Fighting Off The Food Coma

Fighting Off The Food Coma

The time has come, the season has arrived: The Holidays are here. And along with the family gatherings, football games, and presents will come a whole lot of opportunities to do Bad Things to your diet and your physique.

How bad? Well, the average person will gain 3 to 7 pounds over the 40-day period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Do that ten years in a row, and congratulations: you’ve added around 50 pounds of body mass from holiday eating alone. Never mind aging, injury, or other dietary hiccups that might arise.

So, yeah – this presents a problem.

What are you going to do about it?

Watch Your Drinks

If you want to help yourself avoid the potential for damage, first give yourself the ability to succeed. The great majority of the caloric damage at these gatherings doesn’t come from stuffing or Pineapple-Upside-Down Cake.

No, the majority of the empty calories will come from what you drink.

Think about it: how many Cokes will you consume over the course of a holiday gathering? Because each and every one will set you back 140 calories. Worse yet, that 140 calories has ZERO nutritional value to you. No vitamins, no minerals, no protein. Nothing but processed sugar that will go straight to the “Store me as fat, please” list.

Beer isn’t much better. A can of the most popular “Light” beer, Bud Light, works out to 110 calories. Only a few less than a Coke. And the problem with beer is simple: the alcohol impairs your judgement. The more beers you have, the more you think it is OK to have. You could get yourself outside of a six-pack of beer (and the accompanying 660 calories) before you even meet the temptations around the dinner table.

Stick to water, if you can. If not, coffee or unsweetened tea are OK as well. But give yourself the opportunity to succeed. Because you haven’t even gotten to the hard stuff yet.

Rein In The Impulses

I know what you are thinking. “But Jeremy,” you say, “everything is soooo good during the holidays. How can I resist it all?”

Simple. You can’t.

The theoretical person exists that can surround themselves with holiday goodies and not indulge. In the same sense that theoretical alien life exists: it may be out there somewhere, but in the meantime just hand me another slice of that double-chocolate Pecan Pie.

So, if the cornucopia is too much to resist, don’t resist. Direct the flood that you can’t contain.

Instead, try everything in very small doses.

Do you really need a pound of everything on your plate? No, not really. Get a tablespoon-full, or a small slice, or a single item of whatever. Then, as you eat, focus on the folks around you. You probably only see them once or twice a year, right? Take a bite of your small serving of food “A”. Chew thoroughly. Put down your fork and turn to the person to your right and chat about whatever for a moment. Return to your plate. Take a bite of your small serving of food”B”. Chew thoroughly. Put down your fork and turn to the person on your left and chat for a moment.

Repeat this process until you’ve tried everything on your plate. Still hungry? Start around your plate a second time, this time focusing on the items you found particularly yummy.

By the time your stomach tells you “Stop! I’m full!”, you’ll have had a fraction of what everyone else around you did. And you’ll have had some valuable time catching up with friends and family members.

 

A Call To Action

No joke – this technique really works. The reason it works is because your stomach is slow to report to your brain about when it has reached capacity. If you start with a huge pile of food and rush through it, you will reach capacity and pass right through it and not know about it – until you are uncomfortably bloated and nodding off on the couch, wondering how you could have possibly eaten so much. Again. Just like last year.

So, just dodge that bullet. And give yourself some extra tools to use to fight the “Holiday Bloats.”

Another thing you can do to help out? Stay active.

Now, I am not inviting you and your family outside for some brisk snow-field volleyball. (Though if you live in Florida, or California – heck, why not?)  But, seriously, how much fun are you having sitting on the couch watching football? Listening to everyone’s digestive processes?

So, move around instead! Go grab some photo albums and look through them. Volunteer to wash the dishes. Play with the kids or the grand-kids. Even just wandering around the yard (if one is available), or throwing around a football (rather than watching one being thrown.)

Also, is this gathering taking place at Mom and Dad’s? Or Grandma and Grandpa’s? I will bet a significant amount that if this is taking place at the home of an older family member, there are some things lying around the place that could be done. Rake some leaves. Repair a squeaky door. Help organize a library, or a craft room, or a garage. Every minute you spend moving is a minute your body is using fuel, not adding it to long-term storage.

