Monday, November 26, 2012

A Thought from the Dalai Lama

Honest concern for others is the key factor in improving our day to day lives. When you are warm-hearted, there is no room for anger, jealousy or insecurity. A calm mind and self-confidence are the basis for happy and peaceful relations with each other. Healthy, happy families and a healthy peaceful nation are dependent on warm-heartedness.

I just sorta like this and thought my readers might too!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Not Looking the Part (Because Fat People are All Liars)

In a recent post, I mentioned one of my colleagues who has taken up the brave activity of "running while fat". Yes, this Amazon of a woman--she's at least six feet tall--is running close to 20 kilometres at a stretch and has already completed several half-marathons...all while being fat.

I also mentioned how another colleague of ours questioned whether this woman was telling the truth about all the running she's now doing. The only reason she advanced for questioning our colleague's truthfulness (or, as Joe Biden said during the VPs' presidential debate, "accurateness"--what a great way to avoid saying "lying") was the fact that this woman is still fat.

We definitely have a visual image of what it means to be in shape: trim, slim, no extraneous fat (goddess forbid we should have the slight roll around the middle!) and well defined muscles. But is this description the only valid one?

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post about the "morphs": the ecto-, meso- and endomorphs--the three basic body types, which one could also describe as "fine, medium or large-boned", to use more old-fashioned terms. As I recall, I received quite a few responses, including several that accused me of copping out and being an apologist for fatness because I questioned the validity of "one correct BMI to rule them all". I still stand by what I said and now I've come across an article in the New York Times that lends some support to the idea that not everyone who does "all the right things" necessarily "looks the part".

The article is entitled, "Are You Likely to Respond to Exercise". Actually, I think it's a bit of a misnomer, in that some may read the article and think, "exercise doesn't seem to do much for my cardio-vascular health, so why bother?".

Research has confirmed that people’s physiological responses to exercise vary wildly. Now a new genetic test promises to tell you whether you are likely to benefit aerobically from exercise. The science behind the test is promising, but is this information any of us really needs to know?
Read the article. It's interesting. But first, let's be clear: I'm absolutely in favour of everyone engaging in enjoyable physical activity, if that's what they want to do. There are numerous studies that show the physical and psychological benefits of activity, from walking or swimming to running marathons or weight lifting.

However, the article does look at the issue of how different bodies to respond to exercise. The fact is, everyone responds differently on a macro and a micro level. For instance, men, in general, gain muscle a lot faster and in much greater quantity than women. This goes a long way to explaining why men generally have less trouble losing weight than women and are often more successful in the long term (I know, there are always exceptions to the rule. Bear with me, people.)

But back to lying.

An interesting and heart-wrenching article is making a few waves now. It's called "I Was Once Obese" and subtitled "And now I'm not. Please don't applaud me for losing the weight." It's definitely a thought-provoking personal essay but what I found even more interesting and ultimately horrifying, were the comments. Many of the commenters openly and vehemently questioned the author's truthfulness. How could she have eaten as little as she said she was and exercised as much as she said she had and still not lost weight? I find this an all too common attitude, which is often accompanied by the strongly held opinion that in contrast to all those lying, lazy, willpower-challenged fatties out there, all slim people carefully watch what they eat, zealously exercise and never eat anything that's "off plan". Slim people are, thanks to their size alone, paragons of virtue.

Read some of the comments to this article if you dare. Then take some strong pain medication. They're enough to make you lose whatever faith in humanity you may have had left.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Evolving Blogroll, the Evolving Me

I really wish I could remember the blogs that made up my original blogroll. I can assure you that they were all written by people I respected--people I felt were decent, honest, truthful individuals who were sincere in their beliefs and kind towards others, even if I didn't always agree with them.

I don't think one of these blogs remains on my blogroll, though. Like the cells of the human body, my blogroll has totally renewed itself. Why?

Well, let's start with the obvious: my original blogroll was made up entirely of weight-loss bloggers. It's not complicated. I saw myself as a weight-loss blogger too, though the path that I was taking was a bit radical compared to my blogroll companions: I was going to lose weight through mindful eating. I had found the ultimate truth. I knew that if I listened with total concentration to my body, blocking out the extraneous "noises" of the world, I would eat when I was hungry, eat what I wanted and stop when I was full. It seemed so simple. My ultimate goal, of course, was to lose weight--in my case about 22% of my then current weight--so featuring other weight-loss bloggers on my blogroll made perfect sense.

Like all people starting a new diet (even if it was far from my first and even if I felt it was the furthest thing from a traditional diet), I threw myself into this new lifestyle with religious fervour. And of course, it worked--but only to a certain extent and only for a limited amount of time. Within about two months, the weight loss slowed to a glacial pace, even though my mindful habits continued. Within about six months, and having lost about half of what I'd aimed for, the inexorable regain began. However, since I was still fairly faithful to my mindful habits, I didn't experience the traditional total regain with a few extra pounds along for good measure. I regained about half of the loss with occasional small swings downward and then back up as is normal for people of any weight. Maintaining exactly the same number on the scale, every single day, just doesn't happen, even for the naturally slim.

