Permanent Irreversible Math-Induced Fatness

By Felice Prager

Permanent Irreversible Math-Induced Fatness

I received a phone call from the health and beauty reporter at my local newspaper. “I read your essay about weight loss in a woman’s magazine, and I thought I could get some expert feedback from you about a theory I’m researching,” she said. The essay she was referring to did not make me an expert. I have written a lot about the success I have had dieting, but it still does not make me an expert. Losing a lot of weight has just given me some new topics to explore in my writing and an excuse to shop for new clothes. According to this reporter, however, writing about weight loss made me worthy of an interview.

What she needed from me was a quote. “I’m doing a story about how the math part of dieting makes it difficult for people to lose weight if they aren’t good at math. I think everything that people count from calories to steps can intimidate people who want to lose weight. I’m looking for someone who can say something about how numbers make losing weight difficult. Maybe you know someone who failed at dieting because she hated counting how many calories or carbs she was eating. Maybe someone didn’t like measuring portions or weighing food or counting sit-ups.”

“I don’t think being good or bad at math has anything to do with losing weight,” I said.

“Experts say it does,” she said. “Experts in the health and beauty field say it is why so many people fail at diets. They hate math. They hate numbers. So the diets don’t work!” It’s kind of scary thinking there’s a field of people out there who believe that being bad at arithmetic is going to lead a person to an inevitable fate: Permanent Irreversible Math-Induced Fatness.

My mind started wandering, as it often does when I’m talking to silly people about silly things. I envisioned the new topic on news broadcasts being “PIF – Permanent Irreversible Math-Induced Fatness – the disease that goes after those who never learned to add and subtract without using their fingers. Details at 5!”

I returned to the regularly scheduled broadcast as the reporter continued, “They’ve just discovered that counting calories helps you lose weight!”

“Are you serious?” I asked her. I was referring to the “just discovered” part of her statement, but in retrospect, I think she thought it was news to me.

“If you count calories and keep your caloric intake low, according to the experts,” she repeated in a new and more serious way, “a person will lose weight! If you don’t count calories, you will fail at your diet.”

“That’s not new,” I told her.

“Well, it’s a new theory,” she replied.

“It’s not new,” I repeated.

“Well, it doesn’t matter if it’s new or not,” she said, “because if you’re bad at math, then you can’t keep track of calories, and you’re going to be fat.”

I was wheezing at this point. There’s something about comments like this that sets off my asthma more than a field of pollen-producing plants or shedding cats. I reached for my inhaler and started scribbling down her comments because I knew there was an essay in this conversation. I was thinking that sooner or later, the health and beauty experts would be pointing their fingers at math teachers across America, saying, “You are the cause of a generation of fat people. Billy is FAT because BILLY CAN’T ADD!”

“So what you’re saying is that if you can’t add, you will lack success in dieting?” I asked.

“Yuppers, you have to be good at math to keep track of all those calories, carbs, points or whatever you’re counting. That’s what the experts say. If you can’t keep track of sit-ups and crunches, you’re doomed.”

“Does it work in reverse?” I asked her.

“I don’t understand,” she replied.

“You’re saying that if you’re bad at math that means you’ll have weight issues. So if a person has a weight problem, does it mean that you’re predetermined to be bad at math? Is it commutative?”

“Which one is commutative again?” she asked.

I didn’t answer her.

“So can I quote you?” she asked.

“I didn’t say anything to be quoted yet,” I said, “but if you need a quote, try this: ‘I don’t agree with your theory. It doesn’t make sense. It’s silly. Losing weight has nothing to do with being able to add or subtract or even doing long division. Dieting isn’t about math; it’s about really wanting to lose weight and being mindful of what you put in your mouth. It’s about exercise. It’s about self-control. Not math. Plus, you can buy a calculator for five bucks or use your phone if you are really mathematically challenged.”

“Yeah, but the experts say that it’s hard to remember to keep track and write everything down,” she said.

“Like I said,” I repeated ever-so-patiently. “If you want to lose weight, whether you have to add, write something down or maybe keep track of how many sit ups you do, if someone really wants to, the person will figure out a way. It has nothing to do with math.”

“So you don’t think it’s harder to lose weight if you’re bad at math? You don’t think being bad at math makes a difference?”

“You can quote me on that,” I said.

About this writer

  • Felice Prager Felice Prager is a freelance writer and multisensory educational therapist from Scottsdale, Arizona. She is the author of five books: Waiting in the Wrong Line, Negotiable and Non-Negotiable Negotiations, TurboCharge Your Brain, SuperTurboCharge Your Brain, and Quiz It: ARIZONA. Her essays have been published locally, nationally and internationally in print and on the Internet. Learn more at

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One Response to “Permanent Irreversible Math-Induced Fatness”

  1. Felice, this made me chuckle. I’m terrible at math calculations but I read numbers, and when my scale screams, I shut my mouth.

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