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 Remorse (6)


Owning It

Man.  Honesty just sucks.  It's much, much easier to blame someone or make excuses.  So ... I fell off the wagon, lost the trail, lost the map, etc.  I think you get the picture.  Getting back on track is just as hard as I thought.  After all these years I'm beginning to know me.  If I let myself slide on one thing, I'll slide on a dozen.  And I did.

So... status check: I have NOT dropped swimming.  That's still a minimum of 1 km in the pool every workday lunchtime. I have been biking to work sporadically in good weather, now that the weather is better I've been much more regular at it.  The river is beautiful this time of year and the Osprey are back in the nest.

Food diary: that starts back again today.  Own what you put in your mouth.  Don't kid yourself.  Log it! 

Resistance training is next on the list.

Food choices: RE-eliminating ALL sugars and most starches.  That took a year before .... let's think about a couple weeks for that change back to healthy eating.

Sleep improvement -- that will happen with less tv and earlier nights.  Exercize also helps.

Stress management.  With several financial worries now under control this one is getting better day by day.  Time to put that course on mindfulness to work.  That's what got me through last spring but I let it slide when things starting coming around -- it's time to revisit those techniques.

Day by day.  My wonderful supportive cousin L told me that she had every confidence I'd turn myself around.  "You've come too far not to".  She's right.  Thanks L!


Those demonic bathroom scales

Another day in January, another self-help New Year’s Resolution checklist rolls in.  I’ll admit a certain filtering on my part, since I don’t often bother to look further than the title.  For starters, this one didn’t say “New Years” or “Resolution” in the title, so I got sucked in.  Well, actually that’s a stretch too.  It was from a resource I’m actively following & evaluating: an outfit called Metabolic Effect.  So far, my impression is favourable since they seem to address things with depth and reasoning.  Their main resource people describe themselves as holistic physicians, or else present some credible backgrounds in nutrition or fitness.  

The first bullet of the Metabolic Effect message was a question: Do You Have Patience?  The paragraph centred around having the patience to learn what is happening within yourself.  Two sentences struck home: “Most people stay frustrated because they have spent all their time learning the latest one-size fits all plan rather than studying their own body.”  ......and.......  “Patiently immersing yourself in your own process is the only shortcut that exists”.

BINGO!!!!  I’ve been calling it geeking out.  That stops now.  I’ll figure out something cute to call it later.

I read yet another piece last night with a mindfulness focus that I thought would have good perspective.  Wrong.  Right now there is grave danger of throwing said baby out with the bath water because he, like a jillion others, suggests throwing away the bathroom scales.

It’s become a red flag issue for me - symbolic even.  Those scales are just a tool.  They live in the privacy of your own home.  Most people don’t have talking scales, so all you have to do is look at the numbers.  That’s right: NUMBERS.  Data is MY friend.  Why throw away a fully private means of getting DATA?

What is it about the bathroom scales?  Why are they such a threat?  Yeah, yeah, scales do not measure health nor fitness nor happiness nor dress size nor attitude.  I get that.  I’ve talked before about the sheer JOY in discovering that you can move again.  It’s huge.  (Blog Sept. 2012, “The Joy of Movement“).

I’m talking about information.  Personal information to use in managing yourself for better health however you choose to describe it: mental, physical or emotional in any combination.  

That’s when I remember my arch-enemy “DENIAL”.  Facing data means facing facts.  Not dreams or wishes or delusions, but cold, hard (and incidentally manageable) facts.  I’ve also said before that you cannot improve what you don’t manage and you can’t manage what you don’t measure.  If you don’t know the data about yourself, then you don’t have anything to manage with.        

Most of those who say “throw away the scales” also add the caveat that it’s not worth stressing about the numbers because there are other ways to measure health and progress.  That caveat is true.  There are, but note the word “measure” remains in the equation.  A good one would be waist size incidentally since visceral (gut) fat is a huge factor in many, many bad things.  But what about those scales?  

