Category Archives: Weights and measures

226.6

I’ve been depressed for a while now. It didn’t seem like depression because it was a process, an extenuation and worsening of the negative side of normal. I would have caught it sooner, I think, if it hadn’t been for my inner Pollyanna and her relentless cheerleading. She works hard to keep me going, but part of her snappy patter is refusing to believe things are That Bad. Well, sometimes they are, and finding the upside of a crummy situation results in continuing the crummy situation rather than saying WHOA, this is fucked up, time to start changing things. It dovetails nicely with the Puritan farmer mentality I grew up with – but unfortunately, both of those are geared to help you ENDURE hard times rather than solve the problem. In short, it helps you put up with shit rather than fix it.

My attempts to get back on track have all failed. This is probably due to not addressing the cause of the problem. Pressuring myself to do better is just adding pressure if there is zero motivation for change. Add shame to the mix. Sometimes I would have a balanced moment and acknowledge that I wasn’t trying to change right now but that I recognized the need to take better care of myself. But most of the time, all I could do was chide myself and hate myself and concoct schemes to jump start my motivation. Unfortunately, false starts and dead ends and restarts get me down – way down. Failure might light a fire under some fannies, but not mine. It drains me of motivation and makes me hate myself more when I try and fail and try again and fail again, despite the well-known quote from Samuel Beckett, as seen in a thousand earnest tattoos.

Over the holidays it got worse – more food, more drink, more escapism. I got fatter, and that made me sad, even though I had applied myself so diligently to those activities that make me fat. After the new year, the depression didn’t get worse, but things happened that made me turn to my recently cultivated Bad Habits™ to cope. Alan Rickman died, David Bowie died. My favorite patient, the person I’ve worked with longest, died, as did another patient a few days later. These things did not help. One of my aunts is still dying, and that’s sad enough without factoring in the effects on her brother and childhood best friend, who happens to be my father. The three-year mark passed since my husband had a job. My own work stress accrued. A new boss started at my work, and the change stressed me. She seems very nice, but there are perhaps a dozen reasons why I can’t stand her. The capper: because I have Teacher’s Pet Syndrome, I need to please her and I can’t seem to, ever (only another Teacher’s Pet will understand how vexing this is.) And then there is the SCA. Stopped playing before Thanksgiving, so no breaks, no socializing, no dressing up, no letting off steam. It’s for the best, given the local crowd, but like work, it’s one more coping tool that’s not working for me, while food and beer and Netflix are.

And then there was the PMS. And the perimenopause. And the hideous problems that come from stuffing myself like a Strasbourg goose: constipation, skin breakouts, lower libido, snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors, hormone changes, headaches, poor sleep, and other effects from clogging my system with excess matter. I have been eating so much that it has overwhelmed my magical machine for processing and filtering and fueling and eliminating. Poor old wagon, overloaded, and trying so hard to keep me going.

My house is dirty. This says more than anything else. And I’m hairy: hairy pits, hairy legs, unpolished toes and fingernails. These are all signs, for those who know me. And Honey knows me better than anyone, but he accepts me wholly and without judgment. If I want hairy legs, he supports me in that. The problem is that I don’t – but I have zero motivation to shave. All I can do is lie here, hating myself, and occasionally wondering what that rustling-leaves sensation is between my calves when I walk. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I realized it was the fluffy leggings I grew myself. I have known gorgeous brunette girls with dark, straight body hair that looks sleek and strong and which lies flat against the legs. Mine is sparse and nearly invisible and sticks straight out every which way. My legs look downy, like a baby bald eagle’s. Now I can laugh, but there was great disappointment in myself when I realized that this was yet another one of the ten thousand things I was neglecting, wrecking, or half-assing.

Sunday was my iron wedding anniversary with my darling man, and this summer will mark 15 years together. All in all, this is delightful, although my pleasure was dampened severely by my feeling more and more certain that I am a worthless sack of shit as a human being. On Sunday I called home to talk to Mom — it had been longer than usual, maybe a lot longer — and after chatting a bit, I asked if she was feeling well because she sounded kind of croaky. Mom said that was a little bit of news: she was done fasting.

DONE FASTING!

