Current Happenings

Plains & Pastures Bike Tour (2013)

I'm so proud to live here! Fredericton folks are just AMAZING!!!  Thank you one and all!!  My team raised over $2000.  The support was humbling.  What a great place to be!!!

Mind you, the journey isn't about me - it's about people who fight this horrible disease on a daily basis.  If you're reading this now, I hope you'll come back and sponsor me in the ride next time. 


Bike for Breath

Many thanks to everyone and their generosity.  The amazing people in my life supported me to the tune of $377.  Some days it is just great to be here!   (Fall 2012)


Entries in Calories (6)


Staring at the abyss...... 

It is so easy to slip up.  If you've never lost control then you won't understand.  If you're one of those lucky bastards that won the genetic lottery you won't understand.  It is frighteningly easy.

Stress plays nasty games on your whole body.  The mindfulness class is like a breath of fresh air in the middle of a hurricane.  A start.  It takes discipline to carry it through to living practice.

Discipline.  Sigh.  It takes discipline all the way around.

On the exercize front I've not slipped up too badly.  What with all the things going on I've not made it into the weight room for weeks, but I've kept swimming my 1.5k every workday.  I've not made any progress on the fitness instructor certification either.  BUT I've kept swimming.

On the food front, while I'm recording every single day, it's tending to be at day's end rather than during the day.  My common practice was to record breakfast & lunch plus all snacks/drinks BEFORE planning my supper.  That was the easiest way to keep on target.   

Stress steps in and you just get sick of it.  You know that you probably should divide that item but it's just too much hassle.  Or it's higher carb than you remembered.  End result at the end of the day there's this little "oops" going on.  Not a big one -- but still an oops.  Looking at the guesstimated calorie burn on Fitbit  was 2480 (daily ave.) over that timespan.  At least in theory I shouldn't have gained.  The margin between intake and burn was shrinking, but in theory it was still a negative on average I shouldn't have gained.

On the weight recording front -- still stepping on the scales every day.  Staring into the abyss..... the normal dancing up and down was there, but the trend line was flat(ish) and maybe even trending UP.  What gives??

The answer of course is stress.  Well that's pretty subjective.  How do you measure it?  In my case I've got my handy dandy Fitbit which tells me how much time it thinks I was sleeping, and how many times I woke up during the

night.  The numbers are rather staggering when you stop and think about it.  I clearly do not function on 6 hours of sleep per night. 

So there you have it.  Exercise and food can be balanced but stress will kick it out of whack.  Proof positive.  N=1.  And another seriously good reason to keep records I might add.  This whole situation might have been misinterpreted as a "plateau" if it weren't for all my spreadsheets.  Clearly I need to take better care of myself and we'll see how soon we can turn this trend around. 

Spring is here in New Brunswick and I've been able to start riding my bike to work again.  It is such a pleasant trip along the river, with morning mist rising and birds chirping.  It sets a wonderful tone for the day.


Swimming upstream

Sometimes you’ve got to let life happen.  I knew my winter was busy and I knew that March was going crunch.  The data shows how delicate the balance truly is.

 It’s not like March has been a free-for-all.  The weekly data summaries from my food and exercize logs would have you believe that weight loss should have happened.  Ketosis wasn’t broken and I didn’t stop swimming.  Mind you, there was a LOT more standing around cold curling rinks, and driving to curling bonspiels.  But in theory at least, I should have still been losing.  

I’ve already acknowledged in other posts just how imprecise the science is around this, but, my weight loss has been closely (and surprisingly) tracking the expected path for many, many months.  Looking at this graph, I was indeed losing weight according to those  expectations in January and February.

What happened in March?  STRESS happened.  I just ran out of time to manage all the things that needed to get done.  Expectations piled up like snowdrifts.  Sleep suffered.  I could just feel the mental wheels starting to spin as my powers of concentration slipped lower and lower.  

The graph pattern for March was actually a big surprise.  I knew I wasn’t losing - I mean HELLO - I was stepping on the scales every day.  But one thing I’ve learned on this journey is that you have to keep the analysis to weekly or monthly time frames since day to day fluctuations are just too erratic for any peace of mind.  So, while I was stepping on the scales, I wasn’t mentally mapping anything.  Besides...... I was TOO BUSY!!!!  How do you think I got into this in the first place?

So there you have it.  When I went to a massage therapist last year, the result was an unexplained bonus 10 pound loss over that time period.  Those 10 pounds stayed off, and the rate of shrinkage went back to the normal pre-massage achievements.

