November 30, 2009

Can the Right Foods Fight Inflammation?

No one likes inflammation, right?

(Photo: sethrt)

There's been a great deal of interest lately in the possible connection between what we eat, and the medical problems that come with chronic inflammation. These problems may include cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, depression, dementia, arthritis, psoriasis, and bursting into flames.

Researchers have long noticed that some foods make inflammation worse, while other foods make it better. Plus, people with certain inflammatory markers are more likely to end up with an assortment of unpleasant medical conditions.

So not surprisingly, there are now diet books on the subject telling you what to eat and what to avoid. For example, The Zone Diet guy, Barry Sears, has one out called The Anti-Inflammation Zone. And dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Perricone (warning; some think he's a quack) thinks you can keep your skin from aging by following his anti-inflammatory diet.

Should we pay these folks any attention? After all, there are tons of diet and nutrition books by supposed experts, and if you took them all to heart, you might find it simplest not to eat anything at all.

Seriously: according to this Breatharian Book, you don't need food.

So one wonders, is this "eating to avoid inflammation" notion a sensible strategy, or just another trendy nutrition fad?

Well, fortunately the L.A. Times blog Booster Shots had some answers! Not only did they alert me to a recent study testing out a new "dietary inflammatory index" for common foods, but they also linked to a great summary of the relevant anti-inflammation research compiled by one of their interns. This of course had me scurrying to evaluate my diet wondering how we could possible score a few interns here at Cranky Fitness. How sweet would that be? Then Jo and Gigi and I could all kick back and drink beer and eat cupcakes while our spunky, energetic interns slaved away in the Cranky Fitness labs, cranking out the nutrition research.
Go spunky interns, go!
(Photo: Shorpy).

Anyway, So What's the Deal with Inflammation?

According to the L.A. Times anti-inflammation article, the point of an anti-inflammation diet is to fight "chronic silent inflammation," the result of an immune system that isn't shutting off when it's supposed to. To quote:

"The theory goes that long after the invading bacteria or viruses from some infection are gone, the body's defenses remain active. The activated immune cells and hormones then turn on the body itself, damaging tissues. The process continues indefinitely, occurring at low enough levels that a person doesn't feel pain or realize anything is wrong. Years later, proponents say, the damage contributes to illnesses such as heart disease, neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease or cancer."

Sounds like something we'd like to avoid, doesn't it?

And in a round-up of of nutritional studies, both human and animal, (best to read the whole article for more details), it's beginning to look like eating the right foods actually can help with the conditions associated with the inflammatory response. Furthermore, the researchers who came up with the nifty inflammatory index found it was able to predict levels of hs-CRP (which is an inflammatory marker) and "provide additional evidence that diet plays a role in the regulation of inflammation."


Now all we have to do is avoid the foods that cause inflammation, and eat more of the kind that fight it.

And so what foods are those? Well, here's the really cool part, at least if you're a health-conscious Cranky Fitness reader:

The "good" foods are pretty much the ones you already knew were good for you, and the "bad" foods are mostly the junky ones you've been taking pains to avoid!

I love it when things work out like that.

Some Foods That Apparently Help Battle Inflammation:

Generally, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, oily fish, protein sources, spices such as ginger and turmeric, and brightly colored fruits such as blueberries, cherries and pomegranates.

Foods You Might Want to Avoid:

Saturated fats, trans fats, corn and soybean oil, refined carbohydrates, sugars, red meat and dairy.

(Wait... dairy? Damn! I drink a LOT of milk. Hmm. But otherwise, this is pretty much what I've been trying to do anyway.)

There's also a chart on the third page in the inflammatory index study that shows the ratings, but it's kind of tricky. In this chart, high numbers seem to be "good" and low ones seem to be "bad." And while there are a few recognizable foods, like garlic (fine), tea (better) and tumeric (awesome), they mostly track boring nutritional components like magnesium (great), and saturated fats (bad).

Do you buy the idea of foods contributing to or preventing inflammation? Any plans to tweak your diet?

November 27, 2009

Rolling With It

(Photo: Xinem)

"Ugh! Not a line for coffee! What?! What do you mean you're out of half-caf-double-latte-malted-mocha-chino?! You cannot be serious! Where's the manager?! Heads are going to roll!! I need my coffee!!!"