Ten years ago January, my grandmother died, after a long and painful deterioration. Her birthday is coming up in a few days, and I always try to be extra supportive of Mom from Jan to March. When Grandma was dying, I had no idea what was happening. Long distance bills were still a thing and I was earning too little to call. And Mom was too busy to talk. She was working with Grandma’s husband in shifts to perform personal care during her final weeks. Round the clock feeding and cleaning and soothing and medicating, and the emotional attrition wore them both down, and out. They would have qualified for respite care if they had put her in a home, but they sacrificed their time and health and well-being to help Grandma die at home. This is everything to me, since I remember my Great-Grandma begging to die at home and her children not allowing it. I like to think they were hoping for a miracle, but she knew, and I am still horrified to think of her dying in a sterile ward instead of in the home she and her brothers built by hand just after World War I.

Mom, in the process of caring for Grandma, neglected herself; and having no time to prepare her own food, relied on nutritional supplements for all those skipped meals. Then Grandma died. Mom still couldn’t eat more than supplements, couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Mom had to put Grandma’s house in order, make all the funeral arrangements, deal with the insurance and banking and paperwork and wills and deeds and titles and taxes. Weeks passed and still no solid food. I came for the funeral and stayed a month – but I had to retreat to my aunt’s house for part of the visit. I don’t know if it was dust or stress or pet dander or constantly being choked up, but I literally could not breathe. I had never had an asthma attack or shortness of breath and it was terrifying.

Mom took this personally and wanted to fight about it all the time. She accused me of everything from giving place to demons to hating her so much that I couldn’t stand to be around her. Every word hurt like hell, but I was too busy gasping for breath to fight or defend. In retrospect I feel it might have been Mom blaming herself for Grandma dying, Mom taking her grieving anger out on me, but I know my gasping scared her and my moving out wounded her and made her feel abandoned all over again. By the time I returned to my own home in February, Mom still hadn’t resumed eating food — she would drink coffee but nothing else hot. No solid food. No broth or real food liquefied, either. The Lord told her not to; the Lord told her to fast. The Lord told her to rely on nothing other than the little jars of nutritional supplements she had been living on since Christmas.

At one point, some months later, my sister called me outside of Mom’s hearing, to talk about the fights they had about it. There were even larger fights in following years. My sister and I spoke with a different aunt about an intervention, even calling the county to do a wellness check. It never came to pass. Eventually we just accepted it.

Last week Mom asked the Lord what to do about this cold that’s been plaguing her, and asked a peer to pray for her. Her throat was so bad that she couldn’t swallow her nutritional supplements and she was getting weaker. The peer told Mom out of the blue that God told her that Mom’s fast would be done when she could no longer drink “those things”, but she didn’t know what that meant. Mom did. She started with a little chicken soup and the next day she had a poached egg on toast. She said it was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten.

Just writing this makes me weepy, and I was choked up on the phone. This didn’t last long, of course, because our joyful chatter turned into a bigger argument than we’ve had in months (catharsis?) and a period of banal conversation to normalize things afterward. I was still upset and stayed upset for many hours, taking refuge as I usually do, in eating too much, drinking too much, and planting ass firmly in cushion. I figured I felt terrible because of the argument, and the physical symptoms of my PMS. It didn’t occur to me to consider that I might be getting sick, too. But I was freezing and aching and my throat was sore, and my weeping was also mucky eyes. Not exactly typical for Hormone Hell Week.

Woke up at three a.m. drenched in sweat, but weirdly euphoric. I took a shower and tried to rally for work, but still felt another wave of miseries coming on and breaking over me. Between the continued symptoms (especially the fever) and the VERY short night, I felt justified in calling in. But despite the physical horridness, I still felt peaceful, even cheerful; as if a burden had been lifted. I felt free to make good choices because I actually wanted the better choice and wanted the better outcome for myself, rather than knowing the right answer and not wanting it but choosing right out of guilt or shame or “should”.

I felt like I wanted to take care of myself again, not because I had to (and *need* to — I have neglected myself for ages, really given up) but because I felt, deep in my bones, that I was worth caring for and doing maintenance on and even nurturing. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way. And I didn’t feel hungry! Didn’t feel the desperate urge to go fill myself with food. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way, either. For ages now, I’ve been an insatiable glutton, all binge and no purge. And it’s not that I don’t have a larder full of tasty treats. It’s just that I didn’t feel that anxious and urgent need to eat myself tranquil.

