Monday, December 12, 2011

NOT the answer...So what is?

First, thanks to the readers who commented on my Uncle Michael post. I'm glad his story resonated with you as it did with me.

So, now on to putting Uncle Michael's words to work. As you will recall, he said he had to calm down or he would die. And I feel the same way.

The best way to start explaining how I'm going about this hugely important task is to use Sally's words as my springboard. This is what she said (and I heartily agree):

"Antidepressants and tranquilizers are NOT the answer! "

Now, I don't want to tell anyone else how to handle their anxiety. Truly, far be it from me! We all have to find our own way, and if pharmacology is right for you, I won't stand in your way.

However, I know myself well enough to realize that taking pills is not something that really works for me. After my first, disastrous hip surgery, I got really, really depressed and with good reason. I started having a lot of trouble eating enough to simply nourish my body. Food was the last thing on my mind, even when my stomach was screaming with hunger. By the time my surgeon had confirmed that something was really wrong and that he was going to perform a revision, my GP had already put me on an anti-depressant. I knew that the best anti-depressant was having confirmation that I wasn't imagining things and that I really needed another surgery, but it was too late. My GP wanted to keep me on the medication until after the second surgery and I complied. What did it get me? Nothing but some extra poundage I really didn't need!

So, when I recently found myself in a deep, thyroid-induced depression, I knew that neither anxiety nor anti-depressant medication was not the answer.

In the past, right here on this blog, I talked about meditation and more specifically, breathing meditation to help keep me on a more even keel in a very stress filled life. But, to be absolutely honest, I didn't do anything.

This time was different.

As you know, I was in a very deep hole. I had a serious falling out with my work associates and left our group. My reasons, under different circumstances, could have been quite justified. I work in an extremely tense environment. But this has been the only work life I've known for almost twenty-five years and to a great extent, it's just the nature of the beast. You have to have nerves of steel to do what I do, and nerves of steel to deal with the prima donnas who make up a high percentage of people in my profession.

It was being hyperthyroid that took me over the edge, but as I tumbled, I realized that I had a lot of personal, long-standing baggage that made the tumble all the worse. I had to do something more than just take my thyroid medication and mentally paper over the hurt and the anxiety. I was NOT going to go on anti-depressants.

So what have I been doing?

Quite a while ago, I heard about Jon Kabat-Zinn, a well-known practitioner and proponent of "mindfulness" and I finally began to read one of his books on mindfulness, which focuses specifically on people suffering from illness and stress. There's so much and so little to say about mindfulness, being in the moment, not letting yourself be buffeted about by the world around you, ....I really don't know where to start nor what to say, so I'll be brief (after this very long introduction):

Read Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

This book is having a profound effect on me. I'm still quite recognizable, both in body and in spirit, but sometimes it's the little, yet deep changes that make all the difference. I'm keeping these changes for myself. They may mean nothing to you. However, your changes, no matter how small, can have a huge effect on who you are as a human being and how you move through life.

So, if you're looking for something--not something to make you lose weight, or help you burn more calories or rev up your metabolism or tone your abs--something to help you live your life with more calm and personal understanding, and less anxiety, read this book. It may not touch you, but if it does, and you find that it's made a positive change in your life, well, that will make my heart sing.

Read the book!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Uncle Michael's Lesson to Me

My late uncle Michael had very high blood pressure. Dangerously high.

Lest you jump to conclusions, Uncle M. was neither fat nor did he eat junk food. Throughout his life, he was extremely slim. Born in Poland at the turn of the 20th century, junk food did not exist. Even though he lived in Canada from the end of the 1960s to his death in 2006, he never changed his spartan eating habits: he ate no junk food (I don't think he even knew what the term meant) and subsisted on extremely plain, sometime bordering on horribly bland, food.

Uncle Michael did not drive and until he became too weak to walk at the end of his life, he took public transit or walked everywhere.

In many ways, Uncle Michael was a paragon of "healthy living" and indeed, he lived to a venerable age, dying just short of his 93rd birthday.

Yet, Uncle Michael had high blood pressure. Why?

Years before his death, this is what Uncle Michael told me:

"I realized," said he, "that if I didn't calm down, I would die."

Uncle Michael did not live an easy life. He was born in a small village in Poland just before World War 1. There was a great deal of upheaval during his first years of life. In fact, the family almost ended up in Siberia due to the political activities of the oldest son (there were 8 children in the family and Michael was the youngest).

Michael was also severely short-sighted but no one thought to fit him with glasses. He actually had a terrible run-in with a barbed wire fence as a child since he didn't see it early enough to avoid running into it.

A quiet, artistic soul, he nevertheless followed his family's wishes and went to study engineering in France in 1939. He did not speak a word of French, but learned the language through dogged determination and did become an engineer. Of course, his studies were interrupted by the Second World War. As a Jew, he spent the war years travelling around France, sleeping in different rooming houses almost every night and often less than one step ahead of the Gestapo and certain death. He owed his life to several righteous Gentiles he met along the way.

After the war, Michael continued to live and work in France. He thought he had lost his entire family during the Holocaust. My father found him in the late sixties and they were re-united in Canada. Two other sisters (one who had come to Canada, the other in Israel) also survived.

Despite his education and professional qualifications, Michael never managed to find work as an engineer in Canada. He did various things to earn a living and finally went back to his true love, art, in his retirement. He painted, drew and sculpted for many years. He also went back to learning Russian when already in his seventies. In all, he spoke six languages. I always spoke to him in French.

So, in sum, Uncle Michael did not have an easy life. He had good reason to suffer from the anxiety that was no doubt at the root of his high blood pressure. He needed outside help (aka medication) to deal with his blood pressure, but he also realized that he had to work with himself to keep his mind from killing his body. This is the lesson Uncle Michael taught me, although I have only come to realize it all too recently.

Over the past few weeks, I have come to understand the power of the mind-body connection and its relationship to my thyroid issues.