On the flip side, this month of prolonged stress has resulted in a gradual gain, even though the food consumption wasn’t out of control and the majority of exercize was still in place.  The big difference in the month of March was coping with it (or not!).  

So I now have experimental proof, n=1, on both sides of the stress management equation.  Just like the textbook says, weight loss is greatly enhanced when you deal with it AND weight loss flies out the window when you don’t.

What am I doing about it?  Starting next thursday evening, I’ve enrolled in a “Mindfulness” workshop spanning 8 weeks.  I picked up the textbook the other night.  It’s called “Full Catastrophe Living”.  YEP  Haven’t cracked it yet but somehow I expect that’s just what the doctor ordered!!!!


Grains of truth: Calories DO matter (N=1) 

Estimating calories is at best a loose fitting window in a strong wind.  There is oodles of opportunity for leakages in the system.  Which is why it surprises me that my  number crunching works out as closely as it does.

My first postulated truth (Meghann’s Truth No. 1) is that all the systems in your body will only work efficiently when you have provided yourself with an optimum supply of nutritional building blocks.  Meghann’s truth No. 2 is that you cannot do that if you are cutting calories.  Having mucked around with calorie counting a bazillion times, and remembering feeling tired & cranky with nonstop cravings & headaches, I can tell you that just plain doesn’t work.  If you feel like crap then it isn’t working: something is missing.

A nifty piece of liberation comes with data.  You don’t have to remember, you just have to put a note in your log and forget about it.  Thanks to my improved logs, I can look back at the notes and realize that my “off” days can be explained with lack of sleep, rambo escapades, colds, flu, or food.  

I didn’t start out with a good log.  To begin, it was a major feat of self-bashing just to get the numbers in at all.  Later I started adding comments such as “feels like swimming through mud” and “poor sleep last night”.  I now know that getting to bed after midnight will add 2-3 minutes to a kilometre in the pool.  I now know that a chinese food buffet binge causes less cravings than a beer tasting, and neither one of those two indulgences even come close to the screaming headache from Timmy’s White Hot Chocolate.

Most often the logs don’t have notes about what I feel like because I generally feel GOOD.  I can concentrate on mundane things like stroke improvement or the podcast in my ears or general daydreaming about the pretty sunlight patterns all around me.  Since this is a majority of the time now, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that I’m getting ALL the nutrition I need.  

Actually it’s more than a guess.  It’s observations of the absence of cravings, headaches, mood swings, hunger (real or imagined) and the ability to ignore things that used to tempt/trap me.  Before I would find myself thinking “Why did I eat just that?  It was terrible”.   Now I just look at it and remember how bad it tasted.  Clearly those dopamine pathways have been refined.  Say what?

Dopamine.  One of those nifty little compounds in the reward systems of your brain.  The ones that get hijacked for addictions...... the ones that you fight daily, hourly or minute by minute when you’re just cutting total calories but not removing sugar or carbs.  The same ones that fire up when you’re addicted to crack.  That’s my cue: I’m not fighting uncontrollable urges to eat stuff that tastes like cardboard.  Instead, my systems are bubbling along doing whatever they do, and I can freely walk past dessert trays, candy bowls or store-bought chocolates.  If I don’t like it I CAN ignore it.  That’s huge!  Meghann’s Truth No. 1: Proven. 

Once you’ve met the requirements of the system, what happens when you keep on eating?  Meghann’s Truth No. 3 is that there has to be a balance point, after which excess calories DO matter.  The body is an amazingly complex set of systems, each with multiple feedback loops and alternate pathways.  When you’re somewhere close to a normal balance, your body should be able to use what it needs and dispose of the rest.  That’s what the whole biological machine is designed to do right?.  So if you keep on adding food when the body already has what it needs, you’re going to activate the storage mechanisms, you know, all that fat storage in case of famine.  

So what is that magic point where nutritional needs are met and storage mode isn’t yet activated?  Actually, I suspect its more of a range than a point: you add to the balance in the daytime by eating and you subtract from the balance at night when you’re sleeping & repairing muscles etc.  So like it or not, there’s probably going to be a tiny bit of storage happening every single day.  

The magic “point” is probably more like a periodic average, say over a week or something.  Why a week?  My body weight cycles seem to vary from 4-8 days long.  (YES data!!  Weight loss, even when it’s steady is NOT a perfectly straight line.)  

