Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Quantity vs. Quality

Carol and I just spent that weekend at a conference which took place at the Penninsula Hotel in Chicago, which is supposedly the best hotel in the United States.  I can believe that.  The rooms were extremely comfortable, the bathroom was the size of many New York City apartments, and the staff were beyond attentive.  Since we were attending a very tightly scheduled conference, we had the opportunity to eat all our meals at the hotel, and the food was exquisite, very good quality ingredients beautifully prepared and presented. Then yesterday we drove to the northern suburbs to go out to dinner with my sister, brother-in-law and niece.  We had a very pleasant and tasty dinner at Uno's Chicago Grill.

This was a very interesting and informative juxtaposition.  The meals at the Penninsula were, well, small.  All the portions were pretty much exactly the sizes we are served at Green Mountain, what dietitians would call "normal."  In contrast, the portions at Uno's were gargantuan, what the American public might call "normal."  The one good thing about the Uno's menu is that it offers three "mini dessert" choices that are actually the size of a "normal" dessert rather than the feast for three size of most chain restaurant finales.

This got me thinking.  I enjoyed all the meals at both places, and I mindfully removed more than half of my entree to a take-out box for my niece to take home before I dug in, so I probably had something close to the same amount of food.  But for complexity and subtlety of flavor, Uno's wasn't even close to being able to compete with the Penninsula's fare.

Have restaurant portions increased because the quality of the ingredients and the ability of the culinary staff to cook them properly have declined?  As economic considerations and mass production values have affected the hospitality industry, did those on the tiers beneath the very top have to make up in quantity what they are not able to provide in quality?  It would seem so.

And that leads to an even more important question for those of us on the quest for improved health.  Do we, as eaters, make up in quantity for a lack of quality in our food choices?  I know from my own experience that if I'm eating really good ice cream, I can be happy with much, much less than if I eat store-brand ice milk.  In fact, paying attention to the quality of food so that one can feel satisfied is an essential principle of mindful eating.  But is it as true for beef tenderloin (our dinner Saturday night) as it is for ice cream or chocolate?  Or for fruit or vegetables?  Again, I think so.

Good things coming in small packages seems to be a very relevant truism.

A hui hou.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Week of Limbo

This has been a strange, interesting and frustrating week.  Coming home from Green Mountain always feels a little strange and challenging, and this time was no exception.  In addition to still dealing with a hacking cough and accompanying low energy level, I spent the week dealing with getting all the tests arranged and samples taken for my functional medicine evaluation, seeing my grandchildren, fleetingly, and getting ready for a 10-day trip to the midwest, which will be starting in about an hour.  To say that I actually unpacked would be extremely kind; it was more like flinging the contents of the suitcase around the room in order to make room for the new contents.  I'm not proud of it, but it was the best I could manage in my current physical state.

It's taxing, trying to stay in the moment without judgment.  I'm sure that if I were truly mindful, being in the moment would be calming and peaceful; instead, it often feels like I'm rushing haphazardly from moment to moment.  I'm not sure that's an improvement over my non-mindful state, except that I do believe the anxiety is less with the judging voice somewhat muted.

Food took a definite back seat this week.  Since we would be home for less than a week before leaving for 10 days and had at least 2 dinner engagements, it didn't seem worth the effort and expense of doing a major shopping, so the choices at hand were severely limited.  I'm not proud of that either, but it was the best I could manage in my current physical state.  Ditto exercise, or lack thereof.  I did do some walking, but each time ended in paroxysms of coughing.  I hold out some hope that I'll be able to swim in the hotel pools, and I packed my spry tube.  If I can do something physical even once, I'll feel like I'm back on my way.

So, off I go.  Wish me luck.

A hui hou.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Specter of Deprivation

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon going to an appointment with a wonderful doctor who specializes in functional medicine and works with participants from Green Mountain at Fox Run when the folks here think it would be appropriate.  Last week I went to a class here about functional medicine and how it might help us in our quest to become fit and healthy, and something about what I learned resonated.  Specifically, one of the points presented was that this approach, which deals with systemic imbalances in gut flora and hormones can explain difficulty losing weight and eating in a way that feels like emotional eating but can't be associated with any specific emotion.  I figured that I've been working so hard on this process for the past four and a half years that I really owed it to myself to check out this possibility, especially since it feels as though my immune system is currently teetering on some brink.

It was a very interesting, informative, and possibly overwhelming visit; I find that despite feeling at the time that I understood everything I was being told, now, a day later, a lot of it seems to have flown out of my head.  When I get back home, I have to have a bunch of blood tests done and collect spit and stool samples to send in and get some blood drawn to send off for food sensitivity testing.  All of those tests should give the doctor a better sense of what's going on in my digestive tract and with my insulin, thyroid and cortisol hormones as well as helping her figure out what to do next.

