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, April 18, 2011


I've been thinking a lot lately about transitions, probably because my life seems to be fraught with them right now.  For a start, there was the shift from Hawaiian Standard Time to Eastern Daylight Time, which has been brutal.  But that's not the only one; it seems as though every other area of my life, except my family, is currently in a state of flux.

In the work realm, KlezKamp is moving from Living Traditions, Inc. to the Mayrent Insittute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  My other major professional involvement, as a board member of the Mohala Hou Foundation, is also changing, as we take over the administration of Aloha Music Camp in the aftermath of some major personnel upheaval.

In the physical world, diffiicult transitions abound.  Moving from wakefulness to sleep, and from sleep to wakefulness, continues to be difficult for me much of the time.  And lately, the transition from lying down or sitting to standing has been painful as well.  There is also the sometimes elusive transition between hunger and fullness to deal with.

Psychically, things are no better -- I continue to struggle with the transition between the hope I have of accomplishment on any given day to the reality of what I am able to do.

Transitions are difficult. Energetically, the law of inertia applies:  it is way easier to keep doing what we have always done than to do something different.  Specifically, I seem to need to know where I am and what I am about in order to feel comfortable in the world, and clearly, that is not always possible.  Learning to tolerate the ambiguity of flux has been one of the challenges I've been working on as part of my journey towards health and inner peace.

Tonight Passover begins, and at the first seder we sing a hauntingly beautiful song called Karev Yom,which is about the coming of a day which is neither day nor night.  I've always loved that song, partly because it is so beautiful, partly because you only get to sing it one night in the whole year, and partly because the imagery is as haunting as the melody.  But even beyond the beauty and mystery of the lyric is the psychological rightness of the metaphor.  At this hour on this day, our kitchens are turned over from every day to Passover use; the khometz (products made with the five prohibited grains: wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt) has been either thrown out or segregated for our last non-Passover breakfast, and the special passover foods are waiting for the holiday to begin.  We are in the moment which is neither Passover nor not-Passover.

The discomfort of such a moment is both practical and spiritual.  In practical terms, there is the huge question of what do we eat for breakfast and lunch.  Traditionally, since khometz is allowed until 10am, we always leave out one non-Passover place-setting to be washed and packed away after a normal breakfast, whatever that might be. It is also traditional not to eat matzo until the seder, so we have usually lunched on a bit of chicken from the soup I make for the seder, maybe with some kosher for Passover potato chips and carrots, washed down with a side of Dr. Brown's black cherry soda.  But spiritually, it is not a comfortable day, and that is not only or even primarily due to the pre-seder frenzy.  The sigh of relief and peace that for me always accompanies the moment we sit down at our seder table is partly because all the work is done but also, I think, because at that moment I once again know where I am and what I am about.

May all of us, whatever we celebrate, find those moments of certainty and learn to live more comfortably with the times of transition.

I wish all my Jewish friends and family a zisn, koshern pesakh (a sweet, kosher Passover).

A hui hou.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ghrelin and Leptin and Sleep, Oh My!

One of the most interesting classes I have taken at Green Mountain at Fox Run was one that discussed the "hunger hormones" and how they intereact with insulin and what we eat to regulate hunger, satiety and, ultimately, body weight.  I had naturally heard a great deal about insulin over the years, with the threat of diabetes always hovering in my background, but leptin and ghrelin, the two primary hormones that govern hunger and satiety, were totally new to me. 

Basically,ghrelin is produced in the stomach and tells the brain that more food is needed, while leptin, which is produced in fat cells, sends the signal that we are full and all is well.  When you have too many fat cells, you have too much leptin, which seems to make the receptors insensitive to the signal to stop eating, especially if you have too much insulin floating around and the whole system gets out of balance.  (Apologies for gross oversimplification!)

The simplest and most obvious way to regulate this important hormone system is by making sure to eat regularly and include a good balance of foods, especially fiber, fat and protein, at every meal. But quite a lot of recent research has suggested that getting adequate sleep is a huge factor in maintaining hormonal equilibrium.  This may be the mechanism by which sleep disorders contribute to obesity.

This week, I experienced strong anecdotal evidence in support of that theory.

A couple of months ago, I started feeling as though the quality of my sleep was getting worse; I was feeling tired again despite spending adequate hours in bed, and felt sluggish and sleepy throughout the day.  I wondered whether my CPAP mask was leaking, but I didn't notice anything, at least when I was awake and checking.  Yet I had a feeling that the seal of the nasal pillows in my nostrils wasn't as good as it had been and suspected that that might be the source of the problem.  I tried using the second set of slightly larger nasal pillows that had come with my mask, and that seemed to help with the sleepiness, but they were too big for my face and I was waking up with a very sore nose.  So I contacted my sleep center and asked them to send me a new set of nasal pillows (evidently insurance will pay for a new one every three months, even though my respiratory therapist had assured me that every six months should be fine).

The new mask arrived on Friday, and when I went to swap out the old parts, I noticed that indeed, the slightest pressure against the side of the nasal pillows pushed it out of the tubing, thus creating a huge leak.  This was actually very exciting to me, as it gave me evidence that I hadn't been imagining the change in sleep status and offered the promise of good sleep again. And for the past three nights I have indeed enjoyed much better sleep, waking earlier and feeling ready to get moving right away.

One of the other problems I've been experiencing this winter has been an evident inability to eat mindfully.  While I have managed very well at continuing to eat only those foods that sit well with my body, I've been unable to stop eating, most of the time, at the moment when I first feel satisfied, which is usually also the moment when the food stops actually tasting good.  I thought I was just facing another instance of a previously established "corner of the blanket" flapping up as another was dealt with, and wondered what was going on.  Was it emotional eating?  Was I stuffing down some other deep-seated emotional morass?  It was perplexing.

Then, on Saturday, I noticed that I didn't eat everything on my dinner plate, for the first time in a very long time.  I thought that was strange, but figured maybe the additional meditating I was doing was having a calming effect.  Sunday, the same thing happened, twice.  Moreover, when I couldn't fall asleep that night (due to physical discomfort), I felt hunger, ate a small snack, and then stopped eating, which is exactly what I had not been able to do during the previous couple of months.

Suddenly, a light bulb went off -- surely it was no coincidence that the return of my ability to respond to internal signals about hunger and fullness came at exactly the same time as the return of undisrupted sleep.

This realization felt huge.  First, it gave me incredibly convincing evidence that I am, in fact, very much in tune with my body and its signals to me.  If I wasn't getting the message to stop eating, that was because it wasn't being sent.  Second, it meant that my difficulty with eating was not due to some sort of moral failure -- it was simply my body being out of whack.  Once the balance was reestablished, I could (and can) make sensible and healthy choices without even thinking about it. 

If I hadn't been a total believer in CPAP before, I would surely be now. 

A hui hou.