Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Motivating Mojo

Wouldn’t it be great if we could summon up weight loss motivation just by chanting a spell, holding up a charm, or some other magical mojo? Perhaps the very idea sounds foolish, but think about magic in the context of my mother’s life. She would have turned 92 on Sunday. In the course of her life, she used a crank-up telephone with a party line, a telegraph, a telex machine, a fax machine, and a computer to communicate with others around the world. When she was a lieutenant in the Coast Guard during World War ll, tapping out Morse code magically connected her to boats at sea, and a personal computer was just a twinkle in some geek genius’s eye. I wrote an entire book, 572 densely-packed pages, about how to succeed with the adjustable gastric band. I wrote about rules, skills, suggestions, solutions, all kinds of practical tools for success. Although I tried to embue that book with my own personal spirit and belief in the possibility of change and success, I can’t write down the mojo you’ll also need. I can’t put it in a bottle and sell it to you for $19.95 or $1995.00. That’s one thing you must find inside yourself. How? How can you do that when you don’t even know what mojo looks like? I hope today’s post will give you some hints about where to look and what to do when you find your mojo. First let's hear from my dear friend Lisa, who's been working on this very topic herself. I’m 2 years post-op from my Lap-Band surgery and after a pretty rapid weight loss of 120 lbs in the first year my weight loss came to a screeching halt for most of the second year. To be fair, I’ve never been much for exercise and I did let sugar (which I have a really hard time controlling once I start) back into my life, but for most of my second year I only lost what I gained, over and over again. I don’t have much to complain about. I’m wearing a regular size 16/XL, I no longer have sleep apnea, my constant knee and foot pain is completely gone and I can walk 3 miles easily while carrying on a conversation, just to name a few miracles! My only problem is that I want to weigh less than 200 lbs. I currently weigh 216 and even though I don’t NEED to weigh under 200 and I’m not even aiming for what the BMI chart says I should weigh (174), I WANT to weigh under 200 lbs.! I’m sure you understand this unfounded desire to reach that milestone. I WANT TO LIVE IN ONDERLAND! Just because! I spent a year trying to go back to the routine that helped me lose 100+ lbs. But like most things in life, it’s hard to go back once you’ve gained perspective through the lessons you’ve learned. We can’t re-capture our youth, we don’t get to un-do mistakes, and we can’t regain our virginity once we’ve lost it! I couldn’t go back to eating 800 calories a day, nor should I at my current weight! So I started to search, per my therapist’s suggestion, for my next passion. The excitement and novelty of having my weight loss tool had worn off. People are used to my new size and the scale isn’t moving. I have become (“Gasp!”) normal! I accomplished great things, amazing feats of behavioral change but hey! I’m not done! I want to weigh under 200 pounds! So the passion search began. I tried exercise, yawn. I tried Yoga, ouch! I even tried scrapbooking and all that got me was a half finished wedding album and a big dent in my checkbook! I realized that in order to find my passion I need to discover what motivates me first. The desired result is the same (losing weight), but the old methods aren’t working anymore so call it passion or whatever you want but what I need to find is the MOTIVATION to do what I now know needs to be done…Eat less, move more. It really is that simple! This whole self-exploration started me thinking about exactly what does motivate me. Oddly enough, I’ve never been motivated by money; I like it, but if I don’t want to do something money rarely works to get me moving. Some people set goals and find the determination inside themselves to strive for and achieve whatever goal they set. I’ve made a life-time of resolutions that get easily pushed aside and forgotten come January 2nd no matter how “realistic” they are. Some people like team sports and a rah-rah, cheering squad. Me, I’m a musician. We don’t cheer or jump up and down and we certainly don’t high five! But…we do like applause…hmmm, maybe I’m on to something here! I come from a musical family and ever since I can remember we were put in front of people and encouraged to perform. And what is the measure of success when you perform? Yes! It’s praise! I am very motivated by praise. I got a lot of “constructive criticism” as a kid, but very little out-right praise which made it even more desirable. My well-meaning parents always felt it was their responsibility to deliver a lesson with every effort or attempt I made to gain their approval when I performed. But no matter how hard it was