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 Learning (9)


Public Speaking

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”      Thomas Jefferson


I don't ordinarily quote foreign presidents, but that's a pretty good one.  So I'll make an exception.

I did something yesterday that I've never done.  I stood up in front of a room full of people and talked about melting my arse.  Seriously, I would rather go to the dentist.  I know there are people who quite happily yap about themselves for hours on end - I just don't understand them.  Blogging is totally different.  I can't SEE the people who read this.  When you're standing in the front of the room -- you're that deer in the headlights! 

After a number of suggestions and outright prods, I did a Lunch'n Learn for the folks at work.  How I started, what I learned, what I've changed, and what I'm doing.  All of it things I've blogged about, just without the ranting. 

I can happily talk about dog training, dog behaviour, animal husbandry, etc. for hours on end.  A couple good friends and a road trip can be just what the doctor ordered.  But talking about yourself?  This whole "authentic" thing is over-rated.

Apparently it went well.  People wanted more so I'm now doing another one next month on how to read food labels.  That will be MUCH easier since the subject is academic!!!!

I borrowed this cartoon off Facebook.  No idea who created it but it certainly fits how I feel right now!!!!


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!


Subliminal Thoughts Die Hard

I had an enlightening experience this week.  I was at a conference, and parked my van well within the painted lines of the parking space.  Beside me was a small car, equally well parked.  There was a bit less than 2 feet between the two vehicles - enough to get in but certainly not enough to swing the door wide open.  I thought nothing of it.  When I came back out - there was a different story unfolding.

The little car beside me was driven by a very large man, not just tall, but he was "portly" as well.  What drew my attention was his very loud & profuse swearing as he squeezed into the driver's side of his little car.  The movements were neither graceful nor pretty. 

I remember what that felt like.  Parking lots are squeezing more and more spaces onto blacktop nowadays.  Parking spaces are definitely getting smaller.  It's one reason I hate parking at shopping malls.  However, the difficulty and embarassment of not being able to get in & out of my own car is over.

What surprised me is my own thoughts.  I wasn't commiserating with the chap at all.  My only immediate thought was "Get it together.  Stop swearing and lose some weight."  Wow.  A year ago I was in exactly the same position.  Where was my compassion?  This surprised me.  Then it hit: all I remembered was the shame that I had felt in those predicaments and all the inner-directed "weight-hate" of those moments.  How could I have let this happen?  I knew better.  Then another flash of insight.  I had been/still am totally pissed with myself: there really wasn't any excuse.  I knew better.  (I'll come back to this.)

A friend of mine recently commented on how hard I was on myself.  Ordinarily I ignore comments of the ilk since they usually come from people who really don't do much of anything.  However, Peter is sharp as a tack and definitely no slouch so I've been pondering it for a while.  The aha-moment in the parking lot brought things into focus.  Yeah I am hard on myself.  I'm pissed.  I'm going to do whatever it takes to melt my arse off because it shouldn't have accumulated there in the first place.  I know better. 

As it turns out, the only thing I can truly be pissed about is not trying to figure it out sooner.  I was following really bad advice.  Canada Food Guide.  That respected Canada Food Guide which recommends 6-7 daily servings of grain products to adult women. 

Knowing the guide like the back of my hand, I would consume those recommended servings and pour those 700-800 calories down.  What I didn't realize was that the 125 or so grams of carbohydrates was wreaking havoc on my system.  I would also follow the recommended 6-8 servings of vegetables and fruit.  Picking good vegetables like squash, broccoli and bok choi along with say an apple, banana, and a 1/2 glass of orange juice daily added another 100 or so grams of carbohydrates.  Then there's milk.  I happen to like milk.  The guide says two servings of low fat dairy - there's another 20 grams of carbohydrates in a cup of skim milk and a serving of plain low fat yoghurt.  (Loads more carbs if I picked a flavour.)  All in all - a regular day of the Canada Food Guide was shoveling about 250 grams of carbohydrates down my throat every day. 

I was lulled into complacency by the knowledge that Health Canada was behind these recommendations.

"Having the amount and type of food recommended and following the tips in Canada’s Food Guide will help reduce your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and osteoporosis."

Keep in mind that I am "pre-diabetic" which means I have issues with sugar.  Another name is carbohydrate sensitive or insulin resistant.  Carbohydrates convert to sugar through digestion and I have trouble with sugar.  Consuming 250 grams of carbohydrates (aka sugar) on a daily basis most definitely was NOT reducing MY risk of diabetes NOR obesity!!!!!  CLEARLY not working on either front!!!!! 

One of the simplest articles on the fallacies of the national food guides is by an American doctor named Colin Champ.  He points out that the American public seems to have followed their national recommendations to the letter, and graphs the intake by calories, carbs, fat and protein over decades.  His ultimate point is not that people are stupid, ignorant or unwilling: rather the advice is wrong.

Which brings me back to my starting point on this rant.  I didn't know betterI just thought I did.  All that bad advice fit the paradigm of what I had been told by health authorities and what I understood from my background in animal & poultry science.  Now when I think about animal nutrition I realize that the goal of ration balancing is maximun growth in minimum time or cost.  Sigh.  I understood that part very well but I didn't extrapolate any farther and I most certainly didn't question Health Canada. 