And if you can contribute to a family member at the same time, well: isn’t that what the holidays are all about, really?

Making The Holidays (Not) Count,

Jeremy

PS: I recently had the opportunity to create a guest blog post for the folks at Prairie Sage Wellness Center. Feel free to check it out here!

When The Cold Arrives

When The Cold Arrives

Right on schedule, Winter has shown up.

Oh, there are still leaves on some of the trees. Days here in Albuquerque are still getting up into the 60s. But the malaise that accompanies shorter days and lower temperatures is fully in effect.

The purists might say that it is still Autumn, Winter doesn’t start until December 21, etc. But we know it in our bones: Winter Isn’t Coming. Winter Is Here. November is no more Autumn than March is Winter.

Even our local homeless population are now all holding signs asking for money for bus tickets to Houston. Winter is no fun.

Winter: Obesity’s Secret Weapon

The big secret about Winter and physical fitness? They don’t go together.

Winter brings us our most celebrated gluttonous holidays, all within a 90-day span. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl are always used as excuses for over-eating. (And over-drinking, in the case of the SB.) At the same time, there is no useful offset to balance these binge-eating, diet-destroying occasions. Who eats two pounds of mashed potatoes and half a pecan pie then goes out and runs a few miles to work it off?

No one, that’s who.

Winter conspires against us, I tell you. Colder temperatures mean lower energy levels. Darker days mean a sense of malaise – energy-sucking black holes that park us on the couch huddled in a blanket binge-watching Stranger Things rather than doing anything active. And short days mean that we don’t have any time to go do anything anyway, even if we were so inclined.

So, we sit on the couch. We drink beer. Every once in a while we look out the window and shiver, then turn up the thermostat. And we shake our heads at those lycra-clad crazy people jogging or riding through our neighborhoods. Who the heck works out during this time of year?

Everyone who doesn’t want to arrive at March and burst into tears when nothing but sweats fit anymore, that’s who.

Turning The Volume Up (When The Thermometer Goes Down)

I will not go all Richard Simmons on you and proclaim that keeping fit during the winter is “fun.” It isn’t. You are fighting against your depressed metabolism, your body’s desire to conserve energy via fat storage (hibernation), and your own desire to stay warm.

So, when getting to the gym just seems like too much to bear, here are a few other things you can try.

YouTube: Did you know there are a TON of useful exercise resources on YouTube? There are weight-lifting routines. Body-weight resistance plans. Yoga and Aerobics and Tai-Chi galore. Many folks get worried about the expertise of those on YouTube, but the easiest way to locate something reputable is to dig into your favorite health/fitness magazine, find some articles that you like, then go looking for the author’s YouTube channel. That’s how I located B.J. Gaddour’s StreamFitTV, for example. If you can’t bear to leave the house, bring the gym to your living room.

AceFitness: Yes, I am an Ace Fitness Personal Trainer, and I am biased. But you can actually gain a ton of exercise advice (including demonstrations) for free from the Ace Fitness Exercise library. Need to learn how to do a plank? Check it out here. Need to tackle body-weight squats? Visit this page. Oh, have zero equipment in your house or apartment and want to use that as an excuse? Nope: ACE Fitness has 100+ exercises you can do without a single resistance band or dumbell.

The Step: Some of us are lucky enough to live in homes with stairs: multi-story homes, apartment buildings, etc. If you do, you can do a great aerobic routine just by doing stair interval training. However, if you don’t have a staircase handy, there is a secret weapon I will share with you: The simple aerobic step. Though pricing can go all the way up to well over $100, there are plenty available for less than the cost of a single month’s gym membership. (Here’s one for around $30, for example.) Park your step in front of your television. Step up and down for the duration of your favorite home remodeling show. Or travel show. Or reality show. You get the idea.

(Food Network not recommended.)

Dodging The Ice-Cold Missiles

Of course, lack of physical activity isn’t the only danger that accompanies wintertime. Illness and binge-eating tend to skyrocket over the turn of the year. What can we do to fight back?

