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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Life with Lydia

Recently, I got a Droid phone, which I have been enjoying immensely.  One of the best things is the navigation feature of Google Maps and the associated programs that locate coffee shops, places of interest, etc. near where you are travelling.  Last month we put it through its paces on a road trip down to Virginia, and really enjoyed it, so much so that we felt moved to name the calm, female voice of the program, and the name we decided on was Lydia.

Lydia is a near perfect companion.  She is never ruffled, never loses her temper, and is immediately responsive to changes in the route.  Unlike some GPS units we've experienced, she is very willing to follow your lead if you ignore one of her instructions and come up with the route you had in mind rather than the one she had worked out for you.  Without losing a beat, she tells you the next thing to do along the path you've chosen. 

Yesterday, I persistently ignored her instructions on the way to the house of a friend.  I basically knew how to get there, except for exactly where on the street my friend's house was located.  For once, Lydia's chosen route made no sense to me, so I went my normal way, and at every turn, she very calmly gave me the next instruction to get to her route, which was parallel to the one I was taking, until at last she gave up and went with the flow.  But at no time did she raise her voice or admonish me for not sticking to the plan.

It occurred to me, as this was happening, that what I was experiencing in my relationship with Lydia was a useful life lesson.  I am a planner, in general, and specifically at this moment in my life I am focusing a lot of energy into planning:  my time, my food, my activities.  Only it seems as though every time I decide on something, be it an activity or a schedule or the next food to add, something happens to get in my way and make that decision impossible to follow.  Unfortunately, I don't have Lydia's equanimity and I sometimes do give myself a hard time when thwarted by circumstance.  I would be much better off if I could do as she does and just quickly re-evaluate my situation and adapt to the new route.

I look forward to spending more time with this delightful guide and learning from her worthy example.

A hui hou.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Yesterday, as part of my plan to get back into regular physical activity, I went to my health club for the first time in well over a year.  They have a really nice lap pool, and I determined that I need to be swimming right now.  I figured that as a start, I just try to swim as many lengths as I could, since I've had trouble getting into the Zen of swimming of late, and see if I could find some joy in it.  I figured I'd do maybe twice up and back.  Instead, I did 10 lengths and felt pretty good -- a lot of stretching helped, and I didn't push to swim without stopping, and I believe I did find some meditative joy.

That was the good part of the experience.  The rest of it was incredibly difficult and led to my feeling as though as hard as I am trying to take better care of myself and do the things that are right for my body and spirit, the world right now is a very difficult place to be.

First, there was parking on the sixth floor of the garage and walking down six flights of stairs, which I did because the elevator was all the way on the other side of the garage and is kind of slow.  Then, there was the fact that though my Reefs had just about fit my very wide foot when I arrived at the pool, somehow during the swim my right foot had swollen and wouldn't fit all the way in, so my heel was hanging out at the back.  This made walking kind of awkward, but the real problem was in the shower -- I keep my shoes on there as the mats etc. that they use for drainage hurt my feet -- they don't hurt normal weight people, but my body pressed the soles down into the bumps more.  And balancing on the edge of one shoe while trying to shower was not fun.  In fact, it felt like a core workout!

Then there is getting dressed.  I hate getting dressed in locker rooms, not so much out of modesty, but because it's hard to get dry.  And my Green Mountain buddies will know what I mean when I say that trying to insert one's damp body into a sports bra requires contortions fit for Barnum and Bailey.  My arms are short and my torso is wide, so I can't reach back very far.  Oy.

And then, when I got to the elevator, already exhausted, I discovered that the one up to the sixth floor was out of order, so I would have to go to five and walk up the rest of the way.  This felt like the last straw.

I try to keep a positive attitude in life.  And I try not to feel as though the universe is out to get me, since most of the time I feel that it treats me with incredible care and generosity.  But yesterday, all I felt was that it was trying -- trying my patience, trying my good attitude, and trying to make it harder for me to do what I need to do.  I felt like crying.

