A Waist is a Terrible Thing to Mind

By Dave Barry

First, the bad news. You can not have a REALLY swell body, like the one belonging to Julia Roberts. Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has decided only a select few can look like Julia Roberts, and you are not one of them. These people are destined to have swell bodies even if the only exercise they get is eating Slim Jims and drinking cheap whiskey. Other people can exercise constantly and eat nothing but grapefruit rinds, but they will still have the bodies of water buffalo.

This does not mean you shouldn't exercise; it's just that you should understand the REAL reason for exercise. As you grow older, you are going to start feeling more aches and pains caused by the inevitable afflictions of age, such as arthritis, the Social Security Administration, condescending denture-adhesive commercials, children who call only when they want to borrow down payments on houses much nicer than yours, etc. You need to prepare your body for this pain. This is why exercise is so important.

Take joggers. You see them running along the street, clearly hating every second, and you say, "What's the point?" Ha! Years from now, you'll struggle to adjust to the aches and pains of growing older, whereas the joggers, who have been in constant agony for 15 or 20 years, will make the transition smoothly, unless they've committed suicide.

So don't delay. Start an exercise program today, the more painful the better. If you don't like to jog, buy the exercise video that Jane Fonda, a noted critic of capitalism, sells for $29.98, and do the exercises in it. Or just hit yourself on the head repeatedly with it.

Ok! Today you begin the physical-fitness program that's going to make you healthy and attractive, like the people in cigarette ads.

Step one is to take your pulse, because a healthy heart is the key to physical fitness. The best way to understand why is to examine an actual heart. You can not, of course, examine your own, unless you have a high threshold for pain. So trot down to the grocery and ask the butcher for surplus hearts from an assortment of animals - a cow, a pig, a fish, an earthworm. Most butchers will give you the hearts for free, just to get rid of you.

Now take your hearts home, spread them out on a clean, level surface, such as a Ping-Pong table, and examine them. You'll notice the hearts differ in size, but they have one important thing in common: THE ANIMALS THEY WERE REMOVED FROM ARE ALL DEAD. This tells us that hearts are extremely important for physical fitness. Next place your hearts in plastic containers and store them in your freezer in case your children ever need them for science projects.

Now you're ready to take your pulse. The traditional method is to press your fingertips against the artery in your wrist. The only drawback is that you might squash the artery flat, causing blood to back up so that eventually your arm explodes like a party balloon. A safer way is to drink gin and tonics until you can hear your pulse pounding in your head, then crawl to a nearby store to buy a stopwatch:

You: I want a stopwatch.
Salesperson: This is a grocery store.
You (PICKING UP AN EGGPLANT): Then what do you call this?
Salesperson: An eggplant. Say, you're the guy who was here earlier asking for fish hearts. Are you drunk or something?
You: Certainly not. As any idiot can see, I'm taking my pulse.
Salesperson: With an eggplant? Why don't you just squash your fingers against your artery?
You (WITH GREAT DIGNITY): If I wanted a squash, I would have selected a squash. I'll take this eggplant, and make it snappy.

Using a stopwatch or an eggplant, count the number of times your head pounds in a minute; if you're healthy, this should be a two or three digit number. Next, tune your television to one of those programs in which people in skimpy outfits leap around in time to recorded music under the direction of a cheerful leader.

Under no circumstances should you actually DO the exercises, because all that leaping will reduce your brain to tapioca pudding. You'll wind up like the people on the program, smiling vacantly and doing whatever the cheerful leader tells you:

Leader: Okay! Let's kick those legs high! Great! Now let's bend over and say, "I pledge allegiance to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon."
Exercisers: I pledge allegiance to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Leader: Terrific! Now let's all take out our checkbooks and…

After the program, prepare a large, nutritious breakfast. To boost your appetite, think about how important good nutrition is to your heart. Think about what will happen if you don't take care of your heart. Think, as you chew your food, about the fish and the earthworm, whose hearts are in containers only a few feet from your breakfast. This should give you all the incentive you need.

Many years ago, practically nobody in America had a weight problem, because almost everybody was an Indian, and all there was to eat was bison. After a few hundred years of this, they mostly just picked at their food.

Then along came the pioneers. They didn't have a weight problem either, because they were engaged in Westward Expansion, which consumed a great many calories. Also, they rarely got a chance to eat. They'd be crossing the Great Plains, and the wagon master would yell, "Okay, everyone, let's form into a circle for a snack." But before they could even get out the plates, Indians desperate for non-bison food would attack.

Next the pioneers built farms, and soon the country was covered with amber fields of grain. Fortunately, they were able to sell some of it to the Russians - who will eat anything - in exchange for money, which the farmers used to buy real food. So now we have tons of food, and everybody sits around offices and eats, which is why most Americans are overweight, some of them to the point where they stall escalators.

To figure out whether you are overweight, determine your sex and locate your correct scientific weight on this table:

Male 155 pounds
Female 115 pounds
Child 60 pounds

If you weigh too much, you can attempt to disguise it. One popular strategy is to wear clothing with vertical stripes. The idea is to create an optical illusion that makes you look thin, but actually makes you look as though you are wearing a café awning. Also, every schoolchild knows that the only reason people wear vertical stripes is to disguise excess weight. You might just as well wear a big sign that says "FAT."

Sooner or later you'll just have to go on a diet.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT HEALTH NOTE: Before you go on any diet, you should consult your doctor, or at least send him some money.

The principle behind diets is to cut down on calories. A "calorie" is a unit that tells you how good food tastes. Really good food, like steak or fudge, has a high calorie content; really awful food, like grapefruit halves, has almost no calories. (Now before I get outraged letters from citrus growers, let me point out that I am not opposed to grapefruit halves, except as food. They may serve many useful purposes around the home, such as extinguishing small fires.)

To understand how diets work, you have to understand digestion. The process starts in your mouth, which tastes the food and covers it with spit, then sends it to your stomach to be broken down for use as bodily parts. This is done by color. Red foods, such as Hawaiian Punch and beets, are used to form red body parts, such as the heart; green foods, such as beans and lime Jell-O, form green parts, such as the kidneys; beer is used to form urine, and so on. If, on a given day, your body doesn't need any parts, it turns the food into fat. Your body fully intends to turn the fat into something useful some day, but it never gets a chance because you're always sliding more spit-covered food down your throat. So your fat just sits there, and, desperate for attention, starts interfering with other organs.

That's why you have to diet.