to get genuine praise, when I did receive a compliment, from anyone, that was the measure above all, the goal, the big prize, the golden ring! So, it should come as no big surprise that when I was 19 I started working for a company that was founded on the idea of service and family. They gave a lot of recognition to their employees for a job well done and I flourished in that environment. I've been greatly rewarded over the almost 30 years I've worked for this company and it wasn't always monetary. For me, getting a verbal thank you, a note, an award or a pat on the back was my greatest motivator and I excelled! I like my efforts to be recognized and I like to please people by exceeding their expectations! So, when I decided to join Weight Watchers this past January as a last ditch effort to lose the weight I had gained over the holidays, I found a connection there because I like gold stars and applause when I lose a couple of pounds! I like to weigh in and get a “good job” from the lady behind the counter! Sounds corny, I know, but it works for me! What motivates you? Answer that question and it might open some doors, uncover some missing truths about who you are, help you learn how to reward yourself with something other than food and may even help you find your next passion! As for me? I’m losing weight again so let’s hear it! “Good job, Lisa”! WHAT’S YOUR MOJO STYLE? Drill sergeant? Sweet Granny? Spiritual Guru? Calm Teacher? The Little Engine? My style? Drill sergeants make me want to bite their pointing fingers. I'll snatch up a sweet granny and take her home with me for tea and cookies, but probably won't stretch myself for her. My ideal motivator is a combination of guru, teacher, and The Little Engine That Could. I'm the little engine, chugging along, saying, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." What works best for you? "I can't find my mojo," you say? I can certainly understand that. When I began my WLS journey, I felt like I'd used up all my mojo on the 1000+ diets I'd done previously in my life. I wouldn't have recognized my mojo if it tapped me on the shoulder and introduced itself. You might need to take a look at other aspects of your life to identify what motivators work for you. What qualities do you prefer in a supervisor at work? What makes you get up and go to work (or school) day after day? In what environment do you do your best work? Do you need discipline or freedom? Peace and quiet; or commotion and excitement? Do you just want a brief punch list, or do you want your tasks explained in detail? Do you want someone who will answer all your questions, or do you prefer to figure out the answers yourself? What's more important to you, your salary or the knowledge that you've done a good job? When you excel at something, do you want shouts and applause, or a quiet pat on the back? At times in my life, I've been fortunate to have the support and guidance of good teachers, therapists, ministers, friends, and accountability partners. It's a huge comfort to know that I'm not in this alone. On the other hand, I need to be able to stand on my own. At the end of the day when my husband and all the dogs are snoring and I'm lying awake thinking about my day and planning for the next day, I'm alone and must rely on my own inner resources. So I chant myself to sleep with the Little Engine Spell, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." EVERYDAY MAGIC – HOW ABOUT A LUCKY CHARM? You don’t have to be a hoodoo prince or princess to conjure up some magic mojo. All you need is a square of red cloth, a few small symbolic objects, and a string or ribbon to tie it all up in a little pouch. Oh, no, I heard someone mutter, “Tut tut tut”! The magic of charms may be nothing but a myth, but myths endure because they speak to basic human stories of taking a journey to find something or someone important, overcoming obstacles, fighting demons, rescuing the helpless, and triumphing despite the long, difficult struggle and effort. And an object that represents something important to you can be very powerful indeed, whether it’s a cross or a dove, a shell from your favorite beach or a stone from your mother’s garden, your first dog’s collar or a lock of hair from your son’s first haircut. Perhaps all you need is a simple, private ceremony in which you write your goal on a piece of paper, fold it up, and put it away in your red cloth pouch or some other safe place. Don’t forget where you put it, because it’s very important. This charm is your promise to yourself, and your request to God or the universe to help you achieve your goal. Right now your goal might be expressed in the number of pounds you want to lose. In one year, your goal might be to finish the Boston Marathon. In two years, it might be a new baby, a new job, a college degree, or anything else that will fulfill your dreams.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Digestive Diva