Now I'm sure that some of the really gonzo weight-loss bloggers out there--who were never on my blogroll in the first place --would look at my current blogroll and sneer. Actually, if they read me (and thank goodness, they don't), they'd probably launch smear attacks against me on their own blogs, as I have seen happen to others. For such people, I am a lily-livered surrender monkey, looking to other blogs for confirmation that "giving up" is a valid option. Well, I don't agree, though I am over trying to discuss these matters in a civilized manner with some bloggers I still read. Yes, I admit it: I still read a few really nasty characters, just to see how bad the world can be sometimes. It makes me feel like a driver who slows down to rubberneck a car crash.

So, who's on my blogroll now? (Note to those of you who are on the blogroll: I might not specifically refer to your blog, but know that if you're there, it's because I think that you're fantastic!)

Actually, there are a few bloggers whose blogs could belong to the weight-loss category, but they're all extremely nuanced and far from the "rah!rah! I did it, you can too!" school.

There's Dr. Sharma, who would probably be pilloried by the gonzo weight-loss crowd for daring to say that sometimes it's just as good to stop the upward momentum and just maintain the weight that you're at. I love his expression, "the nightmare on ELMM street" (as in: "eat less, move more"). I must admit, though, that sometimes his posts drive me crazy. He has been on and off my blogroll...

There are a number of Fat Acceptance (FA) and/or Health at Every Size (HAES) blogs on my blogroll. Do I see myself in the FA camp? Not always, though I try to follow Ragen Chastain's underpants rule over at Dances With Fat. Simply put, it's none of my business how you choose to live your life (unless what you do will cause harm to others, though even that can be a problematic caveat too--I think the whole "fat people are ruining the health care system and costing the taxpayer an arm and a leg" argument is a load of bunkum). I feel totally comfortable and extremely supportive of HAES, on the other hand. The notion of encouraging people to honour their bodies through sane nourishment and joyful movement speaks to me very deeply. Again, a caveat: "eating clean" (scrubbing one's diet clean all the alimentary horrors "du jour" like gluten, carbs, sugar, etc.) strikes me as yet another pathway straight to disordered eating. For an interesting post on "food addiction"--one that is likely to cause many people apoplexy--read this, by the Fat Nutritionist. Also, read this post, from Fierce, Free Thinking Fatties. It'll knock the socks off the "lose weight-get healthy" crowd, although I know they still won't believe it.

For those of you who don't come around very often, I would like to point out two new blogs I'm now listing: Closet Puritan and Eathropology.Very different in terms of content but both very intelligent and thought-provoking.

And last but not least, there's one blog that has absolutely nothing to do with weight. Egads! I'll let you locate it yourself on my blogroll. There's a specific reason I decided to highlight it: many moons ago, when I still had an essentially weight-loss blogroll, I went over to read one of my featured blogs and clicked on a blog on her blogroll. To my disgust, it was a vile, right-wing political screed that I found nothing short of stomach turning. Needless to say, she was off my blogroll, to be replaced by a blog that I'm sure she would find equally horrendous--but which I consider to be the soul of logical thinking.

So hats off to the bloggers on my blogroll. May you live long and prosper. You inspire me every day!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


In November, I celebrate a few "anniversaries".

My mother passed away in 2000 on Nov. 11. Oct. 29 was the day of her passing on the Jewish calendar. I lit the traditional candle for her (the "yohrzeit"--or "year time"). This special candle burns for 24 hours in remembrance. I think of my mother with love and appreciation. Yes, there were some difficult times, but as the years go by, these memories take up less and less space in my mind and, for the most part, I remember her for the kind, loving and deeply good person that she was.

On Nov. 18, I'll be celebrating the 9th anniversary of my hip replacement. That was replacement number 1--the total hip disaster. Replacement number 2 followed in August of 2004. The outcome was better, but it by no means yielded the amazing results that many people had led me to believe would be mine. Well, I'm walking, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Nov. 17 is a non-anniversary: that was the day in 2011 (one year ago) that I was supposed to get a new knee. My crazy thyroid nixed that, and even though my thyroid is now splendidly under control, I have yet to re-schedule the operation. My hip experience has left me a bit skeptical. On the grateful front, my knee is no worse than it was last year. Once again: I'm still walking, which in my books is a miracle.

November is also the month that my thyroid made me go pretty crazy (OK, let's use the technical term: "bat-sh*t crazy") last year. It has taken me pretty much the whole year to crawl out of that hole, thanks to  thyroid  medication, meditation, psychotherapy and my GP's favourite: tincture of time. My gratefulness comment here: I feel like I dodged a bullet by avoiding taking anti-depressants.  Had I gone the anti-depressant route, I might have found myself considerably heavier and fighting to wean myself off some very tenacious medication. Yes, I'm grateful.

Ah, November.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Clinic X

There's a commercial that's been airing on TV frequently over the last week or so. It's for a weight-loss clinic that I'll call Clinic X.

The commercial shows a slim, good looking blonde woman, probably in her early thirties. Of course, it starts with the usual "before" picture and then switches to the new and improved version of the same woman, dancing sexily in a fetching cocktail dress.

The woman proceeds to tell us how Clinic X has saved her life, probably saved her marriage and quite likely saved her from dying from diseases that she does not have now, but could very well develop in the future. She almost sounds like she's crying, her voice practically breaking with emotion.

Wow.  This clinic doesn't beat around the bush. It uses every single stereotype in the book, preying on every fear: health, love, abandonment.

