Saturday, July 25, 2009

Familial Outlier?

Almost everyone in my family is fat. Except my immediate family. Which I find somehow strange, but probably shouldn't. Let me explain.

They weren't always fat. Growing up, my mother and her three sisters were thin. My mother's youngest sister then wasn't thin (as I remember - I can't claimed to have looked back at all of her old pictures), but she wasn't fat - and then the other three sisters were still very thin.

My cousins were thin. All of them. My sister is the oldest cousin (as my mother is the oldest sister). Then there are two other cousins older than me, then there is me and one other cousin-we are the same age-then there are four cousins younger than me. My parents (and sister and nieces) came to visit last weekend. My mother brought with her some pictures. She had just visited my aunt in the hospital and had seen much of the family there too. (My aunt, sadly, has cancer, and the prognosis ranges from having a few weeks or maybe months, but certainly she will not have that much longer to live). I had not seen most of my relatives in many years. I can't recall when I saw most of them in person last. But what was immediately apparent was that they were all now fat. Very fat. All of my aunts. All of my cousins (at least the four in the pictures). Extremely so. And I wonder why that is. I mean, yes, I know there is genetics and that some people just are that way. But none of them were before - even well into adulthood. My dad made some comment about it and about lifestyle when my mother pulled the pictures out. I didn't say anything. Maybe it is genetics and lifestyle - after all, all of them are related.

But I'm related to them, too. And I'm not fat. I'm not rail thin, either. And I don't exercise and I eat like crap most of the time, though admittedly I also don't eat a lot and don't tend to eat junk food. I just don't like most of it. It makes me feel sick to eat chips or candy, generally. My mother also is still thin. As is my sister. But then my sister is very active - a real athlete - she just did a Tae Kwon Do tournament and won like seven gold medals (note to anyone who wants to be mean to me: my sister will beat you up). My mother also likes to get out and walk, but I don't know that any of my other relatives are any different (though none of them are anywhere near the athlete that my sister is - as far as I know).

So maybe it is genetics - after all, the only thin people in the "relative pool" are all closely related - my mother, my sister, and me. (My dad isn't exactly thin, but he isn't fat and he's not genetically related to everyone else I'm talking about here except for me and my sister). Now, there is another part of the equation - my uncles. But then I'm not sure about them. I think two of the three of them were thin - I know one still is. And the third, I just don't know, but I don't recall him being fat - he was in the military.

Anyway, this just strikes me as odd. I know people change as they get older, but for so many people to have so radical a change - I mean, it looks like my relatives have doubled or even tripled their weights since adulthood, and I don't think that is common. I wonder why it happened in a clinical sort of curiosity. I wonder if it is more common than I think it is.


Chickpea said...

Maybe there's another factor involved here - lifestyle. As you stated, your immediate family is generally active, and I would presume they eat fairly healthy, as you do. This may explain why your immediate family is thinner than your extended family.

I know that my family is relatively healthy and in-shape. Me and both my siblings played sports while in high school, and I love to kayak and walk around the streets of NYC now that I'm older. My younger brother is the captain of the high school football team. My dad is a postal worker so he walks a lot as it is, but is also a black belt in kung fu and regularly participates in Falun Gong (Dafa) meditation exercises.

While my mom is slightly overweight (I suppose 3 children, life, then menopause will do that to you), she is a very healthy cook and I remember growing up she wouldn't allow too much snack food in the house. She had an absolute ban on "foods" like Kraft Mac & Cheese (or Velveeta) and mashed potatoes from the box. If we wanted mac & cheese we made it from scratch, and there was no question about having to mash our own potatoes. Things like this have stuck with me now that I'm older, and while I'm busy, I try my best to prepare as much food as I can on my own.

It's not always true, but we can look to our experiences with food and exercises when we were growing up to see how we'll fare as adults.

Great post! Sorry for the rambling comment!

C Woods said...