Staying healthy during winter can be a major challenge. Every sniffle, cough, and sneeze brings instant paranoia about what malady might be invading. (Well, it makes ME paranoid at least.) During winter it is so important to take some common sense steps. Up your vitamin intake. Get a flu shot. Stay hydrated. Losing days or weeks of activity to illness will wreck your fitness just as surely as overdoing it at Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. Do everything you can to fight off microbial invaders. Be especially diligent at work – your unhealthy co-workers will be more than happy to contaminate you with their illnesses. I am a big believer in mega-doses of hand sanitizer while in places that are being regularly contacted by less diligent human beings.

Avoiding binge eating can be a trial to any of us. All the best stuff gets trotted out over the holidays, and it seems impossible to not try everything! But, rather than looking around a kitchen in despair at all the stuff you shouldn’t eat, make sure that you have come prepared with something that is diet friendly. Bring your own lean protein, or vegetable platter, or salad. That way, if nothing else works, you have something to fall back on. Fill your plate with your healthy selection, then try a few small bites of the items you can’t resist.

For example, I am especially bad about “sampling” desserts. So, Lor started preparing protein-filled cupcakes she calls protein brownie bites that we now take everywhere where there are likely to be tempting sugar-bomb desserts.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they are so popular that they now get requested at every single get-together we attend. Who says healthy can’t taste good? (As an aside I highly recommend The Big Man’s World for recipes – I literally have yet to find a recipe there that I didn’t like.)

The Coldness of the Mind

Lastly, and most importantly, during the winter months, depression and suicide attempts drastically increase. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) can be a more serious problem than any amount of binge-eating or couch-planting. The disorder isn’t very well understood, but a few things can help to keep it at bay.

First, try to stay plugged in. Our natural tendency during winter is to “turtle” – to stay in our homes, huddled around ourselves. Instead, do your best to get plugged into some social circle – anything that will keep you in contact with other people. A bible study, a knitting circle, a weekly role-playing game: just about anything that keeps you interacting with humanity is a great way to keep these feelings of isolation at bay.

Secondly, stay physically active. We all know that exercise increases brain function and releases “feel-good” hormones into the bloodstream. If you can’t make it to the gym or Crossfit, at least try one of the ideas above.

Lastly, if you aren’t getting better – get help. Talk to a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor – let SOMEONE know what you are going through. The worst thing you can do is to assume that no one else understands how you feel. Trust me – I also struggle with depression and know first-hand how isolating it feels. But you have TONS of value, even if you can’t see it right now. Someone else can help remind you.

Turn Your Attention To 2018!

Let’s all help one another get through to next year! Do your best to stay true to yourself, keep the blood flowing, and know that, eventually, this too shall thaw.

Spring Is Coming,

Jeremy

One-Seventy-Nine

Regain. It is a word that strikes terror into the hearts of bariatric patients. An admission that things have not gone as planned, regain means that the changes after surgery have gone off the rails. Regain feels like a failure, and it carries the bitter taste of defeat.

Oh, How Dramatic

All this introduction to explain what flashed through my mind yesterday morning, when I stepped on my scale for my weekly weigh-in, and saw the numbers “179.4” flash up at me. Alarmed, I stepped off the scale. I moved the scale, made sure it was level. Gingerly, I tried again. “179.6.” Yikes! Maybe I wasn’t stepping on the scale exactly in the center. I tried a third time, carefully placing my feet this time. “179.3.”

Thank goodness I wasn’t using the logging feature built into the scale. It would have thought I had weighed in for 3 separate weeks in less than 60 seconds.

Then again…there was a reason I wasn’t using the logging feature, wasn’t there? All week long I had been feeling the malaise. I knew I didn’t feel right. All my shiny new clothes were just a bit too snug.  My suspicion was that I was moving backwards, and now here was proof, glaring at me from the bathroom floor.

Drama. I am making a mountain out of a molehill here, right? Compared to my all-time low a few weeks back of 174 pounds, 179 isn’t that bad, is it?

