Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from a Marathon

About a year and a half before the 2006 New York City Marathon, my friends and I decided it would be a good idea to sign ourselves up and spend 2005 as members of New York City Road Runners, completing their qualifier races to get guaranteed entry.  We ignored the fact that, collectively, we’d never run 26.2 miles at one time combined, and I couldn’t even run a 5k race without stopping multiple times.  Nevertheless, we embarked on nine trips to Manhattan and discovered the wonders of Central Park, Harlem, Randall’s Island, and Washington Heights. 
Four months before the marathon started my friend Melissa and I began our training program.  Our other friend, Cindy, having discovered she had a bun in the oven, had to bail on us, and secretly I was envious that she had such a valid out.  Running had never been my strong suit.  It served the dual purpose of keeping my penchant for junk food in check and fooling me into thinking I could meet the man of my dreams while I huffed and puffed at the back of the pack, looking like I was in need of immediate medical attention.
My first month of marathon training wasn’t so bad.  I pushed past the constant wish that a truck would hit me, ending a (so far) miserable journey, and surprised myself when I could finally run a 5k without stopping. I started to see that if I stuck to the program, my body would respond and my fitness would improve.  The weeks wore on and when I ran 10k without stopping I cried.  Some people saw me as a bit of a screw-up, inferring that I never finished what I started (not entirely true), so being able to run a distance that had long eluded me renewed my sense of self-worth.  And if I could run a 10k, then a half-marathon wasn’t far behind.
What I didn’t know at the time, and learned the hard way, was that when the human body is running for more than two hours some changes occur.  The blood that normally flows through one’s major organs moves to the legs to provide the muscles with needed energy.  When that happens, the digestive system doesn’t work as well.  I’ll spare you the details, but after spending weeks feeling ill I questioned my ability to finish a marathon when running a half-marathon left me with debilitating stomach pains.  Like an angel from heaven, my friend Jen swooped in and told me to switch the brand of fuel and hydration I was using.  It worked and I was back in the game.  Well, I was until a (not-so-healed) stress fracture in my foot came back to haunt me two weeks before the race.
At that point, whatever it took, I was going to make it to the start line at Fort Wadsworth.  I didn’t care if my foot broke once I cleared the Verrazano, I had given up too much to get there and, come hell or high water, I was going to cross it. Two weeks of twice-daily ice baths, Advil, and cross-training got me there.  Once the race started, adrenaline proved to be the best pain killer and I felt nothing until about Mile 13.  Mile 16 (59th Street bridge) threatened to take me out with stomach pains, but by the time we crossed the Willis Avenue bridge into the Bronx at Mile 20 I knew I would finish. 
I finished the 2006 New York City Marathon in 5:40:44 and felt like I had gotten my life back.  I had finished what I’d started, albeit in extreme pain, and proved to myself that I really could do anything.  ANYTHING!  I’ve since spent the last 6 years taking on other challenges – some more successful than others.  And as time is wont to do, it has dulled the memories of what it really takes to achieve what you want most in life. 
It has been 7 weeks since my last post and I’ve been beating myself up for getting off track with Weight Watchers.  I’ve gained back 3.8 pounds, and added on about 50 pounds of guilt.  But the other night I was looking at my marathon photo and it all started to come back to me.  The best achievements in life are not meant to be easy.  We’re supposed to get knocked down so we can get right back up again and fight for what we want.  It’s delusional to think the fun part is the journey.  The fun part is crossing the figurative finish line and ultimately forgetting how hard it was to get there.  When I think of my marathon, I remember my elation at crossing the Verrazano (a bridge my father helped build), of the crowds and music that buoyed us along when we felt our worst, of crossing the finish line with one of my best friends, and of showing myself that there isn’t anything I can’t do.  Losing weight is my new marathon, and giving up is not an option, so I guess I’m in it for the long haul, no matter how much I may hate the journey.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Wanna Be a Hoochie Mama

