Keeping the Line- 29 Wk Food Journal Check In/ Cancer Scare

In April, I received the news that I had a small patch of basal cell carcinoma (skin cancer) on my face by my right nostril.  A small pustule had been bleeding off and on and my wise husband said “You better go get that looked at.”  Though he had to nudge me several times before I made an appointment.  The dermatologist biopsied it along with doing a full body check for other possible skin cancers.  Considering I’m covered in freckles from my Irish side, everything looks like cancer to me.  I was sitting in my home office working the morning when the doctor called and said the dreaded words “It’s cancer.”

My mother died of metastasized colon cancer after an 8 year battle not only with colon but lung cancer.  To say this traumatized me watching her suffer so much is an understatement.  Aside from something tragic happening to my family, my biggest fear has been to get cancer.  Any kind of cancer.  I have nightmares about it and I’m always getting check or tested as much as I possibly can for different types such as getting a mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.  I do not want to die like my mother did, slowly wasting away, cancer taking over her bones where she was in constant pain.  We wouldn’t let our pets die this way, I’m not sure why we do our humans.  But that’s another blog post altogether.

I remember ending the call with the doctor and just staring out the window as my biggest fear had just come to life.  Logically, I knew it was a minor type of cancer, non life-threatening.  If I was going to have any kind of cancer, this was highly curable.  My unlogical emotional and fearful side just swelled and took over, stealing away my logic for about an hour or two.  I cried, I felt doomed, I was thinking but I used sunscreen at least from my mid-twenties when skin cancer advocates preached prevention.  Would I have a huge scar on my face?  Would that matter if it’s removed.  I just wanted that cancer out of my body and knew I would not hear from the skin cancer surgeon for a few days.

Then my brain kicked in and I calmed myself down.  Stop overreacting, I told myself firmly.  You’ve got this, you know people going through way worse than you, stop being a damned pussy about it.   Grow up, get a grip and get back focused with your life. The surgery was scheduled for the end of May, almost a month away.  I am an emotional eater.  I use food to comfort me and make me feel better.  Now that my mom is gone, I gravitate more toward food.  During this month, I was not as diligent about entering what I ate in the food journal, finally just giving it up until after the surgery.  Then I just let it sit until I weighed myself last weekend and realized I had indeed gained a few pounds back.  Nothing major but obviously left to my own devices, I don’t really pay attention as closely as I believe to what I eat.

I knew the time between the call telling me I had cancer until the surgery, I was eating when I wasn’t hungry.  I’ve read all sorts of books on emotional eating, I’ve tried the listen to what you really want and eat it only those things type of instruction they give you from that book.  I’m sure that works for some people.  But me, I always think I want chocolate or something not good for me or to eat when I am bored, upset but not hungry.  The problem is, I’m so good at lying to myself and excusing what I eat, that I am not a reliable source of recollection and tracking just in my mind alone.  My mind covers up my extra portions and little treats I think, oh those calories won’t count much.  Except they do.  Every single one of those little bastards add up and total much more than the 1800 calorie limit I set for myself daily.

To know your limitations is to know thineself.  My limitation is that I have spent so many years lying to myself about what I eat because I was in this binge/purge/overeating/under eating/dieting cycle that I still carry around my old habits.   Though this May, I quietly acknowledged my emotional overeating without coming down on myself.  I just noted that it was a rough period I was going through, I was eating to comfort myself and it’s not the best for me but I’m okay.  Several years back, I would beat myself up and then eat even more because I felt worse.  It’s an odd cycle, emotional overeating.   I also said things to myself like, well at least it’s a little extra food and not crack or heroin.  You could be self-medicating with way worse substances.  So I have come a long way but I’m still not quite in the zen of ony eating when I’m hungry mindset.