Last week we talked about food addiction and the compulsive eating behavior that makes many of us obese. Those are emotional, spiritual and psychological issues. Today we’ll have a look at some biological aspects of what makes us obese – our hunger, eating and satiety.

Before we start, let's play a classic kid’s quick quiz game.
Can you guess what this is?
Q: What’s black and white and re(a)d all over?
A: A newspaper.

Got the idea? OK, let’s try another one.
Can you guess who this is?
Q: She’s small and whiny, self-centered and never happy. She complains constantly, and nothing I do ever makes her happy for more than a few minutes. She’s been with me forever, goes with me everywhere and always speaks up at the worst possible moments. Who is she?
A: No, she’s not my spinster great-aunt Adeline. She’s my tummy.

With apologies to my long-departed Great Aunt Adeline, I have to say that I’ve never had a happy relationship with my tummy. She’s always been an interfering little piece of business, and trying to humor her has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count. Although she is small, fist-sized and shaped, she has a big mouth and a nasty temper. The little band of silicone at the top of her has done a wondrous job of keeping my tummy quiet, but every now and then she gets herself into a snit. Like today. As I write this, it’s 2:03 pm, 2 hours since my last meal (lunch), and my digestive diva is nagging me:
I’m hungry.
I said, I’M HUNGRY!
Isn’t anybody listening to me? Let me repeat: I’M HUNGRY! Feed me NOW!

It’s not just my stomach that’s talking about hunger. In researching the relationship between hunger and eating, I learned that the stomach tells only part of the hunger story. Wouldn’t you know, the rest of my body also has to have its say.

The purpose of the stomach is to store and process the food and liquid we ingest. It uses mechanical action (muscle contractions) and chemical action (enzymes, acids) to break food down into a form that can be handled by the small intestine, where nutrients pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream for transportation to the rest of the body. When my stomach growls, it’s not necessarily communicating hunger. The growling sound is generated by peristalsis, the rhythmic muscle contractions that occur as my stomach and small intestine churn up liquid and solid food as well as air and gas, turning it into a sludge called chime and sending it on through my lower digestive tract.

About two hours after the stomach empties out, it begins to produce hormones that stimulate local nerves to send a message to the brain requesting more food, kind of like telephoning the China Supreme Restaurant to place an order for a Number 8 platter with a side of pork fried rice. The brain replies by telling the digestive muscles to restart the process of peristalsis, at which point the muscle contractions move out any remaining bits of food that were missed the first time around and also tell you, sometimes quite loudly, that you’re hungry again. The muscle contractions last 10 to 20 minutes and recur about every hour until you eat again.

But scientists know that the growling empty stomach isn’t the only reason you feel hungry because even people whose stomachs have been removed report feeling hungry. And bandsters with optimal restriction also report feeling no hunger even when both parts of their stomach (upper and lower pouches) are empty. So what else is going on in there?

Researchers have proposed a number of explanations for hunger. At its most basic level, the purpose of hunger is to motivate us to eat the food our body needs for survival. The body signals the need for fuel in several ways. We may feel hungry when our blood glucose level is low, but under normal conditions, blood glucose doesn’t change enough to account for extremes of hunger. I know this is true because I’m diabetic and spent several months last year dealing with frequent and extreme hunger no matter what I did and didn’t eat. I checked my blood sugar every time an “attack” hit me and not once did I get a reading that medically qualified as “low”.

We may also feel hungry when our insulin level increases suddenly, a theory that seems contradictory to me because the #1 way to increase insulin levels is to eat…in other words, our hunger is caused by eating. I don’t know about you, but most of the time, my eating causes satiety, not more hunger. And why then would Type 1 diabetics, whose bodies produce no insulin, ever feel hungry?

Another theory states that hunger is triggered by an increase in the body’s fatty acid level, while yet another theory states hunger is increased by a drop, and decreased by an rise, in body temperature, which might explain why we tend to eat more during the winter, but doesn’t account for hunger fluctuations in people who live in climates with unchanging temperatures.

Obviously, hunger cannot truly be explained only by biology. As human beings, we also experience learned and cognitive aspects of hunger. We use an external clock to dictate our daily routine: when to eat, when to sleep, when to rise, when to eat again. Before my band surgery, I felt hungry for lunch at noon every day even when I’d eaten a substantial snack at 11:00 a.m. That hunger was triggered by learned behavior: when I see the clock (which I learned to read), I want to eat lunch (a meal called lunch that happens only at midday is another learned behavior).

The smell, taste, or texture of food also triggers hunger. For example, the smell of fried food as I drove past McDonald’s once made me “hungry” for French fries (amazingly, that smell nauseates me now). This kind of hunger (triggered by taste, smell, or texture) is a culturally learned preference. In my travels overseas, I’ve been exposed to smells (such as the smell of rancid tofu) that turned my stomach but made my Taiwanese companion suddenly start a conversation about where to have lunch.