On Monday, a warm 80-something degree day, I was driving through the parking lot on campus and observed the annual parade of young women in their warm-weather finery.  I marveled at the skin-tight skirts that barely covered vaginas, the tank tops that suggested the wearer spent her spare time on a street corner, and shorts that are sure to cause a yeast infection or two.  Now, last year I dated a guy who, when he met me for dinner after class and saw me in knee length shorts, a fitted tank top that most definitely covered my boobs, and a pair of flip flops commented, “You wear THAT to school?  Isn’t it a little revealing?”  In hindsight, I should have ditched him right then and there, but that’s a story for another blog.  What I ended up explaining to him was that my fashion choice was pretty conservative compared to what a lot of the girls wear.  What I didn’t say was that I WISH I could get away with sporting the hoochie gear!  Not that I want to give the impression that I’m a woman of the night, mind you, but there’s something to be said for having the confidence to rock that look in broad daylight in front of professors who you might need as a reference one day.
Believe it or not, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when I was in such great shape that I had no problem shimmying into a miniskirt, fitted tank top (no boob spillage), and strappy high-heeled sandals and strutted my stuff like a Robert Palmer mannequin (dark lipstick included).  Of course it wasn’t in broad daylight, but that’s part of the fun of getting all tarted up for a night on the town – you can transform yourself into anyone you want and the lack of adequate lighting just adds to the mystery.  Do the same thing at high noon and not many people will take you seriously.
But, I digress.  My yearning to dress in a way that would make my father turn over in his grave has only to do with the fact that I miss feeling confident about my figure.  I was looking at photos of myself from a couple years ago when I was (gasp!) 180 pounds and remember feeling so huge.  And I kind of was compared to my 160/165 pound fighting weight.  But at 180 pounds I never thought I’d ever get to 225.  Right now 180 looks like heaven to me.  One hundred sixty feels like a pipe dream.  I can’t even think about 160 – it’s too far away and will not let me enjoy the success I’m currently having.  Losing weight slowly is best for my health, and my doctor has reassured me (while rolling his eyes) that I’m still elastic and won’t have a problem getting rid of my double chin, so I need to be happy with that and just have faith that if I keep sticking with the program I will again feel simply irresistible.
4/18/12 – 210.6 pounds
Pounds lost in last week – 2.8
Total pounds lost to date – 14.8

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

May the Force Be With You

“What the scale gives you as a gift, it can also take away.”  Thank you, Yoda. 
These were the parting words I heard from the lady who weighed me in at Weight Watchers today.  She’s a petite older woman with the enthusiasm of Katie Couric (but not so annoying) and I believe she really cares how clients are doing – a customer service trait rarely seen these days.  She’s so nice that I feel bad when I tell her I won’t be staying for the meetings.  It’s not that I think I know it all, it’s just that this blog has been doing a good job of motivating me and I feel like I’m wasting my time sitting there.  But I feel like the weigh-in ladies don’t approve of my skipping out.  Each time I’m reminded that the speaker is “very good” and that we share the same first name (nice try), and that I’ll learn a lot, but I spend nearly every day listening to lectures, so if I’m not getting graded on this then I’ll spend my time doing something more productive.  I can appreciate their efforts to use guilt as a tool of persuasion, but having grown up Catholic, it’s going to take more than the implied threat of massive weight gain to get my attention.  Of course my indifference to guilt trips doesn’t keep me from trying to slip out as quietly as possible, avoiding eye contact with other clients, but I just don’t want them to think I’m not supportive of their choice to sit around talking about the wonders of Lite Cool Whip for a half hour. 
On a side note, have you ever looked at the ingredients in the Weight Watchers brand food (or Cool Whip, for that matter)?  Most of it is packed with junk I can’t even pronounce and the stuff I can pronounce sounds like “butter” and “salt”.  I have a problem with an organization that does a good job of promoting healthy eating, but then tries to sell us snacks that do not benefit our bodies.  I suppose I shouldn’t bash them too much, since I’m still willing to pay them every month, but I’m just sayin’.
Getting back to Katie Couric’s Yoda comment, she told me this after I stepped on the scale and saw that I had lost 4.2 pounds.  Having spent the last two weeks losing less than a pound each, I was surprised to see that I had reached my 5% weight loss goal, but I figured it may have been from the three days of walking I put in.  I certainly didn’t expect to hear that the scale might take back its gift from me.  Why couldn’t she tell me I was a good Jedi with “the deepest commitment” and “the most serious mind”? 
My surprise at losing 4 pounds came from knowing how I ate last week. The Easter Bunny forced me to eat jellybeans, Peeps, and Reese’s peanut butter eggs.  Obi-Wan told me this was a dangerous time for me, when I would be tempted by the Dark Side of the Force, but I didn’t heed his warning.  On top of that, I was forced to eat a regular omelet because the waiter seemed to think he could remember my order of an egg-white omelet instead of writing it down.  After I pointed out his mistake, he offered to bring me the correct version, but I couldn’t figure out how many points spit would be if the new omelet came back covered in it.  And because I was so ticked that whole eggs would cost me more points, I soothed my injured psyche by eating all of my toast and half of my home fries…with ketchup.
Starting today I have only 34 points per day instead of 35, so I have to really be mindful of what I eat.  For instance, it probably wasn’t a good idea to have a cup of Coconut Bliss Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge ice cream tonight.  I bought it at the health food store, so it was supposed to be good for me, but the serving came to 13 points!  Those marketing people are such tricksters.
4/11/12 –  213.4 pounds
Pounds lost in last week – 4.2
Total pounds lost to date – 12

