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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal

Fit Fat Fit Fat

J. D. Pendry

I'm fat, but I'm thin inside. Has it ever struck you that there's a thin man inside of every fat man, just as they say there's a statue inside every block of stone? - George Orwell

Did you ever have someone talk to your belly? It happens all the time in the Army - well, it used to happen to me anyway. Buxom women have a similar problem. "Hey stupid, I'm up here!" If you are fortunate enough to have a well-rounded physique like mine, it's probably happened to you too. Funny story, I got a NCOER once and one of the senior rater comments read "A well rounded CSM." I laughed out loud because the Colonel's CSM wrote that comment while trying his hand at code talking. It probably still bothers him that I could smoke him like a cheap cigar on the APFT and that just happens to illustrate the point of the upcoming sermon. That being, do we put as much effort into managing fitness as we do fatness and which is most important?

I can remember back to the 70's in the Army. We had some big fat slobs running around in uniform. Most, who were in such a condition of obesity, were also physically unfit. However, there were always some not so thin but still in good enough physical condition to get the job done. During that time the push was on to identify obese individuals and cause them to lose fat to improve their appearance and general health. And I certainly can't argue with that. There is much evidence to support that obesity contributes to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other physically debilitating conditions. Besides that, bellies hanging over belts do not pretty soldiers make. There is also much evidence that being obsessed with weight loss or thin-ness and dieting contribute to conditions like bulimia (abnormal craving for food), anorexia (starving ones self because of an obsession with losing weight) and purging (causing yourself to puke up what you just ate or take laxatives so you'll shoot it through). A female soldier admitted to me once that she didn't eat and always took Ex-lax for several days before every weigh-in in order to meet the screening weight. I've known many male soldiers who would starve themselves for several days just to drop the one or two pounds that would keep them away from the body fat test.

During my Army career, I never achieved lean, mean fighting machine status. Pudgy, mean fighting machine is more like it. But, I always kept myself in good physical condition. I have actually earned a maximum score on the APFT and had to stand by for my body fat test, while a pencil neck who scored a blistering 190 ditty-bopped away smirking.

Try this sometime. Walk into any unit and ask to see the unit's physical fitness training plan or file. After the thousand-meter stare followed by the tap dancing routine you're likely to receive, ask to see the unit's weight control files. I'm betting that there is much more leadership time, effort and paper spent on the latter - and that's too bad. Which is most important and what should leadership spend its time with - managing fatness or managing fitness?

To begin with, if we were truly serious about fat management, you'd think we would use the most accurate method available for measuring body fat - after all, the results we get may determine a person's livelihood and not just his level of fatness. Hydrostatic weighing is the gold standard for determining body fat. Basically, you're dunked in a tank of water and a trained technician determines your body fat level. To do this, we'd need a dunk tank in every gym, maybe hospital too, and every unit would need trained technicians. Additionally, to make it a real fatness management program we'd have to test every soldier. You'll never convince me that everyone has acceptable body fat just because he or she meets the screening weight. By now you're thinking, JD that's the dumbest damn idea I ever heard of. It'd take too much time and way too much money. I agree, but if we insist on determining someone's worth to the Army based on a body fat measurement shouldn't we use the most accurate method available, and shouldn't it apply to everyone? Instead, we rely on the Tape Measure Method - a method that produces different results with every tape measurer.

So how do we resolve this dilemma? Here is a strange and unusual approach. Let's focus on managing fitness and forget about managing fatness. It's a very simple, cost saving (no more tons of body fat stuff to manage) approach. Right now, whoever scores 60% on his or her APFT events will pass. Have you ever taken a test in your life where 60% was passing? No because 60% is an F. You don't reach passing until you get 75%, which is a D. To be blunt, there are more than a few F soldiers running around out there who are classified as physically fit. Ask yourself this question, how many soldiers do you know who can score at least 75% or 75 points in each APFT event who you don't consider fit. Not many I'll bet.

OK Army Staff here's a plan for you free of charge. Effective one year from today the APFT standard will increase to 75 points per event minimum passing score and body fat testing will be discontinued. Shhhhh. If you're quiet, you can hear the heart rates accelerating in the Pentagon.

© 2000 J. D. Pendry