First, please be disabused of the idea that the thyroid is a benign little gland usually blamed for difficulties in losing weight. No! It's a powerhouse and when it goes out of balance (in my case, making me hyper) it can wreak havoc and sometimes kill.

There are a host of symptoms associated with being hyperthyroid (Graves disease) but the one that I did not know about threw my whole life into turmoil: extreme anxiety. Like Uncle Michael and like my older son (who has an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Michael), I have a strong tendency to catastrophize. I think back on things I have done (or not done) and go into paroxysms of regret. I think ahead to potential disasters and fixate on them, whether or not there is any possibility that they may occur and whether or not I have any control over whether they come to pass. Put this aspect of my character together with a thyroid that is hereditarily prone to becoming hyper and you have a recipe for disaster.

In short, I worried my thyroid over the edge, catastrophizing events that had occurred and events that I feared would occur, and then I became psychologically unhinged. All the comments I made on my work and my colleagues were true. It is a difficult environment and many of the people I work with are divas who fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. However, my generally anxious nature, which helped to bring on the relapse of Graves disease and which then fed the flames of the Graves disease to the nth degree led me to the brink of a professional crisis that did not have to happen.

Recently, Uncle Michael's words about calming down suddenly resounded again in my brain.

Yes, I most certainly did need medication (and I'm still on it, BTW). I was physically in a dangerous situation. But I also realized that it was time to go within and confront my anxious mind and my catastrophizing ways. That is what I have started doing.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of the saga!

BIG P.S. I have heard from two readers who can't leave comments on this blog. If this is the case for you too, please leave me a message at ima.canuck at hotmail dot com. I'm looking into the problem.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Understand...Just a Tiny Bit

I'm a lucky woman. No one has ever raised a hand to me. Yes, my feelings have been deeply hurt, and I mean deeply and very recently hurt, but I've never been subjected to physical abuse.

So, when I read about how hard it is for a woman to leave a physically abusive spouse, I sympathize but I don't feel her turmoil in my gut. I've never been there, and thankfully so.

I've been married for almost twenty years and I sincerely hope that we will stay together. It's not that I see something bad coming, but you just never know. I know that divorce can be terribly painful, but I only have an intellectual understanding of this pain.

Well, now I understand--just a tiny, tiny bit more--why people stay in abusive relationships, be they physical or mental.

Yesterday, I was working with two of my former associates. We were hired by a third party, meaning each one of us accepted the contract independently, not knowing with whom we were going to work.

One of the two people in question, although not the person who ultimately made me feel so horrible that I couldn't stay in the group, has been psychologically abusive to me over the years--not every day, but with such ferocity that I find it hard to shake off the effects of things that she has said. She can be this way with everyone, certainly not just me. It's just that, coupled with what my other associate said to me in September, I just don't have the psychological power to shrug off her outbursts anymore. Anyway, I was working with her yesterday. She was very pleasant but understandably somewhat distant. I am no longer part of the gang.

Our work day was demanding, but everything went quite smoothly. Coolly and smoothly. On breaks, in the past we would leave the room to go and chat. This time, I just went and read by myself or surfed on my computer. By the end of the day, I felt quite alone. Not that she had been nasty to me in any way. She treated me like she treats colleagues with whom she has only a professional relationship. No histrionics, no nastiness, but no friendship either.

Did I like the way we sometimes interacted while we were associates in the same group? No. That's why I left (although I could have put up with her mood swings for awhile longer--it was another associate who treated me with such contempt who was the real cause of my departure).

But boy did I feel lonely yesterday. And I understood why people find it hard to leave, even if the situation is abusive.

My drive home took over two hours. I was famished, ate supper and went upstairs to watch TV. I started crying and asked my husband to come upstairs and just stay with me. He watched wrestling and I read a book. He held my hand. I feel better today.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Step One

I just pressed the "send" button for an e-mail addressed the professional group that I helped to found and have been a part of for the past ten years. In it, I announced that I have decided to leave the group.

Financially, this may be a slight hit to my income, but since nature abhors a vacuum, I will now be available to accept work from other sources and I think that it won't make a huge difference. If, on the other hand, I find myself working less, that will be OK too.

I work in a tiny, tiny niche market. There are only about 15 certified professionals in my field in the metropolitan region where I live (population 5.5 million people). This doesn't mean that I've got offers of work coming out of my ears, but over the past 25 years or so, I've done quite well.

Here's the problem: It's a really high-stress job and a lot of the people I work with are--let's use the technical term--nuts. OK, let's be a bit more generous: high strung. Recently, due to the return of my Grave's disease, I have been quite high strung too, but generally speaking, I'm a pleasant colleague to work with. I can't say the same of many of my colleagues--all 15 of them, plus extras who come in when there are not enough bodies here in town to do the work. In the group I was part of, I was (and still am) in constant fear of being verbally attacked by two of my four associates; the third is actually a very nice fellow, but he is on the autism spectrum and can be difficult to communicate with; the fourth associate is actually very normal and I really enjoy working with her.

So I have accomplished step one on my road to a more balanced, sane life: I resigned from the group.

AAAAAHHH. A sigh of relief.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Surgery Postponed

As you know, pre-op tests and my own intuition revealed that my thyroid was once again out of control. The actual diagnosis is Grave's disease. Wikipedia has an informative article on the topic. I was most struck by the psychological effects, which include anxiety and depression. Boy, that explains why I have been feeling really, really anxious and depressed for the past several weeks.

But wait! There's more!

I was incredibly lucky to get an emergency appointment with an endocrinologist yesterday afternoon. After reviewing my test results, she advised me to cancel the surgery. With my thyroid levels being so abnormal, I could have gone into a "thyroid storm" on the operating table, had a stroke and possibly died.

So this cancellation is definitely a cloud with a silver lining.

I have to wait until my thyroid is back to completely normal function. Having been through this before, I suspect it will take from 6 months to a year. Only then can I call my surgeon to reschedule the knee surgery. All in all, it could be about two years before I get a new knee.