And so begins another day in the life of Schotsie Volvo and her pampered existence of ridiculously high expectations of everyone and everything. Why, this morning's coffee episode was almost as devastating as that nail she chipped last week. Schotsie doesn't handle bad news very well - not that this is all that serious, actually. It's disappointing, of course. Even frustrating. But it doesn't really fall into the "bad news" category. Schotsie doesn't really roll with the punches - she throws them. And if you've ever been in line behind a person like her you might start to wonder how Schotsie would handle actual bad news. And not just actual bad news but one bad thing after another. My guess is she'd fold up like a two dollar beach chair.

Life isn't fair and never easy and there eventually comes a time when you begin to recognize just how little control you have over some events that shape your life. You can't control the waves that knock you down, that's for sure. But can you learn how to ride them better? And how is it that some people can deal with pretty much everything that gets thrown at them while drama queens like Schotsie dissolve like vapor at the mere whiff of trouble? In keeping with the fitness and well-being cornerstone that Cranky Fitness and its corporate headquarters are built upon, read on for the secrets of resiliency.

Many in our fitness blog universe have traveled light years to get here from their home planet of Slackonia. They arrive with bright eyes and big plans and begin their journeys of bettering themselves through exercise and eating right. Everything goes great for a while until one little injury starts to monkey-pile onto another and before you know it, they've been knocked quite a ways off plan because of this unanticipated detour. Some have even had to deal with serious illness or traumatic events which have sidelined them. By the time they recover, their goals are looking pretty distant and they wonder if they have the strength to press on. What about that first 5K they were signed up for? And how will they ever get back to training for that marathon? It's New Year's already and they didn't lose the amount of weight that they thought they would have by now. They've already been through so much - wouldn't it just be easier to quit - even if it was a goal that was once important to them before life got in the way?

Resiliency - the ability to adapt to change or misfortune - can vary from person to person, as noted in this article. There is actually a genetic component to it which accounts for how some people handle great burdens with so much more grace and dignity than, oh say, me. Oh yes, yours truly admits to coming apart like a tissue in a washing machine on occasion - even though my tough-as-nails parents have weathered every storm with steely resolve. (Apparently, the resiliency gene may have skipped a generation in this case.) Ah, but there's good news: resiliency can be a learned behavior like so many other things in our lives. And what better way to lean than from others who have mastered the art of rolling with it.

There are common traits among resilient people that we can emulate in our efforts to learn about bouncing back better from adversity. Staying connected to people and reaching out during times of setback or crisis can create a shared burden effect. Blogging, for instance, is a great way to stay connected to people sharing the same goals and trials as you in this fitness journey.

It is vital to remain optimistic. This is classic "glass half full" thinking. Resilient people put a positive spin on things, believing that whatever crisis they've been handed is something that is hopefully temporary and solvable. Those of us with the recessive resiliency gene can un-learn our negative thought process by becoming more aware of our perceptions and re-thinking things in a more positive light.

Having a spiritual life is another component to bouncing back more easily than others. A study at Duke University shows that people dealing with a serious illness were better able to cope with the accompanying depression if they had strong religious beliefs.

Having a sense of play and experimentation helps us ride things out. Staying playful and curious and enjoying life in general is another key element to bouncing back.

Giving back to others is the ultimate in karma. Giving of yourself to others enhances that feeling of well-being and people who do it live longer, research shows.

Knowing how to pick your battles, as in the Serenity Prayer, is a big help. Changing the things you can control but not obsessing about the things you can't saves you the energy to steer you way through whatever situation you're trying to navigate.

Taking as good care of yourself as possible will keep you strong for the road ahead. If you've been sidelined with an injury, focus on eating well and exercising to the extent you can. If you can exercise, it actually produces a reaction in the brain that repairs stress-susceptible neurons.

And finally, resilient people know how to find the lesson in any given experience and use that knowledge in bettering themselves; sort of in the vein of "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger."

My personal point of view is that I need lots of help with becoming more resilient. I need to remind myself that whatever pit I have fallen into on any given day will not be the pit that I necessarily have to live in for the rest of my life. Looking forward, past the difficulties of the moment, has helped me greatly as in, "this too shall pass."

Are there any adversities you've had to overcome in reaching your fitness goals? And if so, what made the biggest difference to you in getting through it?

November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Bits And Pieces

Photo: flygraphix

I'd like to thank the Academy...oops, wrong post. Seriously though, I'm so grateful for the readers who share their thoughts and experiences with us here at Cranky Fitness. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this community. I couldn't ask for nicer - and funnier - co-bloggers than Crabby and Jo. And the commute can't be beat.