So the solution?  A simple one.  Back at the food journal 24/7, full time, recording every thing I shove into my pie hole.  That’s a lovely mental image isn’t it?  It’s been working and when I go off the journal, I regain a bit because even though I would like to believe that I am acutely aware of what I eat, I still tend to use food for comfort at times or I don’t remember things I’ve eaten.  Having the calories consumed in black and white on my phone is a continual reminder to adjust my eating habits.  I was hoping by the time six months had come and gone into this food journal experiment, that I would have the knowledge and wisdom to eat without the food journal.  While I have improved, I’m not quite there yet.  I have some old, latent issues to resolve.  Which is good news because now I can pinpoint them and work on them more specifically.  It took me years to get to where I am, it won’t be overnight for me to correct them.   It’s a journey like anything else.

Since I have been back on the food journal wagon, keeping the line, I’ve lost a few of the five pounds I gained.  Two steps forward and one step back.  The important thing is to keep going forward and learning along the way.  I could easily get pissed off and discouraged so I quit but that doesn’t do me any good nor does it fix the problem.  If I give up, then I lose.  I fail myself.  I’m not doing that.  I’ve done it enough in the past.  It’s time to keep the line, keep going.  Keep using that annoying app and record every little dang thing I eat.  Mostly it’s annoying because I want to think I eat better than I really do and having that pointed out to me pisses me off.  It really isn’t the app’s fault.

Food journals work, if you use them.  Kindness to yourself works as well.  I could be ranting at myself that I am a failure for my weight gain but I am not.  I’m just getting back on the horse and back into the food journal groove.

With the manta – Keep the line, keep the line.  I’m not even sure what that means but it sure sounds good.  Ciao!

PS – The surgery went well, it was a tiny spot and I only ended up with minor scarring.  I was being a big weenie about it all because of my fear of getting cancer.

 

Food Journal – Week 7 Check In/My Nature Prescription

Almost seven weeks have passed since I started using the food journal app consistently.  My goal is to make it at least 3 months or twelve weeks so I am over half way there.  It has started to become a habit so it seems less cumbersome.  In essence, using the food journal has started becoming a habit and not a nuisance.  I am snacking much less and when I do, I am much more selective about what I eat as a snack.  The best thing is that it has stopped my mindless eating which I believe was one of my biggest challenges.  The other challenge was we eat out a lot and now we have shifted to cooking more just because it is easier to control the calories you ingest.

The other benefit of the food journal is planning.  For New Year’s Eve, we knew we were going out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  We went online to see what they were offering on their NYE menu and we planned it out ahead of time what we wanted to eat and the estimated calories.  Then the rest of the day, we ate lighter to allow for a heavier meal.  Though to be honest, I ate too much.  I really didn’t need either the few small slices of rye bread (mmmm) and butter or the triple chocolate cake we split.  I think I would have given up the triple chocolate cake before the bread.  It was simply too sweet.  But the main point here is making choices and thinking ahead.  And not depriving yourself.  If I deprive myself, I binge and I also feel rebellious which in turn makes things worse.  The key is to know yourself, your triggers and figure out what works for you. You can try to follow expert advice or mine (not expert) but really I find you have to do what works for you. And no deprivation.  No foods are off limit.  No restaurants you can’t eat in.  Depriving yourself doesn’t work as a lifestyle change.  This for me is exactly that.  It has to be otherwise I will slip back and gain the weight (and more) back.

Actually I don’t really care about the weight, I am using it and measurements as a marker but mostly it is how my clothes fit.  Because I can shrink inches and not lose a pound.  I can actually gain weight while losing size because of muscle gain especially if I am training or working out hard.  However, since I am keeping track of my weight, I have lost 11.8 lbs in that 7 weeks or about 1.5 lbs a week average.  My highest weight recorded was this past May (I didn’t record it often then) and using that number, I have lost 15 pounds.  Which means I have made a 50% dent in the ~30 pounds I gained over last winter.

They say how hard it is to lose weight when you get older and especially when you edge into menopause.  However, I have been really surprised how fast and dare I say, easy, this has been.  Other than the annoyance of getting into the habit of using the food journal which with smart phones really isn’t that hard and just adjusting how I eat, I really haven’t made huge changes other than not overeating and being more cautious about eating out.  I still eat ice cream and chocolate and candy bars and popcorn at the movies (small no butter – but I don’t miss the greasy butter which used to make me sick).  I’ve reduced my soda drinking and replaced it with oolong tea in the morning and early afternoon.  The crazy thing about the oolong tea is that I haven’t had a migraine since I started drinking two (large) cups of it a day.  Sometimes if I decreased how much I ate, I would get a searing migraine.  But I haven’t had one in weeks.  I think the second benefit from the tea is that it makes me less hungry due to the caffeine content.  This is not something to drink late afternoon or bedtime.