Other strange feelings: I wanted to take out my earrings. Three steel hoops in each ear, and I’ve not taken them out since having them pierced four years ago, almost to the day. I didn’t, but I keep feeling the urge. I would do it right now, but I don’t have a place to put them to keep them separate, keep them safe. (If I didn’t organize them properly, I’d never be able to put them back in due to screw direction and so forth. But once I find the wee bags, out they go.) One thing I did really want to do was cut my hair. So I took off over 12 inches of it. I weighed myself and have hit a record high that I recognize as needing to be addressed sometime, like remembering to take an old suit to the cleaners. I feel light as a feather.

The reason why Honey and I chose 3/20 as our wedding date was because it’s Nowruz, Persian New Year, as well as the first day of spring. Fresh start. I will celebrate any new year designated on the calendar and deeply feel that every day is a new opportunity to change. But this morning I didn’t wake up thinking I needed to change. I woke up feeling that I already had.

I am just doing what I feel supports the change. I don’t want that feeling to go away.

Atkins Diet: why the original version worked so much better

Fun facts:  back in the early 70s, people ate less overall.  Giving them a diet rich in fats and low in carbs would make them eat more at the beginning, in an attempt to satisfy the carb craving, and then eat less, due to unexciting meal routines and rich food.  That helped.  Requiring that people drop the starches and booze and candy cut out LOTS of unnecessary calories also helped — as did requiring them to drink eight large glasses of water per day.  This was the days before hydration, folks, and the occasional slurp from a drinking fountain was IT for most workers and students.   That sort of thing.

Atkins sort of went haywire in the 90s  when people were not just having a bacon and egg breakfast and skipping toast; they were eating LOTS of bacon and a three-egg omelet, then noshing on beef jerky until lunch.  Lunch was not a piece of chicken and a side of spinach; it was a rotisserie chicken and skip the greens.  Dinner?  Steak drenched in butter, with pork rinds and diet soda all night.  Even the metabolic advantage of a low-carb diet can be wrecked by calories.  It’s hard, but we did it.  Low-carb doesn’t require a significant calorie deficit to work, but there is no way you can choke down 4,000 calories per day and expect to lose weight.  It’s not magic, it’s science.

Look too at the excess junk food (beef jerky, charcuterie, pork rinds) popular with modern Atkins followers.  Back in the day, snacking between meals was less common (still feeling the effects of the authoritarian 50s — not a bad thing in eating) and certainly was not the meals-between-meals we eat now and call it “snacking.”  Moreover, people had not yet started freaking out about cholesterol, for better or worse, and there were nowhere near as many highly processed sugar-based dietetic foods, nor as many should-be-low-carb-but-aren’t foods.

Beef jerky?  Cured with sugar and a ton of salt.  Rotisserie chicken?  The seasoning rub has substantial sugar hiding underneath the salt.  Same with barbecue, jerk flavoring, Cajun blackening, and all Asian foods.  In a balanced diet, this would be no big deal, but on a low-carb diet, it’s a killer.  If you are carb-sensitive, your body will focus on that fractional sugar, and your low-carb weight loss will stall.  A large diet soda, an ounce of cheese, soy sauce, a half-cup of mayo for your tuna, the green pepper holding your chicken salad, the onion on your burger, even caffeine can throw you off.   Not everyone is that sensitive, but even small amounts make a difference for some.

And even for those who are not sensitive, a large quantity of those things will kill you.  Even guzzling tea all day can break the carb allowance.

After the 90s, Atkins Inc. started pushing lifestyle food products, like low-carb “power bars” and recipes to make cream pies with chickpea flour instead of wheat crusts and sucralose instead of sugar.  Why bother, people?  Consuming empty calories is as much a killer.  Better to have a tiny slice of the real thing than half a pie of some overprocessed concoction of chemicals and off-flavored substitutions.  (Anyone whose parents foisted carob on them instead of chocolate knows what I mean. )  In addition, the modern attempt to seem healthy by adding a bunch of vegetables only increased the carb load and decreased the fat.  Doesn’t sound too bad, but again: it throws off the process for many.