For fun, I googled the clinic. It's very expensive and there have been complaints about certain rather questionable practices.

How many people are going to be taken in this time?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stereotypes and the "Livingston Debate"

OK, the Internet is awash in posts and comments about Wisconsin news anchor, Jennifer Livingston, and her response to an e-mail from someone who can only be called a "concern troll".  I wanted to post the youtube video here but Blogger seems to be cutting off half the screen. Sorry, but you'll just have to click here.

Many bloggers who are far more influential than I am have already jumped into the fray. I highly suggest you read the excellent, incisive posts on this topic written by Michelle,  The Fat Nutritionist and Ragen at Dances With Fat.

But it's still better late than never for NewMe. So here are my two cents on the issue:

The author of the e-mail, Kenneth Krause--a buff, bulging muscled 40-something man--takes Livingston to task for being a poor role model, especially for young girls. How can a fat woman show herself on television? Think of the children! He chides her for her poor choice and bad habits. After all, being overweight is a choice and the result of bad habits...

Actually, Krause is right in the mainstream when he expresses these ideas. How many people out there--be they mean-spirited, self-loathing weight-loss bloggers who rejoice in demolishing those whose weight loss efforts they deride; or kind, well-meaning bloggers who are in the midst of or have lost the weight and are trying to help others do the same--send the same message loud and clear: you, as an individual, got yourself into this fat mess, and it is solely up to you and your actions to get yourself out.

If I were an alien who'd just arrived on Planet Earth and who looked to the Internet to find out why there are people of differing sizes in our world, I would learn that ALL fat people, without exception, eat massive quantities of junk food, watch TV all day long, take the car to travel across the street and eat until they feel sick. Moreover, I would also learn that ALL thin people are paragons of virtue, bike 30 miles a day, account for every morsel of food that passes their lips, never eat junk food and certainly, never, never overeat. I would also get the distinct impression that all fat people are walking health disasters (diabetes, arthritis, COPD, PCOS...) while all thin people live long, happy, healthy lives (unless they are hit by a car driven by a fat slob drinking a supersized sugary drink and eating a hamburger smothered in cheese, nestled between two doughnuts.

Sadly, the above description pretty much sums up the beliefs of many people on and off the Internet. A few days ago, for example, I was working with two colleagues, both of whom carry some "extra" weight. At the end of the day, I set off on foot with one of them. She lived close enough to walk home, while I just wanted to get in a few hundred extra steps before hopping on the bus home. As we were walking, my colleague (let's call her B) commented on something the other colleague (C) had mentioned during the day: that she (C) had recently taken up running and was currently in training for her second or third half-marathon. B was skeptical: how could C be running as much as she said she was and still be fat? In response, I suggested she look up famous exercise physiologist Dr. Steven Blair on the Internet. He's been running for decades and guess what? He's fat. For those new to my blog, Dr. Blair has done extensive research on fitness and has shown--with numerous studies to back him up--that an overweight active person is healthier than a thin, inactive person.

In the above example, my colleague was simply (and unconsciously) expressing yet another stereotype regarding fat people: they are liars. When a fat person says that she eats just like her older sister "who's thin as a beanpole and lazy to boot" while she is fat though active, she's obviously lying. When a fat person says that he eats reasonable portions of food and has never binged, he's lying. Fat people can never self-report: they always lie.

There's a lot more to be said about Jennifer Livingston, the politely vicious e-mail and her brave and clear response. Kenneth Krause, on the other hand, well...let's not say anything more about him. It might be somewhat unpleasant.

Just one more thing: I do know of someone who used to take the car to go across the street--he was slim all his life and died in his early 60s of cancer. And yes, I know, this is just "anecdata". ;)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Answering Comments from the Dark Side Post

I'd like to thank all those who commented on my last post regarding "going over to the dark side". There were some great, insightful comments and much appreciated expressions of concern.

I think that the anguish I expressed was in part due to hormonal issues. At my most recent appointment with the endocrinologist a few weeks ago, she once again reduced my dose of tapazol. I'm now at the lowest dose I can take without going off it completely. This is a very good thing and I was thrilled with the decision to decrease the dose. I have a fantastic doctor who has been lowering my dose in an extremely slow, cautious and measured manner. She's not at all trying to jump the gun. But for about two weeks after the dose was decreased, I felt extremely antsy, nervous and full of angst.

Then there's what seems to be the never-ending peri-menopause saga. Yes, at 56 I'm still getting my period, but it's very irregular now. Last summer, I had lots of hot flashes, to go with the hot summer weather. Once the fall arrived, the hot flashes left and didn't return until a few weeks ago. Now, I'm sitting here drying my brow. All in all, just more hormonal issues to add to the mix.

Of course, my feelings were perhaps not due to hormones at all, but instead due to the fact that I'm starting to work more again after my usual dozy, almost work-free, money-free and lower-stress summer. There's just not a lot of work in my field during the summer and it's always been the time when I recharge my batteries in preparation for a busy fall season.

The run-in I had with one of my colleagues last September has changed me. Some might say that I should just get over it, but certain things, well, no matter how hard you try, they do leave their mark. Just as a total aside, if you're interested in reading an incredible memoir about workplace stress, read Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and, Yes, Happiness by Jan Wong. I will say no more except that I really, really connected with her experience and feelings (minus the death threats of course--but you'll have to read it to find out more!).