Also, my husband finally set up our rower in the basement.  It is one with the water tank (House of Cards viewers will know the one) and even on the lowest resistance, I find this to be a touch workout.  It’s not quite been set up a week but I can only do 15 minutes with frequent breaks.  The nice thing is I can take the breaks whereas on my bike rollers, I couldn’t do so as easily.  They claim it works 85% of your muscle groups and I really think it does.  But the best benefit is I’m getting a good cardio workout without having to go to a germy gym and fighting for equipment.  I watch Netflix or listen to music and row away.  Well row a bit then stop, row, stop, row, stop.  You get the idea.

My app (My Plate) credits you earned calories when you workout (it also will link to other apps or you phone if it counts your steps and automatically calculate estimated calories burned).  Though I don’t use the adjusted added calories usually, I try to stick right around the prescribed number allowed each day before exercise, I know that working out affords me more fudge room.  I row, bike and hike for ice cream.  And to feel better.  I am feeling much more energetic, less tired and I’ve accomplished a lot more around the house than I normally do.  Last winter, I turned into a slug.  This year, I’m keeping active though not in the intensity that I do in the warmer months.

Oh, and my winter depression or (SADD)…  Initially I had been using the idea that vigorous/moderate exercise alleviated my year-round struggle with depression.  I noticed big changes when I felt depressed then got out for 30+ minutes riding my bike.  Similar to a runner’s high.  Two winters ago, I tested that theory by joining the Y again.  I could work out on the elliptical for an hour, hard, and not see the same results.  That was frustrating.  I tried the stationary bikes that they use for  the cycling classes.  I tried walk/running on a treadmill.  Never did I get the same result.  It didn’t help my depression at all.

Then I figured it out.  I have to be outside, in nature for 30+ minutes several times a week to help my depression.  Sometimes it’s so cold (Ohio weather), I have to do short walks out into my back yard and breathe in the air and notice the landscape around me (I’m fortunate that I live in the country).   This seems to help as well.  Just multiple shorter trips outside make a difference.  It is even better if I can do it on a sunny day.  But the prescription seems to be not vigorous exercise so much as the outdoors.  Breathing in the fresh air, seeing the sun, and so on.  But it is not just the outdoors, it’s being away from urban areas and into nature.

Stanford University had some encouraging findings about my theory http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/.  That is why when I lived in town and would walk in the winter, it never seemed to help my depression.  Now I live in the country and I can just walk into my back yard and be surrounded by nature.  But there are parks I visit as well.  My cousin experiences this phenomenon as well.  He gets ancy and depressed if he can’t get away from the city and into nature.  Maybe out genetic makeup is more sensitive to being indoors or urban places.

I have deemed it my “Nature Prescription” which is a hella lot better than Zoloft and all its side effects.  As long as I get outside 3-4 times a week for about two hours total (my guess), my depression (SADD) seems to stay at bay.  So it wasn’t so much the vigorous exercise as I first believed (though there are studies to prove this) but being out in nature that really triggered my brain to act right.   I am still forming my hypothesis but so far based on my experience, this seems to be what works for me.  I am not a physician or a psychologist so I really can’t shell out medical advice.  This is simply my experience.  Exercise also helps regardless of where I perform it as I can feel a big difference in my attitude when I am not active.  That and I feel like a fat slug.  A juicy one that looks like it’s gonna pop at any minute.

As I write this, the sun is out glistening on the new fallen snow and the temperature is 1 degree which feels like -10 degrees  with the windchill.  I will get my nature dose simply by bundling up and taking the dog out to potty.  For like 2 minutes at a time.  Whatever works.

That’s the key, do what works for you and Happy Damn It’s F’ing Cold January!

