MAD DOG: A 21st Century Diet Plan

It's not easy being American. Not only do we have to put up with the XFL, the Puffy Combs trial, and Regis Philbin twice a day most days, we also have to listen to people from other countries accuse us of being loud, obnoxious, arrogant, badly dressed, and fat. Come on now, we're not all badly dressed.

And truth be told, we're not all fat, though it's getting close. We can deny it all we want, just like those McDonald's wrappers we swear were under the seat when we bought the brand new car, the photos we didn't notice alongside the articles in last month's Penthouse, and the fact that we know everyone's name and vital statistics on "Temptation Island" but have never seen the show, but it won't get us anywhere. The proof is in.

According to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control (motto: "So many microbes, so little time after taking a long lunch") 61 percent of Americans are overweight and one in five is obese. In other words, our figures look as bad as their figures. This means that if you look around and see four people who are within a normal weight range -- for our purposes defined as being smaller than Louis Anderson and larger than Calista Flockhart -- then you probably should stay away from mirrors for a while.

"But it's not just us," you're saying as you wonder why your new La-Z-Boy recliner didn't come with the built-in Slim Jim dispenser you requested. "There are fat people all over the world." That's true, though unfortunately most of them are American tourists.

This public health hazard may help explain the findings released by the World Health Organization (motto: "Take over two countries and call us in the morning"). It showed that out of 191 countries, the United States ranked as the 24th most likely to spawn Gérard Depardieu. Just kidding. Actually it was ranked number 24 according to how many years people can expect to live in "full health." This really isn't so bad. After all, it's not like we were at the bottom of the list along with Ethiopia, Botswana, and Uganda. Hah! And people say we have no excuse for being loud, obnoxious, and arrogant.

We can, and should, curb this trend. Doctors say that losing weight can bring about immediate benefits to our cardiovascular, pulmonary, and immune systems, not to mention their bank accounts. But you have to do it correctly. Fad diets, dangerous drugs, and permanently gluing your scale to 115 lbs isn't the answer. These simple guidelines are:

1. Eat less. Take smaller portions, stop eating before you feel full, and move to Brazil. A fifth of Rio de Janeiro's, and half of Sao Paolo's, restaurants now charge by weight. The food's, not yours, which is a relief. You can get rice, beans, spaghetti and beef for around $7 a kilo, or fancy Italian food for $13.50 a kilo. So if the prospect of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and having to buy two airplane tickets so you can lift the arm rest and be comfortable isn't enough to stop you from taking huge portions, maybe having to pay more money to overfill your plate will.

2. Exercise more. Experts say we should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. This can be in the form of walking, swimming, aerobics, or thinking hard about what excuse to use today for not doing any of the above. But exercise doesn't just help you lose weight, it has additional advantages. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, releases chemicals in the brain which give you a sense of well-being, and, if you're a man, can improve your sex life. Researchers working on the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (motto: "We're not getting older, we're just getting better at denial") found that men who exercise are less likely to become impotent. As word of this gets around you can expect to see more men jogging through the streets, giving new meaning to "Keeping it up with the Joneses."

3. Sleep more. As we age, not only does our eyesight, hearing, and, uh, uh....memory go downhill, but so does the quality of our sleep. A study at the University of Chicago (motto: "We're out of the Loop") discovered that as men grow older, the slow-wave -- or most restful part of their night's sleep -- grows shorter. The problem is that this is the phase of sleep during which a growth hormone is produced that affects lean tissue. Thus, too little sleep results in too little growth hormone and too large a spare tire. The answer is to sleep more. Not only will you lose weight, but you'll have fewer waking hours during which to avoid mirrors.

4. Move out of the suburbs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (motto: "The same as it was in the third paragraph") thinks suburban life may be to blame for adult obesity having increased 60 percent over the past decade. Since homes, schools, malls, and Ben & Jerry's are all more spread out, people are less inclined to walk. This in turn causes suburbanites to spread out more. Thus, moving to the city could help you lose weight. Especially if you walk there.

Remember, as with any weight loss program, slow, steady results are best. But if we all stick with it, before you know it Americans on the whole will look better, feel better, and our life expectancy ranking will shoot up. Now if we can only do something about being loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and badly dressed.

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