I have a great appreciation for the great and small blessings in my life and would like to take a minute to share some of the "greats" with you:

- The Hubby and Teen

- Good health and an able body (which I promise to stop treating like an EPA Superfund Clean-up Site).

- Great friends with whom I have shared every imaginable up and down that life has to offer.

- A modest intellect and rockin' good sense of humor.

- The brave men and women of the military who put their own lives on the line every day to protect our way of life.

- UConn Basketball

- Bailey's Irish Cream

- New England stone walls

- Comedy (for some classic Thanksgiving laughs, check out "Trains, Planes and Automobiles" and the "Cheers" Thanksgiving episode from Season 5).

- Books

- Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island.

- Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and Sinatra

And when I come across with the occasional loss for words, I can always find some who articulate what I am feeling so much more elegantly than I ever could.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity...It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow." -- Melodie Beattie

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice." -- Meister Eckhart

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." -- Thornton Wilder

"The Pilgrims made seven times more grave than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." -- H.U. Westermayer

I hope this day finds you surrounded by the people you love best, a healthy body and mind, and an appreciation for all the other blessings in life.

November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes

(Wait, this image is courtesy of "Rip the Skull?" How festive!)

So have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow, if you are celebrating that holiday, and if you are not, have a wonderful Thursday!

In my mind, Thanksgiving is a great chance to appreciate good food, close friends and relatives, and all that we have to be grateful for.

But while it can be a joyful time, it can also be a somewhat stressful time.

Photo: Zellaby

There are plenty of cultural assumptions about what Thanksgiving is supposed to be like, and the expectations are pretty high. Unless you live inside a Norman Rockwell painting, there will likely be opportunities for disappointment, conflict, anxiety, and embarrassment and crankiness as well as the requisite joy, love, gratitude and peace. Here's hoping that your Thanksgiving day includes more joy and gratitude than bickering and humiliation! And if any culinary or social disasters occur, may they at least make for an entertaining story to tell next year.

So there will be no tips from Cranky Fitness about how to eat "light" tomorrow, or how to make every item on the table super-duper healthy, or what you should do with the leftovers, or how it's already time to start Christmas shopping and what you should do to get organized about that.

Instead, I suggest you just cut yourself a few acres of extra slack. And try to enjoy the day and the company you're with--even if this year it's just your wonderful own self and a peanut butter sandwich!

I have much to be grateful for in my own life, but rather than bore you with my list like last year, I just wanted to say a brief thank you everyone who stops by Cranky Fitness--you are such a supportive, clever, warm, thoughtful bunch of folks!

And special thanks to cobloggers, past and present. Cranky Fitness would have long since gone silent without Merry, Gigi, and Jo bringing great advice, encouragement, good cheer, and, of course, a good dose of crankiness to this odd little health blog.

Have a great holiday tomorrow!

November 24, 2009

I searched "Macrame Turkey", "Weightlifting Turkey", and "Cranky Turkey" and came up with nothing.

And so you don't get a picture with this post.

Instead, you'll get a list of Things Jo Is Thankful For This Thanksgiving

Ready? Let's dive in.

Jo Is Thankful For:

1. A healthy, relatively fit body that allows her to do what she does, both at work and for fun, mostly without injury.

2. Zantac, which seems to be taking care of the worst of the Belly Problems.

3. Old dogs and young cats.

4. Attila, who puts her through her paces three times a week, and for whom cussing and whining never get old.

5. Her family, who is mostly sane and all very far away.

6. Fresh mozzarella on sale at the local health food store.

7. Talisker.

8. A car that works.

9. Singlehood.

10. The opportunity to be grouchy here on CF. I never believed that anybody would want to read what I had to write about fitness in any context, let alone on a *fitness blog*. And, speaking of fitness, I had to do the worst Army drills today: pushups combined with step-hopping with weights and some leapfrogging with a big sandball in between. My butt is three inches higher and sixteen times sore-er, and great googly moogly, I hope I don't have to do legs tomorrow, too.

I hope you all have a fine, healthy, happy Thanksgiving, and that the tryptophan kicks in before anybody has a chance to talk politics. See you later on in the week!

November 23, 2009

Favorite Low-Tech Fitness Equipment: What's Yours?