Food Journal – Two Week Reflection & Progress

Today marks the 2 week and 1 day journey into utilized a food journal to help me see what I am eating and be more aware of my habits as well as my tendency to emotional/bored eat.  As I mentioned in my last post, I do not see this as a “diet” but as a tool for lifestyle changes that will help me be healthier and hopefully live a better life.  I don’t believe in dieting because you can’t sustain those habits for the rest of your life unless you have extreme willpower.  I don’t.  Personally, I don’t want to think about eating all that much and would rather I teach myself better habits so I don’t have to sit there and think, “but I exercise all the time, why am I not losing weight?”.  That answer is simple.   I eat like crap.  

Using the My Plate app on my smart phone, I’ve tracked most everything I’ve put in my mouth for 14 days.   I’ve seen where when I’m sitting to watch tv, I start getting bored and want to snack even though I’m not hungry.  If I get upset or stressed, I start wanting something sweet to eat even if I ate less than an hour ago.  As much as I hoped I conquered emotional/ stressed/ bored eating, I really hadn’t.  Though to be fair, I have overcome bingeing though.  I may eat when I’m not hungry but I don’t do it in a way I’m sick as a dog after downing a half gallon of ice cream or a whole family-sized bag of barbecue chips.  Baby steps.  

The food journal has forced me to look at how and what I eat.  I’ve instantly become more aware that my idea of portion sizes is wrong and I overestimate them.  Dammit health magazines, you were right!  I’ve started to adjust for eating a heavier meal.  The next meal I eat, I go lighter.  Most days I stay within or under my calorie goal.  I made sure to pick a calorie goal based on my weight, age, gender and activity level but mostly I’ve been weighing myself daily (I know I swore I wouldn’t weigh myself but this is for science) to see where a good calorie range may be for me.  Too restrictive and I lose weight too fast.  Too generous and it stalls.  

My goal is to roughly lose a pound a week but I have no magic weight that I want to be.  I know that since I am much more athletic than my younger years and I carry more muscle than ever so I have no idea what I may weigh when I reach the general size I think would be healthy for me.  And no it’s not a size 0 or 2.  I’m aiming for a misses size 14-18 range.  Since size 14 jeans vary from manufacturers , this isn’t a great tool either so I picked a range.   I have no hard fast size or weight goal.  Just to eat healthy, exercise, be fit and strong.  To feel good and not like a slug.  To be able to ride my bike faster and longer, to hike harder trails, to just look in the mirror (without being a self-critical B) and like what I see.  To feel good about taking care of myself rather than feeling like crap because I don’t. 

Results.  After two weeks of using the food journal to stay around 1800-2000 calories (I used a range because it feels less restrictive), I’ve lost roughly 7.6 pounds.   The jeans I bought this spring one size up because I gained weight over the winter are getting too big and I went back to my size down jeans I had been wearing before the weight gain and they fit good.  Progress from just two weeks.  Of course this won’t be the case all the time as you tend to plateau which requires you make some adjustments which I will deal with when that time comes.  The best result is not weight loss or wearing my smaller size jeans, it’s the fact I feel better in general.  I have more energy, the nerve issue in my hip (which can come from obesity) is starting to see drastic improvement and I feel more positive about myself.  Okay, I also feel a little more sassy and sexy!  

I’m not sure what the next two weeks will bring but if there is anything fun to report I will post a follow-up then about my next results.   I’m looking forward to what those may be!

Meno-Blog (Part 1): An Extreme Lesson in Self Care

Peri-menopause.  The wonderful time in a woman’s life which transitions her into menopause (the cessation of menstruation for one year).  Every woman experiences it differently.  Some have little to no symptoms (grrrrr) and some woman have extreme symptoms requiring hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (awwwwwe) and me, I think I fall somewhere in the middle.

Mostly inability to sleep because at 2 and 4 and other intervals during the night, hot flashes wake me up with a pounding heart and racing mind as adrenaline tries to restart my ovaries.  I am not sure why my body wants to fight this but I imagine it has something to do with long-ago coded survival of the species in my ancestors.  I go to bed and my external body temperature = inferno so I’m hot & cold all at the same time.  My husband installed a wifi capable thermostat so I can switch from heat to air conditioning in the matter of moments.  Thank god for thoughtful husbands and technology.