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Goal Tending

I was 2-years old when Dorothy Hamill won a gold medal for figure skating in the 1976 Olympic Games, and 10-years old in 1984 when I saw the made-for-TV movie, Nadia, about Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, followed by Mary Lou Retton’s gold medal performance in that year’s Olympics.  Before discovering gymnastics, I spent every possible weekend watching Dorothy perform on TV.  My mom even had my hair cut in the Dorothy Hamill style so I could look like her.  When we moved up to the lake in 1979, I went ice skating for the first time and found my bliss practicing spins, sit-spins, and camels on the bumpy ice of Benedict’s cove.  A few years later when the 1984 Olympics catapulted my interest in gymnastics, I tore up the backyard with my endless cartwheels, round-offs, and somersaults.  I pretended that doing a bridge was the same as a backbend and somehow managed to escape serious injury as I hurled my body all over the place in an attempt to mimic the floor routines I watched the real gymnasts do; although, there was one little incident where a handstand in my living room turned into a flip with my foot ending up in the wall, me suspended upside down.  Too much velocity.
As much as I would love to perpetuate the image of my little-girl-self following her dreams to become a world class champion, I suppose I should admit that all of my success took place in my very vivid imagination.  Like most kids I knew, my parents could not afford to give me ice skating or gymnastics lessons, no matter how much I begged, but when I practiced my spastic moves, I WAS Dorothy and Nadia, and Mary Lou. 
The summer before fifth grade I found out that the town was holding a gymnastics program at the middle school gym for a few weeks.  This was my chance to be a real gymnast!!  My friend Kim (from blog post #2 – “A Little Slice of Humble Pie) and I headed to the gym on a warm summer night in all of our gymnastics finery, which for me was a navy blue, short-sleeved leotard (I also had a light pink one I’d steal from my sister).  Before us were mats and bars and beams and vaults…I was in heaven!  I couldn’t wait to impress the instructors with all the “moves” I had spent the last few years perfecting. 
Sadly, it didn’t take long for reality to throw a chalk bag in my face as I saw girls who were way more limber, acrobatically proficient, and, well…shorter.  I’ve been tall from a young age and it wasn’t lost on me that the reason I couldn’t do much on the uneven bars wasn’t because I had no talent (although that was a contributing factor), but because I couldn’t fit!  The bars were too close together and they weren’t about to move them just for my benefit.  The balance beam scared me, but the vault and I became friends.  I loved jumping on the springboard and flying through the air.  I’m fairly certain there was no grace involved in my performances, but I didn’t care.  At the end of the summer we got to put on an exhibition for our families.  I’m pretty sure mine was sitting there, shaking their heads, and wondering why I wasn’t discouraged by my obvious ineptitude.  It wasn’t as if I hadn’t already figured out that perhaps gymnastics wasn’t my thing, but I had waited so long to be a “gymnast” and this dinky little performance was the equivalent of my Olympics.
As I got older, I found new goals to pursue that were more achievable.  I started doing triathlons, ran a marathon, and found my niche in open water swimming.  Every season I found new races to do or worked to better my times on previous courses.  My life revolved around how I was going to spend my spring, summer, and fall.  But 2012 is going to be different. 
As previously mentioned, my January car accident has left me nursing whiplash and an injured quad.  While my doctor hopes I’ll be able to swim by the summer, he can’t promise me anything and has told me it could take anywhere from six months to two years to fully heal.  I’ve had to start thinking about what kind of goals I want to pursue and it’s been tough coming to terms with my current limitations.  I find myself resenting the guy who hit me (even though I know it was an accident), but then feel guilty because I know I’m luckier than a lot of people.  I don’t want to harbor negative feelings, as nothing good comes of it, so I’m trying to focus on what I can do and make goals out of that.  Here is my current list:
1.      Lose 5% of my original weight – 11.27 pounds  (only a few more pounds to go!)
2.      Lose 10% of my original weight – 22.54 pounds – and then aim for 5 pound increments thereafter
3.      Walk at least three times per week and ultimately increase the amount of time I’m able to walk.  Currently I can walk for about an hour and fifteen minutes before my quad starts to act up, so that is the time to beat.
My goal for the next week is to make an effort to exercise.  I’ve found that if I use up all of my weekly points and don’t exercise then I only lose about ½ a pound.  I’m happy to lose and not gain, but I can do better.  Baby steps. 
4/2/12 –  217.6 pounds
Pounds lost in last week – 0.6
Total pounds lost to date – 7.8

