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The XX Files 

Weight up

What does it mean that America is now officially the fattest nation on the planet? For one thing, it means you're not alone. Do you hate what you see when you step on the scale? Are you careful to never even go near one? Rest assured you're in the majority --- 60 percent of Americans are considered overweight.

            If you haven't gained weight lately, chances are you will. Obesity rates have doubled in the past 10 years. We're ballooning to new sizes, busting through airline seats, and getting diabetes at record rates. We're a whole nation of Augustus Gloops, the greedy boy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,gorging ourselves in the river of chocolate (and supersized fries). It's only a matter of time before we're sucked into the pipes.

            Overeating is such a major part of our national character that we should all recognize the five stages of weight gain:

            1. Denial. "I always wear my pants unzipped with a baggy T-shirt covering them."

            2. Anger. "That darn dry cleaner shrunk my pants!"

            3. Bargaining. "OK, if I eat only eat two of these chocolate Easter eggs, maybe the pants will fit me again."

            4. Depression. "What's the point of wearing pants? Might as well just crawl into bed and eat all the Easter eggs."

            5. Acceptance. "I'll eat the chocolates while driving to the mall to buy larger pants."

When I was firmly in the denial stage after the holidays, I made the mistake of stepping on a scale. I had gained 15 pounds. Luckily, my body mass index (BMI) saved the day. BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. (Many websites can calculate it for you.) My BMI is 22 --- well within the normal range (19-25). Twenty-six to 30 is considered overweight and anything above 30 is obese.

            Ignoring all the evidence that I was gaining weight --- the too-tight clothes and the scale's soaring digits --- I clung to my BMI. I tossed any notions of going on a diet and pulled my chair back up to the trough.

            Then I was broadsided by an electronic scale that sends a low-level signal through you to measure the percentage of body fat. Twenty-one to 33 percent is considered healthy for women. The moment I stepped on the special footpads, I knew I was busted. You can't run. You can't hide. My body is officially 34 percent fat. Oink.

            I know lawsuits like the unsuccessful one against McDonald's aren't the way to go, but it'd be nice to blame someone for my little weight problem. But who? Stever's? Ben & Jerry's? That lady who invented Buffalo chicken wings? In the meantime, I've grudgingly started to change my habits in the hopes of getting results. Ha.

            Anyone who's ever tried to lose a few pounds knows it's impossible. Taking a diet pill can kill you, so that's out. And the quote-unquote experts give us conflicting advice about diet and exercise. Which is it? Moderate exercise everyday or strenuous activity three times a week? Doing what? Walking briskly, lifting weights, or running marathons?

            Add to this the food pyramid fiasco. First, fats were bad for you and carbohydrates were good, according to the original pyramid. Now, the new "Healthy Eating Pyramid," released by Harvard, says fats are in and carbs are out. I love this pyramid, which prominently features cashews, those delicious Carr whole-grain wheat crackers, and wine. It's the cocktail party diet I lived on in my skinny 20s. Add Marlboro Lights and I'm on the road back to Thinville.

            I recently got motivated to start working out. A surprise gift membership to a local gym from my husband (subtle, huh?) got me off my butt. But what to wear? You can't just pull on your old sweats. That's so Clinton Administration. Tight tops and silky pants with white leg stripes are in now. Good luck finding ones that fit, though. At the athletic store the evilly thin clerk smirked as she handed me yoga pants that were, she sneered, "more roomy." Not on me, Cruella.

            If that isn't humiliating enough, weight-room culture can be devastating, and I'm not talking about those steroid studs. When I had my first lesson in free weights with a trainer, I noticed a sweet grandma type smiling at me. I sent a self-deprecating smile back as I strained to lift the tiny dumbbells skyward. Then I realized that her smile was, in fact, one of contempt. Granny swept a barbell loaded with weights high over her head and barked out a laugh. "She's laughing at you," the trainer said helpfully.

            Talk about elder abuse.

The best thing about the fattening of America is that pudge is actually becoming stylish, judging by how many magazines have sections devoted to fashions for "curvy" women and girls. And Torrid, a chain that sells trendy clothes in sizes 14 to 26, is a Fortune500 fastest-growing company. Who am I to buck the trend? I need to emulate celebrities like my HipHop hero Missy Elliott and the hilarious comedian Margaret Cho, who are not ashamed of their plus-sized stature; both take an in-your-face approach to the topic in their performances.

            My only fear is that someday a successful lawsuit against a fast-food chain will force restaurants to list fat grams right on the menu. That could really put a damper on an evening out. And what if restaurants slim down their dishes in an effort to stave off litigation? Would Nick Tahou's switch to a --- gasp! --- low-fat vegetarian garbage plate? Will the threat of lawsuits halt the happy hours and shutter the ice cream shops?

            I'm ditching my gym membership and stuffing my face while the eating's good. Some people outfitted "safe" rooms in their homes with water and canned food. I'm stockpiling donuts and ribs.

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