25 March 2011

Health: Some Thoughts on Weight

I've been troubled for a few weeks; my first post about excess weight and health didn't really go the way I had hoped. I stepped on some land mines, was confronted with some of my assumptions, and felt as though I expressed myself poorly; but I hope to move forward and do better. I knew this was a difficult, challenging and touchy topic, but I don't want to be afraid to discuss something so important.

1. Health is a Spectrum
I see health as a spectrum - on one side, you have optimum health; on the other, disease. Hopefully, everyone is making choices that point toward the optimum health side of the spectrum. Where an individual falls on this spectrum is in many ways subjective and it is comprised of several different factors. Depending on your age, family history and personal history, some markers may include blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, TSH levels, estrogen or testosterone levels, quality of sleep, blood cell counts, oxygen levels or body fat percentage. The significance of these markers will be different for everyone and only you (and your doctor) know your body well enough to determine which factors are of most concern for you.

2. The Biosphere Loves Diversity
Bodies come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Not everyone can be a size 2, nor does everyone want to be a size 2. The supermodels don't even really look like that - their photographs are so heavily photoshopped that no human could ever look like the "people" on the covers of the various magazines. Hell, even if Barbie was on crack cocaine, she couldn't be that thin and disproportionate. There is no magic dress size; there is only the appropriate size for you. If you don't think beauty comes in every size, take a look at this.

3. There are Many Roads to Rome
I've been reading about alternative and integrative medicine long enough to know that everyone's health plan needs to be customized. Some need more vegetables, some need more sleep, some need to supplement their diet with various herbs and vitamins. Some people respond to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), others do better with Ayurveda, and yet others do best with western medical protocols. Everyone is different - listen to your body.

4. The System is Rigged
Getting healthy and staying healthy is hard work. Corporate America is sabotaging you, as are your health insurance actuaries. There are "food" companies out there who spend millions of dollars making their "food" as tasty and addictive as possible. Then they spend millions more on studying your psychology so they can successfully market this cheap, nasty "food" to you. It is inescapable - junk food is everywhere and it is very, very, very hard to run from its siren song. From the heavily subsidized crops like corn and sugar to the dollar menus, it can sometimes feel like choosing between the lesser of two evils. Don't hate on yourself because you succumbed to the corporate machine. Just do better next time. If you need some aversion therapy, try reading this or this. The movie was too hard for me to watch, and I had to turn it off mid-way through. Though, the movie "Supersize Me" was frightening and entertaining all at the same time.

5. The Metrics are Skewed
I used to think that the BMI was wonderful. Now not so much thanks to this and this. In a nutshell, BMI is a nice way to determine obesity in large populations, but not in individuals. It has been suggested that the insurance industry loves the BMI to justify charging you (and your employers) higher premiums. Use the waist-to-hip ratio instead.


6. Overcoming Inertia Sucks
I enjoy runner's high and that light and clear feeling you get after a long vinyasa yoga class. I actually like kicking the crap out of a heavy bag and the feel of the wind in my hair as I fly down a mountain on my bike or snowboard. If I actually enjoy these things, why is it so hard to get motivated to go do them? Like everyone else, I've had long periods of time where I consistently went to the gym or to yoga class or went out for a run. Then something happened: a minor injury, work travel, out of town guests - something always seemed to get me out of my routine. Boy howdy is it hard to get back on track!
I've also been on my various healthy eating kicks where I swear I'm going to make every meal from scratch. A few weeks go by - I stew beans and vegetables, make salads five times a week, make everything vegan or gluten-free or macrobiotic or whatever. But then, all my enthusiasm just gets deflated and I find myself choosing between ordering a pizza or going out for pho.
The best advice that I can offer (and that I try to take myself) is don't let anything derail you. Do less or go with less intensity, but don't let off the gas. Inertia can take weeks, even months to overcome if you let it settle in around you.


7. But Let's Not Bullshit Ourselves
I am a typical American - I am fat. I started gaining weight in college. Now, most people would say that it's common to gain the freshman 15 - since it's your first time away from home and so on. Only, I had lived on my own for nearly a decade when I started university (I was a late bloomer). At one point, I actually wished aloud that I had a malfunctioning thyroid or that something was wrong with me so that I would have an excuse for being fat. But that's all it was - an excuse. Do I really need to talk about how screwed up it was that I was wishing disease on myself to justify my obesity?
No, there was nothing wrong with my TSH levels or anything else. I had simply let myself go. This is not to say that there aren't people out there who have real medical problems that cause them to gain weight. There are a variety of reasons people gain weight and not all of them are because they are doing something "wrong". But in my case, I was fat because I was sitting on my ass (studying) and drinking way too many mochas with extra whip. I suspect a lot of people are like me - they are fat because they aren't exercising enough and they have a crazy sweet tooth.
When it's been cold and rainy (like it has been lately), or I'm in the middle of reading a really good book, the last thing I want to do is strap on some running shoes and go burn off last night's dinner. But, I also know that if I had not been getting regular exercise and eating healthier foods that I wouldn't have been able to get through the public ritual I ran last week. I celebrated Ostara outdoors, in the cold wind and rain and I'm not sick! Last month, I got through four full days (and nights) of Pantheacon and I didn't get sick. This was only possible because I've been taking better care of myself. As a priestess of the Gods I serve, I am committed to maintain a strong body so that I might continue to do greater work. What great work could you do if your body was stronger?

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