Yes…and no. The problem is that last week I was at 177, a gain of two pounds from the previous weigh-in. That number I wrote off as statistical variance – you can gain and lose a couple pounds over the course of a day easily. (And this is why it is important to do weekly weigh-ins at the same time every day. Preferably immediately after you wake up.)

But two weeks in a row, both edging upward by a couple pounds? This isn’t statistical variance. This, my friends, is the beginning of a trend.

The Cold Equations

By now, we all know the numbers, right? It all comes back to Resting Metabolic Rate, the number of calories your body burns while sitting around doing not much of anything. If you ingest less than the amount your body needs, you lose weight. If you take in more than your body needs, it gleefully stores the excess as fat.

Diet and exercise, then, are two sides of a balancing act: the weight loss teeter-totter if you will. We eat all day, every day, to provide our bodies with enough energy to keep the vital organs working, to stay upright and moving. But any extra whatsoever will be taken by our treacherous metabolism and stored as fat.

So, we try to go to the gym, to walk, to keep moving somehow to place our bodies into a caloric deficit so that more of that stubborn fat will come off. The body eventually gives up and adjusts, raising the metabolic rate to reflect all this activity.

But, what happens when you slack off at the gym for a couple of weeks because your schedule goes crazy? Without changing your diet to reflect the drop in physical activity?

One-seventy-nine. That’s what happens.

The Non-Alarmist Solution

I freely admit I am being paranoid about this. But I’ve worked pretty darn hard to get here. I’ve had 80% of one of my major organs lopped off, for goodness sake. From walking to running to jumping to lifting heavy objects and putting them down, I have pushed pretty darn hard to get from 302 to 174.

I am not interested in moving backwards.

Now, the last two weeks have been insane, I grant you. My PT certification exam. The publication of my first book. The weekend-long science fiction conference I just attended. I skipped maybe half my gym days. I took some shortcuts in my diet, especially during the Con.

So, now, I get to repair the damage.

This is the point where many of us panic. We freak out over our regain and hit the Big Red Button of diet and exercise changes. We switch to an all protein shake diet. Maybe we try a juice cleanse. We commit to stupid amounts of work at the gym, hoping to undo weeks or months worth of neglect in a few days.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. In my case the numbers here are pretty small: I’ve gained about 2.5 pounds a week for two weeks in a row. Happily, I can work on safely losing that amount every week. I can repair the damage in two weeks or so.

Not in a day via a marathon session at the gym. Not in a week by a juice fast. But by taking a safe, methodical approach.

I already know how to exercise every day – I just haven’t done it for two weeks or so. I already know the secret to a healthy diet: buy non-processed foods at a grocery store and prepare them at home. For the next two weeks, if it doesn’t come out of my fridge or my pantry, I don’t eat it. As simple as that.

Resuming The Journey

Success tends to be followed by a downturn of some kind. This is because success requires effort, and effort is tiring. There is nothing wrong with the fact that I have “rested” for a couple of weeks after one of the most stressful periods of my life.

However, I am reminded of a man I know who went through bariatric surgery, trained for a year or so, then ran his first marathon. Six months after the marathon he had regained 30 pounds.

Why? Simple. He took some time off after the marathon (which was fine) and then never started running again (which was NOT fine.)

All backsliding starts with a single step backwards.

Bad habits and lifestyle choices are always waiting for us, at every turn. This is just as true for those who have never had bariatric surgery as for those who have. What you choose to do every morning will determine your success for the weeks and months to come.

And I have another conference coming in only 3 weeks. I’ve got only that long to get my head back in the game. I need to re-develop my discipline, and make sure that the next time I am away from my normal routine for several days that I find ways to incorporate healthy choices.

After all, I don’t want to come back in a month and write an article titled “One-Eighty-Nine.”

I Shudder At The Thought,

Jeremy

Mission: Accomplished

Well, now, THAT was exciting. In a “drop at the beginning of a roller coaster” kind of way.

It has dominated my days and interrupted my sleep for nearly seven months now. I have missed deadlines, dropped projects, and skipped family gatherings because of it. The voice of Misdirected has grown fainter with every week as it approached, an inexorable monster that threatened to swallow me whole.

