“Fat and Happy”  

Issue 73

By:  Ron Brounes  

March 2005


A few weeks back, Men’s Fitness magazine bestowed upon Houston the supreme honor of being the fattest city in the country.  This announcement represented the fourth year that we have been duly recognized in such a “flattering” manner.  Almost immediately, locals were outraged.  Many canceled their long-standing subscriptions to this highly reputable magazine (and switched to the more thought-provoking Maxim and FHM); others vowed to work to help us overcome this embarrassing distinction.  Mayor Bill White put down his James Coney Island hot dog long enough to launch a new wellness initiative called “Get Houston Moving” (that has nothing to do with our “successful” 7-mile light rail program).  


Memberships at gyms skyrocketed as the fitness craze spread throughout the city.  (Lucky for me, no one uses that antiquated Stairmaster that I like so much so I was never the least bit inconvenienced.)  Instead, spinning and pilates classes filled up weeks in advance and sales of Power Bars and Red Bull shot through the roof.  Traditional body builders (like myself) found ourselves “working in a set” with overweight soccer moms and out of shape Nascar dads who showed up each day in their designer sweat suits (with matching jewelry).  Lines at my favorite local fast food joints subsided which made my cruising though Chick-Fil-A, McDonalds, and Popeye’s an absolute breeze.  To lure their previously robust customers back into their restaurants, many began offering salads with low fat dressing, baked potatoes, and other “heart healthy” items.  Virtually everyone in the city began some form of Atkins, South Beach, or the latest craze diet-de-jour.  For many, ordering at restaurants became an hour long ordeal with countless questions about food preparation, low carb options, and an ability to leave certain items “on the side” (so they could control their ranch dressing and chili con queso intake). 


Never before have Houstonians come together for the greater good of the community as a whole.  Never before have locals been so inspired to save our negative reputation.  Apparently, being the fattest city in the country is far worse than being the smog capital or the most humid or having the worst traffic or unsightly billboards or non-sensible zoning, etc., etc., etc.  (Luckily, in many circles, we still maintain the distinction of possessing the best “Gentlemen’s establishments” which continue to be a major convention driver and boon for the local economy.) 




I, for one, believe we reacted entirely inappropriately to the news and instead should have embraced our collective obesity and all the positive connotations that come with it.  Then again, I have long been known for my cheery disposition and “glass is half full, not half empty” attitude about everything.  It should come as no surprise to my loyal readers (hey Mom) that if someone would find a “silver lining” for this situation, it would be me.


I had difficulty accepting that we were indeed the fattest city (or why that is even considered a negative).  After all, we’re not known for cheese steaks or bratwurst or deep dish pizza or delicatessen or muffulettas

 or buffalo wings or cream pie or pig sandwiches or even clam chowder.  I couldn’t recall a specific date when all Houstonians were asked to venture down to City Hall to stand on a giant scale for a city-wide weigh-in.  I don’t remember receiving a mass mailing (or spam email) requesting my vital statistics regarding weight, height, or pant size.


Upon reading the criteria for the vote, I determined that our “portliness” did not even enter into the calculation.  Instead we were ranked by such categories as “Junk Food” (number of fast food outlets, pizza parlors, ice cream shops, and doughnut stores), “Alcohol” (number of bars/taverns per 100,000 population), “TV” (homes using televisions as measured by Nielsen Media Research), and “Geography” (accessibility to recreational forests, lakes, rivers, waterways, mountains). 


One can make a case that each of those categories actually reveal positive aspects of our city.  How can doughnut shops and bars be viewed as all negative?  Have the judges at Men’s Fitness ever been to beautiful Galveston and experienced all the water sport opportunities?   Don’t they realize that channels on television are now devoted entirely to healthy cooking (bam) and exercise?  And besides, who cares if we carry around a few extra pounds of baggage.  The “Fittest” city named on the magazine’s list was Seattle, Washington, a rain-soaked town where emaciated tree-huggers  live on granola and overpriced coffee (no offense).  




I believe we Houstonians should embrace this “fattest” distinction and take advantage of any and all economic enhancement opportunities.  Use it as a marketing tool to attract people (and conventions) here (instead of only relying on our famous “strip” clubs).  From BBQ to Tex Mex to Southern Chicken Fried Steak, Houston enjoys some of the finest (and most underrated) restaurants across the country.  Just last week, I ate outstanding Mexican food three out of four meals (and the fourth consisted of a chili cheese hot dog and large chili pie no beans) and I can’t remember when I’ve been so happy.  (Just what is that suggested age for a colonoscopy?)  Our annual rodeo just ended with attendees still raving about all the different foods that can be skewered and served on sticks these days (it’s not only sausage anymore). 


Most visitors to local conventions, sporting events, rodeos, or just vacationers (yes, people do vacation here…ever heard of NASA?) return home more than satisfied and eager to share their unique dining experiences with their associates and future travelers.  We even have a local columnist who doubles as the Drive Through Gourmet, reviewing the latest and greatest in dining at our neighborhood fast food joints and quick service restaurants.  (That Jack-in-the Box Ultimate Cheeseburger remains a personal favorite.)  It’s not only greasy junk food that contributes to Houston’s culinary reputation.  World famous chefs and restaurateurs call our fair city home and have even expanded their successful concepts across the country.  Our proximity to the Gulf translates into daily fresh seafood at local restaurants.  When one considers our affordable cost of living, an enjoyable night out on the town does not require a home equity loan and even leaves most fine diners with more than a buck or two remaining in their wallets. 


These days, we’re learning that low carb diets may actually lead to certain health issues; athletes and workout fanatics are finding that excessive exercise programs (with enhancements) may cause long-term negative consequences (and Congressional investigations); people can only drink so much (outrageously expensive) grande cups of Bella Vista F.W. Tres Rios Costa Rica and Ethiopia Yergacheffe.  When considering the alternatives, being “fat and happy” in Houston doesn’t sound all bad.  Thank you Men’s Fitness.  Remember us again next year.