"Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. " Betty Friedan

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Just How Much Sweetness is Too Much?

Here is my post about the changes to my physical health. You notice I am not calling it my "weight loss" post. That's because while my weight loss has been a great perk of me eating better, my diet change was not focused on weight loss so I would "look" better, it was so that I would live longer and more healthfully.

As usual, this will be long (I am me after all), but I think worth writing about since from what I hear, my experience isn't all that uncommon. Which until it happened to me, I had never heard others talk about. In fact, this lack of communication about the very normal processes of aging is one of the main reasons I have started this blog.

It was a year ago this week that my doctor finally told me something that actually scared me into acting. I have had the same primary care physician since I was 27 (remarkable as that is) and she's seen me through both the good and the bad of my health.  And, for the past 10 years, she's been after me about my cholesterol being too high, my weight gradually increasing, and my blood pressure also going up. And, each year, I tell her the same, "I will work on it, exercise more, eat better etc." and of course, had never done it because I was "too busy," in complete denial, or just plain lazy.

So last May, as we were chatting about my lab results, my general health, and especially the dreaded Permanent Pause, she noted, I see your OB/GYN is concerned that your Vitamin D is so low (yeah, apparently that's a thing too), but that's nothing "Did you know that you are pre-diabetic?" Excuse me? I am WHAT?!

She went on to explain that it puts me at higher risk for heart disease as well as diabetes, but, that it is possible to slow down or even stop, its progression naturally, but that she was only going to give me 6 months to show her I was serious this time. As I alternated between anger, denial and finally hitting her with a barrage of questions, she said, "I know you, you like a lot of information, we have a class that will answer all of your questions.It is a pre-diabetes/metabolic syndrome class taught by one of our dietitians and it is free to members." As I was heading out the door, the last thing she said was, "and it wouldn't hurt if you lost a little weight too."

Needless to say, I left her office in a less-than-happy mood, feeling powerless and angry at myself for getting here. But, I did as she suggested and signed up for the class. Which was one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

The bottom line is not going to be a surprise to anyone; there is no magic bullet, no miracle weight loss program or diet, it is as simple as eating what is good for you and avoiding what is bad. I hesitated to just write that I went on a "low-carb" diet because that's too simplified, and just one piece of what I do. It's not just about carbs or sugar or fat, but about everything and at the top of that list is moving more.

I learned that pre-diabetes is a combination of medical conditions that make it more likely for you to get diabetes. And, that I had every single one of these conditions except one: 
  • Increased blood sugars
  • Increased abdominal fat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased LDL cholesterol 
  • Increased triglycerides (surprisingly, this is the only one I didn't have)
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Family history of diabetes
The dietitian went on to tell us that it might seem overwhelming (no kidding) but that if you lose weight, start exercising, and eat a healthy diet, you can decrease your risk for diabetes by 58%. And that if you make these changes now, "you might be able to prevent or delay getting diabetes." She also said that just trying to make one lifestyle change will improve your health so don't think you have to do it all at once.

The Lifestyle Changes she recommended and what I do now (some with my own modifications based on the reality of my life):
  • Exercise - try to get 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) every day and try to add in resistance/weight training 2 days per week. I made a commitment to exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes because I know there's no way I could do it every day, and I do my arm weights at least 3 days a week, because it's easy to just get up from the computer and do them, it forces me to take a break too. And remember, you can break up your exercise into shorter periods, do 15 minutes twice a day if you have to.
  • Lose weight - This one actually seemed easier than all the others after she told us even smaller weight losses like 5 to 10% of your body weight are significant. When I went to the class I was at my heaviest weight ever, and a 5% loss was about 9 pounds, and when I realized that, I stopped feeling so overwhelmed and thought "I can do that." The fact that I have lost 34 pounds would have shocked me then, but I did it in a year, not in 6 months.
  • Eat Healthy - No shock, it is just to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, reduce or eliminate sugars and limit refined sugars and refined starchy foods, reduce or eliminate salt and high sodium foods, reduce or eliminate fried foods and processed meats like bacon, sausage and lunch meats, eat more fish, eat skinless turkey or chicken instead of red meats, eliminate or eat meat sparingly, eating no more than 6 ounces of red meat a week. She basically told us what I think we have all been told, what we all know but for some reason, don't all follow: Avoid foods high in saturated fats and high in sugar, limit alcohol, and starches and add in vegetables (2-3 cups a day), 2-3 fruits a day, Legumes 4-5 times a week (peas, beans, and lentils), whole grains, and small amounts of unsalted seeds and nuts, healthy fats and EXERCISE!
So, that's what I did and how I live now. I have not given up anything, I just eat things that I once considered as daily items, much more infrequently, especially sugar and sweet things, including my beloved chocolate, croissants and sourdough bread. I would say that as someone who had at least one piece of candy every day, my sugar addiction has been the hardest thing to kick and I haven't kicked it completely.

The other thing that has been the biggest help has been My Fitness Pal. Someone else in the class told us about it. It tracks everything, your weight, your goals, your exercise and I have used it faithfully every day, even on vacation since you can use it on your phone, tablet and on your old-fashioned PC. I feel like someone is there with me, that I have to be accountable to and it motivates me. And it helps me know just how much I have eaten, how many carbs, how much sugar so that if I do want to splurge a little I can without making my blood sugar spike.

As everyone can see, I have been successful at the weight loss. But, I am happy to say that my health has also improved, my total cholesterol is now below 200 though my bad cholesterol is still higher than she'd like since I have a hard time giving up my cheese addiction, my blood pressure is good, my blood sugar has gone down two points (while still in the pre-diabetics range, it's going in the right direction), even my heart rate is lower. I have been the same weight now since March (give or take 1-3 pounds) so I think I have found what works for me.

And, I feel better! I have more flexibility and when I stretch I notice I can do exercises that I haven't been able to since I was in my 20s. I would be lying if I didn't say it wasn't nice to be down 3 sizes and at the same weight I was at 25, especially since I have gotten there in a healthy way.

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