But honestly, I much prefer living with a crunchy knee to not living at all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"No fat men here! Isn't that great?"

This Saturday, I worked my last day until...? (Actually, I'll probably take off at least six weeks and January is a slow month, so I won't be really busy until next February.)

I was working at a conference for sports coaches.

The team I was on was made up of myself and two other women. H. is in her sixties. She is quite slender. In fact, having seen one of her wedding photos, I suspect she hasn't gained more than 5 pounds since her wedding day in the 1960s. She does exercise and from time to time loudly trumpets that she is going on a diet, but generally speaking, she seems to just eat what she wants and exercise regularly. C., my second colleague that day, is someone who has energy to spare. At least 2-3 times a year, she hosts huge parties at her home. She loves to travel, go to concerts, cook and generally have a good time. She's someone you could definitely call a "bon vivant". C. goes to the gym (though more in spurts than regularly) and also does yoga and belly dancing. She's always on the go, a real ball of energy. She's also fairly heavy.

The third person on the team was yours truly. You've seen my picture: I'm neither slim nor extremely heavy. I guess you could call me a "small fatty", so short that I wear regular size clothing, but I can look much heavier or much lighter when my weight goes up or down by less than five pounds.

At the morning coffee break, out of the blue, H. said cheerily, "Isn't this conference wonderful? There aren't any fat men!" I looked at her in horror. "Well, they're all into sports, so no one's fat," she went on to explain. I couldn't help myself and called her bluff immediately, noting that there is no direct, immutable link between one's weight and one's level of fitness. She caved in right away, said she was sorry and verbally closed the door on any further discussion.

C. said nothing.

I was pleased that I had the presence of mind to not let her stupid, insulting statement go unchallenged. I was also happy that I won't have to deal with such idiocy for a few months. And I was sad, knowing that there's probably not one other person in H.'s private or professional life who would have called her out on such an ignorant, demeaning comment.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is Comfort?

When your child is sick or scared, you take her in your arms, pat her head and say, "Don't worry. You'll feel better." or "Don't worry, everything will turn out fine." And often that is indeed the case.

But those words of comfort are often actually destructive, especially when spoken to an an adult. When you say, with a cheery upbeat voice, "Oh, don't worry, you'll be fine," you deny the validity of the person's feelings, and indeed imply (though you may not realize it) that he or she is misguided or stupid.

Here's what people in distress might prefer to hear:

"I respect your distress. I respect how you are feeling."

"I hope things will go well. I want to offer you my positive thoughts (and prayers, if that is meaningful to you)."

Of course, we all wish the best for those in distress, but we must be careful that our words don't leave the person feeling invalidated and even more alone and scared.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Crosses to Bear

Although I am Jewish, there's nothing like the expression "we all have our crosses to bear" to describe how everyone has difficulties in life.

In many ways, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate. I was brought up by a handicapped, housebound, divorced mother. My father, may he rest in peace, basically deserted her soon after my birth and she raised me in very difficult financial circumstances.

My life, in many ways, has been the opposite of my mother's. While she was left alone to raise me, I have a wonderful husband who has always stuck by me. "In sickness and in health" is something that he takes very seriously. I am a successful, self-employed professional. I can afford to take off a few months of work to recover from my surgery without worrying about how we will pay the bills. I can drive. Even though I am a firm supporter of public transit (when I take my car in for servicing they practically laugh at the low mileage), driving is an important part of being independent and capable of doing what needs to be done because I--like my mother, my aunt and my aunt's granddaughter--suffer from arthritis.

On Saturday, I was at a high school reunion to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the experimental high school I attended. I was one of the original 160 students who were there the year the school opened its doors. It was an incredible gathering.

One of the people at the party is someone who suffers from a degenerative disease, MS. She is not in great shape and has severe balance issues. The party was held in a spacious private home, but there were lots of people milling about. My two sons were there to help people with their coats, serve wine, pick up dirty dishes, etc. D., the woman with MS, was walking through a crowd of people in the kitchen when she tripped over my older son's foot. It was an accident. She then literally bounced around, trying to regain her balance and ended up, screaming in anger, on the kitchen floor. She was alright, though I suspect she probably acquired a few bruises. The hostess, who is also a friend of hers, rushed to help her get up.

D. was furious at my son. It wasn't his fault, but her anger was palpable.

Much later in the evening, when almost everyone had gone, my friend the hostess remarked that she couldn't understand why D. had been so angry. But I knew why. Even though I don't suffer from the same disease and have a much easier life than D., I too have felt that anger: the anger of not being in control, of having your body control you. She was mad because life just isn't fair.

My physical problems make my life a lot harder than that of many others, but a lot easier than the life of people like D.

We all have our crosses to bear.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The First of Many Thank Yous

Yesterday, I read the comments a few of you made to my post, "When the Going Gets Tough...". I had had a miserable day at work--bad enough that I just want to chuck it all and be much poorer but much less stressed; I got a note from my older son's physics teacher telling me that he's falling behind (nothing new, he's been battling ADD for years and hates medication, so he doesn't take anything); clashed mildly with my husband over the situation with our son; and felt my heart racing uncomfortably (a side-effect of being hyperthyroid).

So when I read your comments, I did what any self-respecting scared, sick person does: I cried. And I write this, I'm crying again.

Thanks--for the first, but certainly not the last time--for your concern and support.

Monday, November 7, 2011

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Blogging

I'm sure my small group of loyal readers has noticed a distinct change in tone and subject on my blog.

When I first began this blog, it focused on what I believed would be my weight loss journey thanks to mindful eating. It was, like many other blogs, a sort of web diary and review of the good, the bad and the ugly issues related to weight loss in my life.

