A Year in the Life...
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Today is a milestone for me.
I originally joined SparkPeople on February 21, 2008. I tinkered with it, toyed with it, checked in from time to time. And eventually days, then whole weeks, would pass from one log-in to the next, until I wasn't really 'here' at all.
In terms of health, it's not like I didn't know what I should be doing: I was very overweight - the infamous 'morbidly obese' - which is one of the reasons I joined Spark to begin with. I'd already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and had been prescribed medication.
Gaining more weight and not following a healthy diet led to a second diabetes prescription. The combination 'kind of' kept my blood sugar in check, but I still wasn't helping myself. At the same time, my blood pressure was going ever upward - in response to the weight gain and lack of sodium control - so a medication was prescribed for that, too.
Last year I attended a 'healthy lifestyle' class run by the local NHS clinic, meeting once a week for twelve weeks. Every week there was a weigh-in and a one-on-one discussion with one of the counselors. At the first meeting, I weighed 264.2. Over the next twelve weeks I gained (yes, you read that right) a little over six pounds. I could say 'That class was not enough to motivate me,' but... motivation comes from within, doesn't it?
What I already knew - and what the class graphically brought home - were the dangers of continuing my unhealthy lifestyle. Complications of poorly-controlled diabetes include blindness, kidney disease, amputations. There's also a well-established link between diabetes and heart disease, and with hypertension adding to the problem (risk of stroke / heart attack), I was beginning (finally) to have concerns.
When the class ended - exactly one year ago today - I had a think about things.
I considered the possibility of graduating to daily insulin injections. I compared that to hot-fudge sundaes, macaroni-and-cheese, and scones with clotted cream.
I thought about kidney disease - is it painful? I don't know, but I found the prospect of dialysis pretty daunting. Was I willing to risk that in order to have wine with dinner and Amaretto or Drambuie afterwards?
The idea of blindness was perhaps the scariest: macular degeneration runs in my family, so I've already watched some loved ones struggle with the loss of eyesight. I like to knit, and read, and do sudoku puzzles, and sew, and I practically live on the computer... was I willing to give all that up in exchange for chocolate cake, French fries, pancakes drenched in maple syrup?
I've often said I hate exercising - which I do. But at this point in my life, it's still a choice. Would I choose walking, or would I choose brownies? How limited would my options for exercise be if I lost a foot?
I'm not listing these things to scare anyone reading this. I'm just outlining my thought processes, telling you what was in my head and what motivated me to start changing the way I live - changing the choices I make.
The lifestyle clinic offers monthly weigh-ins, but I've only gone every six months. Yesterday was my second post-class visit. The clinic is on the second floor of a rather tall building, with three half-flights of stairs and an elevator. I stood in the lobby, debating with myself for a moment.
I don't often do stairs. We live in a one-story house, and I seldom come across them. Between that and a bum knee... as I said, I don't often do stairs.
In the year-plus I've been going to this clinic, I have never taken the stairs. I looked at the steps and thought, Okay, I'm not likely to fall down altogether, so what's the worst that can happen? I might have to sit down halfway up? I might need to come back down and take the elevator after all? Mmmm, I'll just take them really slowly and see how it goes.
No, I didn't bound up those stairs. But I walked at a steady pace, didn't have to stop, didn't have to drag myself up by the handrail - and I wasn't out of breath when I reached the top. And my official weight was registered as 183.92. That's down about eighty-six pounds for you number crunchers.
I'm now more than halfway to my ultimate goal of 124. I'm on a minimum dose of a single medication for the diabetes itself: one Rx was discontinued last spring, and subsequent decreases of daily amounts for the Metformin have been steady. Sometime next January, if all goes well, I should be able to come off it entirely, taking me to a 'controlled by diet and exercise' phase of the diabetes.
I've gone from a size 28/30 to a size 16, from 3X to medium / large and even (in the case of some pullovers and nightshirts) to 'one size fits all.'
Those are the successes.
There are failures, too, most notably the hypertension. Nothing seems to bring the blood pressure down. It's an ongoing struggle. Recently I read that the reason it goes hand-in-hand with diabetes is the domino effect from kidney disease: diabetes can cause the kidneys to go into early-stage nephropathy, which in turn makes the blood pressure go up, which - full circle here - aggravates the diabetes and kidney disease. And the blood tests keep coming back with 'Alert - Stage 2 CKD' (chronic kidney disease).
I still have such a very long ways to go. But it is so heartening to see progress.
Now, what have I learned?
1) When I weigh less, I feel better. When I weighed over 200 pounds, my back frequently used to ache, probably from carrying so much excess weight. I seemed to have constant indigestion, carrying antacids with me everyplace. I would get out of breath at the slightest exertion. Now, though, my back doesn't bother me, I couldn't tell you the last time I had heartburn, and as for getting out of breath - well, I climbed those stairs without huffing and puffing.
2) How crucial it is to track nutrition every day: I don't miss a day. And together with that is the fact that every bite, every mouthful, every crumb gets recorded. What a great feature Spark's nutrition tracker is! What a difference this simple tool has made to my efforts.
3) Diet control isn't enough. Exercise - formal cardio, casual walking, being a body-in-motion - is critical. Dieting, carefully controlling the amount of food you take in and what kinds, will result in weight loss. But diet alone won't really improve your circulation, or your tone, or help your body get as fit as it can be.
4) Do it NOW, don't wait. I've always been one to put off losing weight and getting healthy. 'I'll wait until my next birthday'... 'Oh, I'll really work at it in the new year'... 'That wedding / high school reunion / cruise is months away: I'm sure I'll get in shape before THAT event rolls around!' Make a plan, then follow it. Start today.
5) Allow yourself to feel success and joy, because no matter how small the goal, no matter how minor the milestone, if you have achieved something, feel GOOD about it! Every baby step is important, even if all you did was walk outside to the mailbox and back or make it thru the day without a cookie. Be proud that you are making progress.
6) When you run into the 'F' word - failure - don't let it defeat you. The word is powerless. Think about what went wrong, what didn't work, what you can change so next time that problem will be resolved successfully. Learn from your mistakes - from failures - because no failure is permanent.
7) What you need for a healthy body is well-known: you need certain nutrients and you need to get the blood circulating. What you do not need is somebody else's 'how.' Find out what works for you, whether it's getting up 20 minutes early to take a walk or avoiding all 'white' foods.
Learn everything you can, because knowledge is power. Adapt suggestions and ideas for your own lifestyle. Run experiments: try something for a week or two... does it help? Do you like it? Is it working for you? Tweak the diet. Try a different exercise routine. Walk to work, or to the library, or around the block, or down your driveway and back. Nothing is etched in stone. You can try on diets and exercise regimens the same way you try on clothes or change your hair. And sooner or later, you will find one you can live with - a lifestyle that fits.
For those of you who think losing weight is different for you, or that I must have some kind of magic secret, or that it's somehow easier for me, rest assured: I haven't done anything you can't do. I've made a few good choices in terms of what's important to me and what I want out of life.
Not long ago, I read 'Losing weight is hard, and being overweight is hard. Choose your hard.' I made my choice.