today I used my “Empty Nest” playlist, which consists solely of songs I’ve heard since Russell went off to college.  It was an inspired selection.  I’m A Ram by Gov’t Mule and Reptilia by the Strokes, for example, are songs well suited to hacking away at ice and snow on a frigid day.