Slowly, I began to take a more critical view of dieting and came to realize that slimness = good health was a faulty, dangerous generalization. My writing became more analytical and references to my own experiences became just that--references to back up general observations and critiques of how society is profoundly obsessed with weight loss and actually cares very little for improved health, despite the health-focused discourse we hear all around us.

Gradually, my blog roll began to reflect my new perspective. Originally, it contained a number of dieting blogs, but it morphed into a list of blogs that promote, in one way or another, a HAES (Health at Every Size) viewpoint, and, to some extent, a fat acceptance viewpoint (this is something that I'd like to talk about one day, but not now).

But life has a way of sneaking up on you and "the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray," as the poet Robert Burns once said.

The more I became interested in physical activity--not as a way to lose weight, but rather as a way to improve my general health--the clearer it became that my body, and specifically my knee, would have none of it.

After I had my first hip replacement, I started a blog called "Total Hip Disaster" to help myself get through the disaster of a hip replacement gone very wrong. It's still floating out in cyberspace at if you feel like taking a glance. It was written for myself and an anonymous audience. I never gave anyone I knew in the real world the URL and no one knew me in cyberspace, so it was a pretty private little story. I just re-read a few entries today and had to laugh when I read a post where I mentioned how my left knee was pretty cranky over the abuse it got while I was recovering twice from surgery. Prescient.

All this to say that New Me's blog will once again take a more personal route. Blogging will be part of my mental preparation for surgery on November 17th and really a way to deal with my worries and fears. If you read "Total Hip Disaster" you'll understand why I am very apprehensive.

I feel that I have made a few cyber-friends in the past two years, so I beg your indulgence and hope you will bear with me as I go on a little personal blogging side trip. There probably won't be much talk of food for awhile--unless I decide to go on a rant regarding how bad hospital food is!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Now It's My Thyroid

Well, the blood test confirmed that my thyroid has gone wonky again. The hospital called and wanted to make sure I got on medication ASAP, but...

My endocrinologist (who I can't stand) has gone MIA. I think she may have married and changed her name (short rant: I will never understand why women change their name when they marry. For crying out loud, we don't belong to our husbands anymore!). In any case, her name is no longer on the list of doctors at the clinic where I used to see her and I didn't have time to leave a message asking if they knew where she'd gone because I won't be home next week to answer the phone and speak to a human being. This is not a time for telephone tag. Maybe it's good news after all that I can't find her.

In the meantime, the internist at the hospital has already called the pharmacy and my prescription is waiting for pick-up tonight. Maybe it's a good thing Dr. F. has disappeared. Now, I'll be able to go to someone who is hopefully easier to deal with. I have to go to my GP's next week ASAP to get a referral to a new endocrinologist.

I guess I'm a nice person with a heavy karmic load. Otherwise, there's no way to explain all this crap.

Herein endeth the "woe is me". I've got things to do before surgery on Nov. 17.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

By The Way...

I've been very busy recently with work, but also I've been preoccupied with my upcoming surgery.

I'll be having a total knee replacement on Nov. 17.

Yesterday, I spent about four hours at the hospital for pre-op meetings with the anesthetist, the pre-op nurse and the internist, in addition to having x-rays and blood tests done. My BP is stellar, but I have a feeling (and the blood test will tell soon enough), that I am a bit hyperthyroid. I've got some mild, but clear symptoms and the internist felt that it was important to check my TSH levels. We'll see. In any case, this won't delay the surgery (at least no one said it would...).

During my talk with the anesthetist (I can't remember exactly what we were discussing at the time), he said something about not worrying about xyz because, and I quote, I'm "thin". Hello! Whatever...But it was rather surprising.

My last experience with joint replacement--my hip in 2003--was more like a nightmare than surgery. I won't go into the details, but it has left me more than a bit skittish about orthopedic interventions. But I'm not going to let this hold me back. As the internist said, it's not going to get better, so I must boldly go where a lot of people have gone before and trust in my surgeon's skill.

I'm not a praying person myself, but please don't feel shy about putting in a good word for me with the higher power of your choice.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Gain Weight

Via Weight Maven:

This is my story and the story of many people I know. Link

Monday, October 17, 2011

Health at Every Size: Further Thoughts and Clarification of My Viewpoint

The response to my last post from Screaming Fat Girl (as well as comments from RDhiker that arrived a few days later) really got me thinking.

SFG writes:

I don't think health is possible at literally every size. At some point, the stress on the body from being very overweight will have an effect on the heart, circulatory system, etc. People who have never lived life over 300 lbs. for any long period of time can't possibly understand the stress it places on the body [...] Most of the FA who are talking about being healthy at large sizes aren't yet 40. Trust me, as someone who has lived most of her adult life over 300 lbs. and topped out near 400, your body will tolerate it a lot better when you're young. You start to develop problems as the years go by. For quality of life, most people could use some help in dealing with their relationship with food (which often results in weight loss). Denying this does nothing for the bodily acceptance movement except make it look willfully ignorant and therefore disingenuous [...]

However, I think we need to stop even addressing health as if it were equally possible at every size. It is not. Sure, you can be fat and healthy, but you can't be healthy at every weight (that includes extreme thinness as well as extreme fatness)[...]

Let me start by saying that I have enormous respect for SFG. She is someone who really thinks about things and certainly takes nothing at face value. She is a courageous person who has made great strides forward in forging a healthier life for herself.

So, to SFG and my readers in general, consider the following thoughts the continuation of a fruitful and respectful dialogue.

First, I'd like to set some parameters:

First parameter: Some of us choose to make "healthy" choices while others don't. I know that SFG and I agree on this point: your quest for health (or lack thereof) is your decision. I'm not here to tell anyone that they must try to be healthier. That attempt is a choice.