Colors also contribute to hunger. In experiments, a yellow banana made subjects want to eat it but a red banana did not. The colors of red, orange, yellow, green, and brown foods can trigger hunger while a blue food may suppress the appetite because so few natural foods are blue. Fresh white yogurt is appealing but aging yogurt covered with blue mold is not. Humans learn to avoid poisonous or tainted food based on color, smell and/or taste, and also avoid or favor foods based on their knowledge (whether or not it’s accurate) of what foods are good or bad for them. My father disliked bananas because when he was a child, his mother endorsed a trend at the time that said bananas are bad for you. My mother disliked chicken skin because her own mother repeated so often the lesson that fatty chicken skin is not just bad for you but that it tastes disgusting (which sure ain’t my own experience!). When traveling in Asia I used to get homesick for cheese, but a Chinese friend watching me eat a cheeseburger wrinkled her nose and said, “How can you eat cheese?” as if I were eating dirt (or rancid tofu).

Longing for a particular taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty) is another learned behavior. If you say, "I’m hungry for something sweet" but eat a pickle instead of a strawberry, you’re probably going to go on eating until your craving for a sweet taste is satisfied. Unfortunately, many obese people seem to have a bottomless pit of a stomach (and brain) when it comes to satisfying a craving. Which brings us to what I consider (as a bandster) to be the crux of the matter: SATIETY.

The mechanism of hunger and satiety are not necessarily the same, and in obese people, hunger, eating and satiety often seem to have no relationship to each other at all. That’s what I mean by the bottomless pit. As a pre-op, I ate so much at each meal, I couldn’t possibly still be hungry, but I went on eating because I didn’t feel satiety. There was never enough food to satisfy me. As I wrote in Bandwagon, I suspect that my lack of satiety has a spiritual basis, but right now let’s stick to physiology.

Satiety – the sense of having eaten enough food – occurs in the brain (in the hypothalamus, which controls hunger and eating) and also in the gastrointestinal tract. Nuclei (clusters of nerve cells) in the hypothalamus send signals to tell you to stop or start eating, based on what your body’s estimated long-term fuel needs are. Since your body doesn’t know you’re going to compete in your first marathon in the next five minutes, it has no instant way to tell you to fuel up with the extra 2000 calories you’ll need to get through it; it can only use past experience to forecast your future caloric needs. If you’ve been training for the marathon for three months, there’s a good chance your body will forecast your calorie needs accurately, but if your previous exercise consisted of manipulating the television remote control, that marathon’s going to be a big surprise to your body in more ways than one.

On the other hand, signals from the gastrointestinal tract (including your stomach) control short-term eating. Enzymes and hormones secreted in the GI tract while you eat respond to your food intake by sending satiety signals to your brain and to the rest of your body (via the vagus nerves at the top of the stomach and via the bloodstream). Your body measures your satiety based on many internal conditions like how much body fat (stored energy) you have and on external conditions (like your habits, learned eating behaviors and preferences, the sight and smell of the food, the social setting of the meal, and stress).

All this may be far more than you ever wanted to know about hunger, eating, and satiety. If you think this is information overload, you should take a look at the scientific extracts I’ve been reading! If nothing else, my attempt at explaining all this shows you what a complex matter it is, and what a marvelously sophisticated machine the human body is (but not just a machine – don’t forget you have a soul, too). Our hunger and eating may also be affected by processes not even known to scientists yet.

Although all my research and thinking has helped me understand more about how my body works, but I still don’t understand why hunger, eating and satiety has made me, but not all my fellow humans, so fat. And I don’t think anyone fully understands how the adjustable gastric band helps me to function more like a “normal” human.

What Causes Obesity?This is a chicken and egg question. Which came first: the defective satiety detector, or the obesity that seems to have resulted from it? Why are some people are obese and others not obese? Is it because obese people have a different hunger and satiety mechanism from people who are not? Or is it because the obese peoples’ overeating overrode and eventually reprogrammed their inborn, “normal” satiety response?

We know that obesity can be caused biologically because so many studies show that twins who grew up apart still weigh about the same as each other, and because adopted children's weights are similar to their biological parents, not their adopted parents. But this does not explain all cases of obesity.

Set point theory, which states that we each have a predetermined weight, set by the hypothalamus, that our body attempts to maintain no matter what diet we follow. In fact, the more we try to reduce our calorie intake, the more our body wants to keep the weight that is set by the hypothalamus. According to this theory, our set point weight is too high due to damage to (or over-stimulation of) the Ventromedial Hypothalamus (the brain’s satiety center).