Now that I have decided to completely ignore the Canada Food Guide and those 250 grams of carbs, now that I balance my nutrient needs around a maximum of 50 carbs per day, my health is slowly coming back.  My knees don't hurt anywhere near as much.  My back doesn't ache in the morning.  My hands don't hurt for no reason.  I don't get itchy spots in my hair any more.  My own reading suggests that the inflammatory effects of following the food guide are no longer present.  I certainly feel a hell of a lot better.  And just maybe Peter was right.  I am too hard on myself.

This photo was taken at probably the highest point of Canada Food Guide adherence in my life.  I was active in doggy sports & dog training pursuits.  I had a young family to keep me hopping.  I was doing all the things I was supposed to.  It clearly was not working.


Because I said so!

Have you ever opened your mouth and to your utter horror you’ve heard your mother talking?   “Because I said so!!”  That’s gotta be the ultimate frustration level inside yourself when you hit the explanatory stone wall...... oh how do I hate that?  Let me count the ways.....   It’s always a shock when I hear it from myself.  Even more ironic, it’s like that proverbial red flag to a bull when someone gives it to me.  Tell me WHY or get out of my way.  I’ve hit that zone on exercize right now.

I’m at a waffle point: how much exercize should I be doing?  The correct answer of course begins with “it depends”.  OK - what are my priorities?

Weight loss - first and foremost.  Yeah yeah -- not the number on the scales but rather a healthy body fat percentage.  Listen closely:  I’m so far away from that ideal state that the number on the scales will do just fine for the next year.
Movement - ability to participate in normal healthy activity like dog walking, mild frisbee/softball games, getting back up again when my kid insists on snow angels.... normal life.
Ease - ability to bend my knees, walk without pain, have no need for a seatbelt extension on the airplane, buy clothes in normal stores, sit in folding canvas chairs at sporting events.    

Let’s be real here.  I’m not going to be setting any records or running anywhere at the moment.  I just need to keep the joints moving and the calories burning.  Yeah yeah - calories in / calories out is hogwash but not completely.  At some non-theoretical point, EXCESS calories DO matter.    On the flip side, in order to lose weight you have to burn fat calories no matter how many of the flipping little things are actually in a pound.  That is not a theory either.  You can’t just make a wish and have it fall off your butt.  You have to work it off.  Somehow you need to have a caloric deficit WITHOUT nutritional deficiency.  Hence, my bff in stable ketosis, but that’s another day.  This rant is about exercize.

I don’t have issue with essential notions for strength training: Stabilize joints, improve posture, facilitate movement, change body composition & therefore improve metabolism..... this is all good stuff.  HOW MUCH?  WHAT KIND?  Oh man.... things get hairy all of a sudden.  Too much exercize is just as bad as too much stress.

Leaning to do the “slow burn”  or even “eccentric” notions help clarify a little bit in that you build your muscles with controlled movement across full range of motion and smaller amounts of time than conventional pumping is recommended.  OK.  This makes intuitive sense.  Extend time & intensity of contractions and muscle will develop.  

However, when you listen to those resource people you start to scratch your head.  Fred Hahn who wrote Slow Burn Fitness Revolution and guests on “Ask the Low Carb Experts” with Jimmy Moore is talking in terms of 15-20 minutes PER WEEK in place of aerobics.  Likewise Jonathon Bailor talks about the nitty gritty of component muscle fibres in the Smarter Science of Slim, indicating one intense session per week with recovery time up to SIX DAYS!!!  Furthermore, in one of his interviews he mentions that he is sore for literally DAYS after these intense workouts.  

Yeah, no thanks.  This does NOT work for me.  It might confer metabolic benefits that are better than aerobics but it doesn’t meet my need for calorie expenditure.  Besides that, I still need to be able to walk on other days of the week.

The opposite end of the spectrum is not desirable either.  Colin Champ has an opinion post on extreme training with an embedded video of an athlete “hitting the wall”.  He has a fairly dim view of marathons!  

I can’t say that I disagree with him on the ultra-marathons either, but you know, the brag value of those things would be huge.  What a comeback to the snobs who look down their nose at me now eh?  “Yeah bonehead - I lost 200 pounds and finished an Iron Man.  What have you done?”  Somehow I think that might remain in the fiction category for just a while yet.  Mind you Joel Runyon would say I should just ignore those small minded morons and get on with the impossible.  Never say never.

Where is the happy medium?  If you listen to participaction commercials you will learn deep intrinsic truths like “One half hour of exercize is one less half hour in front of the television”.  Helpful?  NOT!  The short of it is that nobody I know has a good answer.  It depends...

You know what - I don’t know either.  I’m just going to keep on swimming on my lunch hour because I happen to like it, and I can do it without a whole lot of joint impact.  (The use of fins is addressing the shoulder imbalance.)  AND I’m going to continue biking to work until it gets too cold because that too is low joint impact and a beautiful ride.  I love the mist rising on the river in the mornings now, and the sound of the resting Canada Geese that I can’t see.  As long as the arse keeps melting and the knees don’t hurt, that’s all that matters at the moment.  Why?  Because I said so!!!!

Fred Hahn
Colin Champ
Joel Runyon Blog of Impossible Things
Jonathon Bailor, The Smarter Science of Slim, Aavia Publishing, 2012.


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.