Second parameter: I insist on using the words quest, try and attempt because I know that life isn't fair. Our healthy choices are tempered by heredity, the hand we were dealt at birth (or, quite often, in the womb) and the traumas and experiences we have had throughout our lives. My late MIL lived a happy, active life until she dropped dead of a heart attack at 82. She ate lots of junk food, drank copious amounts of coffee and smoked like a chimney. Yes, she may have lived longer had she not smoked, but she far exceeded the average life expectancy of a woman born in 1927 in Canada (61, according to Statistics Canada). My mother, on the other hand, was a model of healthy eating. She spent much of her adult life housebound--severely crippled by arthritis. So yeah, life isn't fair.

Third parameter: My healthy choices are not yours. You may be a vegetarian, or eat a diet heavy in meat and shun most carbs including fresh fruits and some vegetables. You may be a runner who runs without any problems far into old age or you may be a person who is prone to shin splints and should avoid running at all costs. The healthy practices of A might fast-track B into illness.

Now, let's get down to brass tacks:

In my mind, there is a difference between fat acceptance (FA) and Health at Every Size (HAES). I certainly believe in FA in the sense that behaviours such as fat shaming and blaming, prejudice and bias against fat people, the assumption that a fat person is slothful, lacks self-control (in terms of eating and often other areas--witness the often interesting association between fatness and sexual voraciousness) or is less worthy of respect have no place in a civilized world. FA is an attitude, a belief that fat people are...people, neither better nor worse than anyone else. However, FA is not specifically linked to health, be it good or bad.

HAES, on the other hand is a dynamic, on-going process; it results from the choices we make every day, tempered of course by heredity and pure old luck. HAES, to me, means considering oneself at the place (weight) one is today, and saying "what can I do to be healthy or healthier?" Considering that 95% of people CANNOT maintain a significantly lower weight after dieting, I question the worthiness of responding, "just diet".

HAES does not mean ceasing to strive for health. It means that while you are probably never going to be a size 0 you can commit to engaging in a host of practices that CAN help you to be healthier, though not necessarily any or much svelter.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I suspect many of the morbidly obese we so worry about got there by dieting. If they have health concerns, why aren't we working with them to improve their health through gentle movement (acquafit, if your joints are suffering; or starting with just a few minutes of walking and building up to longer periods; or stationary biking--as long as you don't have a knee like mine, lol), or through nutritional counselling? Rather than putting the overweight back in the dieting straight jacket that got them into this fine mess, why aren't they directed towards resources to teach them the fundamentals of mindful eating (if that is helpful--and it certainly is neither helpful nor needed in many cases)?

And while I'm on the topic of mindful eating, allow me a short rant: People are unconvinced of its merits because dieting has ROBBED them of their ability to read their own signals of hunger and satiety. This is the true tragedy of the diet culture: the people who need it most have lost their their ability to read their body's own signals--the signals that enable all living beings to continue to stay alive and healthy.

I also suspect that many morbidly obese people may have reached a physical state of disequilibrium due to years of mental and sometimes physical abuse. They have felt it necessary to develop a protective layer of fat around themselves. Again, dieting is not the solution. In such cases, improving one's physical health and rebuilding a healthy relationship with food require psychological intervention or simply helping the person to physically escape the abusive relationship. The disordered relationship with food is actually a symptom rather than a cause. How can a woman stop gorging herself when gorging is a defence mechanism to prevent abuse and attack or simply a way of forgetting what makes her so unhappy in life?

Those of us who seek to improve our health need to approach this goal by using a variety of approaches rather than resorting to dieting--which has proven itself to be not only usually ineffective (perhaps not in the short term but certainly in the long term) and downright counter-productive in perhaps the majority of cases.

Some people may lose weight through implementing techniques that first and foremost improve their health such as movement, mindful eating, and psychotherapy to get to the root of their disordered eating. And that's fine. However, we know that for the vast majority of people, it is practically impossible to lose weight and in particular maintain a weight loss.

Moreover, though there may indeed be certain correlations between a higher weight and certain health problems, weight loss is not a magic potion that will solve all our health woes. If that were the case, there would be no slim diabetics and my particular knee problem would not be common amongst ballerinas--not the fattest group in the general population (this, according to my surgeon, who has made knees like mine his life's work).

My bottom line is that--if you so desire--you should do your best to achieve the best health possible for you, no matter what weight you are at today.

There is ample proof that weight loss at any cost can be deleterious to both one's mental and one's physical health. There is ample proof that maintaining significant weight loss is impossible for 95% of the population. Furthermore, there is ample proof that taking truly positive steps to improve one's health
do lead to better health outcomes, even if they do not always lead to a significant weight loss. We need to move, to learn to eat relatively normally rather than adopt a binge/restrict pattern and some of us also need to work towards overcoming the psychological reasons for obesity, though this last point certainly does not apply to everyone.

Health at Every Size really is all about health.

Of course, I am far from exhausting the topic of HAES, but I've kept you reading long enough. To be continued...

Addendum: I just read a blog post by a medical doctor whose extremely strict approach to eating leaves no room for compromise. I must admit I continue to be perplexed. Since so few studies have been done on how mindful eating can be used to help binge eaters, we still don't know what can actually be done. I certainly feel unqualified to talk about binge eating since I have never been a binger myself. However, I find it hard to accept that binge eating can only be treated by severely circumscribing one's eating and adhering to what essentially amounts to a straight jacket approach to food. I don't think human beings are made to live in a state of constant restriction. The opposite of severe restriction is severe bingeing. Someone who is in a constant state of severe restriction cannot learn moderation, which I believe is the key to self-regulation, and the restrict/binge cycle cannot be broken. To what extent is binge eating physiological and to what extent is it a learned behaviour? And do the two cross-pollinate each other?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


While 20 or 30 years ago, people (OK, let's be honest, women mostly) dieted because they felt that slim equalled beautiful and sexy, in today's world no one openly admits to dieting for such a shallow reason...even though I suspect that it still remains the REAL reason most people/women diet.

Today, people say they diet because of their health. Many people are convinced that they are on the verge of dropping dead because they have a BMI of 30. Many people will ignore anything good about their health--perfect blood pressure, glucose levels, etc.--if their BMI is over 25. This is the only number that counts for them and they will not consider themselves healthy unless this BMI number is reached, or ideally, until it drops below 25.