Santa Claus brought me a “FitBit”.  This lovely little jigger keeps track of all things movement, night and day.  In turn this gives me some CONSISTENT guesstimates of calorie expenditure.  And my incessant food diary gives me accurate guesstimations of caloric intake.  What do all these numbers prove when you lump them together?  Nothing.  It was trick question.  “Correlation” isn’t the same as “cause”.  Instead, what does it lead me to believe?

Meghann’s Truth No. 1:  The nutritional requirements have been met.
Meghann’s Truth No. 2:  Current calorie intake is plenty.  
Meghann’s Truth No. 3:  We’re getting close to a balance point.

My Daily Food Intake Target is 2000 calories.  The actual average in my food diary for Dec. and Jan. is 2034 calories.   Fitbit average calculated burn is 2566 calories daily.  Difference: 2566 - 2034 = a 532 caloric deficit daily.  Assuming one pound of fat = 3500 calories, I should have lost 2.9 pounds.  I have actually lost 3.4 pounds in this new FITBIT era.  Again, I am astounded how close this actually tracks together.

What else can I figure out?  Not really a whole lot.  On average the estimated calories spent swimming is only slightly more than 300 per session.  So, even though it is really good for me, it is clear that my daily exercize is not the major contributor in the weight loss if I am truly burning 2500 some-odd calories per day.  My metabolism is somehow taking care of this for me.  The fact that I’m feeling good and losing weight without being tired, hungry, off-balance or cranky says to me that all is just fine in that metabolic Camelot.  My nutrition plan is working nicely.

Here's a photo from in Sept. (2012)  The top was something bought as encouragement, back when it was still far too small for comfort.  My daughter did my make-up and took the photos.  We had fun that day!


Stress Management

I am not a guru in stress management.  That should be painfully obvious, but for the record, let’s just make that clear.  Lots of people talk about stress, lots of people have theories and programmes and oodles of things that you can buy in the name of stress management.  

A good many people have spoken & written knowledgably about stress management.  Chris Kresser is one of them.
       "I suspect this is why all of the articles I’ve written about stress management are among the least shared on Facebook and Twitter and have elicited the fewest comments. I think many of you may feel defeated or overwhelmed by stress. I understand this. Stress management is hard. It asks a lot of us. It forces us to slow down, to step back, to disengage (if only for a brief time) from the electric current of modern life. It asks us to prioritize self-care in a culture that does not value it."


OK then, let’s just think this through.  There’s a number of aspects to looking after yourself:  Improved nutrition - check.  Improved activity/exercize level - check.  Improved sleep - umm, working on it.  Address underlying ailments - I don’t really have any big ones.  Well, yeah, there's kinda this whole obesity thing going on, but I'm making progress on that too eh?

My own logic says that melting 116 pounds off my frame is going to create a lot of muscular & postural changes.  I notice tension in my shoulders and sometimes my lower back.  So I thought I’d just go see a massage therapist for the fun of it and see if there was anything real to cause those issues.

Let’s just say I’m glad I did.  Although I did not say that after the first visit.  I needed a painkiller to get to sleep that night, and another the next morning!!  OMG I did not know that “fixing” things could hurt that much.  She found a good many things to fix, and some of them felt like plucked guitar strings when they let go!!!!  

Tomorrow will be my 6th visit and the difference is little short of amazing.  I can FEEL how much straighter I’m walking & standing.  I realized today just how much higher I’m carrying my head and how much more of the scenery I’m noticing as I’m walking up the street.  Lap times in the pool have improved as well.  EVERYTHING seems to work better when it’s in a straight line!!!

Data collection (aka nerding out) is something that happens regularly with me now.  For fun, I went back into the logs on “calories in - calories out” to see how things were going.  (First post was called “Calories In vs Calories Out where N=1, tagged under "calories")   

The actual versus expected loss has been tracking pretty closely since I started logging food intake on the  MyFitnessPal free app.  On average, since June 26th, the difference between weekly expected and actual weight loss numbers has only been 1.02 pounds.  Considering the inaccuracy of the whole notion of calories in food & their ultimate digestion, and then the guessing science behind their measurement in exercize, this difference of only one pound is surprisingly close tracking.  Nowhere near enough to reject the null hypothesis.

Here’s the next few lines to continue that table.  Holy hannah Batman.  Something fell off the table......  

What happened around about October 30th?  Well, that would have been my 3rd massage treatment.  Actual weight loss is now close to 8 pounds more than expected after 5 treatments.  

If you look really closely at the weekly expected loss, that expected number is getting smaller all the time.  I’m not biking to work anymore (too dark), and trips to the weight room have been postponed on the advice of the massage therapist while she sorts out all the muscle imbalances.   