Anyway, between the possibility that my body was scrambling to rebalance itself hormonally after the medication reduction, the return of the hot flashes and the stress of having to once again face and work with people I really didn't want to see, I was feeling a lot of angst and that angst was over-projected onto my Fitbit.

Now, I'm feeling somewhat less overwrought and have decided to continue Fitbitting. I have to agree with Debra: I think I've just taken my mindfulness a bit further than I would normally go. The mindfulness is still definitely there and I have not eliminated anything in particular from my diet (diet, as in "what I eat"--my food repertoire). But I do tend to "watch" things more carefully and have greatly reduced what I eat "after" I realize that I'm pretty well full. I have a tendency to have a few apricots, a handful of nuts, maybe a cracker or two that my mouth craves, as opposed to my stomach. These little perfectly healthy extras have decreased greatly.

Yes, I've been "watching" my calories but I'll tell you all one thing: this 1,200 calories a day thing that so many people seem to swear by is--at least as far as I'm concerned--absolutely for the birds. Speaking for myself and no one else, you'll never see me opting for such a low calorie count. Once you get down that low (and I know many people go much lower!), you're setting yourself up for failure. Hey, but that's my opinion and this is my blog. Do whatever your heart desires and I'll do the same.

I appreciate Screaming Fat Girl's advice to not pathologize food tracking. Yes, it's a learning experience. It has indeed shown me how many little extras I was eating. I still love apricots and nuts and the like, I just don't eat quite as many or to satisfy the mouth. I try to stick to satisfying the stomach for the most part. I do not go hungry.

Karen asked, " how do you feel? Deprived? in control? energetic? moody or happy?" Deprived? Not too much. I still eat my 2 pieces of chocolate quite often after supper. In control? I really don't like that idea. Control makes me feel like I'm fighting myself or fighting something that's "wrong" with me. So I won't go near the word "control". Energetic? I think I need a new bed! Seriously, it's on my list of things to get in the next few months. Moody or happy? That has a lot more to do with my work situation and my search for a more meaningful life. Thankfully, it has very little to do with food.

I salute Coramie for dealing with the deep roots of her weight issues and her realization that tracking is not going to solve them. Personally, and despite the fact that my blog is part of the weight-o-sphere" (though no longer a classic weight-loss blog), I think I have a fairly decent relationship with food, all things considered. And for this, I'm extremely thankful.

I so agree with Fat Chick in Lycra that strict calorie counting is a recipe for abandoning real food. That's why I just won't fall for it, hook, line and sinker.

Thank you HikerRD for assuring me that, "Weight change itself is not unethical or something to be philosophically against [...] You're at least being honest with yourself--a major step on the slippery slope! [and advising me to] consider the wise advice you'll, no doubt, receive from your experienced readers!" That's exactly what I'm doing.

Thank you to "Me" for your calorie calculating technique, though I think I'm going to remain loosey-goosey. As for the bodyfat percentage, you're right: you can only detect a real trend over a long period of time. Trying to see a change day over day is just not doable.

And finally, to "hopefulandfree": don't worry. I'm only slightly out of my mind and not all the time, at that! But I do truly appreciate your concern and the concern of all my wonderful e-friends!

And after saying all this: my Fitbit is being a bit testy. I think the battery is malfunctioning and I wasn't able to use it for two days. It worked today and we'll see what tomorrow brings...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Facing the Dark Side

I've been turning this post over in my mind for a good four weeks now--since I started using my Fitbit, in fact. It's going to be a hard one.

I have gone over to the dark side. I have let my inner obsessive-compulsive take the upper hand in my life and I am feeling very conflicted.

I am tracking my food consumption. There, I said it.

Probably, compared to hard-core trackers, my tracking is pretty loosey goosey. And I like it that way. In my opinion, to be a hard-core tracker, you have to give up eating a lot of real food because real food doesn't come in packages with numbers (aka calories) on it. Let me give you an example: I make my own salad dressing. It's fantastic, in my humble opinion, and adds oodles of taste to my salads. The dressing is made up of several ingredients and I make it in an old jam jar or sometimes in a jar that once held Dijon mustard. It contains olive oil, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, a splash of maple syrup or a spoonful of honey, lemon juice, freshly crushed garlic, pepper, a small sprinkle of salt and assorted herbs. Calculating the number of calories per spoonful is possible, but it's way harder than pulling out a bottle of ready-made dressing that's full of preservatives, low on real taste...but has a label on the back with the calorie count.

Oh, and how do I calculate the number of calories in my kitchen-sink salads that contain chicken (or tuna), walnuts, apples (or pears), a handful of raisins, and various veg on a bed of salad greens? The time and obsessiveness required to do so would drive me around the bend. So I "eyeball" and sometimes I'm sure I'm too low, while sometimes I might be too high.

I admit to using a kitchen scale at least once a day, often more frequently.

I find that the obsessive-compulsiveness level is already higher than I feel comfortable with. But I've been doing it for about a month now.

When I got the Fitbit, it seductively asked me if I wanted to lose weight. I fell into its trap, though I could have fallen a lot farther. I decided to see what kind of calorie limit it would give me if I aimed to lose 1/2 pound per week. Not surprisingly, due to my small stature and limited mobility, most days the Fitbit doesn't give me all that much to work with, calorie-wise. It's rather cool though, in that it constantly recalculates the number of calories you "can" eat, based on how much energy you've expended up to that point in the day.

