In the About page, I briefly mention that I made a lot of changes in how I approached my health starting in early 2011. The shift in focus in my life was a major reason for stopping work on my old blog. But, what was it that I did, and why? This post is to talk about the why. Other posts will go into more detail about the what as appropriate.
One of the first things to make clear, something that I will keep coming back to in different ways, is that diets don’t work. That is to say, restrictive eating simply for the sake of reducing body weight isn’t going to give anyone long-term success. This has been understood by medical practitioners and diet-peddlers as a statistical fact since at least the 70s. Indeed, the diet industry has had a clue about this since it, well, became an industry back in the late 1800s. They are all about return customers; after all, how can you return if you haven’t regained?
So, Anglachel, if dieting doesn’t work, why are you trying (yet again) to lose weight?
Simple. For the last three years, I have been addressing all of my health concerns, among which is weight. Everything I have done (and continue to do) is for a specific health goal that can be measured, though the measurement may be a little fuzzy. My weight loss is only one aspect of this endeavor and not the most important one. It is the one that gets noticed because the other changes are invisible to others and often to me. Here’s what I have and continue to accomplish.
Reduce my diabetes risk. The biggest shock after losing my mother in early 2011 was learning that my brothers had developed Type II diabetes. This was not something that had ever happened in our family before that we were aware of, though it’s likely we are just ignorant of its incidence. Reducing the risk meant a reduction in weight, choosing foods that are not likely to upset insulin balance, and get regular exercise.
Reduce stress on joints. Degenerative joint diseases are prevalent in my family and I was beginning to really notice joint discomfort in my legs, especially my ankles. Weight loss was an obvious way to relieve pressure on the joints.
Improve cardiovascular condition. This is my biggest and longest standing health issue. I was born with pulmonary sequestration which went undiagnosed for all of my childhood and only became known after a year of untreatable bronchitis and walking pneumonia when I went to graduate school. Thanks to the screwed up medical insurance system, I had to survive three additional years with this thing ripping my right lung into shreds because it was a “preexisting condition,” and have been left with only 2/3 of my right lung, which is scarred and damaged as a result. I also have a heart murmur which has been present since birth. It appears to be an “innocent” murmur. Thankfully, I’ve never smoked, so I don’t have that complication. While weight loss is helpful to heart health, the best treatment to low functioning heart and lungs is doing more aerobic exercises of various types. Key to me is making maximum use of that damaged lung and improving the efficiency of my heart to move the oxygen into my bloodstream.
Bone density. Mom lost a lot of bone mass between the rheumatoid arthritis that crippled her and her age. I’d prefer to keep my densities higher than she did. This means load bearing and resistance exercise, aka, weight lifting. Increased bone density will also help with the degenerative joint diseases.
Balance/Muscular coordination. Falls are a problem for older people and not-so-old people. My mother and my father-in-law both broke an arm in falls. My father and my mother-in-law have had serious falls. The better my balance and coordination, the less likely I will fall and if I fall (I’m kind of a klutz, so it’s probably when, not if) I’m more likely to be able to catch myself and prevent serious injury. Strength training and walking are part of prevention. More muscle, from weights, and better coordination, from walks, keep me strong and upright.
Protect nerves in shoulders and back. I started 2011 with a compressed nerve in my neck and down into my left shoulder. The Spousal Unit has been brought low by nerve compression in his spine, and I’ve suffered increasing lower back problems. Strength training increases the muscle mass in both areas and helps with flexibility, which protects the nerves. Standing up and walking around reduces pressure on my spine. This is very important because I work a desk job and so end up sitting a lot.
You’ll notice that only the first two health concerns have weight loss as a specific component. I had a particular weight loss goal to improve health for these two – reduce my weight by 20%. I would still be obese with a 20% loss, but my diabetes risk and joint strain would be significantly reduced. If the weight loss was more than 20%, good, but not necessary.
Everything else is activity related. Why? Because the rest of my life is pretty healthy, especially my diet. What I eat is basically a Mediterranean Diet, which I have eaten for years and thoroughly enjoy. I suspect that it played a role in preventing me from developing Type II diabetes, though as long as I’m alive, I will be at risk. I also don’t smoke, I drink copious amounts of black coffee every day, I don’t drink excessively and I tend to stick to beer and wine, my blood pressure is normal, my cholesterol is low, my blood sugars are normal, and I have not developed any other serious health problem, though, as with diabetes, some might very well develop in the future. Getting old sucks that way.
So, the one thing that most reputable health organizations advised me to do that I wasn’t really doing much of was getting off my ass and moving around more. The funniest part of this was that I had already diagnosed the problem in a blog post in early 2010, Computers Make You Fat. Spending my leisure time in front of a computer screen was the single biggest factor in the weight (re)gain I experienced after the catastrophic weight loss following my lung surgery. I’m willing to bet that the rise in the rate of obesity in the US probably tracks the rate of computer adoption pretty closely. The best thing I did for myself was increase the one thing I wasn’t doing enough of – physical activity. This was another huge factor in my decision to stop blogging. I needed that time for other things that made me happier and healthier.
So the shocks, grief and pain of early 2011 coalesced into a call for action. Physical action.