The scales don’t lie.  The scales don’t move when you suck in your gut to snappen** those jeans that are just a hair too tight now.  Those scales don’t cater to issues nor denial.  That’s the kicker isn’t it?  Denial.  If you don’t look at the scales, then you can convince yourself in other ways that you are making progress, and indeed maybe you are.  I would personally doubt that, but maybe you’re different.  

Learning to manage yourself starts first with an objective understanding of where you are.  “Objective” means no blame games and no self-hate.  It means FACTS and DATA.  You don’t have to like it, that’s different, but you have to face it and deal with it.  

So if you can’t face the bathroom scales, then I would respectfully say that you’ve got bigger issues somewhere else in your life, or more importantly, in your head.  My BMI was north of 53 and nobody gets to that size without denial about something.  Deal with it.  

**Snappen: verb, transitive, meaning to close infernally difficult snaps & buttons on clothing, as defined by my daughter when she was 3.   

Here’s a photo from my 20’s, a time when I actually thought I was fat.  In fact, the summer of this photo I voluntarily sought a referral to the publicly funded dietitians at Vancouver General Hospital.  They put me on a 1200 calorie diet.  Say what??  I was working full-time, a physical job, as a research tech on the UBC poultry farm.  Extremely short on cash, I was working 6 days a week.  When I went back to school in the fall, I was a full-time student who kept that part-time physical job on the farm.  I managed to stick it out until Christmas.... the diet that is.

Here’s what fat really looks like.  The un-funny thing about being that size was that it did not feel like “me”.  Yeah, yeah, I recognize myself.  But I hate every single picture of the era because every picture was a shock to the system.  I wasn't accepting facts about where I was.  I had convinced myself that it wasn’t that bad yet because I could still, walk, talk and chew gum or whatever.  I avoided photos like the plague.  They didn’t fit the paradigm in my head.  There was a long, long time I didn’t step on the scales.  Not because they were thrown away, but because I was too heavy to measure on them anymore.  Garden variety bathroom scales don’t cater to a BMI that’s north of 53.

Get over yourself.  Deal with it. 


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.


What does 100 Calories Look Like?

Aha ..... I found it.  A nifty little consciensce soother.  What does 100 calories look like in a snack food?  Correct answer:  NOT VERY MUCH!!!!!

Craving something crunchy? - 5 crunchy snacks in 100-calorie portions

PHOTO CREDIT:  Best Health Magazine, May 2012; Photos by Ryan Szulc 

Just in case you're curious.... 100 calories in each of those little piles is a grand total of 7 cheeze nacho chips, 35 pieces of white cheeze popcorn (less than a cup), 11 kettle cooked potato chips, 18 bbq corn chips, 19 "popped" (pressure cooked) potato chips. 

Again, denial remains ever-present on the impact side, but not measuring, and not counting what goes into the system is just a disaster looking for a place to happen.  This is good therapy.  I'm beating up on myself less and less these days.



How could this happen?

Probably everybody in my situation ponders the BIG question: HOW did this happen to me?  And then you spend many unproductive hours mentally beating up on yourself.  If you're normal then you're also your own toughest critic and if you really work at it, you can drive yourself neatly around the bend. 

Denial is huge.  "It really isn't that much of a problem YET because I can still do ____." (insert activity of choice).  However, denial isn't a cause.  If you want to actually deal with it, you face the issue and you figure out what's CAUSING it.

Now if you're a smug university graduate with several nutrition & physiology courses on your fancy papers, then you will immediately assume that it is a balance between calories in and calories out.  To a certain extent that is true, but when you do the math, it is surprisingly simple.  In truth, I was VERY surprised when I looked at the calculations.

For the sake of argument, use 100 extra calories per day, 365 days per year, 20 years.  That comes out to a grand total of 730,000 extra calories.  One pound is equivalent to 3,500 calories, hence, that total represents 208 pounds.  The first time I looked at that equation the number "100" extra calories was just picked out of the air.  Compared to my target weight loss of 206 pounds, all of a sudden things got a lot clearer.