Photo: Archangeli

So I love gleaming, high-end, technologically-advanced workout equipment as much as anyone. (And excuse me, Precor people: somehow you missed my previous subtle hint about that cute little EFX 5.31!)

Yet to access fancy expensive equipment, there's a problem: I generally have to go the gym and share the machines with other people.

See, I think that any piece of equipment I want to use should be mine, and other people who got there first should just get the hell out of the way when they see me coming!

Oddly enough, no one at the gym seems to respect my feelings on this.

So over the past year or so, I've been trying to do a few more exercises at home. I use dumbells, strappy things, stretchy things, and my own bodyweight to try to replicate the exercises I'd otherwise do on the big-ass machines at the gym. Sometimes this works fine; other times, I find the low-tech version to be either more cumbersome or less fun than the high-tech version.

But every now and then, I've been thrilled to find a convenient and cheap or free alternative to my gym-dependent options. Wanna know what one of my new favorites is?

It's modeled after the Gravitron (the machine at the gym, not the fancy glass bong or the amusement park ride), and it allows me to do dips in my very own home.

Here's a Gravitron. They cost a lot of money:

And here's the Crabitron. I got it for free, at the dump.

OK, so it only works for dips, not pull-ups, and it works best if you don't need assistance to do dips.

But it's lightweight and collapsible and you can store it under a bed or a couch! And they're easy to find used, now that so many oldsters are trading up for fancier versions with all-terrain wheels, baskets, drink holders, and racing stripes. The old-fashioned kind are often available for cheap or free at garage sales, thrift stores, dumps, or in the back closets of your own aging relatives.

Stop following me, damnit, I'm not done with mine yet!
(Photo: greg westfall)

Anyway, so here's a Crabitron exercise demonstration:

Start Here (Figure 1)

Lower Yourself Down A Bit (Figure 2)

Then Haul Yourself Back Up Again (Figure 3)


Then just repeat a bunch of times until your arms hurt like hell and you can't lift yourself up anymore.

To make it easier, I'm guessing you could also tie a stretchy band thing across the top to take some of your weight off. (Or, if you're more adventurous, you could try suspending yourself by a bungee cord from the ceiling.) To make it more challenging, I imagine you could clutch a dumb-bell between your feet, or wear a weighted backpack, or sling a German Shepard over your shoulders. But I haven't tried any variations myself, and there's a good chance that messing around with this will cause the Crabitron to topple over and send you to the hospital with compound fractures and internal injuries. So don't sue me if you want to get fancy!

NOTE: probably best NOT to try this with the kind if walker that has wheels.

So I know that the Bag Lady has cattle to rustle, and Mary at A Merry Life has her stair workout, and Geosomin has leaves to rake, and many of the rest of you have great ideas for low-tech exercises too.

So what's your favorite low-tech exercise? Have you re-purposed any odd items as exercise equipment?

November 21, 2009

This Video Makes Me Miss the 80's

photo credit: laughingmonk

Courtesy of That'sfit, which has collected some cheesy exercise videos, this is probably the gayest aerobic exercise video that I've ever seen. (In both senses of the word--it's incredibly cheerful.)

It's not embeddable, but just click here to see it.

Sure, spinning and kickboxing and boot camp classes may be efficient and effective, but does anyone else miss the high kicks and grapevines and camp glory that was "aerobics" in its heyday?

Sigh. Sometimes I sure do.

November 20, 2009

In Which Jo Gets Extremely Crabby.

I'm not a big follower of Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size. Pretty much all I've read is Kate Harding's Shapely Prose and Melissa McEwan's blogs on the subject, although I did snag a few copies of the original "FAT! SO?" back when it was a 'zine. (Doesn't that bring back memories of the 1990's? Imagine, children: we used to have to self-publish things on paper before Blogger!)

Part of this is because I'm not "really" fat. I'm what's usually called a "tweener"--sometimes wearing a 12, sometimes a 14, sometimes a 16 if it's a top and it's fitted. People looking at me wouldn't automatically call me "obese", though that's what my BMI says I am. I feel sort of like I'd be co-opting a valuable movement if I horned in on Fat Rights without really having experienced any discrimination in, say, insurance coverage or hiring on account of my weight.