I think it is genetics and lifestyle combined. Also, if someone were the only fat person in a family, s/he might be motivated to change, but when everyone is like that, food is king and everyone else looks like everyone else, so why bother to change? Fat people are not only accepted in your family, they are the norm.

i used to teach school. I often taught (over a period of years) many siblings from the same family. Once in a while there would be a family of wonderful, bright, responsible, genuinely nice kids, then along would come the sibling from hell. On the other hand, I would teach a family of nasty, mean, stupid, apathetic demons, and along would come a sibling that was smart, sweet, and responsible. What happened there?

I have a theory about families. This is my own theory and not supported by anything but my own observations. Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us are about 90% like our parents. But there is something that bothered us terribly about one or both parents, so in that one respect (or more than one) we have chosen to go in the opposite direction. Have you ever heard of PK's? Preacher's kids? Everything you would think a preacher's kid would NOT be.

My mom worried about what everyone else thought. I couldn't care less. My husband's father couldn't fix anything. My husband has taught himself to fix just about everything. So maybe weight is your own 10%. You saw how everyone else in your family ate & looked and, consciously or not, you decided not to be like them.

DBB said...

Chickpea - lifestyle could account for it - I just don't know what their lifestyles consist of.

But I think you are right that habits formed young tend to stick with you. I just wonder why the huge change post-adulthood. I mean, everyone ages and has changes associated with that, but I wouldn't think to this extreme.

And feel free to ramble all you want! I was glad to see you posted again on your blog. I'll have a suggestion for you there soon.

C-Woods - I do worry about what you said about people going in the opposite direction of their parents. It makes me worry about pushing too hard on certain things with my children lest they go in the opposite direction I push. I figure it is better to set a good example than to force things.

Your theory may have truth to it - it just doesn't apply in my particular case - I had no idea that my relatives had gotten so fat until I saw the pictures recently. So I was not reacting to anything they did - as far as I knew, they were still relativley thin. (Though admittedly I had known my aunt had gotten fat, that was just one relative - not any of my cousins).

Kaisa said...


I’m working on my Master’s Thesis at the University of Helsinki and my thesis is about leaving Islam. In particular, I’m interested in how the social pressure affects the process of leaving Islam and what the actual consequences for apostates are in today’s world.

As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult to find interviewees on this subject. I have interviewed some people in Finland, but I’d definitely like to hear from more. The testimonials on websites are also an important source, but they don’t always answer my particular questions. Therefore, I was hoping if I could e-mail you with my questionnaire that you could answer with as many or few sentences as you like.

Best regards,

Sage said...

I'm thin, but all my sibs are not. They were tiny until their 20s, then they literally doubled in size (three sisters, two brothers). My theory? They all moved to the country or the suburbs where the pictured themselves going for long walks in the woods or something. But the woods don't lead anywhere they need to go, and life gets busy. So they drive to the store, and the school, and everywhere else.

I live downtown. I walk everywhere.

DBB said...

I'm sure walking helps. My parents make a point of going out to walk - like going to the mall just to walk around. I don't know what my other relatives do. I probably should try and stay in touch with them better. It is so hard to do much of anything like that with the 1 year old and (soon to be) 4 year old.

hedera said...

I don't think it's any one thing. Everyone gains weight as they age; you gain more or less depending on how and what you eat, and how you live - do you walk? do you exercise?

I had serious trouble getting my weight under control while I worked in an office, because offices always have little bowls of "help yourself" candy sitting around. Or the cookies somebody made, or or or. I don't have that stuff in the house, but I have trouble passing it up when it just sits there.

I'm still overweight, but I'm down at least 25 pounds from my high, and working on improving slowly. My family all ran to overweight. I don't eat junk food except very rarely as a treat (I do like candy, sigh), and I exercise several times a week ("several" being "more than two"). I also restrict myself to one soda pop per day.

I find that going out to dinner - even NOT to a fast food place - causes a spike in my weight, mainly because of the salt in the food, but it comes down in a few days.