Endomorph vs. the NIH

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from the National Institutes of Health that suggested the solution to my lifelong weight problem was math.

(We’re from the government; we’re here to help.)

In its news briefing, the nation’s premier health agency directed me to a calculator wherein I could punch in a couple of statistics, previously known only by the TSA and my mother, and learn the exact number of calories I should consume if I want to weigh a certain number by a specific date.

This interested me because:

A) I’ve been on a diet, or about to be on a diet, for approximately 35 years, give or take a decade,


B) If there is a magic number that, south of it, means weight loss, and north of it, means my jeans don’t fit, I don’t know what it is.

Yes, I know, B explains A.

Ever seduced by that old scoundrel hope, I went to the calculator and obediently typed in my age, height, weight and activity level, which, sadly, I could only say was moderate since I’m still battling plantar fasciitis.

Then, like a second-rate genie offering to grant me two wishes, the NIH asked what I wanted to weigh and when I wanted to weigh it.

I suggested 125 pounds the day after tomorrow.

The NIH, humorless bureaucrat that it is, wouldn’t play ball.

So I chose 146 pounds, on the day in November when I leave for my annual excursion to West Virginia with friends. Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 8.09.15 AM

Game on.

The NIH said I will weigh 146 on that day if I eat 1,476 calories every day between now and then.

Now, set aside the fact that this number represents something akin to (gasp!) a diet, the sort of diet people used to go on in the 1970s before we stopped counting calories and moved to math-free method, such as eliminating carbs or sugar or white things, or eating only between 10 and 6. It’s not news that people who severely restrict their calories lose weight. More diets die from boredom than anything else.

But things got interesting when I clicked on “switch to expert mode,” and the NIH spit out a spreadsheet of what I would weigh every day between now and November if I did what the statisticians in Bethesda suggested.

There, at the bottom of the chart, past the mid-terms but before Thanksgiving, was the magical 146, beaming at me like it had just won the jackpot at bingo.

See? the NIH said smugly. It’s simple. Just do the math.

Nothing about how my metabolism is shot by decades of roller-coaster dieting; about sedentary pregnancies in which my weight topped 200; about lengthy recovery from complicated C-sections; nothing about how fat cells increasingly take over muscles as we age, even if we’re moderately or extremely active; nothing about emotional baggage that requires regular infusions of ice cream to keep the wheels moving; no mention at all about how an established endomorph like me can run a freakin’ half-marathon in the heat and still weigh a pound more the next day.

Knowing all this in my bones, I can’t see myself thin, no matter how hard I squint.

But my government wouldn’t lie to me, would it?

So I have set off on what can only be described as a grudge match against the NIH, an attempt to prove that my fat cells are tougher, more determined, more resilient than its math.  My fat cells wear leather; their numbers wear tutus.

So far, I’m winning. After two weeks, I weigh two more pounds than its cheerful spreadsheet says I should, but admittedly my accounting was a little sloppy a couple of days.

It’s not that I need to eat less, though, right? I just need to work on my math.


4 thoughts on “Endomorph vs. the NIH

  1. That was a hilarious read!
    You inspired me to click on the link to the Cosmo Quiz (er, I mean NIH calculator) and run my own numbers. I especially liked the input for “estimated % change in physical activity level,” as if I’m ever going to tell the NIH about my most absurd New Year’s resolutions.
    Seriously, though, you are right that by leaving out ‘lil things like metabolism, the only value of The Calculator is as a launchpad for comedy. I hope people either laugh at it or ignore it, because otherwise they’ll just be depressed by it.


    1. Well, I will give them this: the day-by-day chart gives an “upper body weight” and a “lower body weight” that seems to acknowledge that this is not a one-size-fits all proposition. (“Seems” because it doesn’t explain this anywhere that I can see.) And I find the whole thing kind of absurdly interesting, kind of like ants marching along my window sill…. no idea where this is going, but sure, I’ll play along for a while.


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