It only matters what works for you.

Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category

Dear young self

If I could go back in time and tell my young self one thing, it would be to not diet, no matter how many people told me “If you just…” and other annoying untruths. Because the science is clear now. While short term a diet can and often does improve some health markers like cholesterol and blood sugar, over the long term what repeat dieting is mostly likely to do is make sure you stay fat.

And if you think about it, really, would dieting be a multi-gazillion dollar industry if it actually worked long term? Of course not. If it worked, you’d do it once, the weight would stay off, and that would be it. They make all that money because you have to keep going back and doing it again longer and harder.

I found this article written by a neuroscientist to have some interesting things to say.

The root of the problem is not willpower but neuroscience. Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.

Evolution designed us around periodic famine. If too many died too quickly, then we’re a failed experiment. So those who had some way to slow their metabolism when necessary are the ones who didn’t starve to death. Fat is important for survival, if you don’t live in a world with a McDonald’s and a Starbucks on every corner. Your basic functions do not believe that a size 2 is more desirable than a size 22, and every time you ‘starve’ (ie Diet) it is more convinced that you need all the help you can get to survive.

On my most serious diet, in my late 20s, I got down to 125 pounds, 30 pounds below my normal weight. I wanted (unwisely) to lose more, but I got stuck. After several months of eating fewer than 800 calories a day and spending an hour at the gym every morning, I hadn’t lost another ounce. When I gave up on losing and switched my goal to maintaining that weight, I started gaining instead.

The author’s own story mirrors mine. There was a joyful time when I quickly and fairly easily (if you consider involuntary vomiting easy) lost 100 lbs in just a few months. I was on a strict low carb diet, and I was being introduced to my soy allergy. Soy is in everything, so every salad with soybean oil dressing, every handful of snack nuts roasted in soy bean oil…a huge list of common every day foods caused me to be violently sick almost every day. It took me quite a while to figure out why. It wasn’t intentional, but I took the weight loss gratefully. But then I got down to a certain point and that was it. Nothing else I did over a several years following ever took me down below that point. No matter how dramatic.

The causal relationship between diets and weight gain can also be tested by studying people with an external motivation to lose weight. Boxers and wrestlers who diet to qualify for their weight classes presumably have no particular genetic predisposition toward obesity. Yet a 2006 study found that elite athletes who competed for Finland in such weight-conscious sports were three times more likely to be obese by age 60 than their peers who competed in other sports.

I find this particularly interesting. Devoted athletes, no genetic predispositions, and yet repeated dieting seems to cause overall weight gain over time.

But our culture’s view of obesity as uniquely deadly is mistaken. Low fitness, smoking, high blood pressure, low income and loneliness are all better predictors of early death than obesity. Exercise is especially important: Data from a 2009 studyshowed that low fitness is responsible for 16 percent to 17 percent of deaths in the United States, while obesity accounts for only 2 percent to 3 percent, once fitness is factored out. Exercise reduces abdominal fat and improves health, even without weight loss. This suggests that overweight people should focus more on exercising than on calorie restriction.

And here’s the real winner. Despite the media telling us what a horrible drain on the system fat people are, the data actually shows that it’s being sedentary and out of shape that is the issue. Sure, those often go together, but our sedentary life style is the real problem.

So if I could go back an talk to my young self, I’d ask her to take another dance class. To ride her bike every day. To ignore how she thought she looked in sweats and go to the gym anyway.

So this January, don’t start another diet. Find something physical that you enjoy, and put your time and attention to that instead.





When duty calls…

When duty calls, what if you can’t answer?

Jury duty, in this case.

I know a lot of people like to groan and complain about jury duty. I’m not one of them. Sure it’s inconvenient, and it’s lost work time and extra parking fees. But it’s also a right and a privilege that lots of people don’t have around the world. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than a lot of others.

A few months ago I got a summons and I put it on my calendar and didn’t think anything of it. And then a few days before I thought about parking. I live in a big metro area so parking is always a problem, but government buildings always have something so I called the accessibility line listed and asked the nice lady on the phone what the options were.

“Oh,” she said. “The public parking is kind of far.”

