Fighting fat with calipers

Elise T. Chisolm

July 16, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

HAVE YOU ever been calipered? Well, neither have I.

With America's obsession with thinness, seemingly normal people are being "calipered." It's the latest in thinness technology.

My handsome cousin Rocko has just been calipered, and he is hysterical. He called from Los Angeles to tell me about it. Rocko is 65, looks about 50, weighs 159, is very thin, runs every day and plays tennis three times a week. He does not smoke, drink or eat any fatty foods. And he's never been sick a day in his life.

''I took this Health Zest Test my company offered us, and they found everything OK, but they said I was 29 pounds overweight,'' he tells me.

''It must be some computer mistake. That's going around, you know,'' I tell him.

Meantime he is examining his body in the mirror and getting his wife to watch while they try to find where the fat is. He has also bought some mechanical calipers and is measuring his chest after each meal.

A caliper is an instrument with little movable legs to measure precise thickness or the diameter of something. The measurements taken of a person's body are entered into a computer for analysis.

Rocko reads the computer printout of his ''fatness'' to me over the phone.

''It says my percent of body fat is 29.7; my body density is 1.0323 and the desirable percentage for body fat for me is 3 percent essential fat . . . therefore I must lose 21 to 29 pounds of fat . . .''

''Where did they pinch you with the calipers, in the belly?'' He has none. ''And did it hurt?''

''On my upper chest, upper back and arm, and it tickled."

''Calm down, see your personal doctor, eat your three meals a day, and throw in some ice cream. Enjoy -- until you find where that hidden fat is.''

Gee whiz, society was bent on women's bust measurements in the '40s and '50s and now we are going to get the fat on our arms measured!

Not me.

I called a friend of mine, a Baltimore health professional, Patti Koster.

I asked her opinion on calipering.

''Ours is a software program; the computer generates the results of the person's body fat," she says. "We ask the patient how much they want to lose, and believe me, the computer readout is sometimes an unrealistic goal.''

Well, I should have known a computer was behind all this, as I have so little trust in computers.

She also added that the computer does not give the whole story. I think she does not put much credence in calipering.

''To be frank," she says, "only your mirror gives the real picture, the computer can't do that.''

And I also found out from my friend that the caliper/computer trend is sexist. She tells me that with their program they take women's measurements in two places on the belly and on the arms. But on a man they don't measure the belly. That's mean. Does the computer know that if you've had four kids, you might have extra fat there?

Then the next day I get a call from Mitzi, who has been on a water diet for six weeks. Someone at her spa told her she was overweight.

She tells me she has just read that two-thirds of the people who shed weight will gain back the lost pounds, and only 10 percent of dieters who lose 25 pounds or more will remain at the desired weight.

''Well, now I'm going back to my old belly dancing classes, and three beers,'' she adds.

She'd just read, as I had, that the Journal of the American Medical Association has given fat-lovers support by saying only 2 percent of us would live longer if everyone reduced overall fat consumption to the recommended 30 percent of one's diet. And even the federal government's latest figures for healthy weight are giving us more leeway to eat without guilt. So there!

?3 Throw away the diet book and pick up a Twinkie.

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