Which leads me to admit to a move into even darker waters. Yes, I've been dabbling in the Nightmare on ELMM Street, aka "calories in - calories out".

And the results? I know you're just dying to find out...

Yes, I've lost weight. And it's more than 1/2 pound a week, though I'm not disclosing any numbers. I have a scale which supposedly gives me fat percentages too and so far, the fat number is wobbling around at best. It literally goes up or down a few percentage points after drinking some water or excreting some solid waste (sorry, TMI). I am terribly afraid of losing muscle, as women my age are prone to do, and as people who are very limited in their exercise abilities such as myself are EXTREMELY prone to do. I cannot afford to lose muscle.

So, all in all, I'm feeling very, very conflicted about what I'm doing. I'm trying not to blame myself for doing something that I am philosophically against. I will not tolerate allowing myself to be hungry. I am quite aware of my honest hunger signals and I continue to respect them. If I continue to lose weight, I might ask my doctor how to go about getting an accurate measurement of my body's fat percentage. As I said before, I cannot afford to lose muscle. No one can.

That's my admission of guilt.

And I can hear the wonderful Debra's evil "bwahaha" echoing in my head.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Fitbit, Part Two

Well, aside from when it's been recharging, I've been using my Fitbit religiously for the past two weeks.

I think the best way to discuss the Fitbit is to break down my experience by topic.

Step Counting: Since walking is virtually the only exercise that I can do safely and regularly, I have become a bit of an expert at spotting the weaknesses in various types of pedometers. Many pedometers wildly overcount the number of steps you take. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I've seen pedometers add 15 steps or so just for pulling your pants down to use the facilities. And then add a few more for good measure when you pull your pants back up. These are the hypersensitive pedometers. Then there are pedometers that refuse to count any steps at all if you haven't taken at least ten in a row. Since I have a kitchen the size of a shoe box (nicely renovated, but you won't see it on HGTV because apparently nothing makes the grade on HGTV if it isn't the size of a football field--yes including bathrooms--but I digress), I have been known to clock less than 100 steps while constantly moving around my kitchen for an hour because the space is so small than I'm never taking more than 5-6 steps at a time. Frustrating.

I would rate the Fitbit a wee bit too sensitive. I'm convinced that it's overly generous, though it's more accurate when I work in the kitchen than my other pedometer. I think it also depends on where you wear it on your body. I suspect its accuracy is higher clipped to the middle of my bra than clipped onto my pants.

Stair Climbing: In my house, I'm constantly going up and down stairs between the main floor and the upper floor. The Fitbit seems to accurately count this activity, giving my one staircase point per climb/descent. However, it doesn't seem to register the climb/descent to the basement. I suspect the staircase in question is just too short for the Fitbit to register anything at all. Too bad, but since I'm on the longer staircase between the ground and the upper floor more often, I'm fairly happy with the accuracy. On the other hand, I'm not sure that it will register anything if you only go in one direction on a staircase, for instance if you decide to descend a long staircase by foot in the subway but take the escalator up at your destination. I'll have to check this.

Calories Burned: For people whose goal is to lose weight, I imagine this number is the holy grail. Unfortunately, without some fairly sophisticated equipment, there is no way for me to verify the accuracy of the number of calories the Fitbit says I've burned. Based on my height and weight, the Fitbit has also decided how many calories I should aim to burn in a day if I want to lose 1/2 pound a week. Unfortunately, the Fitbit can't take into account my disabilities and I have rarely been able to hit this number--maybe two or three times over the past two weeks. The paltry number of calories I burn per day leads me to believe that its ability to register calories burned is not too far off the mark. I did do one interesting, though fleetingly short experiment on the elliptical trainer. I did two minutes on the trainer (more and my knee would not let me forget it for days) and compared the number of calories the machine said I'd burned to the number the Fitbit registered. The elliptical gave me around 11, the Fitbit, maybe 3. This confirms what I've always said about machines like the elliptical or the stationary bike: don't believe the numbers they give you. They're designed to make you feel good about yourself, not to give you the truth!

Time Active (Activity Levels): This is one characteristic of the Fitbit that I really appreciate. The Fitbit analyzes your activity according to four levels: sedentary, lightly active, fairly active and very active. I am resigned to the fact that I almost never reach a high level of activity. But it's good to see just how much activity I do get. Recently, husband said jokingly to me that the Fitbit "made me do the laundry" that night and he was right. I felt that I wanted to get a bit more activity in that day and taking care of the laundry was a good way to do something to get me moving but not cause me any pain.

Active Score: I have to admit, this is one characteristic of the Fitbit that I do not fully understand. This is how the active score is defined on the Fitbit site:
The active score captures how active you were compared to if you were completely sedentary all day. Your score will be 0 if you were sedentary, and typically a 3-digit number if you were active.

You may prefer the active score over calories burned, because the active score just captures your level of activity and is not dependent on your height and weight, as calories burned is.

The Active Score is a rough translation of your average METs for the day (METs = Active Score x .001 + 1)

The problem is, I can't find the definition of MET. What I can say is that the Fitbit wants me to reach an active score of 1000 per day. Sorry, but it ain't gonna happen very often. I can thank my back, knee and hip for that. So I just do what I can.