Another part of it is because the hospital where I work, which I call Sunnydale General (shout-out to Buffy!) does a lot of complex bariatric surgery. I'm talking super-bariatrics, the sort of surgeries done on people who weigh 500 pounds or more, or who weigh 300 pounds and have so many co-morbidities that nobody else will touch them. I've seen the health effects of super-obesity up close, and that makes me (probably unwarrantedly) skeptical about some branches of the FA movement. "Health At Every Size" is a fantastic idea, and it's reality for a lot of fat folks, but it's *not* reality for the people I run across.

That said, I think I might have to get more active. I had a little run-in with my doctor the other day, and am now looking for a primary-care physician.
I went in with a week-long history of right upper quadrant pain that started after I ate one of my bimonthly cheeseburgers (nom nom nom nom). I came in hypertensive, as I always am when I visit the doctor, and fifteen pounds lighter than the last time I visited him.

He did not focus on the hypertension. I got the usual quick lecture about cardiomyopathy and aneurysms before reminding him that my own trending of my blood pressure (at work, away from anything that could cause white-coat syndrome, and yes, I'm aware of how ironic that is) showed that I have perfectly fine, not-concerning blood pressure. My worry was the possibility of a gallbladder problem, and I said as much.

"Well," he returned, "You do have the five risk factors for gallbladder disease." Then, because I am a nurse and he likes to quiz nurses, he asked, "Can you name the five risk factors?"

"Fair, fertile, forty, female, and fat" I returned.

"Yes, especially fat" he replied. "You are far, far too fat."

I am five-foot-two and weigh 173.8 lbs. My body fat is somewhere between okay and too-high, though it's improved since I weighed 188 lbs. I work out three times a week with Atilla and have an active job. I eat mostly whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables (in fact, I have a mostly-vegetarian diet), and stay away from sweets. My two big vices are caffeine and beer. I can outlift, out-cross-train, and outlast nearly everybody else I know. The one thing I can't do is run long distances, though I can maintain an aerobic heartrate for two to three hours at a time without falling over.

I told him all this. I pointed out that my muscle mass is approximately half again what you'd expect for a forty-year-old woman, that my bone density is the shizznit, that all my trends are positive.

Yet he came back again to the same point: "You are far too fat. You must lose more weight."

Dude. I know I'm fat. Why do you think I joined Weight Watchers? Do you think I don't own a mirror? The *point* here is that, although I might be producing and storing more estrogen than is normal (because of that added body fat), I am a healthy individual, aside from some right-upper-quadrant pain and some white-coat hypertension.

The last medical person who expressed concern about my weight fell silent when she removed the drape from my upper body and saw my back. "Never mind," she said, "I see you carry....some muscle."

Not my doctor. He kept harping and haranguing, and I left his office feeling, quite frankly, like shit. I have a training routine that makes even personal trainers turn pale, I eat well, I've lost and kept off more weight than most people can ever manage to do, and yet I felt like shit.

The one good point of the visit was when he took a look at my upper legs as part of the full physical. I have some bruises-turned-scars there (that's the "fair" part), and he asked what they were from.

"Oh," I said, airily, "those are from when I put my neighbor's washing machine into his truck for him."

"Washing machine?" he asked.

"Yep," I replied, "he couldn't get it into the truck bed by himself, so I grabbed the strap and lifted it up there for him."

There was dead silence in the room for a moment. Then he said, "You still need to lose weight. You are far too fat."

I am looking for a new physician once this possible-gallbladder, maybe-it's-a-toomah crisis is resolved. And I might just have to go buy Health At Every Size, just so I have better comebacks for doctors like him.

November 19, 2009

Want Fries With That Mood?

(Photo: PerantauSepiLodge)

Spaghetti with tomato loss. Big Mac with a large order of sighs. A balonely and cheese sandwich on rye - extra mayo. Chicken bored 'n bleu. Stir cry. Fish and Dips. Angers and mash (UK and Python fans only).

Are you finding that you're using food for something more than nutrition lately? Or maybe it's not really a new phenomenon with you. Maybe you were rewarded/comforted/bribed/motivated with food as a kid and it has morphed into your current diet and mindset. Maybe it's not so much of a stretch for you to equate food with love and comfort. So it shouldn't come as a big surprise that sometimes we find ourselves using food as a coping device for emotions we're not ready to handle and have gotten into a bad habit of suppressing with food. Welcome to the world of emotional eating - population: big and getting bigger.

So how can you tell if your hunger is emotional and not physical? There are some signs that can help make the distinction for you.

- Emotional hunger comes on very suddenly whereas physical hunger is a more gradual build.