Once I have a spike, I’m ready to run a race.  After working with my OB/GYN, I’ve only been able to use Zquil which at least helps me go back to sleep after the spikes.  It is not a medication you are supposed to take long-term but my choice is falling asleep driving to work and getting into an accident where I kill myself or someone else or taking my chances with an OTC medication.  Yes, it’s that bad, the sleep deprivation.  Yes, I’ve tried about everything else.  This is what works the best so far.  I am hoping once into menopause, I can sleep without the medication even if I wake up a few times a night and then fall back asleep immediately.   I don’t think I will ever sleep like the dead again until I am actually dead.

The mood swings are particularly annoying.  I liken this to aliens (hormones) taking over your body and you have such little control over being happy one moment and ready to kill someone the next.  I have to work very hard in recognizing what is a mood swing and an actual true emotion.  My family and close friends have learned when I warn them I am feeling off or moody that they don’t poke the bear.  I’m trying, people, I really am but someone else has control of my emotions and moods at times and there is so little I can do outside of HRT which ups my chance of cancer (which you read mixed studies on this evidence but there are estrogen-fed breast cancers so I am erring on the side of caution).

I spend more time alone especially when I’m feeling like this.  I’ve realized that I have to let the fiery anger, deep sadness, etc. just settle for a bit because it feels like I have issues and problems in my life I need to fix when really it’s just a hormone shift.  It is hard to tell at times , you can have nothing negative going on in your life and suddenly it feels like the world is ending for no reason at all except the emotions you experience seem legit and very real.  It is why teenagers seem so irrational at times.  Some of it is immaturity and some of it is their hormones.  People don’t understand how swiftly and strongly a hormone shift can affect you.  Perimenopause is essentially backwards puberty except we can’t usually dress all in back with dark makeup and hide in our bedrooms to muse about life’s indignities.

I’ve made a discovery about this lovely time in my life, you have to really push self-care.  Perimenopause forces you to start taking better care of yourself and your body.  After years of taking care of everything and everybody, a woman has to stop and start focusing on her own needs more.  I’m tired much of the time right now.  My life has changed somewhat because I just can’t (I hope temporarily) do all that I once did.  I was beating myself up because I fell short of my yearly cycling mileage goal by 200 miles.

Then I realized that I was just too exhausted to spend all the time it requires getting ready to ride my bike, even from my own driveway.  I have to gear up: helmet, padded diaper shorts, cycling shoes, gloves, sweat band, jersey, fills water bottles, snack for longer rides, sunscreen, dog spray, pump up my tires, check bike mechanical, grease chain, and check weather to see the wind direction to determine my route.  A year ago, all this preparation  didn’t phase me.  Today, though, by the time I get ready to ride, I just want to go crawl into bed. I’m too tired to really care about riding more than ten miles.

So I focused more on walking which requires maybe some sunscreen and my running shoes.  A water bottle if it’s hot and I’m going on a longer walk.  It’s easy, it’s simple and it takes much less preparation and gear.  Exercise is really essential for this time because at least for me, it seems to keep the moodiness at bay, plus it helps keep your healthy.  You just have to give yourself some slack and do what you feel you can.  I walk 3-4 miles rather than ride 30-50 miles.  It’s a big difference but I don’t have the energy to ride much over 20 miles.

Eating better.  I can tell when I eat crap because my hot flashes get worse.  Alcohol makes them worse as well (dammit!).  Resting when I am tired.  My family is used to seeing me up and going all the time as something always has to be done.  At first they thought I was sick but I told them no, I’m tired, I’m going to rest for a bit.  No, I’m not suddenly lazy, I am freaking exhausted.  When my oldest two daughters move out, I am taking one of their bedrooms for my office which will include a day bed for naps where I am out of everyone’s way.