For the vast majority of people, slimness (or its proxy, the BMI) and health are synonymous.

Losing your hair due to food restriction and the resulting poor nutrition? That's OK, you're losing weight. Developing osteopenia or worse yet, osteoporosis? That's OK, you're "healthy" because your weight is down. Carrying around fat while losing muscle? That's OK, as long as the scale (which doesn't distinguish between fat and muscle) says you've lost some poundage.

On the other hand, have you become depressed because despite exercising regularly and reasonably, and eating like a healthy human being (in other words, without bingeing or scrupulously restricting calories or the types of food you "allow" yourself) you have lost no weight or just a few measly pounds? Do improved numbers (for instance, blood pressure), more energy, better sleep patterns etc. seem a poor substitute for a size 6? Have you decided to give up these healthy habits because they're not really healthy habits, since you haven't lost weight?

If you are depressed and desperately want to lose weight; if you feel that you are intrinsically unhealthy because you don't wear a size 6, then please stop reading this blog.

I've been blogging for almost two years now and I have slowly come to the realization that my weight and my health are not siamese twins. I now realize that what I do to improve or maintain my health may or may not have an effect on my weight.

My goal is to be as healthy as I can. For me, this means many things:
  • making peace with food; realizing that I do not have to eat a piece of chocolate cake because I know that I won't have the opportunity to eat any for weeks, months or years to come because I will be on a diet; realizing that healthy eating includes a wide variety of foods, and that neither restriction nor gorging lead anywhere good;
  • exercising to the best of my abilities and taking steps to help my body return to better orthopedic health;
  • in other words, practising what Dr. Linda Bacon terms Health at Every Size.
In my opinion, the "war on obesity" has nothing to do with good health. It has a lot to do with blaming and shaming. When you realize the truth in the joke "Q: What's the best way to gain 25 pounds? A: Lose 20.", you begin to see that weight loss hysteria is making our Western world fatter and fatter and encouraging people to engage in behaviours that do much to negatively impact both their physical and their mental health.

I am convinced that if we lived in a world where we lost the emphasis on weight loss and put the emphasis on health gain through normal eating and regular, reasonable exercise, we would still see a variety of body types. There would still be thinner than average people, lots of "average weight" people and heavy people. However, there would be far fewer Victoria Beckhams--in other words, people who starve themselves for "beauty"--or headless fatties, many of whom have dieted themselves up the scale.

Don't get me wrong: there will always be people who eat a lot, sit on their duffs all day and stay slim, just as there are people who eat reasonably and exercise faithfully and still carry a great deal of weight on their bodies (and are stamped with the scarlet "O" for [morbidly] obese). It's due to the amazing beauty of human diversity. Furthermore, there will always be a certain percentage of the population whose heights fall either significantly below or significantly above what is found in the general population. What's worse, there will always be red-heads, and even people with two different eye colours! The horror!

Let it go, people. It's called diversity.

And please put me down as a proponent of Health at Every Size. And that means every size.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Musician and Athlete

This past weekend, I went to a "house concert". A house concert is a real concert, featuring a professional musician, but held in a private home. I only recently found out about these concerts, through a relatively new friend who has known the host ever since she was a teenager. This was my first concert at GA's house.

Before going, I checked on Youtube to get an idea of the featured performer's musical style. I found a number of hits for her and decided to go to the concert. Obviously, Youtube is visual, but I was listening to the music and didn't really pay attention to the musician's physical appearance, especially since her body was in part hidden by her guitar.

Just before the musician came out to begin her first set, the house concert host gave a short introduction. He said that this was the first time that a triathlete was performing in his home, since the performer had recently completed a triathlon for the first time. I think we were all impressed.

A triathlon is a three-sport event made up of swimming, biking and running. There are different distances for each of the sports, depending on one's level. I just looked up the triathlon that the musician I heard on Saturday night competed in. It was a beginner's level and included a 375 m swim, a 10 km bike ride and a 2.5 km run. By tri-athlete standards, this is pretty light, but I know that even before falling prey to arthritis and degenerative back disease, there would have been no way that I could ever have run that 2.5 km. In fact, I am ready to bet my home that the average Jane or Joe in the street--no matter what their weight--could not do this beginner level triathlon without some serious training.

Back to the concert...

So, having just heard that the musician we were about to hear took her physical activity seriously on top of being a great musician, you can imagine my shock when in walked a morbidly obese young woman. Yes, I admit it. I was shocked. Which only goes to show just how brainwashed I too am by a society that insists--day in and day out--constantly and emphatically--with no exception--that fat people CANNOT be athletes and that fat people are by definition unhealthy.

She proceeded to give an amazing concert. Her energy level was through the roof, her voice was strong and vibrant. And she was truly one of the best blues guitarists I've ever heard. BB King move over, you've got some incredible competition out there.

Who is this amazing woman? If you really want to know, you can send me an e-mail and I'll give you her name. She's amazing. However, I'm not giving her name here because I believe it's spectacularly unfair to write a post about a great musician that focuses on her weight rather than on her incredible musicianship. But I just had to: I felt that this was an opportunity to stand up to the bias, stereotypes and ignorance that permeate our world.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Car, the Carpet and the Cat

In the spring of 2009, we finally started a long-desired but major renovation of our home. They say that you should live in a home for awhile before making any major changes and that is essentially what we did--aside from having to renovate one bathroom (not a choice, but an unexpected necessity), redo the roof and change all the upstairs windows within the first six months of moving in.

By 2009, we had already been living in our little midtown semi-detached house for almost nine years and we were ready to make the big leap into the horrors of home renovation.