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Menstruation Frustration

On Christmas Eve in 7th grade, Santa brought me the worst gift ever…my period.  My mom was all excited, telling me that I was “a woman now” and that this was a “beautiful thing.”  Who was she kidding?!  First of all, “woman” was not the word to describe me back then.  “Antagonistic tomboy” would have been more appropriate.  Second, there was nothing beautiful about PMS and the other indignities females have to suffer every month, like having to accompany your mother (or worse, father!) to the grocery store to purchase needed feminine hygiene products.  If I knew Pampers…I mean pads…were on the grocery list, I would find a way to get out of the trip to Pathmark, but sometimes my mom would fake me out and not write it down, leaving me to throw a fit in the Health and Beauty Aids aisle. 
I’m not sure how many years I behaved that way (yes, it was years), but eventually I learned that they made pads that were not five inches thick (my mom was a little behind the times) and my friend’s mom, (who had long since tired of listening to me complain every summer about not being able to go swimming for one week every month) handed me a box of tampons and told me not to come back until I had figured out how to use them.  Having mastered the hygiene product aspect of menstruation, it would be a few more years before a wonderful doctor suggested I go on the Pill to lessen the side effects of my monthly misery.  I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I often missed at least one day of school or work every cycle and I think at one point my mom consulted our priest to see about his performing an exorcism on me, so horrific were my mood swings.
So, what does this little trip down memory lane have to do with my weight loss journey?  If you’re a woman and reading this, I don’t have to tell you.  If you’re a man and reading this, be happy you weren’t in front of me and asking that question last week. 
PMS is the bane of most every woman’s existence.  I have actually met a couple of women who have never suffered from any of the symptoms and I’m convinced they are genetically engineered and put on our planet to perpetuate the stereotype of the PMS B**** (rhymes with “bitch”), because when we do meet them, they suffer an untimely demise.
While the Pill may have eased most of my PMS symptoms, craving unhealthy food was not one of them!  Add to that the fact that I was on Spring Break last week and let myself have a little fun (two whole beers), and you’ve got a Weight Watchers disaster in the making. 
I consider it a public service to allow myself some chocolate during PMS week.  Dove dark chocolate miniatures (5 for 5 points) do a pretty good job of easing the craving, but sometimes I needed them twice a day.  And my little snack bags of Lite Kettle Corn (3 points) also helped to curb the salty/sweet cravings, but again, two bags per day were often required.  Exercise would have helped keep those points in check, but who wants to exercise when you feel tired, bloated, and cranky?  I got lucky though.  Although I blew through all my daily and weekly points and used up some of my meager exercise points, when I stepped on the scale today it showed I had lost 0.8 pounds.  Now, losing less than a pound may seem like nothing to get excited about, but I didn’t GAIN and that’s something to be happy about. 
3/28/12 – 218.2 pounds
Pounds lost in last week – 0.8
Total pounds lost to date – 7.2