I am referring, of course, to the final exam for the ACE Fitness Personal Trainer certification.

Which happened yesterday.

We Don’t Need No Education

My relationship with education has been weird throughout my life. I didn’t go to college out of high school. I got married and started waiting tables instead. Who needs that education stuff, right?

My professional career as a database developer and project manager all came from books and week-long seminars. My success derived from an unusual talent: I was the person who was willing to Read The Flipping Manual. But I also had the ability to remember what I read. This didn’t seem unusual to me. I just thought everyone else was lazy.

Then my disability struck, and suddenly I was unable to remember my own name for long stretches of time. By the time my treatment stabilized, I could do a pretty good impression of a thinking person, but the memory was gone. I literally can forget what I am doing in the midst of doing it nowadays. I made a couple of abortive attempts at college in my thirties, but couldn’t ever keep up.

And that is where I thought my relationship with education would end.

Where Obesity and Literacy Meet

Fast forward a decade or so.  My upcoming bariatric surgery met my gaming blog, and the current version of Misdirected was born.

Suddenly, I was fielding questions I didn’t know the answers to. I went to various sources for information: my nutritionist, WebMD, my wife the massage therapist, my brother the personal trainer. The deeper into the process I got, the further down the rabbit hole I fell. In January of this year, I was suddenly 100 pounds lighter and writing a book about bariatric surgery, for goodness sake.

Then, in February, I happened to mention to my family that I was looking into getting some education about muscular retraining, weight loss, and lifestyle changes. Maybe, I said, at some point in the distant future, I would look into getting my personal training certification.

Later that week I was presented with a gift: my family had sprung for the ACE course materials for their personal trainer certification. Just one little detail: I only had 180 days from the time they ordered the course to take my certification exam.

Opening The Box of Pandoras

I suspected I was in trouble when the box of course materials arrived. Inside were anatomy charts, nutritional guides, exercise CD-ROMs, and over 1,000 pages of textbooks.

I confirmed I was in trouble after I completed the first “class”, took the final exam, and was presented with a grade of 40%.

Oh, man. What did I just get myself into?

I remember confessing to Lor that I would never be able to do this. There were twenty-two individual course segments I had to pass, for goodness sake! By the time I got to the end of a chapter, I had already forgotten everything I just read. And I had no previous experience with any of this: no frame of reference. What the heck was adenosine triphosphate? I never took chemistry! What was a muscular attachment point? I flunked biology in high school!

Twice, in fact.

I had apparently thrown myself off the deep end of reality, into the swampy morass of human physiology.

The Struggle Is Real

For months I studied, and quizzed, and attempted to memorize. My fiction writing slowed to a crawl. My posts to Misdirected became ever more sporadic, the closer I got to the date of my final exam. I stopped sleeping normally, waking up in the middle of the night to go study.

Everyone in my family was tremendously supportive, all patting me on the back with various versions of “You can do it!” I remained unconvinced. The time pressure was the real killer here. I was sure I could do this, given enough time. Say, 2 or 3 years. But not 6 months.

I finished the course materials, then threw myself back in again from the beginning. Then a third time. Each time revealed new weaknesses. Finally, after my 3rd time through, I took the practice exams with a week left before my final.

I managed a 76%.

I was crushed. Yes, it was a passing grade, but…a “C”? That was the best I could do?

Lor disagreed. “You worked harder for that C than I ever saw you work for anything in your life” was her take on it.

I would have to settle for it: I was out of time.

Test Day

Yesterday morning dawned early. Real early in my case. I was up at 2 AM, in a complete panic about the exam coming up at 8:30.

There was nothing else I could do. I resolved that I would not rush, that I would go through the exam multiple times, that I would read each question several times before answering. Breakfast was out of the question. My stomach dipped and rolled frantically as Lor drove me to the testing center.

150 questions. 3 hours. This is what the last 6 months of work had finally come down to.

