The following post is a guest post by writer and filmmaker, Beth Richards.
Four years ago I was fitter than I’ve been since I was in my twenties, and felt great. Then stresses mounted on top of other stresses, loved ones died unexpectedly, my marriage broke up, I moved a couple of times, and as with many women – stress packed on the pounds: ten pounds per year to be exact.
(Here’s an admission…you can tell I’m having trouble accepting “the new me” because my photos on line are the old, skinny me and not the new fat one!)
Today I’m forty pounds heavy and the toll on my legs and feet – being a walker – is downright painful. On particularly cold days in winter my feet get cramps that make it next to impossible to walk at all. I heard that for each ten pounds of extra weight, to your feet it feels like triple. So my poor feet are carrying over 100 pounds of extra weight. If I were them, I’d leave me!
Much as my weight gain has been frustrating and discouraging, it became my new ‘norm’. I haven’t liked how I felt but I was slowly getting accustomed to myself at this weight. But this morning I had my wakeup call: an article a friend posted on Facebook. Reading it, I realized that while I may rub my sore feet and feel nostalgic about that wardrobe I no longer fit into, it’s what I’m doing to the inside of my body – and my brain – that are the bigger issues.
Written by an American heart surgeon, Dr. Dwight Lundell, the article begins with a familiar lament about the huge increase in diabetes and heart disease in North America, both connected to our diets. We all knew this before but in the past we thought the villain was saturated fat. It makes sense, right? Fat leads to, well, fat.
Now, however, heart specialists concede that when we turned instead to polyunsaturated fats like corn oil and soybean oil, the inflammation inside our bodies led to an increase in heart disease. In other words, the ‘cure’ became the culprit. Dr. Lundell provides an example of what happens inside the cells of our bodies when we eat a simple sweet roll, baked with corn or soybean oil, white flour, and of course, sugar.
“ Imagine”, writes Dr. Lundell (2013), “spilling syrup on your keyboard and you have a visual of what occurs inside the cell. When we consume simple carbohydrates such as sugar, blood sugar rises rapidly. In response, your pancreas secretes insulin whose primary purpose is to drive sugar into each cell where it is stored for energy. If the cell is full and does not need glucose, it is rejected to avoid extra sugar gumming up the works.
When your full cells reject the extra glucose, blood sugar rises producing more insulin and the glucose converts to stored fat.
What does all this have to do with inflammation? Blood sugar is controlled in a very narrow range. Extra sugar molecules attach to a variety of proteins that in turn injure the blood vessel wall. This repeated injury to the blood vessel wall sets off inflammation. When you spike your blood sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels.” If you want to read the entire article by Dr. Lundell, here’s the link: http://www.tunedbody.com/heart-surgeon-declares-really-causes-heart-illness/
Think of inflammation and the burden it places on our bodies the same way as I described the burden forty extra pounds placed on my feet. Over time, inflammation rubs the arteries raw and makes our cells work overtime. It actually prematurely ages us! Inflammation is linked to heart disease and diabetes, and also to Alzheimer Syndrome. If you have ever known or cared for a loved one stricken by that disease, you will want to avoid anything that contributes to it.
Both inflammation and excess weight can be caused by a number of contributing factors. Eating what I call “the unholy trinity” is a major cause of both. The unholy trinity are sugar, processed flours, and omega-6 oils like corn oil and soybean oil. Another factor is portion size. When my son went to Europe he was amazed at how small the portions were compared to portions we’re used to in North America. Not surprisingly therefore, Europeans are generally leaner. In addition, he was amazed at how many seniors he saw biking and hiking. He was touring by bicyle and noted that some of the seniors easily outrode him and his teenage friends!
My grandmother, who was always neat and trim, ate whatever she wanted but there were a few marked differences between her diet and a modern diet. She only ate natural foods grown or processed locally, including the butter my Grandfather made in his island creamery and homemade bread, locally raised meat and eggs, and veggies grown in her own garden. And her portion size was half what consider ‘normal’ today. If you saw her eating a meal today you’d say she “eats like a bird”. But to her and her generation, they were normal portions. We eat big portions these days because it’s what we’re used to. Just like I’ve been getting used to my larger body.
Weight gain is also affected by lack of sleep, hormonal imbalances, and stress. I’ve been a proponent of meditation most of my life but I haven’t meditated in years. Instead, I let stress take over. As a single mom and sole provider, as well as a primary caregiver for people in my extended family who needed care, I’ve been stressed at times to the point I wanted to crawl inside a hole and fall asleep forever. It wasn’t my fault. My life was full to the brim with stressors outside my control. What I do have control over, however, is how I respond to stressors. For years I didn’t do myself any favors by not taking time out for me, for relaxation and de-stressing. Like many Moms, I just kept doing that ‘go-go-go’ routine which also causes inflammation. Our adrenal glands can only withstand so much stress and when they give up, they release too much cortisol. Excess cortisol packs pounds around the middle, specifically. And so the merry-go-round goes!
Healthy Body Challenge
I have decided this morning that instead of self pity (which isn’t healthy!), self blame (which leads us to eat more!), and perennially putting off getting fit to a day when I have “time”….the time is now. As of today, February 25, 2014, I am going to be conscious and deliberate in terms of portions and ingredients. No processed foods. No simple sugars or simple carbohydrates. Lots of veggies and fruit, lean meats, and fresh juices.
I’m going to write down what I eat every day, sleep at least 8 hours, and walk at least an hour a day. I’m also going to meditate for at least 20 minutes a day and I think I’ll start the day that way, rising a bit earlier to fit it in. A friend loaned a meditation CD to me and if it’s good I’ll share the basics in my next post. Much as I appreciate spirituality, the meditation I intend to do is practical rather than spiritual. I simply want to calm my mind in preparation for each day, and train myself to deal with stress in healthier ways, letting go of stressors more easily and riding (rather than bucking) life’s storms as they arise and fall away.
I’ll post once a week on line to let you know how I’m doing and I’ll relate not only my successes but also my ‘failures’, because it’s when we slip and fall that we gain some insight into ourselves. And I invite anyone and everyone who is willing, and wants to feel better (whether or not you want to lose weight) to join me in my Health Challenge. Christine and I talked earlier in the winter about a walking club so we’ll get that going for real. In four months I hope to feel better, and to make it last. I don’t want a quick fix. I want a healthy life. And I don’t know about you but I plan to greet Spring with a healthy heart and happier feet!
Who’s up for a Healthy Body Challenge? Want to join us?