A study published in 1971 showed that obese people respond to external cues of hunger, such as time, more than non-obese people, who tend to respond more to internal cues of hunger. But why do they do that? A later study linked the external cue response to increased insulin levels. In one experiment, just the smell and sound of steak cooking increased the insulin levels of subjects who were “external cue responders”. But based on the decade I spent with my naturally slim ex-husband, who was tempted by the smell of grilling steak just as I was, I find it hard to believe that the external/internal cueing is a major factor in obesity. Since insulin’s purpose is to maximize the body’s use of glucose as fuel, it seems to me that the smell of steak would alert the brain and body of anyone, no matter what kind of eater they are, to get ready to process a meal by pumping out more insulin. And since my understanding of human physiology has holes in it the size of Rhode Island, I’m not going to propose an alternate theory…not right now, anyway.

Mind and Body
No matter what causes it, hunger is a very basic experience, one of the first that causes us distress when we are helpless infants. Hunger motivates our earliest communication: we cry for mother to feed us. As we grow older (both as individuals and as a species), we learn a variety of ways to prevent hunger – we hunt and gather food; we horde food; we grow, catch, or hunt food; we cook or otherwise prepare our food to make it palatable and safe to eat. It’s very natural for such a basic thing, something so central to our existence and our survival, should arouse a host of ideas, beliefs, and emotions as well as mold dozens of habits and behaviors. I don’t think it’s possible to separate mind and body when it comes to hunger and eating. They must be intricately entwined, and that’s one of the things that makes us human (that doesn’t make us superior to other animals, it just makes us human).

Try to imagine what it felt like for you as an infant, crying about your empty belly, to have your mother or another caretaker respond by feeding you, over and over again, until you acquired some very special feelings about her: trust, attachment, love. And imagine what it felt like to cry and cry and be ignored (because mother was absent, or trying to get you to function according to an imposed schedule): frustration, anger, despair. Is it any wonder that as obese adults we turn to food for comfort (rejoining us to safety of the mother we trusted) and to deal with our feelings of frustration, anger, and despair?

I ask you to be patient with yourself as you do the adult job of figuring out whether you need to feed your mind or feed your body. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are you kidding yourself too?

Now that you’ve read these definitions of addiction, are you more open to the possibility that your obesity was caused by food addiction? You’re not an unemployed, dirty scum bag hanging out on a street corner in a bad neighborhood waiting to score an illegal drug with money you stole from the old lady you just mugged. You’re just that no-so-healthy eater who can’t seem to stop overeating. Since food isn’t officially an addictive substance, maybe we should say that you have a behavioral addiction, one that’s harmful if it results in negative consequences for you, your friends, and your family.

How do you measure those negative consequences? If you’re overeating broiled chicken breasts, brown rice and steamed spinach, does that pose a grave health or disease risk? What about the affect of your overeating and obesity on how you spend your time and on your personal productivity? Do your eating behaviors cause you to feel guilt, shame, fear, hopelessness, failure, rejection, anxiety, humiliation, depression, or other negative feelings, ideas, and symptoms?

A person can become addicted, dependent, or compulsively obsessed with anything. Compulsive behaviors are rooted in a need to reduce tension caused by inner feelings that you want to avoid or control. These behaviors are repetitive and seemingly purposeful and are often performed in a ritualistic manner. Not so long ago, I would leave my beloved husband and dogs in the living room at 7:30 pm sharp every night while I went to the kitchen to eat ice cream. I wasn’t physically hungry when I did that, and I did it over and over and over again. When I had to travel overseas and leave my ice cream behind, I felt anxious every evening when I couldn’t play out my ice cream ritual.

Maybe I was hungry for the love I felt I’d never gotten from my dad. That’s entirely understandable, isn’t it? It’s only human, it’s not my fault, maybe it’s my dad’s fault, but he died many years ago and what’s the harm of eating ice cream in the privacy of my own home when I want to, as long as I pay my taxes and obey the law?

I was kidding myself when I justified my ice cream compulsion that way. That compulsion wasn’t just harmful to me, making me more and more obese. It was harmful to my marriage, and it didn’t do a dang thing to fill me up with love. There isn’t enough food in the entire universe to do that. I don’t think it’s evil, but it’s surely counter-productive for me to seek love and comfort from ice cream when I could’ve gotten endless amounts of love and comfort from the husband and dogs in the next room.

Some scientists think that compulsive behavior activities may produce beta-endorphins in the brain which make you feel "high" and that continued involvement in the behavior leads to physical addiction to your own brain chemicals, thus leading to continuation of the behavior despite its negative health or social consequences. When you add to that the chemical effects of ingesting things like sugar, chocolate, and caffeine, your overeating is just as powerful for you as heroin is for a heroin addict. And that’s one of the reasons is so danged hard to break out of the addictive behavior pattern.

