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

The Psychology of Obesity

Photo Credit: theearlofgrey via Compfight cc

An awfully pretentious title for early on a Friday, right? But today will be my first visit to a psychiatrist in many years, after a couple of very bad patient/doctor relationships – and telling myself to not worry about the visit today has got me thinking about why it is that a person becomes obese in the first place.

The Background of Obesity

Visit any forum or message board dealing with obesity these days and you will find a few trolls – those individuals who have taken time out of their day to drop in and tell us that we are only “fatties” due to a lack of willpower. If we only had some self-control (as, presumably, these individuals believe they do) we would not suffer from this problem. To them, the condition of obesity is a product of nothing more than laziness. Running into an especially obnoxious troll post can infuriate me for hours afterward – which tells me that something inside that post has resonated with me. Apparently, I believe at least in part that if I had just tried a little harder over the past 20+ years, I would not be obese.

And here lies the problem with obesity, in a nutshell. The vast majority of us thinks that we alone are responsible for our condition. But, other than being fat, where is the evidence? The majority of us go to work, we raise families, we practice religious devotions, we do chores around the house – we do a hundred things a day that prove that we are not lazy – and yet we accept that the state of our bodies results from a failure in willpower.

Obesity sits in the same corner with drug addiction, alcoholism, and depression – conditions that a person who has never suffered from will never really understand. These afflictions of the mind are easy to marginalize and make fun of because they are invisible to the naked eye. A person on crutches wearing a cast is accepted as having a broken leg. But, in our culture, obesity is not accepted as a sign of a broken mind.

Rejection by Society

A few years back, Lor and I stopped by a local gym to check into monthly rates, thinking maybe we could get this thing moving on our own. The young and heavily muscled twerp behind the counter took one look at the two of us and suggested that maybe this wasn’t the gym for us. We couldn’t afford it anyway, so I just let it go. But I guarantee you that I went home and ate something afterward. “Healthy” society had just rejected me and made me feel bad. So, I went home and ate, which made me feel good.

Now, which activity do you think I return to most often? It is called a conditioned response – your mind drives you towards those things that feel good. The mind associates things which are good for itself (eating, sexual response) with pleasure, and things which are not good (being cast out of a social group, hitting oneself with a hammer) with pain. This is Mother Nature at work here, trying to secure the continued survival of a species. What Mother Nature did not count on is that we’ve now developed a cycle:

  • There are so many things to eat which cause pleasure.
  • Overeating develops obesity.
  • Obesity causes rejection by social groups, which is painful.
  • One retreats from the pain of rejection, by embracing the pleasure of eating.
  • Back to step one.

This is, of course, a vast over-simplification – and I am no psychiatrist. But the logic is clear: why would I endure rejection and exercise (which is initially painful as well) when I could instead feel good by eating? Eating is a short-term pleasure, of course, but there is always another Quarter Pounder or Snickers bar just around the corner. I am not only eating things which are bad for me, then – I am also eating them more often.

See where this is heading?

The Final Rationale (Rationalization?)

I am not looking forward to bariatric surgery because the smaller stomach size will force me to eat less. I am looking forward to bariatric surgery because I will finally have the chance to look for “pleasure centers” that do not revolve around food. Weight loss will allow me to finally seek endorphin-releasing exercise. It will enable me to live a life where I am not constantly in pain. It will enable me to have a normal sex life. And, yes, it will enable me to interact with other people without the prejudice against obese people working against me. I am willing to have the majority of one of my internal organs removed and THEN go through all the normal work of weight loss, just to reset my association with food as the sole source of pleasure in my life.

It may seem unfair, but there it is. I have to live in the world as it is, not as I wish it to be.  I can only hope that my psychiatrist today agrees with me, and does not instead want to turn me into a multiple-year case study or something. Wish me luck!

Still Looking For Endorphins That Don’t Make Me Fat,

– Hawkwind