Now, have I really gone over to the dark side?

I will answer that question in my next post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My and My Fitbit: Going Over to the Dark Side?

Well, clearly my previous post--a foray into politics, urban planning, history, architecture and public transit--went over like a lead balloon with you, my readers. I guess you're not used to hearing me wax poetic on the subway woes of Toronto! But never fear, this post will be more in keeping with your expectations, although I am not finished talking about Chicago and what a fabulous city it is (at least from this tourist's vantage point!).

So here we go:

This Friday, I hooked myself up to my new Fitbit and well, I'm hooked.

For those of you who don't know about the Fitbit, it's essentially a device that tracks various personal parameters: steps walked, calories burnt, staircases climbed, hours slept, how many times you woke up during the course of the night. It provides a breakdown of your activity levels so you know how much time you've spent being sedentary, lightly, fairly or very active during the day. You also have the option of tracking what you eat, how many calories you consumed and the nutritional breakdown of the food (protein, carbs, fats) as well as how much water you've drunk. Activity fiends can log in physical activities (like swimming or biking, for instance) with the duration, distance, start time etc. Both the food and the activity logs are optional. It's up to you to log in this information or not.

Oh, and how could I forget? You can also log in your weight and your weight loss goal (if you have one). It then asks you how slowly or quickly you want to lose that weight (1/2 pound a week, 1 pound, etc.) and then calculates the number of calories per day you can eat, adjusting constantly for activity engaged in and food eaten. When you first get up in the morning and haven't done anything, your calorie consumption is set at X. As the day goes by, and you rack up steps walked, distance swum, staircases climbed, etc., it ups the number of calories you can consume and still work towards your goal.

Sounds like a real nightmare on ELMM (eat less - move more) Street, right?

And all of this wonderful information can be shared with the whole world (or practically) via the magic of Facebook. Let me say this right now: I find the idea of sharing such information absolutely abhorent. You will never pry Fitbit information from me and if you know me on Facebook, you can be sure that I passed up on the option and you'll never be any the wiser about my Fitbit stats.

So, how am I using my Fitbit and what's my assessment?

First things first: it's cool and quite user friendly. Although not a Luddite, I am not incredibly adept with new software. I did use a few choice words as I got to know the device, but I didn't ask my resident software genius for help once (thank goodness--we always argue, when it comes to computers) and I'm already feeling very comfortable with it.

I'm also somewhat addicted. It's amazing seeing the updates on the computer screen. The device itself is very small, easy to wear, and unobtrusive, even at night. You can read the basic stats right from the Fitbit itself (steps, distance, calories burnt, staircases climbed). It syncs the information to your computer within 30 seconds of logging in and going to the dashboard. Refreshing the page will enable you to see how things are going at all times. In other words, you'll even know how many calories you've burnt sitting at your computer.

I've got a lot more to say about my little friend, including what I perceive as a serious "dark side", in particular for people who have an eating disorder or suffer from orthorexia (trying to eat "perfectly"), but right now, I feel that I have to tear myself away from Blogger and actually do some real work to make some real money in the real world.

There will be more...

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Summer Vacation, Part 1: A Tale of Two Cities

I don't like announcing when I'm going to be out of town if the whole family is going. To me, it seems like an invitation to nefarious people to hunt down my true identity and address and pay my home a "visit". Honestly, I don't know just how easy or difficult that is, but I feel better with my paranoia intact.

So, this being said, I was away on vacation with my family for about a week. Actually, the first day and a half I spent working at a conference but then the hubby and boys joined me and we had a fabulous time in...CHICAGO.

I've heard a lot of good things about Chicago. A close relative of mine has gone there several times over the past few years and has always raved about the city and various people I work with or just spend time with (like my Chinese acupuncturist) have told me what a great place it is. Originally, we'd planned to go back to New York, a city I adore, but the Chicago contract came up and it just made perfect sense to stay a few more days and enjoy the sights with my family.

Well, I am now adding Chicago to my list of wonderful places to visit in the U.S., proudly on par with New York City and Boston.

I'm definitely a big city kind of person. I love the excitement and variety that a big city has to offer. And Chicago has to offer all of this in spades.

But I am going to start "My Summer Vacation" with a little comparison of two cities: Chicago and Toronto.

Chicago actually has a lot in common with my home town, Toronto. Both are situated on a Great Lake (Michigan and Ontario) and both have a pretty vibrant downtown core. The two cities (metropolitan areas) have similar populations: According to City of Toronto information, we have a population of 2,615,060 (2011). Chicago's is 2,695,598 (2010) and apparently shrinking. Toronto's population is growing.

However, my visit to Chicago underscored an unfortunate fact about Toronto: it is a city without a vision. University Avenue in Toronto could have been just as impressive as Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Instead, although similar proportionally, it is lined with hospitals and insurance companies.

Let's compare this to Chicago:

Chicago's architecture is truly wondrous. Since the great fire in the late 1800s, Chicago welcomed in brilliant architects that transformed the downtown core. Much has been done to preserve, enhance and compliment Chicago's past and present architectural heritage. What does Toronto do? We let the developers call the shots, tearing down buildings that have true historical and architectural value in order to put up cheap, soulless blocks that start crumbling within a few years. Sometimes, unscrupulous companies let firebugs do the job...