Food Addiction: the new taboo

In the world of bariatric surgery, food addiction is almost a taboo subject. Maybe that’s because no one wants to admit that they’ll be saddled with an eating problem for the rest of their lives. They want and need to believe that weight loss surgery will permanently free them from their slavery to food. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a WLS patient say, “I’m a good eater, I just eat way too much,” as if the “way too much” part was as “harmless” as watching too much TV or driving your car too fast. I’m certainly a good eater and always have been. At age 17, I was taught how to cook by a professional chef, and I’ve been preparing delicious, wholesome food ever since then. I ate meals consisting of lean proteins, complex carbs, and good fats, and what’s the problem with that? So I ate twice as much as my husband, who does manual labor for a living – so what? Was I, and am I, a food addict, or am I just a healthy eater who loves to eat and chooses to overeat?

Even experts in psychology and addiction can’t seem to agree on that. Historically, addiction has been defined as physical and psychological dependence on psychoactive substances (for example alcohol, tobacco, heroin and other drugs) which cross the blood-brain barrier once ingested, temporarily altering the chemical milieu of the brain. By that definition, food doesn’t really qualify as an addictive substance (although the food we ingest does affect our entire body, including the nervous system).

The American Society of Addiction Medicine uses this definition for addiction: addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors (italics mine). The addiction is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, addiction involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

Addiction can also be viewed as a continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the negative consequences associated with it. Over a period of time more and more involvement with the substance or activity is required to achieve the pleasure and enjoyment the user originally sought, and eventually that involvement is needed just to feel “normal.” Some psychology professionals and many laymen now include abnormal psychological dependency (on such things as gambling, food, sex, pornography, computers, internet, work, exercise, idolizing, watching TV or certain types of non-pornographic videos, spiritual obsession, cutting and shopping) in their definition of addiction. By this definition, the addict experiences a recurring compulsion to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences to his individual health, mental state, or social life.

Hi, my name is Jean....


Now you all chime in with, “Hi, Jean!” (And skip the hi jean/hygiene joke, okay? cause I’ve already heard it 30 billion times.)

I was active in Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) for several years in the 1990’s, when I lived in a part of Massachusetts that had plenty of meetings to choose from. Getting to an OA or FAA meeting where I live now is tough. I live in a small-town Christian community that for the most part views 12-step programs and the people involved in them as the the devil’s spawn. Many of my neighbors here see addiction as a moral failing, not a disease, and only one church in town allows 12-step meetings on their premises.

I fell away from the OA & FAA programs for a variety of reasons, one of which was that taking the first of the 12 steps required me to admit that I am powerless over food and (as I understood my sponsor to say) always would be. I just could not wrap my mind around that at the time. I was convinced that I had been born a normal eater and that my upbringing and life events had turned me into an overeater. I was convinced that somehow I could be restored to the normal eater I was when I was born. I spent years in therapy, consulted with an eating disorder specialist and a nutritionist and gained a lot of insights about myself. I also gained another 60 pounds, had weight loss surgery, and even after losing all my excess weight (90 pounds) I found myself still struggling with food.

So once again, I’m back where I started. Life does tend to take us in circular journeys that (if we pay attention to the lessons we need to learn) eventually moves us up away from our old troubles in sort of spiral fashion. If I could attend an OA or FAA meeting tonight, I’d be right there on a folding chair in a church hall with the smell of coffee (but no cigarettes, nowadays), and when it was my turn, I’d be saying again, “Hi, my name is Jean, and I’m a food addict.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

A New Way to Think About Exercise

Before my exercise class last Friday morning, Caroline Duncan called me into her office, shut the door (triggering the automatic “bad news is coming” fear reaction!), and read aloud today’s feature article, The Elegance of Exercise. I was blown away, and not out of relief that I hadn’t been reprimanded or dismissed. I was blown away by the brilliance of the article. After zipping around in the mental stratosphere for a while, I grabbed onto the flimsy string that anchors me to earth and settled down to do some serious thinking about what Caroline had said in her own elegant fashion. I’ll try not to steal her thunder and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about her ideas, but before you read her article, I want to tell you this.

I’m one of the people she mentions in the first paragraph, the ones who moan and groan at the very thought of exercise. About seven months after my band surgery, I somehow felt compelled to increase and diversify my exercise, which until then I had been doing out of dreary obligation to my surgeon, who had made me promise to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. I was exercising out of duty, the way my mom swallowed castor oil as a child – because it was good for me and an authority figure (in Mom’s case, her loving tyrant of a mother) insisted that I do it. A few months later, I was amazed to find myself disappointed one day when I had to skip an aerobics class in order to keep a band fill appointment. Wouldn’t you be amazed at that, too? For a bandster, a fill is of such primary importance that everything else pales by comparison. I got my fill that day but I sorely missed my exercise class.