The functional medicine approach, at least as my doctor explained it, involves the 4 Rs:

Removing from my digestive system any toxins, bacteria or other bad stuff that might be causing problems

Replacing anything digestive requirements missing or present in less than optimal levels , through supplementation

Reinoculation with good bacteria, by taking probiotic supplements

Repairing the damage and imbalances in the digestive system by eating healthy foods and avoiding those to which I might be sensitive.

Of course, after my years of working very hard to get out from under the specter of deprivation, the idea of needing to restrict my food choices, even for reasons of promoting good health, made me a little anxious.  That anxiety blossomed into full-blown dismay when the doctor told me that her preferred clinical tool for assessing food sensitivity is having patients follow an elimination diet, which involves a few weeks eating from a fairly limited list of food groups and then gradually reintroducing them one at a time to assess any reactions.  This is where the advantage of working with someone who knows the Green Mountain program becomes very clear.  I told her of my concern about undoing the progress I had made in eliminating deprivation as a motivator to non-hunger eating, and we agreed that I would do the food sensitivity testing instead.

As if to prove my point, when I stopped for gas on my way back to Green Mountain, I felt the junk food calling to me from the attached convenience store, and it was immediately clear that that was because of my fear of feeling deprived during this whole process.  So I told myself  to get a grip, since I wasn't going to be doing random deprivation but rather only avoiding things proven to have an ill effect on my health. After the test results are in, I'll have to work with a dietician to add foods back gradually based on my degree of reactivity, but at least I won't have to give up anything that doesn't seem to be a problem.  I seem to be able bear restriction if it has a direct effect on how I feel physically.  The hope is that if I can give my GI system time to heal and reset itself, I may be able to reintroduce some of those foods to which I had developed a sensitivity.

This feels like a new adventure, and it's a little scary, but something about it feels right as well.  This just makes sense to me.  Call it a "gut feeling." 

I'll let you know how it goes.

A hui hou.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dancing for Joy

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Vermont, and I drove down to Brattleboro to have lunch with friends.  I arrived at the restaurant quite early and got too hot listening to the radio in the car, so I found a shady step to sit on and commenced enjoying the surroundings.  Almost immediately I noticed a little green wormy bug flying down, probably from the tree I was sitting under, on an invisible thread.  I watched it blowing back and forth in the wind for a while, until it finally landed on the pavement.  To my delight, it started doing a very rhythmic dance that looked quite a bit like some of the moves from Friday's Zumba class, dipping first in one direction and then the other.  It was amazing to watch, and to my anthropomorphic eyes it seemed as though that little bug was having a wonderful time.

I know that creatures on the lower tiers of the biological ladder usually have some survival or reproductive reason for everything they do, but I didn't see it eating anything, and there were no other little green worms around to be impressed by my little guy's prowess.  I couldn't think of a single reason why it would be dancing except that it felt good.

This observation naturally started me thinking about how here at Green Mountain we are learning that what works best is to find physical activities that give us pleasure, that we want to do, and to enjoy moving our bodies more, as they were designed to move.  And that got me remembering a dance center in Cambridge in the early 80s that was called the Joy of Movement Center.  Apart from biking, there is no more joyous activity, for me and many others, than dancing.  Any kind of dancing.  Moving rhythmically in response to music seems to be a basic human drive.  This little worm was telling me, or so I thought, that maybe that impulse went beyond humans.  When humpback whales leap out of the water or slap their pectoral fins or tails, it looks to humans as though they are playing, and in fact, nobody has been able to figure out any more scientific reason for those behaviors.

During this past week, as I've been getting back to strength training and becoming generally more active, I've also become much more mindful of my body and how it feels in any given moment.  Mindfulness is a key aspect of the program here, in all the spheres:  eating behavior, physical activity, and all the psychological elements we deal with.  I think I now understand more than before how being mindful of how I feel, even when that involves noticing aches and pains, is actually a powerful way of living in the moment and being/accepting who I am.  I welcome that insight, and I think it will help me as I move forward.

I was feeling pretty happy about all these thoughts, as I sat there in the comfortable shade waiting for my friends, when I noticed that my little green friend was no longer on the pavement.  I looked around and saw the worm back in the air, flying again on its invisible thread.  It tried to land a few times, but never found a place to settle, until it finally came to rest and again began its interesting dance.  As I watched, I suddenly realized that it was probably trying to get free of the thread so it could go off and conduct worm business.  The dance that I had been interpreting as an expression of joy was also a technique for bursting out of bondage.

And I thought, yes, that's exactly what we are doing, too.

A hui hou.