Thursday, March 22, 2012

“D” is NOT for Diabetes!

About three weeks ago I was sitting in my Anatomy and Physiology class listening to a lecture on the endocrine system.  My professor, Dr. D., was talking about diabetes and I couldn’t shake a certain sense of guilt and fear that I was headed towards a similar diagnosis.  In the year I had been a full-time student, my diet consisted mostly of convenient foods at convenient times with a healthy dose of sugar and salt.  Added to that was a mostly sedentary lifestyle with random bouts of activity. 
After Dr. D.’s lecture ended, I immediately called my doctor’s office for an appointment.  I needed to find out if my poor habits had done any damage to my body.  Last week Dr. G. called to tell me that I was not diabetic, but that my Vitamin D count was too low, and my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level was elevated, which could indicate hyperthyroidism.  The latter diagnosis didn’t make sense, as the general effect of hyperthyroidism is that everything speeds up (heart rate, bowel habits, metabolism, etc.) and I was gaining weight, not losing.  A follow-up thyroid panel showed that the first test was a false positive, so don’t have to worry about fixing that.
The Vitamin D deficiency, however, does require some attention, albeit only in the form of a supplement and/or increased sun exposure.  Vitamin D levels in the blood should be at least 30 and mine is 14.  Vitamin D functions to maintain levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.  Without it we cannot absorb calcium.  Without calcium absorption, we run the risk of getting osteomalacia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis.  Vitamin D is also important for muscle strength and to prevent some cancers (prostate, breast, pancreatic, esophageal, colorectal).  If you Google “Vitamin D deficiency,” as I did, you can scare yourself with the myriad of other ailments it can cause.
Now, I’ve spent many years practicing safe-sun and have maintained my pasty-white complexion via copious amounts of sunscreen, so I won’t be getting the majority of my Vitamin D from the sun.  I will, however, try to spend 15-20 minutes outside each day (sans sunscreen) between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00 a.m. when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong.  In addition, I will be taking 1,000 IU’s of Vitamin D3 for the foreseeable future.  I need to make sure, though, that I call my doctor soon to see when he wants to do another blood test to check the levels again.  I don’t believe in taking anything to correct a problem and then not test to see if it’s working.  What if it’s not enough?  What if my counts get too high?  Any patient’s relationship with his or her doctor should be a working partnership, not a one-sided dictatorship. 
Many Americans are lacking in something called “health literacy,” which is “the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions” (CDC).  One of the things I hope to do with my degree in Public Health Education is educate the public on how they can be their own best advocate.  There are also many organizations that are currently working with health care professionals to ensure that health care information is presented in an understandable way.
I encourage all of you to educate yourselves about the state of your own health.  Many doctors discourage patients from spending too much time online when they are diagnosed with something, because they think too  much information can be scary.  That is true to a point, but I’d rather find out everything I can about a health issue (scary or otherwise) and then ask the doctor a million questions so I understand what my body is doing, than not know anything at all and not be able to understand treatment options or be afraid to ask questions. 
In my own family I’ve tried to explain to those I love that putting a doctor on a pedestal and accepting everything he/she says is not a good way to manage one’s own health.  Any doctor who doesn’t like to be questioned or challenged is not someone I want to work with.  I respect that they have had extensive schooling, but no doctor knows everything.  And if you don’t understand what a doctor is telling you, insist that he finds a way to make you understand or that he find someone else to explain it better.  Patients have rights and I encourage you to click here to read about them.
OK, I realize I’ve gone on a bit long with this blog post, so let’s move on to the weight loss part.  I had a good week eating and exercising and lost two more pounds.  Losing between a ½ and 2 pounds per week is considered healthy, so I’m happy with my progress.  See you next week J
3/21/12 – 219 pounds
Pounds lost in last week – 2
Total pounds lost to date – 6.4