I tell you this because if you’re one of the moaners and groaners, I don’t want you to skip reading Caroline’s article. It’s not just another “do it because it’s good for you” lecture. It speaks to a very basic truth: weight loss surgery helps you lose weight, but you’re going to need more than weight loss to improve your health, appearance and quality of life. Those missing components don’t come in a bottle. They don’t fly like magic out of a plastic surgeon’s scalpel. They don’t come from an exercise expert, be it Jillian Michaels or the far-superior Caroline Duncan. They come from you and the work you do to help yourself. As a kid, I used to beg my mother for notes excusing me from gym class (which she refused to write even though she hated gym class too). Well, listen up, folks. We’ll be accepting NO MORE EXERCISE EXCUSES from this day forward!

The Elegance of Exercise
Caroline Duncan, BSc, CFI, CPFT
ADBC INC. Fitness Studio, Troy, TN

Most people tend to think of exercise as an activity they know they should be doing, yet most will verify they have little time to exercise. Just the thought of exercising brings agony, groans, and complaining. If we could package exercise in a bottle, market it, and sell it with a guarantee of magic benefits such as lower cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose; improved sleep, stronger bones, cancer prevention, more energy; and a more youthful image and physique, we would all be wealthy. Instead, exercise is all about personal participation to gain those benefits.

Smart exercising encompasses a diverse array of fitness components such as cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, muscular strength, agility, and flexibility. Cardio exercising improves the cardiovascular system, strength conditioning tones and tightens the assets – both physical and spiritual, agility improves balance, and flexibility helps to elongate and make the musculoskeletal system more responsive and pliable. Without these diverse fitness components, what good does it do to involve one component without the other? These components create the balance the body needs just for daily living activities and benefit the body enormously for body functioning. By incorporating these components, exercise bathes the body with a sense of equilibrium, strength, and elegance. Simply put, the human body was meant to move.

Meaningful, smart exercise and nutrition can result in a new body transformation without intrusive scars. By incorporating exercise in one’s daily menu, it truly staves off the ageing process. Where on earth can one get a toned body that possesses more energy and a more youthful physique than from what exercise and nutrition can produce? While surgery does benefit some individuals, others continue the yo-yo cycle of weight loss and weight gain. The yo-yo cycle has negative impact on the human body. Quit kidding yourself! People that depend on a strict diet without exercise activity need to be aware that the skin quickly loses its elasticity, has greater collagen breakdown, and muscle atrophy takes on a different form, almost like that of excess flab waving in the wind. In fact, Professor Stuart Warden, Director of Physical Therapy Research at Indiana University, informed the New York Times last week that “the stresses of exercise activate a particular molecular pathway that increases collagen,” which leads to stronger connective tissues in the dermis, and thus, fewer wrinkles and younger-looking skin. With the combination of diverse exercise and good nutrition, the body responds and creates a beautiful body – all built from the brilliance and elegance of exercising.

So, get off your duff, put your best foot forward, and do something that incorporates all the fitness components and smarter nutrition. Your heart will get stronger, your muscles will become more toned, your skin will thank you, and above all your body will be more responsive with energy.

Jean comments:
I’m not accustomed to thinking of exercise and elegance in the same thought bubble. In fact, I often feel the opposite of elegant when I’m exercising. I’m hot, damp and panting; I have a severe case of bed head and a sweat-soaked headband a la Bruce Springsteen; I’m usually wearing an outfit I wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in, I’m wearing clunky athletic shoes; and I’m stepping on my left foot when everyone else is stepping on their right foot while my internal audience screams, “No, no, Jean! Not that right foot, the other right foot!” Not much elegance in any of that, is there?

Or maybe there is.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “elegant” thusly:
(1) having dignified richness and grace, as of manner, design, dress, etc. (I call this the Grace Kelly definition.)
(2) cleverly apt and simple, as in “an elegant solution.” (I call this the Friedrich Hansen definition, for the reason you’ll see below.)

As I think Caroline’s article demonstrates, exercising your body encompasses both definitions of elegant. When I was in my teens and understood only the Grace Kelly definition of elegant, I overheard my father (an inventor) discussing a problem with his business partner, a German scientist named Friedrich, about their project using microwaves to find impurities (like oil) in the earth (many years later, my mother complained bitterly, “Why couldn’t they have been the ones to figure out you can cook with microwaves?”).