How much food is 100 calories?  Well, it is one single slice of multigrain bread (110 cals) or it is a precise 2/3 cup of cooked brown rice.  Those are healthy choices right?  How about 1 medium Red Delicious apple?  That's a healthy 90 calories.  OK how about some extravagances?  One tablespoon of butter is 102 calories.  Who doesn't butter their toast?  Or it is a grand total of 8, count them, 8 crackers in your soup.  That's only 2 of those little packages of crackers that come with your soup in a restaurant, and yes, they very often have two packages with a bowl of soup. 

One hundred calories is actually a very small amount, particularly if you are not keeping a food diary and especially if you are not paying attention.  And then there's biology that undermines everything.  Assuming you are not exercizing, then you will naturally lose muscle mass as you age.  This is a slow and rather small amount each year (200g or 8 ounces is one estimate from a hopefully reliable source).  The difference in energy requirement between muscle and fat is a highly variable set of conflicting numbers.  The most conservative estimate I've seen is that one pound of muscle burns 6 calories per day.  So even if you eat exactly the same amount of food that you did last year, a little bit more of that will be excess every year.  In fact, over 20 years, at 8 ounces per year, you would theoretically have 10 pounds less muscle.  All things remaining constant, you have no need for some 60 calories per day (which you have probably been eating all along).  All of a sudden that 100 calorie number pulled out of the air doesn't look so big at all.  Over a 20 year period you can now blame it on a half slice of UNbuttered toast and nature's cruel fate.

If you happen to be "pre-diabetic" then you enter a world of hotly contested sets of knowledge, theories and assumptions about the war between blood sugar and insulin that's going on inside you.  Insulin is critical for the management of blood sugar levels.  One pathway for managing sugar is to convert it into fat.  The higher the level of insulin, the greater amount of fat storage that will be accomplished.  That much is generally accepted. 

It gets more difficult to find straight answers when you want to talk about weight loss because the presence of insulin stops the burning of fat from happening all that easily (insulin is really good at keeping your body in storage mode).  Plus, when you have a lot of accumulated fat already, the body starts to lose sensitivity to insulin, and it takes more and more insulin to accomplish the job of cleaning sugars out of your blood.  The more insulin you have circulating, the harder and harder it is going to be to burn that stored fat.

I wish I had understood this insulin battle when I started exercizing and trying to lose weight.  I now know that I was having peaks of blood sugar after digesting my food, followed by probably huge spikes of insulin to deal with it because I was losing sensistiviy to insulin, and then the blood sugars would get wiped out and I would get the shakes, headaches and be absolutely starving again.  I honestly thought I was making it up.  I would think to myself that I shouldn't and couldn't possibly be hungry when I'd had 700 or 800 calories for a meal and it wasn't all that long ago.  Then I would exercize to use up some of calories that I was positive should be swimming around in my blood.  This would create an even greater drain of energy and I would feel even worse.  The first several months were hugely difficult.  Many days the only thing that kept me going was sheer stubborness: I do not want to use that cane again. 

Looking at my weight tracking charts you can see all the peaks and valleys as this internal war was being waged.  Obviously I had to be burning fat SOMETIME because I was losing weight.  However, every day was a new fight with myself.  I blamed it on intensity of exercize I didn't put into it, various states of dehydration, lack of sleep, quality of sleep, etc.etc.  As I learned more about the state of being "pre-diabetic" (or insulin resistant), (or carbohydrate sensitive) then I gradually started changing, reducing, eliminating all the total carbohydrates/sugars that I could reasonably avoid.  The difference in the way I feel is staggering.  Fewer headaches.  No more shakes.  Calmer.  Much less cranky.  The weight loss is much more steady and predictable.  The chart has fewer peaks and troughs now.  I have more energy during exercize.  All in all a much better state of being.


Fighting against nature: unrestricted carbohydrates

Learning to manage - maintain low & steady carb levels.

The whole history - 13 months