But I dragged myself up the stairs between 5 and 6 and dragged myself home, where Carol and I brainstormed about how I could alleviate some of the obstacles I had encountered. 

Today is another day, and I will try again.

A hui hou.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Best-Laid Plans

I have always been a planner.  Maybe I learned it from my father, who carefully planned our family road trips and taught me to be his navigator and expense-recorder; I know I grew up enjoying my own road trips twice, first in the planning and then in the doing.  I don't think I'm rigid about sticking to my plans, most of the time, and one of the things I love, especially when traveling, is deciding in the moment to take a side trip to see something that sounds interesting or drive to the end of a road just to see where it goes.

Unfortunately, this open and adventurous attitude has often seemed to fly out the window when I contemplate anything having to do with self-care.  Somehow, I feel that unless I make some very detailed plan for myself, I'm not in control and destined to failure.  Whether in the realm of exercise or food, having a set plan and following it has always seemed like the secret of success, and if I can't get it together to plan my meals or follow the schedule I've set for myself, I am a loser and not worthy of taking care of.

Needless to say, this is not an attitude that has helped me much in my recent struggles to get healthy and fit.  I am the Queen of Impossible Expectations, or at least I have been, and every time I don't manage to stick to the program, I've landed in a slough of despond.

Fortunately, I think that all the thinking about and practicing with mindfulness that I've been doing has started to bear fruit, and I use that metaphor deliberately.

Last Friday, the third opportunity I had to add a new food to my current restricted fare, I had planned to have broccoli, as I was sorely feeling the want of variety among my vegetable choices.  I went to the grocery store, fully intending to purchase said broccoli, and looking forward to steaming it for dinner that evening.  But when I stepped through the doors of my local Whole Foods Market, there, in rosy, succulent glory, was a mound of gorgeous apricots.  Apricots were also on my Phase 2 list, but I didn't feel in a rush to add them because I felt perfectly fine in the fruit department.  But as I stood, riveted by their sensuous beauty, I thought how the apricot season is so short, and I immediately jettisoned the broccoli.  That evening, I enjoyed my steamed cauliflower and had three tiny, perfect apricots for dessert.  And I felt just fine about having to redo my entire plan.

A hui hou.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Craving Cucumbers

The yogurt I added on Monday caused no ripples in my well-being, so this morning I stand on the brink of adding cucumbers and am contemplating what it means to crave a simple vegetable.

In physical/taste-bud terms, it means that I am longing for the slightly bitter, slightly sweet, crunchy, juicy properties of cold cucumber slices or spears, a welcome relief from the sweetness of red peppers.  Unfortunately, I don't particularly enjoy raw celery, except in tuna salad, and green pepper goes too far over the bitter line.  Cucumbers are just right, the perfect foil (and conveyor) for smoked salmon or cheese or (be still my heart!) the hummus I plan to make next week when I've added chickpeas, sesame and garlic.

I've learned, these past two weeks, that I do crave variety in my foods, particularly at dinner.  Though I'm perfectly happy having the same exact breakfast six days out of seven, and fairly content to have the same thing for lunch for quite a few days in a row, when my dinners get monotonous I start feeling as though food has become simple fuel and not the pleasure it often is.  And without that source of pleasure in my life, I feel like I'm living behind a scrim, with everything looking dulled and washed out.  I'm speculating that this feeling comes up in relation to dinner more than the other meals because those other meals, functionally, are much more about fueling the activities of my day.  Dinner is the transition time to leisure, whatever that means to someone who's self-employed and self-driven.  Dinner is a moment to pause and appreciate life, so much more than a simple pit-stop.

As important as that insight feels, it isn't the most important thing I've learned from my cucumber cravings.  "Cravings" is a loaded word -- so often we tend to look at the things we most yearn for in a negative light.  "Craving attention" is generally a pejorative description of someone, and "food cravings" most often pop up in discussions of how to eliminate, ignore or otherwise get the better of them. 