Saying no to things you don’t want to do and don’t have to do.  Giving yourself a break, treating yourself like you would your best friend if she was going through the same thing.  Taking vitamins, eating more fruits and veggies, drink more water.  It all seems elementary but I have noticed it does help.  The better you care for yourself, at least in my case, the better I feel.  Just not pushing myself so hard has been a big help because I don’t get as frustrated.  I just keep telling myself this is a phase and it will pass.  My mom went through raging hot flashes but eventually she quit having them and she slept better after menopause came.  Her moods settled back down.

Perimenopause is a natural event in a woman’s life.  For me it has been tough at times but it has also pushed me to take better care of myself.   As in most things in life, this too shall pass.  Be kind to yourself.

I Will Never Do That Again (Skip Exercise for 4-5 Months)

For whatever reason, last November, I decided after reading an article that it wasn’t how much you worked out but what you ate that was more important.  Well, maybe it is but I don’t know why I got it in my head that I would give it a try over the winter months while I finished my college degree.  I was going to be busy with classes anyway, so what would it hurt?

UGH.  I’m 46-years old, not working out for months really affects your body.  First you start getting lethargic and then you start to grow weaker.  For me, depression runs in my family and exercise helps keep this at bay.  Which I knew and which I thought oh, a few months won’t hurt.  Another really dumb assumption.  School kept me busy but I just never felt good all winter.

Winter is a season I struggle with anyway because I am very much an outdoors person and well I hate the cold so I am stuck inside more.  I join gyms but then quit by mid-April when I can get outdoors again which means I have 6-7 months of the yearly fee that is wasted.  I wish they would let you do a winter gym membership for November – April where you could pay one fee up front.  Though I found I end up catching more colds and viruses when I go to the gym even though I clean every piece of equipment before and after use.  That and I’m not a fan of crowds or waiting on people who decided to camp out on say, the leg press, as if it is their personal throne.  There are only so many evil, impatient looks I can give in a day.

Probably unrelated was the fact my thyroid slowed down even more but I didn’t find out I needed a higher dosage of my medicine until spring.  So I put on 25-30 lbs.  Now I am heavier and weaker and more fatigued than I have been in a long time.  I got a new dosage of medicine and pulled out my bike on the first warm day.  I rode a little and felt like crying.  it was as if I was starting riding 10 years ago.  I wanted to kick myself.

Now I am 4 months later starting back to exercising pretty much an hour or more daily alternating between riding and walking or hiking. It has been a slow process and the longest I’ve ridden has been not quite 40 miles.  Last year by August I had ridden almost my 1000 miles for the year.  This year I’ve barely broken 600 miles.  I have no one to blame but myself (okay maybe my thyroid just a little).  Regaining my fitness has been a struggle and I have yet to lose the weight.  My clothes are looser but the scale won’t move but for me it could simply be muscle weight replacing fat.

Mostly though I am frustrated with starting over.  While winter is not my friend, I have to keep exercising almost every day to keep from losing my fitness.  The one thing I have to remember how much better I feel when I work out most days, how much less I eat because my appetite seems to diminish.  Instead of finding myself eating all the time for no particular reason, I’m finding that I wait until I’m hungry and some days I’m not hungry as often.  In a way, not doing what you body was designed to do, move, sabotages you and you end up gaining weight, feeling crappy and lethargic.  It is much like night and day how I feel when I am exercising vs. when I am not.

The moral of the story – Keep moving, every day.  This is more my reminder than your instruction though I would love to hear how exercise or lack of exercise affects you.  The one key I have learned, is you have to pick activities you enjoy.  Me, I have to be outside most times and I never stick with videos, classes or prescribed regimens.  I need it to be fun, like play when you are a kid.  I try to remember to keep active throughout the day which means cleaning my house, working in the yard, taking the dog for a walk or whatever I can dream up.

I’ve decided that I will invest in whatever equipment or clothing I need to keep active this winter.  I’m selling my rollers and going back to the rear wheel bike trainer (wonderful barely used set of e-motion cycling rollers for sale – contact me! :-).  As Denise Austin would say on her aerobics videos, if you rest, you rust.  As my great-grandmother would say, you are only as old as you feel, so she tried to stay as active as she could and lived to be 100.  Sitting on my arse is not taking care of myself, it’s destroying my health.

Note to self – keep moving, stay moving, stay strong.