or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Weight Loss

As you know if you're in or past middle age, getting older has many, many downsides, one of which is that, for reasons simultaneously too complicated and too boring to get into, your weight tends to go up. Mine certainly has. Despite working on my feet for thirty plus hours a week — no desk job for me — and walking everywhere I go (because we've never owned a car), my weight has risen steadily for the last few years, so in a desperate attempt to do something about it, I've embarked on the South Beach diet, and I promise you I am not going to bore you endlessly with the details. (Well, except for this one: apparently, a loss of ten pounds or more is usual in the first two weeks, which sounds extreme, but it's almost all water, because, as a consequence of deliberately depleting the supply of glycogen in your liver, you are constantly peeing for the first week or so. Like every hour or two. And you're encouraged to drink lots and lots of water to mitigate the effects of increased protein intake on your kidneys. Good luck getting enough sleep.)

Anyway, I just finished reading a book called Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes; I had gotten a Kindle sample of his previous book (on the same topic) and was intrigued. After I finished the book, I wanted to read critical reviews of it, which haven't changed my mind about having to do something to lose weight, and carbohydrate reduction seems to be the way to go, at least for now. One of the critical reviews used a word I had never seen before: "sarcopenia".

Let's see if we can unpick that, shall we? (It will help if we have read a lot and know some Latin and Greek roots.) The first half, "sarco-", we have seen before, in the word "sarcophagus". A sarcophagus is a stone coffin, and "-phagus" is clearly related to the "-phage" in such words as "macrophage", another name for a white blood cell, which is large ("macro-") and which devours intruders into the body ("-phage") and other things it would be better to get rid of, so we might logically then guess that a sarcophagus is a corpse-eater*, and that "sarco-" refers to human bodies.

"-Penia" is, we might guess if we are particularly imaginative, related to English "penury", or poverty.

And so "sarcopenia" is literally a poverty of the body, or more specifically the wasting away of the flesh; it is used to refer to the characteristic loss of muscle mass that is seen in the elderly, yet another way in which getting older sucks.

*Literally a corpse-eater. We might imaginatively think that it's because a sarcophagus swallows up the body placed inside it, but in fact the word refers to a kind of limestone used to build the coffins, which was was thought to actively decompose the body.


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