In truth, cravings can be a positive tool, a way of hearing directly from your body what it needs.  Though I have had my share of the less than helpful kind of food cravings, the ones that stand out in my mind are the times I've craved healthy things, like the time I was on the Atkins diet, when even carbs from low-calorie vegetables were verboten, and I found myself rooted to the floor in front of a pyramid of succulent Brussels sprouts in a sensuous reverie imagining how their sweetness and slight bitterness would contrast with the tang of mustard-mayonnaise.  More recently, during my travels this summer, I realized I was absolutely longing for a salad one evening and realized that the previous three days had brought me nothing but sandwiches and fried food, with nary a vegetable in sight.  And now, with my vegetables severely limited during these early weeks, I long for the variety of tastes and textures and colors they add.

I've also recognized that sometimes cravings can come from your spirit and tell you just as clearly what you need to nourish your soul.  The other morning I was writing an email to my sister in which I was describing my longing just to sit somewhere for a while with no demands, when I suddenly realized I could satisfy that longing by beginning again to meditate regularly.  At other moments I have craved sleep with an urgency that made me feel as though I would die if I didn't immediately lie down.  And with increasing frequency, I find myself yearning to be out on my bike or in the pool, moving.

With cravings representing such primal wisdom, why do they have such a bad reputation?  Perhaps because so many of us are oblivious to anything but the most obvious cues and don't pay attention until it's almost too late for satisfying those needs to do any good.  But more likely it has to do with the fact that most of us don't seem to feel that we deserve to satisfy ourselves, to nurture ourselves and give ourselves what we truly need.

I'll be thinking more about this as I enjoy my cucumbers at lunch.

A hui hou.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Freedom in Restriction

For the past two weeks, I have been following the first phase of something called the LEAP protocol, which is basically an elimination diet based on elaborate food sensitivity testing. That testing was done as part of my functional medicine evaluation.  In phase one, you basically eat the 12-15 foods to which you produce the least antigens while your body gets rid of those that have been produced by the foods in your normal diet to which you do react.  In phase two you add the next least reactive foods back, one at a time, and so on for five phases, during which you monitor for bad reactions.  When you are done with that, you've basically added back all the foods that tested in the "green" or low reactivity zone.  After that you can experiment with adding untested foods, in the hopes that after 4-6 months, possibly longer, you might even be able to try again some of the foods to which you did react.

The underlying idea is that by removing foods to which your body has developed a sensitivity, you rest your system and let it heal.  Ironically, the LEAP material explains that people often find that the foods they crave are precisely the ones that cause the strongest antigen production in their systems.  My pre-catharsis cravings had been for popcorn, and sure enough, corn was one of the things I tested highest for within the "yellow" or moderately reactive zone.

Back in May, when I blogged about my evaluation, I wrote about the "specter of deprivation" and how it made me feel to contemplate possibly giving up some of my favorite foods.  This was well before my major emotional catharsis, and it was not easy, at that point, to face that specter.  Still, I figured that maybe it would be okay, since I would be giving up only those things that were scientifically proven to cause me unpleasantness.

In fact, I've spent the last two weeks not dodging shadows but basking in the sunshine.

Fortunately, I had only four items in the "red" zone -- goat's milk, raspberries, lima beans and sorbic acid.  While I love raspberries and chevre, I often go months without eating them, so that was all fine.  Some of my very favorite foods were, however, in the "yellow" zone.  In addition to corn, I also react to wheat and cheddar cheese.  Not so good.  But surprisingly, when I sat down with the detailed outline of what to eat when, I found myself focusing on all the really good things I could have at any given point.  Amazing!  And I was lucky that some of my very favorite foods were also the lowest in antigen production.  Imagine the hardship of being told to eat mangoes and cherries, or salmon.