We knew that cats don't like change and that living in a construction zone would not be good for Miss Bean, so I called our cat babysitter to ask if she would take the Bean for an extended period of time (several months, at least). She agreed to do so, but warned us that for the first week, JB would have to share her home with another kitty guest. Well, JB's stay at the sitter's was over within 24 hours. She probably realized that this cat was also a guest rather than a permanent resident and decided to make his life a living hell. Sandy, the babysitter, was afraid that JB would try to harm the other cat and since that cat was already there, we had to take JB home.

And there she stayed--with us throughout the long and arduous renovation.

First, we were without a kitchen for eight weeks. Then, the contractor took the front of the house down and rebuilt it, incorporating what had been a decrepit, three-season front porch into the actual house. Of course, it being an old house, all kinds of unexpected things came up and the renovation dragged on and on. We never used the fireplace, which had probably been built in the 1970s and jutted like a Star Trek space ship into the living room.We had it removed and therefore had to re-do part of the hardwood floor in our living room/dining room.

At first, Miss Bean took it like a trooper. She really liked the man who laid the kitchen floor with a new eco-friendly linoleum-type product called Marmoleum. She soldiered on through the dust, the walls coming down, the noise and the upset. But by the time we got into the third month of what was to be a six-month renovation, she had had enough. For that matter, so had we, but we were humans and she was Jelly Bean.

We started finding wet spots (i.e. pee) on the paper spread on the living room floor. Litter box use became unpredictable, but there wasn't much we could do.

Finally, the renovation ended and we had to find a new place for her litter box, since the room where it had always been had changed "vocation" and been turned into the breakfast room. Chaos ensued. After fighting a losing battle, JB won and the litter box went into the new, beautiful little sun room at the front of the house. We started calling this several thousand dollar renovation the "litter box room". Obviously, JB was showing us that this renovation had NOT been worth it.

As a result of the renovation, the reorganization of our living room and the changing around and discarding of some furniture, the carpet that had previously graced the living room floor no longer looked good there. We were, of course, pretty well out of money by this time and on top of it all, our 13 year-old car needed replacing.

Enter Abbas, the oriental carpet man.

The two oriental carpets we already had were sorely in need of cleaning so we sent them down the street to Abbas's emporium. I mentioned to him that I really needed a new carpet for the living room, but that I needed to buy a new car even more. Of course, he had a used carpet right there and he suggested we try it out. It fit perfectly...but we still needed a new car even more.

Abbas came up with a solution: he would trade us the carpet for the car. Sheer brilliance!

The new carpet went down on the living room floor, the new car moved into the driveway, the dust settled and we were happy...until we noticed that Jelly Bean was no longer using her box for "number two". She chose the new carpet to do her business and treated it just like a litter box, scratching to prepare the area for her "gift".

Within short order, the beautiful carpet was looking rather frayed in one corner. We rolled it up and took it back to Abbas to have it fixed.

"When you want carpet back?" asked Abbas.

"In about ten years," I replied.

Abbas looked at me as if I were crazy. The carpet was ready a few weeks later. We paid a fortune to have it fixed, took it home and put it in a closet, thinking it would stay there for many years.

But now Jelly Bean is gone and the carpet is back in its rightful place. It looks gorgeous and feels beautiful and soft under my bare feet. The sun room has finally gone back to its true vocation as a chess playing and reading nook. But I still miss crazy Miss Bean.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miss Bean is Gone

Last night around 9:45 p.m., our 9 year-old cat Jelly Bean started crying quite suddenly. In true cat fashion, she hid under our bed and we had to prod her out. As I put her in the cat carrier, I saw that her hind legs seemed heavy and unresponsive.

By 10:30, we were at the emergency veterinary hospital. I drove down with my older son in the back seat beside Miss Bean, trying to calm her down a bit. Her cries were heart breaking.

Vet clinics are the ultimate in private health care. If you've got the money, service is fast and efficient. I plunked down my credit card and the Bean was whisked into triage. By the time I'd come back from parking the car (I'd parked right at the door and left my flashers on so we could run in with her), my son and I were ushered into a small examining room and the vet and a student came in shortly thereafter.

The vet explained that Jelly Bean had a blood clot in her leg. It was probably due to her congenital heart murmur, which had never caused any problems over the years until last night. She then explained the prognosis, which was very, very poor despite the fact that Jelly Bean still had a bit of blood flow to the affected area. We were probably looking at a few weeks or months, with the distinct possibility of further blood clots and terrible pain. As humans, we always hear about clot busting drugs for stroke victims, but this did not seem to be an alternative for our cat.

If Jelly Bean had had a serious but treatable condition, I think we would have gone for the gold, but we were not prepared to spend thousands of dollars to give her a few more weeks of life, possibly in terrible pain. I think she would have needed an around-the-clock caregiver, just in case another clot formed and this too was impossible.

At this point, Jelly Bean had been given a substantial amount of morphine for the pain as well as a sedative since she had become extremely agitated and had actually bitten a technician. So we had to sit and wait until the sedative took effect before we could see her. My son called his brother, who was on the subway heading home from a friend's place. He got off the subway and got on the next train going back south and met us at the hospital just as a technician came in to say that we could see Jelly Bean. She was fairly calm by this point and was lying on a sheepskin-like blanket, wrapped in a towel. Her eyes were wet, probably from the effects of the various medications--but it looked like tears. The three of us patted her and spoke to her quietly. I kissed her head. Then we left.

Jelly Bean was euthanized shortly after midnight this morning, Aug. 31.

Jelly Bean was not an easy cat. She didn't like being held or patted very much, but she liked to stay nearby us, lying at our feet when we went to bed and then going to sleep with one of the boys, if they were still sleeping after my husband and I got up. She would often sit beside us on the couch if we were reading or watching TV.

Yes, it was only an orange tabby house cat who died. There are people dying from violence and starvation around the world as we speak and that's a reality we must fight. But she was our Bean and we're in mourning.