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Little Slice of Humble Pie (No Whipped Cream!)

There are few people in my life who can really put me in my place and get away with it.  One of them is my friend Kim who I grew up with.  She’s the only person who has cut to the chase and told me that my current weight is the biggest she’s ever seen me and that she’s worried.  She’s actually told me a few times (brave crazy girl).  And it cuts me to the quick – not because it hurts my feelings, but because she’s right.
Another person who tells it like he means it is my longtime family doctor (I’ll call him Dr. G).   As we were discussing my weight issues, Dr. G asked if I was exercising.  I explained that the whiplash I suffered from a car accident in January has kept me from swimming, running, yoga, and all the other things I enjoy, as my neck is still healing.  Surely he understood that without the ability to do the things I love I couldn’t possibly get in shape.  Did he feel bad for me?  Nope.  Here’s how that conversation went:
            Dr. G.:  “You can walk, can’t you?”
            Me (wondering where this is going): “Ummm…..yeah”
            Dr. G.:  You can ride a stationary bike, can’t you?”
            Me (wishing I’d never tried the sympathy angle):  “Uh huh”
            Dr. G.:  “Well then, I guess you have no excuse for not exercising, do you?”
            Me (looking at the floor, mumbling):  “I guess not”
I had to admit that it wouldn’t kill me to walk a little and ride the bike.  But I had to change the way I approached this exercising business.  In the past I have always been able to take a break from working out and then jump back into it with nary a problem, but the last two years have been an exercise in delusion.  Between getting older, gaining weight, and spending more time studying than exercising, my ability to bounce back has waned. 
At the beginning of this year I started training for a half marathon and convinced myself that my aching Achilles tendons would loosen up after some time.  The reality was that I had no business training for anything!  When your butt is in the chair more during the day than out of it, the smart thing to do is walk at a relaxed pace until your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other tissues adjust to the new activity.  Then, you increase your time/effort no more than 10% per week.  The logic behind this is to prevent overuse injuries.  I ignored the fact that I weighed more than ever and still saw myself as the fit athlete who can do anything.
In hindsight, my car accident has probably saved me from further injuring myself through exercise.  Due to a badly banged up left leg, I am only able to walk continuously for about 20 minutes before my quad starts to ache (it will heal completely in time).  This doesn’t do much for me cardiovascularly, but being forced to walk at a slower pace for less time is helping my Achilles to heal.  However, this doesn’t mean I’m not benefitting.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for important health benefits, adults need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms) OR 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms) OR an equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest,  shoulders, and arms).  That may seem like a lot, but it also reminds us that we can accomplish this 10 minutes at a time.
Now, I may not be up to those levels yet, but I did exercise three times this week (15 minutes walking/15 minutes on stationary bike + gentle stretching) and I felt good.  Moving is good!  Feeling like you’re accomplishing something is good!  Losing 4.4 pounds this week is good!  That’s right, I lost weight!  Now, I don’t expect to lose that much each week, as just cutting down on junk food makes a huge difference, but they lowered my daily points from 39 to 35, so as long as I stick to my plan I should see more loss next week.  Of course, I made sure I still had those 49 extra points each week to hang on to.  I may have had to eat humble pie last week, but this week, I want a slice of Key Lime Pie (but still no whipped cream)!
3/14/12 - 221 pounds
Pounds lost in last week – 4.4