The biggest difference is the massages, and a concerted effort to get to bed earlier.  Clearly that weight is water or inflammation or something else getting unblocked in my systems.  Nothing else has changed.  Not food.  Not exercize.  Not work.  Not family.  Just taking care of myself.

Now if Chris Kresser was listening, he’d say “I told you so”!!  
    "If most health conscious people spent even half the amount of time they spend focusing on nutrition and exercise on managing their stress, they’d be a lot better off."

Yes indeed.  Another n=1 experiment supporting that assertion.

Here's a recent photo taken by my Auntie while I was visiting family near Cornwall.  Not too many lines on the forehead and a pretty relaxed look on my face too..... DESPITE having my picture taken!!!  Maybe it's wishful thinking but I think the double chin is getting smaller too.


Calories In vs Calories Out where n=1

Today is a good day to recap.  Today is the 100th consecutive day of using a free daily food log app called My Fitness Pal.  This is not to be confused with the total journey: October is month 17 of meltdown.  

What’s the big deal about this confuser-ized food log?  Meghann's new mantra: "You can’t improve what you don’t manage, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure." 

Armed with better knowledge of our “pre-diabetic” state and the carb/insulin circus, I shifted from a paper diary to the confuser.  Alan is a chemist so the concept of measuring to the microgramme is second nature to him.  Me, well, I generally cook with a “pinch” of salt whereas Alan will take a knife and level off the teaspoon!!!  Needless to say we rarely cook anything together if it  requires a cookbook.  I digress .....

My first month or so was really a learning phase.  Initially the target was to have less than 50 net carbs (total less fibre).  I was finding that even though refined starch/sugar foods were completely replaced with fruits and vegetables, they still weren’t low enough in carbs to prevent the peaks & crashes & mood swings.  ((I often noticed that Alan was less reasonable during these time periods.  His moods appear to have leveled out lately - just like my blood sugar.  LOL))  The second month or so was a bit easier to manage with the new elimination of naturally high sugar fruits like bananas.  Focus switched to having a daily total carb less than 50 which meant that net carbs are even lower.

Further learning on protein led me increase that in my diet.  At my weight I really would not have considered myself a “proper athlete”.  However, in good summer weather I bike to & from work, and swim every workday lunch.  (Average 150 kms biking & around 7.5 kms swimming per week.)  My new daily targets are now 2200 calories, less than 50 grams of total carbs, and 120 grams of protein.  For those who really like the numbers, that is 10% of calories from carbs, 20% of calories from protein and the rest from fats.

All in all, this hasn’t worked out too badly.  

However, I am just not the kind that can leave well enough alone.  I’ve gotta figure things out for myself.

Many different authors have eloquently described how different sources of calories have vastly different impact in your body.  A calorie is not a calorie.  Fine: I understand that.  Hence this low carb lifestyle improvement.  Many of the same authors have also waxed eloquent about how “Eat less & Exercize more” doesn’t work.  Again fine: I get it.  I do remember snippets of those physiology and nutrition courses.

But when the rubber hits the road, there HAS to be a point where EXCESS calories have an impact.  Which leads me to question the point where those calories-in balance with calories-out.  And that led me to the tracking of not just food intake but also activity expenditures.

Yeah, yeah, before anybody starts whirring out the comments below.....  I am painfully aware that my body never got the memo about actual digestibility and published nutritional information.  I am also very much aware that any and all calorie expenditure numbers are just wag’s.  So is the magic number of 1 pound = 3500 calories.  But why let the truth interfere with a good story??

Using the food data from the app, exercize data from my exercize log and guesstimates of metabolic needs I started comparing what the caloric deficit would lead you to expect for weight loss versus the actual recorded weight loss.  I was shocked.  I would have been suitably impressed if the numbers were in the same order of magnitude.  I didn’t expect them to track so closely!

My target weight loss is 1.5 pounds per week.  You can see that I had a lot of trouble balancing the exercize and the calories.  I had to consciously eat more and eventually exercize less.  Summer is probably not a good time to try and run such an experiment since there are just SO many things to do!!!!  For example I took a Tracking course with my dog so the number of steps per day skyrocketed over the 8 week period.  It was actually great weather this summer so biking to & from the grocery store was a regular occurrence too.  

So in short: Where n=1, and the fundamental assumption of the test is that calories in equals calories out, I have failed to reject the null hypothesis. 

And of course, the picture: into the skylight of Sedgewick Underground Library - UBC.