Although I often typed patent applications for Dad and Uncle Fred (as we called Friedrich), I understood perhaps one word out of 20 that they spoke. Eventually they worked their way through this particular problem, and I was startled to hear Fred exclaim, “An elegant solution, Edward! Elegant!” The two men, both of them about as elegant in appearance as Albert Einstein having a bad hair day about a week after he should have done some laundry, were tickled pink with their solution because of its mind-boggling cleverness and wondrous simplicity.

Still not getting it? Let’s look at an example that’s more likely to happen in your own everyday life. Let’s say you’re a manager with four employees who, all working together, need five days to accomplish an extremely important task. The job gets done every week, but at the dollar cost of 200 man-hours (or woman-hours) and the business cost of two other departments who can’t do their job until yours is done, plus the frustration all this expense and delay causes not only the Big Boss but the Big Client #1 who’s impatiently waiting for his/her widget to arrive at his desk or receiving dock so that all his own employees can get to work making their own clients happy. After thinking about all this for a while, you realize that if your team uses a different technique or procedure or material or machine, the job can be done by only two employees, in two days instead of five. Now the other two employees are available to spend two days doing a similar task for Big Client #2. As a result of your bright idea, the organization cuts its operating costs, improves its product and customer service, and makes it possible to bring in new clients and therefore more income, while everyone gets to take Friday off. That, my dear Watson, is an elegant solution.

Now let’s apply the word elegance to the human body. Are you thinking something like, “I’m fat and 50, what’s elegant about that?” Please dismiss that thought. You don’t have to be a human who looks like Grace Kelly. If I were a professor of medicine (which sadly, I am not), I could prove to you that your body is in fact very rich and graceful in its manner, design, and problem-solving abilities. I’m Miss Jean, not Dr. Jean, so let’s not try to decipher something as complicated as the nervous system. Let’s just think about the miracle of autonomous breathing. It is a simple enough function – breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out – that you probably take for granted unless you suffer from something like asthma or COPD. Your breathing brings in the oxygen you must have to stay alive, and it works in a graceful, rhythmic, continuous fashion so efficient that it doesn’t require any conscious effort on your part. If we say that the problem is that you’ll die without enough oxygen, your rich and complex body has solved that problem in a wonderfully elegant way.

Finally, let’s think about elegance as applied to exercise. In exercise class last Friday, I panted and sweated and thought for a moment that I would have to stop and rest and that I would never figure out how to avoiding stepping with my left foot when I was supposed to be stepping with my right foot. But my pride wouldn’t let me stop, so I admonished myself (“Stop thinking about it and just do it!”) and carried on, and a few seconds later this short, sweaty, droopy, myopic 57-year-old body of mine suddenly got it. My mind, my lungs, my heart, my feet and the music all came into alignment – a very elegant alignment indeed. In that moment, I felt like Superwoman – that I could do anything, any physical or mental task that a situation demanded, and that I could do it well.

That kind of alignment – the sense of equilibrium, strength, and elegance that Caroline describes in her article – really does seem superhuman to me. But it isn’t superhuman. The potential for it in inside every single cell in your body, because as Caroline said, your human body was meant to move. God, or evolution, or your Higher Power, designed it that way for a reason. Movement is essential to almost everything good and worthwhile to which you might aspire. Of course a paralyzed or disabled person can accomplish good and worthwhile things…with help from someone able-bodied like you. And (to me, anyway) the best way to teach your body to obey your commands and take you wherever you want to go is through daily exercise and purposeful movement. Yes, a ballerina performing a pirouette is beautiful and elegant, but you don’t need a swan neck, long legs, and a pink tutu to achieve beauty and elegance. Walking to the mailbox is also beautiful and elegant, especially if that was once a task too enormous to even contemplate.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent years thinking of yourself as fat and unattractive, graceless and clumsy, inept and unmotivated. You wished for a magic potion like the one Caroline describes in her article. You may have hoped that bariatric surgery could substitute for that potion. In truth, you’re already equipped with everything you need to live a useful, satisfying, healthy and even joyful life. It’s your birthright: you were born with it. And now’s the time to train yourself to use it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Zumba Style!

This isn't a great photo, but it does show these cool Zumba style sashes covered with jingly spangles that make noise when you shake your booty. Exercise class is much more fun when it involves costumes and noise-making!