Another modern killer was the cholesterol issue.  I’m lucky in my ancestry:  my close nordic and middle eastern roots combined to allow me egregious intake of hard animal fat, and my cholesterol is so good my doctor checked it twice in disbelief.  If you have cholesterol problems, pick a different diet.  Avoid starches, sure, but if you low-fat it as well, it’s just called being sensible.  High fat intake is crucial to this diet, and it is not for everyone.

And remember:  this is a temporary plan, not a way of life.  Weight loss diets cause weight loss; way-of-life diets keep you just as you are.  If you’re perfect, a weight loss diet is not for you.  If you have a bad relationship with food, see a shrink before you diet or your bad pattern will repeat itself.  If you can’t wait for the diet to be over so you can gorge on chips again, it’s not the right time for you to be on ANY diet.  But if you are basically not normally fat, but went through a period of stress / depression / bad habits / hyperfocus on school or work or some other project, chances are you got sloppy.  This will get you unsloppy and back to your old self, wearing your skinny jeans and following your historically skinny habits.  If you are extremely overweight, drastic measures to lose weight are perfectly appropriate.

Even more drastic change can be accomplished by zero-carb, high-fat, low-calorie dieting.  Don’t try this for more than two or three days in a row.  It’s particularly useful if you plateau easily.  One day per week, eat no more than 800 – 1000 calories, and they must be >90% fat.  Brie cheese works, or take a tablespoon of olive oil every couple of hours, just as if it were medicine.  You will lose weight and climb out of the plateau.  It’s like hitting a reset button for low-carb weight loss.

Obviously there is a need for a multivitamin, at the very least, and way more than eight glasses of water.  An oversimplified but still useful analogy would be the distillation of alcohol.  Fermenting sugars, with the aid of anaerobic yeast activity, create complex molecules with the byproducts of carbon dioxide and ethanol — exactly the same process, incidentally, as rising bread dough (with the unconcentrated/undistilled ethanol evaporating during bread during the baking process.)  Removing sugars from your diet and adding a lot of water allow a sort of reverse distillation process, in which your body burns fat instead of carbs, and this burning is possible by adding a lot of water.  Water helps burn fat the way oxygen helps burn wood.  The more you drink, the more you burn.  Just keep an eye on those electrolytes!

If all of this seems unbelievable, consider the Inuit, who have historically eaten only meat, fish, and fat, and the story of Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an anthropologist who lived among them for an extended period with no ill effects.  (Like them, he ate raw liver, which provides Vitamin C.)  Consider the Lancet study, which followed three groups:  one group ate 90% protein, one ate 90% fat, and one 90% carbs.  The Fat group lost a substantial amount of weight, the Meat group lost some weight, and the Carb group gained weight.  A study at the Naval Hospital in Oakland put people on 1000 calories per day, with no more than 10% carbohydrates; over a ten-day period, they lost more body fat than the group who fasted completely.  There’s more.  A lot more.

But let’s review the bidding:  back in the 50s, Grandma had the generic low-carb diet which worked quite well.  In the 70s, Mom had the original Atkins Diet.  They both followed the same basic meal plan:

Bacon and egg breakfast with coffee.  Chicken cutlet, tuna salad, or bare hamburger for lunch.  Steak, chop, meatloaf, or similar for dinner.  Lots of water.  A pickle if something crunchy was needed.

In the 90s and oughts, we had:

Huge cheese omelets for breakfast, with bacon / salami / pepperoni slices to nosh until lunch.  Breve lattes from Starbucks.  Toppings scraped off pizza, or cold cuts rolled with cheese for the midday meal.  Fake power bar for snack.  Huge steak, barbecued chicken, hot links, or similar for dinner.  Pork rinds or beef jerky in front of the boob tube.  Diet soda and/or coffee or tea all day, with a bottle of water or two.

Calorie bomb.  Crypto-carb sabotage.  Mission result:  fail.

Mum and Grandma knew best.

And my dear sister, who dislikes meat and hates fat, lamented that Atkins didn’t work for her:  boiled egg for breakfast, tuna with lemon and cracked black pepper for lunch, naked chicken breast for dinner.  But the little darling is already skinny; I’m not sure what she expected.

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