Now when a normally healthy person thinks it’s a bit of a walk, that’s going to be completely out of my reach right now. But there weren’t any better options. The disabled lot is nice and close, but you have to have a DMV issued tag to park there. The public parking is a 10 minute walk for the lady who walks it every day.

Now what am I going to do?

For your reference, if you have health issues it isn’t difficult to get a waiver for jury duty. You just have to have your doctor request one, so I wouldn’t recommend trying if you don’t really have problems. My doctor’s office was willing to have me excused. I also got a signed form for a DMV issued parking tag that’s good for 6 months so I can try and sort out what’s wrong with my leg. And after a bit of thinking, I realized that I have a friend who lives pretty close, and I could probably park at her house and take a cab from there to the Courthouse and get dropped off at a more-accessible-to-me location. So the physical issues were all sorted and I have a plan for the future.

But it was another unpleasant example of the restrictions my current health has me under. Another example of the frustration of trying to do the simplest, most mundane tasks of daily life. Another opportunity to be demoralized by something I’m working to change, even if I can’t quite seem to get ahead.


But what does it do?

A few weeks ago this really disturbing and distressing article appeared in my Facebook feed.

It wasn’t disturbing because of violence, it isn’t distressing because fluffy kittens were suffering. It really upset me because it is a high profile example of how completely the USerican public has bought into the belief that thin is the only thing that matters.

The author, Lauren Fleshman, is a professional runner, and a new mom. She got to walk the runway for NY Fashion Week and has a fantastic picture of herself looking ripped and tan on the runway.

And then she took some other pictures of herself on a regular day when she isn’t in a crazy posture and posted them so people could see that in every day life, even runway models don’t look like runway models. And she wrote a blog about the whole thing. Which she then took weeks to publish, because even she, with an amazing athletic body that has also generated a beautiful tiny human, has body image issues.

Friends convinced her that she really, really needed to share her article, and eventually she did, and the response she got was pretty crazy, so then she wrote the follow up article that sparked my post.

Her body is strong, and healthy and lets her do what is important to her. She gets to inspire others, and she brought a life into the world, and she’s got a body that many of us would kill for, and still, STILL, she has body image problems.

Are you disturbed and distressed now?

Happy Spring

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything. I didn’t wander off and get distracted. I just haven’t had anything positive to say.

Back in November, I posted about a medication change that went horribly wrong. In 3 weeks (I have notes) I gained so much weight that I crossed the weight limit on my scale, needed to purchase new clothes in a bigger size, and felt practically immobilized. Wait, cross off ‘practically’. It’s very fortunate that none of the endocrinologists who say that adrenal fatigue isn’t really a problem crossed my path. It wouldn’t have been pretty. Or at least it would have been  very loud.

If you don’t have cortisol, you don’t have thyroid hormone uptake. If your thyroid quits, you gain weight. If you’ve ever seen a website that talks about ‘sudden weight gain’ as a sign of thyroid issues, I bet you don’t think in the range of 50 lbs or so. I can’t say for sure, as I mentioned, I exceeded the limit on my scale, so it’s all guesswork.

It was really and truly awful, and also scary how quickly I crashed, how hard I crashed, and how long it’s taken me to feel decent again. I distinctly remember a conversation with a very dear friend who called one day and asked “so how are you?” In the usual fashion of friends. And because she is a very dear friend, I answered completely honestly “I feel as though I’ve been beaten and left for dead, thanks for asking. How are you?”

It’s taken me most of 4 months to get my weight back to what it was in October. (A number up 30 lbs from my previous longtime steady weight.) I still haven’t regained the strength I lost, and I’m still having crazy problems with insulin resistance, which I recognize from a diagnosis I got in 2006.

I’m back on a pretty strict, controlled carb paleo diet. It’s boring, but it doesn’t make me feel bad.

I’ve been going to the pool, but I think I’m finally to the point where I can get back on the elliptical, even if I can only do it in 3 minute bursts, which is where I started back in 2007. I think I can also do some basic weights. I need to build up my muscles, both for ease of movement and because that’s the best way to reverse insulin resistance. That and controlling insulin in the first place with a controlled carbohydrate intake.