Bye-bye, JB. We loved you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A New Part for NewMe

I have been quite quiet recently due to some health concerns. My back has been quite fragile since February and my 20K+ days of walking in Boston several weeks ago have tipped me over the edge once again into scary territory. I'm doing what I can to control things with the help of my yoga teacher, my naturopath and now a reflexologist. I have an appointment in mid-September to see my GP and will be asking for an MRI of my back. Forewarned is forearmed.

But wait...there's more!

Yesterday, I got a call from my knee surgeon's office offering me a surgery date: September 15th. The work complications arising from this date are just too hard to handle and I also want to have a better idea of what my back is up to, so I have refused the date. In its place, I have November 17th. Although I wish it were slightly earlier (yes, we have winter where I live!), from a work, family and spinal point of view, this is a much better date.

I continue to read and to muse, but my posts might be a bit spotty until I feel calmer and less worried.

Good thoughts sent my way are always appreciated!

Monday, August 22, 2011

RIP Jack

This morning, Canada lost one of its greatest politicians, Jack Layton.

It is a very sad day.

Here is the open letter he wrote shortly before his death.

RIP, Jack. You will be sorely missed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ah, Boston!

Yes, I disappeared for a little while.

I've just come back from spending a long weekend falling in love with a new city and having a little second honeymoon--in other words, travelling alone my husband for the first time in 18 years. It was great.

The new city I explored was Boston. What a fabulous place! My husband left six days before me to take a week-long course at Harvard. His employer asked him to go and footed the entire (hefty) bill. I think he's greatly appreciated in his field.

I flew into Boston on Friday morning and his course ended early Friday afternoon. Within an hour of his arriving back at the hotel, we hit the road running...and walked...and walked...and then we walked some more.

During my four days away from home, I racked up 3 days of 20,000 steps or more. On our last day, Monday, I only did about 15K steps. I have to admit, my unoperated hip is rather unhappy now, but it was still worth it.

I have always lived in walkable cities, so I adored Boston. Our hotel was about a 15 minute walk to the subway (the T). We were about 25 minutes walk from the heart of the Harvard campus, a wonderful exciting area. You can just feel the intellectual effervescence bubbling all around you. Lots of bookstores, music, young people reading great literature while sipping coffee. It made me want to be in my 20s again!

Boston is at the heart of American history. We spent a good part of our time walking the Freedom Trail and seeing some of the most important sites of the American revolution: the site of the Boston Massacre, the port where the Tea Party took place, Paul Revere's house (pop quiz: did you know that Paul Revere's father was French and that the family name was originally Rivoire?), etc. We took a walking tour led by a guide in Colonial dress. He was absolutely fantastic--a great actor, with a booming voice and incredibly knowledgeable. I really learned a lot about American history and I feel I now have a somewhat better understanding of the reasons behind certain fundamental political differences between Americans and Canadians (no, these differences have nothing to do with our relationship with Britain).

We were treated to both warm, sunny weather and rainy, muggy weather. On one of the rainy days, we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, an extraordinary gallery housing the impressive art collection of Isabella Gardner, an immensely wealthy patron of the arts of the 19th and early 20th century. That afternoon, with the rain pouring down, we nipped into the Coolidge cinema in the Coolidge Corner neighbourhood of Boston and bought tickets for the only movie neither of us had seen that was playing that day, a very strange, but quite good indie film called "Another Earth".

For the scientifically minded among you--and even die-hard artsy-fartsies like myself, I recommend the MIT museum. Wonderful.

Of course, we also took a little tour of the harbour. It was interesting, but the heat and all the walking got to me and...I dozed off a bit.

And graveyards, or, as they call them in Boston, burying grounds! I just love to read old tombstones and I got my money's worth in Boston. There's nothing like seeing where someone who died in the 1600s is buried. Just fascinating. Oh, and they used to write the verb "to lie" (as in "here lies John Smith") with a "y": here lyes John Smith. Many stones were also decorated with skulls. Didn't see any angels, just a whole lot of skulls. Hmm.

I was in Boston for two half and two whole days and every single meal I ate there was fantastic (OK, breakfast was pretty ordinary: we bought fruit and cereal at Whole Foods and ate in our hotel room). The Little Italy section of Boston, which seriously overlaps with many of the stops on the Freedom Trail, was full of restaurants. The first evening, we ate at Trattoria Il Panino, splitting a plate of antipasto and a fish dish. Just mouth-watering. If you go to the website, the second picture that comes up on the homepage screen shows the table where we ate (no, that's not us). We had lunch one day at the oldest restaurant in the US, the Union Oyster House. I recommend the clam chowder. A cupful is more than enough.

Eating seafood is a must in Boston. I regret not having had the opportunity to try fried clams (though I did have chowder twice), but I ate some might fine catch of the day at two different restaurants.

For burger lovers, I highly recommend Mr. Bartley's in Cambridge, right near the Harvard campus. We sat at a table with a family from France who had just arrived that day. They were very sweet and seemed to be really enjoying the American burger experience. With the exception of my husband's absolutely stellar homemade burgers, Bartley's burgers are the best I've ever had. You can have your burger with fries or onion rings, but neither hubby nor I did. The burger, with tomato and lettuce was plenty.

Although the streets were absolutely crawling with people carrying Mike's Pastries boxes, we didn't have the urge to try their famous cannolis. Nor did we try the ice cream at J.P. Licks. The meals we had were just too good to need any sweets. And fresh fruit from Whole Foods awaited us back in the hotel room.

The day we wandered around Coolidge Corner, we passed by Trader Joe's. Having heard about it from Ellen at Fat Girl Wearing Thin, I was really curious, but after peeking through the window and seeing that it was essentially a big grocery store, I passed up on the opportunity to explore. We were leaving the next day and I didn't want to have any trouble bringing food over the border. My husband had also heard good things about Trader Joe's. Maybe the next time we're in the States, we'll go in at the beginning of our trip and try out some of their wares.

I'm sure it seems pretty clear from what I've written that I absolutely ADORED Boston. I hope I'll get there again one day!