I am working with a dietitian who is certified in the LEAP protocol, who changed things around to make better sense of the choices nutritionally (in cases where two items were equally non-reactive, they had been assigned to phases in alphabetical order rather than according to any more sensible reason) and ensure that I got enough variety to make the first phase livable.  Here is the entire list of acceptable ingredients on which I have been living for the last two weeks:

Protein:  salmon, lentils, American cheese (preservative free), Mozarella
Starches:  potatoes, rice, quinoa
Fruits:  mangoes, cherries, bananas, pineapple
Vegetables:  celery, bell peppers, cauliflower
Nuts/oils:  almond, cashew
Flavor enhancers:  basil, honey

That's it.  18 ingredients, from which I have had to construct an entire bill of fare.

Back in the poetry-writing days of my youth, when everyone around me was wandering through the Iowa corn fields and emoting in free verse, I was writing sonnets, sestinas and villanelles.  I found that my creativity thrived on the constraints of these intricate forms.  I've found myself thinking often of those days during the past two weeks, and experiencing again the absolute exhilaration of coming up with something interesting and exciting in spite (or because) of the imposed limitations.  And I've learned a lot in the process.

If I hadn't been barred from eating bread, would I ever have discovered how much I really love rice crackers?  Had tomatoes not been taken off the table, would I ever have realized that sauteed red peppers function, taste-wise, in exactly the same way in a pasta dish?  Less spectacularly, with broccoli, green beans and asparagus out of the picture, would I ever have remembered how delicious simple steamed cauliflower can be?

Sadly, I have not yet experienced the marked improvement in symptoms the protocol is supposed to induce, but my booklet says that the more messed up your system has been, the longer it can take to clean itself out, so I remain hopeful.  And today I added yogurt, entering into phase 2 of this next great adventure.

A hui hou.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Next Stage

To all of you who were following my story, thank you for your support, and my apologies for disappearing from cyberspace for the past two months.  After the enormous catharsis that my previous 4-5 posts represented, I needed to take some time to let it all assimilate and figure out what the next stage of my journey needs to be.  This probably took longer than one might expect because during that entire time, I never spent more than 8 nights in the same bed!  But I'm home to stay for a couple of months now, and ready to begin whatever the next work turns out to be.

During those first weeks, I was continually amazed at the near-total absence of impulses to eat emotionally.  And when I did find myself having thoughts of food when I was tired or frustrated or anxious, it was very easy to talk myself out of them.  Sometimes all I had to do was look at the picture of my mother on my dresser and take a deep breath.  This transformation of my inner dialogue has felt almost magical, though in fact it's the result of five years of concentrated work. 

Unfortunately, changing the inner dialogue is not the only thing necessary to achieving better health.  I still have to deal with making my health a priority in all the ways that require attention, and that continues to be a challenge.  On the up side:  the thyroid supplements have really improved my energy levels and taken away a low-level depression that I hadn't even been aware of until it stopped, and at my recent physical, all the numbers that had been indicating imminent breakdown of my metabolism have retreated into the safety zone.  On the down side:  I've embarked on the elimination diet protocol recommended by the functional medical practitioner I saw, which involved stopping all the supplements I had been taking, and my gut is not happy.  I'm still trying to figure out what to do about that. 

The good news is that even after two weeks of being confined to only a dozen or so foods, I'm still eating mindfully and not feeling particularly deprived.  This says a lot, to me, of the power of clearing out the emotional debris and unwanted baggage from the closet of my psyche.  I was also very pleased that the physician's assistant who is my primary care provider and has been working with me since before I started this journey, was really pleased that I had done that work and recognized its ultimate value, even if I haven't lost actual weight.  She said she sees people who are following various weight management programs, including the one they run at my HMO, cycle and recycle through her office, and through dozens of pounds, because they are losing only weight, and not dealing with the underlying causes.  That was incredibly validating, since her attitude is far from common in the medical profession.

So, here I am, waiting to see what this next stage holds.  As my 59th birthday approaches, I find myself starting to believe that when I land on the brink of 60 next year, I may be in my best shape ever, in all senses of that word.

A hui hou.