My allopathic doctor wasn’t helpful. I found an acupuncturist who also uses a lot of really non-traditional modalities that seem to be helping.

So in case anyone noticed I was gone, that’s where I’ve been. Limp and tired and hurting and despondent about my poor health. I had nothing positive to say, so I thought I’d keep it to myself.

But now recovery is definitely in place and progressing, and we’ve turned the corner to spring even though we in the DC area are expecting more snow this week. I’m feeling optimistic, so let’s get back to the things I love to do, like helping people raise a fuss about health.

Back in the saddle

Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, I was in pretty darn good shape for a really fat lady. Not an athlete by any means, but I was able to do a three mile hike that involved climbing in and out of Bryce Canyon. I wasn’t speedy by any means, in fact I clearly remember being passed by a herd of geriatric German tourists, but I did it and I enjoyed it.

For several years I worked out regularly. I got myself from pre-couch potato up to something I consider ‘decent shape’.

Then my adrenals tanked, and my thyroid tanked, and I could either have a good work day, or work out, but not both. It was a very sad thing. And then I moved and had a nice long bout of depression to go with my insular and sedentary life style.

So here I am, with my adrenals more or less supported, my thyroid meds working great, and the time to go work out. Unfortunately, I also seem to be starting from scratch again.

I could choose to be really upset with myself for loosing all the ground I worked so hard for.

Or, I can acknowledge that, as annoying as it is to be here again, the way things worked out, I couldn’t really have managed things any differently. So I can just buck up, put on my big girl…bathing suit, and get back out to the pool, which is the best place for really fat people to start (or restart) exercising. The pool is both aerobic and strength building (at lower fitness levels especially) and it has the advantage of supporting a lot of your body weight while you regain some strength.

A lot of very fat people have hang ups about bathing suits. Here’s the thing. Everyone already knows you’re fat. It isn’t something you can hide. When I’ve suited up to go work out in the pool? I’ve never had anyone ever be anything less than encouraging. Sure, it’s a different story at the beach maybe, but in a work out situation you’re either there, or you’re not there. No one cares what you look like. Just that you show up.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get suited up for water aerobics.

Work-Life balance

This is a skill I don’t yet have. If I’m very lucky someone will have notice I haven’t posted in quite a while.

I’m self employed, and most of my work is on finite projects. I got a really fantastic one this summer. It had a tight deadline, so for most of the summer, I didn’t do anything but work on this contract. It was fun and interesting and challenging. It was also lucrative, so, everything you could possibly ask for in a contract.

Unfortunately, it didn’t leave me a whole lot of time for other things.

I should have managed that better and taken time for other things.

When the project completed, my bank account was in great shape. That’s one side. On the other side, my cats were very stressed, to the point that my cat who used to be a biter was behaving aggressively again. I’d gained some weight, sitting very still working on the computer for 10 weeks. A lot of household things got behind.

It’s not a terrible result, but it’s reminded me that I need to learn to make sure that I am as important to myself as my business is. I’m not very good at that, but I’m pretty smart, so eventually I think I’ll figure it out.

A time for rethinking.

I’m pretty excited to see some people thinking the conclusions of mainstream medicine. I’ve posted some really exciting things from Lissa Rankin, today’s TED is by Peter Attia, who found out the hard way he was being a jerk.

He starts his TED by telling us a story of a woman with a diabetic ulcer. He had no empathy for her, because medical dogma is clear. If you are fat and diabetic, it’s your own fault for not taking better care of yourself. If you ate right and exercised, this would never have happened. Case closed.

Three years later he discovered how very, very wrong that is. He followed the food pyramid to the letter, exercised hours every day, and he still developed metabolic syndrome. Oh. If it could happen to him, even following the rules, then maybe there’s more to it…

What if obesity isn’t the cause, but rather the effect. It’s wonderful to me to hear someone with a ‘perfect body’ and medical credentials suggest that. He’s gotten together with Gary Taubes, author of “What if it’s all been a big fat lie?” and a very weighty book titled Good Calories Bad Calories. They have gathered a group to research the issues some more, going ‘where ever the science takes them’.

I for one am eager to see what comes of it.