Chicago has also done amazing things with its waterfront. There is even a municipal regulation obliging anyone building on the waterfront to include a pedestrian walkway, open to all. Toronto, on the other hand, has let developers runs amok, blocking the view of beautiful Lake Ontario. There are also a lot of former industrial sites that are now barren and ugly. Yes, we do have some nice areas like the neighbourhood known as "The Beach", but it's a relatively small area. Most of our waterfront is either hidden and unavailable to the public or just an eyesore.

Chicago also has an extremely well-developed subway system with so many different coloured lines that it boggles the mind. Toronto has been mired in municipal in-fighting for so long that most of us have given up on ever seeing a transportation system able to carry the millions of people who live and work in our city.

Here are a few transit plans that have gone nowhere in Toronto, due to a lack of leadership and vision, as well as a dysfunctional City Council structure:

This is what we have (I admit, a few stations in the upper right-hand section have been cut off), with a few paltry stations in the works, though they will not be opening for several years to come:

Oh, and here's Chicago's subway map:

And did I mention that you can take the subway to BOTH airports? Yes, for the huge sum of $2.25 you can get to O'Hare or Midway. From my house in Toronto, I can either take a cab, which costs me $52 (including tax and tip), or go all the way downtown (a $3 subway fare and about 40 minutes of my time) to get a shuttle bus from one of the hotels, which costs somewhere in the vicinity of $20 or more and takes another 40 minutes or so.

Of course, I saw Chicago through a tourist's eyes. Apparently, it has a very high murder rate: 423 in 2011, compared to Toronto's 45 during the same year. Yes, Toronto has had some scary events this year, including a shooting at the food court of our premier downtown shopping mall, the Eaton Centre, during which two people were shot to death and several innocent bystanders wounded (some seriously), but our violence pales in comparison to Chicago. Of course, this gives Toronto a huge quality-of-life advantage over Chicago.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why I Love Canada: Weight Debate Edition

Today is Canada Day. Yes, it's close to the 4th of July, but it's our birthday and it's today. So Happy Birthday to my wonderful homeland, Canada!

But what does loving Canada have to do with the "great weight debate"? I submit, for your viewing pleasure, the following youtube video. It's a debate between nutritionist/sociologist, Professor Jacqui Gingras (Ryerson University) and Dr. Arya Sharma, one of Canada's and the world's premier voices on bariatric issues (whether you love him, hate him, or you're somewhere in between...) on whether obesity is or is not a disease.

It's a long video--two hours, though you can skip the first twenty minutes or so of introductions and blah-blah to go right to the debate. Dr. Sharma can get a bit overly testy and Dr. Gingras can sometimes stray away from the actual questions, but what makes it such a great video is how Canadian it is: it's so civilized and polite and you get the impression that everyone there--debaters and audience alike--are looking for answers and not just to take the opposite side down.

So settle back, grab a cold glass of water because it's so darn hot out, make sure you're comfortably seated or on your elliptical trainer or whatever and enjoy this quintessentially Canadian discussion of a very hot-button issue.

Monday, June 4, 2012


No time for any personal updates or musings right now. Busy season is in full swing for me.

So just watch this and feel free to discuss it here. This wonderful young woman says it all, as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Observing, Reflecting, Regrouping, Hoping...and Other Stuff

I've been characteristically silent recently and it's been weighing on me, as have all the reasons for the silence.

I am at a crossroads emotionally and work-wise. It has become increasingly clear to me over the past six months or so that I am developing an ever deeper fundamentally pessimistic view of life. I think I've always had a bit of pessimism hidden away in me, but nothing like the way I've been feeling since last fall (and to a lesser extent for the past two years or so). My recent fall off the deep end is linked to several factors, which of course are probably related to deeper and much more long-standing issues that were finally set alight and exploded in the fall of 2011.

Despite the fact that pessimism and catastrophizing seem to be my daily lot right now, I am also a person who cannot sit still and let it all happen without a fight. Tomorrow, I have an appointment with a psychologist who comes highly recommended by a hugely successful business woman I know who herself had some issues that needed tending recently. A few hours later, I've set up a 15-minute introductory interview with a career counselor to see if we should start working together. Then, on Tuesday night, I'll be attending a seminar on mid-life career change for women.

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to these upcoming appointments.

On Wednesday, I'm also seeing my hip surgeon to get the results of a recent test to see whether my hip prosthesis has loosened. It's been less than 8 years since my hip surgery and it should be way too early to be thinking about further surgery. But something is definitely wrong with my operated hip and I need to know what's going on. Your good wishes will be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday night, I'm off to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a two-day conference. It's a beautiful city on the ocean, as you can see from the above picture, and I'm hoping that the time away will help me to rest my mind a bit, even though I'll be working at a job that gives me more and more stress and less and less gratification (aside from the paycheque!).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

But Where Are the Stairs?

I was at the hospital twice last week. Not to worry (at least yet, lol). My hip surgeon sees all his patients at the hospital. That was visit number one. And then visit number two was to have a test to see if my hip prosthesis is getting loose (yes, that's the potentially bad part--I should know more when I go back to see the surgeon at the end of the month and get the results of the test--but it's no use freaking out, whatever the results are...)

