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Kyle Eller: A little encouragement for the plus sizes

More and more of us, me included, are fighting the fat war. We do it in good ways and bad -- fad diets have not gone away but have, in fact, become more entrenched.

More and more of us, me included, are fighting the fat war. We do it in good ways and bad -- fad diets have not gone away but have, in fact, become more entrenched.
First, there's Jared, the Subway guy. Buff? Not the word I would choose, but good for him anyway.
Then there's the high protein, low carbohydrate craze, popular and controversial.
Is it just wishful thinking -- eat whatever you want and still lose weight? Or is it OK? There are people who swear by these things, swear that they work, and even opponents concede people will lose weight on the diets for a while. It's the long-term health effects and even the long-term weight loss that are in question.
Not being a dietitian or a doctor, I can add very little to the debate, although as a vegetarian -- who has lost about 40 pounds in the last year and a half -- I have my opinions.
Looking for a fat scapegoat? New research offers a new candidate. The Aug. 5 edition of New Scientist magazine reports that obesity may be viral.
Indian scientist Nikhil Dhurandhar has discovered, by accident a virus that was killing chickens, but leaving them fat but low in cholesterol. In examining some of his obese patients, he found traces of antibodies to the virus, called SMAM-1.
After traveling to the United States to study it further, the magazine reports, Dhurandhar gathered evidence about another adenovirus (the group that includes SMAM-1 and viruses that cause colds, among others), Ad-36, suspected of causing weight gain based on similar experiments. There may be others, as well.
Dhurandhar's work, which is ongoing, suggests the viruses are present in many overweight people and that the virus may be contagious, transmitted something like other adenoviruses, including colds. So if someone sneezes in an elevator ....
Before you start shunning fat people though, note that Richard Atkinson, another researcher working on the fat virus, says those who have already become fat because of the virus may have already ceased to be contagious, based on some of the research.
"A fat person who's gotten fat because of this virus isn't going to hurt you," he told the magazine. "It's that skinny guy with a cold who's sneezing on you. Watch that guy. Discriminate against him."
This research has many implications, and it's important to note that no firm conclusions can be drawn yet. It may turn out that the virus does not, in fact, cause obesity in humans as it has been shown to in other animals.
If it does, one implication is negative: even if the virus does cause weight gain, the antibodies were not present in all the overweight subjects studied -- not even half in fact. It's not the reason for everyone. Other implications involve cholesterol, which is also affected; diet drugs, which may be more effective in people who have contracted the virus; and in prevention. The researchers are already working on antiviral drugs.
Personally, I'm not worrying about the cause, just the cure. Having lost that 40 pounds and hit a major three-digit milestone I haven't seen since high school, I'm going to stick with what's working.
In fact, my progress has accelerated the last couple of months. The reason? On a summer vacation to Teton National Park, we took the usual snapshots, some of me, and I was shocked at what I saw.
Who was that fat guy? Wow ....
I made a decision on the spot that it would stop. I don't intend to live the rest of my life that way.
So I laid out my approach, aggressively. One part was my diet, which was good by most people's standards but still had substantial room for improvement. And I set myself an exercise regimen: walking, every day if I can, for half an hour, and doing sit-ups and leg lifts for toning in the morning. I mix in racquetball and biking to work and running for additional workouts.
And then, of course, there's the ritual emotional abuse I heap on myself. I'm trying to do away with that, by accepting where I'm at and resolving to work with my body to overcome it. There's no point in hating myself. So instead, I'm working on self-respect.
Now, none of my pants fit, so I'm getting a lot of use out of my belt. I don't mind at all.
I'm lucky, I suppose. I know where my weight problem came from. Through college and the years following, it was too much junk food, too little exercise.
Now, I also know what seems to be helping me.
So that's one story. I'm not finished yet, with 10 or 12 pounds to go, so I don't want to jinx myself by giving a lot of advice. But I think this much is safe: take on both diet and exercise, and commit to stick with it. Schedule an appointment with your doctor and talk about both. Come up with a good, aggressive plan. Stay motivated by remembering who you are doing it for: you.
Stay vigilant. Despite my success so far, old habits still die hard, and I have to continually renew my motivation. Don't shame yourself or feel bad about yourself -- your weight isn't a determining factor in whether or not you're a good person -- just accept where you are and resolve to improve your health.
Take heart. Lots of us have been there.
And then watch out for skinny people lurking on elevators waiting to sneeze.
Kyle Eller is a Budgeteer reporter and columnist.
Contact him at 723-1207 or send e-mail to kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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