After my meticulous progress through the exam, it was time to press the “Submit” button to have the test graded. I probably sat there for 5 minutes, willing myself to click the button. Only the fact that I was convinced I would throw up if I waited any longer forced me to move.

The spinning wheel rolled for a moment as the PC thought, then I was presented with a “You Passed!” message.

My final score? 77%

I have never been prouder of a C in my life.

Jeremy Schofield, ACE Certified Personal Trainer

 

The 1-Year Follow-up

The 1-Year Follow Up - The results of Bariatric Surgery

You may wonder where I’ve been the last couple days. I spent Monday meeting with my surgeon, finishing up the VNS procedure, and got cleared to start using both arms again. This seems like it would have been the perfect opportunity to publish my next Misdirected post, right?

But I had something else big coming down the road, so decided to wait for the update.

Because yesterday was my 1-year appointment with the folks at DaVita Bariatrics. One year ago yesterday I went under the knife and changed my life forever.

So, how did I do?

The Numbers Don’t Lie

So, let’s review. On July 25, 2016, I weighed 248 pounds. (Down from my all-time high of 302 pounds in February of 2016.) My blood pressure was 145/102. My resting pulse rate was 86. I was on a cocktail of 5 different medications. I slept with a C-PAP every night.

Yesterday I weighed in at 177 pounds. (Up 3 pounds from my previous low of 174.) My blood pressure came in at 118/70. My resting heart rate was 60 beats per minute. I am down to 2 medications (both anti-seizure meds) and stopped using the C-PAP months ago.

Other significant numbers?

In 2016 I had a 50-inch waistline. Today I am at 35 inches and still shrinking.

Last year I could barely manage walking half a mile. Today I can walk at least eight, or run two. (Though still can’t run a full 5K, darn it.)

Last year my BMI topped out at 47.3 (also known as “morbidly obese.”) As of yesterday, I was at 27.7. (“Overweight”, according to the BMI chart.) Given that I would have to get all the way down to 159 pounds to be considered normal by BMI, I think I am just going to settle for “overweight”, thank you very much.

Now, Gimme The Bad News

All of this has had a downside, of course.

As of yesterday, I was diagnosed with both anemia and a B12 deficiency. Neither is as dangerous as the health issues accompanying obesity, but both are going to have to be dealt with nonetheless. Both are potential side effects of the massive dietary changes that go along with bariatric surgery.

I keep shrinking. This may sound like it should be on the “good” side of the equation, but it is a real downer to keep having to buy clothes at thrift stores. Also, I am already down to Men’s Small in shirts. Where the heck do I go from here? Do I start shopping in the kids’ section?

Speaking of my body, I am still dealing with my new covering of loose skin with the texture and consistency of Play-Doh. It is a constant hassle to deal with and has even resulted in me having unexpected surgery for early VNS replacement.  Surgery to have the excess skin removed may or may not be an option. For one thing, it has to be deemed “medically necessary.” For another, I am getting a little tired of surgery at this point.

I am actually more of a slave to my stomach now than I was when I was obese. I have to eat constantly – every 3 hours or so. And everything still needs to be measured, and weighed, and parcelled out. Eating is no longer easy.

And man, do I miss beer.

The Final Verdict

So, considering everything, would I still have the surgery?

Absolutely. I wish I had done it years earlier.

While jogging(!) yesterday, Lor and I were discussing the concept of being in better shape now at 40-ish than at 20-something. In my case, I have never been athletic. I am, quite frankly, in the best physical condition I have ever been in, period. I don’t say “best shape” because, you know, parts of me aren’t great to look at. Aesthetics aside, though, this is certainly the healthiest I have been since developing Epilepsy. By a significant margin.

Bariatric surgery still isn’t a magic pill. It doesn’t change everything for you without effort.

But it certainly gave me the freedom to make (and sustain) changes.

If you are suffering from obesity, and nothing you have tried has worked, consider talking to your loved ones and your doctor about bariatric surgery. It is far from easy. But, in my case, it has allowed me to actually go experience life, rather than sitting on the couch and watching it go by.

And if I can do it, so can you.

Looking Forward To Next Year’s Appointment,

Jeremy