So there I was, at one of Canada's largest hospitals, needing to go up just two floors to get to my appointment and looking everywhere for the stairs. No luck. There was an escalator to go one floor up, and a bank of elevators in plain view, but the stairs? Nowhere to be found. That day, I ended up taking the elevator, first to the appointment with the surgeon, then two floors up to book my bone scan, one floor down to get a blood test, one more floor down to book the follow-up with the surgeon and finally one escalator ride down to get out of the hospital.

Two days later, I was back for the bone scan and this time I was set to do some sleuthing. The bone scan was a two-part affair, so I had some time on my hands and yes, I did find the staircase, which I used several times that day.

But here's what really made me laugh. On every floor, there was a little sign to tell people all about how good it is to take the stairs. I've posted one of them above. It says, "When you go up, your blood pressure goes down." There was a whole series. Great messages, good idea, but if you can't find the stairs, what good will it do?

Maybe the next time I go back to the hospital at the end of the month, I'll try and find someone and ask them to post better signage so people can FIND the stairs!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Be Honest

In their heart of hearts, isn't this what most people think--even those of us who intellectually believe in Health at Every Size?

I'll admit it. And it doesn't make me happy.

Monday, April 30, 2012


But when you think about why people ‘regain’ weight, the story is very different, because irrespective of how you lose weight, the biological drivers of weight regain are pretty much a common denominator for everybody. So, regardless of how I lose weight, my leptin levels are going to drop, my appetite is going to go up, my hunger levels will go up, my metabolism’s going to slow down. All of these common things – which will happen in anybody who loses weight for any reason – are going to drive me back toward my original weight or ‘set-point’.

-Dr. Arya Sharma, April 26 in Dr. Sharma's Obesity Notes (blog post entitled Close Concerns: Stopping the Gain)

I'm posting this as a bit of a follow-up to my previous post on what's "normal". There's been a small discussion going on in the weight-loss world decrying medical professionals who hold out little hope of long-term weight loss maintenance.

I just don't understand the big to-do. Why do people get so hot and bothered about the fact that 95% of people regain the weight? That's just the way it is.

Do what you want, people. If you still think it's worth the struggle and your body and your mind are none the worse for trying, do whatever you want. Just don't talk about normal. Keeping the weight off just isn't normal. Sad, but true. You don't have to take my word for it. You don't have to believe a lowly blogger like myself. Just ask Dr. Sharma.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is Normal?

Let's do a little pretend game:

You have complicated musculo-skeletal issues.

Here's what you can't do:

-A walking meditation: making minute changes to your gait so that you can be fully tuned in to your body as it moves for 5 minutes will leave you with severe hip pain for 5 days.

-Ride a bike: your knee is so out of alignment that doing so would deteriorate the joint even more rather than build muscle and prevent further deterioration. Not to mention how bike riding would throw out your back.

-Get a knee replacement: your back is too fragile to do rehab on a stationary bike and the stress on your opposite hip during the recovery period would be more than it could take.

-Walk fast: your knee wouldn't react well (see above), the discs in your lower spine would send sciatica pains through your lower back and your hip would exhibit pain that your surgeon has so far been unable to diagnose.

Swim: both your back and your hip would give you dangerous pain signals, that, if ignored could lead to much worse pain (and perhaps surgery).

-Have a colonscopy: moving the probe through a section of your body in close proximity to the lower spine would cause a full-blown case of bulging disc, leaving you in the best case scenario with nerve damage down your leg and in the worse case scenario with a ruptured disc.

- Wear even slightly high heels. Ah, come on, it won't hurt. And you'll barely stand. After all it's a party and most of the time you'll be sitting talking with friends...Um no, just a few minutes and your hip, your knee and your back will remind you of the mistake you made for days to come--and that's if your joints let you off easy. A disc in your back might decide to rupture. Just for fun. So no, you can't wear high heels. Ever.

The funny thing is, you look normal most of the time to the rest of the world. Yet you live a life of musculo-skeletal hypervigilance. Stop being vigilant for a few minutes and ka-pow!--pain for days, the possibility of rupturing a disc, dislocating your hip, more surgery...

Hypervigilance is normal for you. You couldn't keep going without it and even with it, you're never sure what tomorrow will bring. Pretty crazy, right? Does this sound like a "normal" life to you?

Now what does this have to do with weight?

I was reading the blog of a weight loss maintainer recently (I won't go into details because I'm really not trying to call anyone out or criticize how hard this blogger and the blog's readership have worked to lose and maintain their weight loss) and the comments section was full of people talking about how "normal" it is to count every single calorie you ingest, to exercise faithfully and vigorously almost every day of the week, to weigh all your food and to NEVER deviate from the straight and narrow because even slacking off for a day or two can spell the beginning of the end and a return to morbid obesity in the time it takes to say "it's perfectly normal to weigh, count, always keep in mind, never forget, calculate the calories, run/lift weights/do the elliptical for an hour a day without fail, refuse to go out with your friends because eating in a restaurant is dangerous, etc., etc.".

In my opinion, neither the life of the musculo-skeletal basket case nor the life of the weight loss maintainer is normal. These two people have one thing in common: the abnormal lengths they must go to to maintain an appearance that seems "normal" to the outside world.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Correlation or Causation?

Doesn't that just say it all when it comes to correlation and causation?

Have a good day...and learn another language!