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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

But You're So Tall!

Hi, my name is Jane and I'm unhealthy.  Most people who know me will roll their eyes when they read that line.  I'm known as the girl who is always active and training for some kind of race, and when I complain about gaining weight, I always hear "but you're so tall!".  And they're right, I am tall.  Topping out at 5'11" I have been lucky enough over the years to hide my rising weight well, but my luck has run out.  Not only are my "fat jeans" too tight, but I've been experiencing acid reflux (as a result of too much fat in my mid-section pushing on my innards), I can't do the activities I'm used to with the same comfort and ease, and (on a vain note) I hate the way I look.  I look at myself and see the result of laziness and that is not something I value.  I know I can do better. 

So, yesterday, after a visit to my favorite family doctor who told me (with almost a straight face) that I didn't have a 50-pound tumor that I could blame the weight gain on, I drove straight to Weight Watchers (WW) and signed myself up.  I've tried WW before and quit when life got too crazy, but I'm committed this time.  In school the professors are always telling us that we need to be good examples of health if we want to help other people, and I've taken that to heart - I don't want to be a hypocrite.

Today is my first day following the PointsPlus system and I'm fairly confident that I won't starve.  The good part about being overweight is that you get a lot of points!  I get 36 per day, plus a weekly allotment of 49 points that I can spread out over the week, use all at once, or not use at all.  I also get more points if I exercise, so I'll be walking on the track at school after class tonight.  Oh, and exercise is supposed to be good for you, or something, so I guess that's a good reason to do it, too. 

Every week I will be posting a message about how I did at my weigh-in and my views on how my week went.  I will also be posting the results of my weekly weigh-ins.  I've debated this in my head and have determined that, as embarrassing it will be to tell you all how much I currently weigh, I think it will be a good motivator to stay on track.  So, here it is...

3/7/12 - 225.4 pounds