- When it's an emotional craving, it is generally for a very specific food. With physical hunger, your range of options is broader - you're just looking to quell the hunger but are not so specific with what.

- Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be sated immediately. It stands in front of the microwave and screams, "HURRY UP!!" Physical hunger says, "Ummm..yeah, I could eat" and then proceeds in an orderly fashion to fix something up.

- Feeling full is never a sign to stop when eating emotionally. You will just barrel right through that stop sign and keep punching that gas pedal. If you're physically hungry, you'll come to a full and complete stop when full.

- Emotional hunger starts from the "neck up" - it's your mouth and mind that are dictating what you eat. Physical hunger relies on the stomach to tell you when to eat.

- Eating emotionally is tied in with, well, an emotion - your boss was a real jerk today, you fought with your spouse, your neighbor's dog is barking non-stop. Physical hunger is tied in with a physical need to nourish the body.

- Automatic, compulsive eating is emotional. If you're eating without thinking, your emotions are running the show. Physical feeding is more deliberate and thoughtful.

- And when all is said and done (or eaten and drunk), there will be guilt and shame after having eaten emotionally. Sure, there's that itch that's been scratched right away but then we experience real negative emotions for having overdone it - again. Physical hunger recognizes that you're eating to survive and as such, there are no feelings of shame or guilt. Eating is as necessary as sleeping and breathing.

Even the most psychologically evolved of us can lapse into eating emotionally once in a while but if eating turns out to be your main coping device, you could be headed for trouble; especially when the foods tend to be more of the unhealthy variety. I can personally attest to never having overeaten carrots or kale. In addition, eating when it is non-physically necessary can also add up to a lot of excess calories consumed which in turn lead to...anyone? Anyone? Bueller?...becoming overweight.

The good news is that you can do something about curbing this feeling feeding frenzy. I used to visit a nutritionist until my health insurance changed and it wasn't covered anymore. Apparently this insurance company's take was that it was better for me (and more cost effective to them) to continue on cholesterol reducing statins rather than pursuing a preventive solution to my problem, but I digress. The nutritionist suggested that when the impulse to eat arose suddenly (a sign of emotion-driven hunger) I should ask myself whether or not I physically felt hungry. Was my stomach growling? Had it been hours since my last meal? If the answer was no, she told me to avoid food for ten minutes, to "sit with the emotions" and try to identify what was really driving this hunger. She also advised that the emotions may not be readily available right away, which I found to be true, but that they were there. It took a lot of sitting still and really thinking about things until the emotions slowly came to the surface. Once I could recognize the underlying emotions, I was better able to short-circuit the unnecessary grazing to help soothe those emotions and learn to deal with them head-on.

She also suggested that once I recognized the onset of emotional hunger, I should try to distract myself with another activity like reading, knitting, talking on the phone, etc. (Cooking or baking is not recommended, Forrest.) Another idea was to keep a journal to record my hunger and the related emotions to figure out what, or who, was behind this urge. Identifying and avoiding emotional triggers can be very helpful in defeating emotional eating.

Stop letting the clock dictate when you're hungry was another smart tip from my nutritionist. If the clock says noon but you're not hungry yet, don't force the issue. Eat when you start to get a little hungry - whether that's before or after The Stated Meal Time. She cautioned against letting the hunger get too far ahead of me, though, in which case I might start tearing apart the kitchen like a ravenous dog, consuming vast quantities of food and Alpo. Planning meals ahead of time can help diffuse the stress of being hungry and clueless.

There's also a terrific author by the name of Geneen Roth who has written extensively about emotional eating with a real "been there, done that" approach should you want to explore the emotional connection to food more extensively. She also writes a monthly column for Good Housekeeping magazine.

How much of the time do you think your hunger is being driven by emotion? And what, if anything, are you doing to correct that?

November 18, 2009

Marathon Envy?

Oh gosh that looks so fun.

I've never seriously considered training for a marathon. I understand you have to run 26 miles... all in a row! On the same day! Here in Slackerville, that just ain't gonna happen.

Yet every now and then, from the depths of my subconcious, a sinister voice pipes up. "Go for it," the voice says, sounding all sexy and seductive. "It would be so cool to run a whole marathon and cross that finish line and feel so proud of yourself!"

"Shut up, sinister voice," I'll say, (or lets pretend I would, as I'm not actually schizophrenic). "Don't be stupid! Training for a marathon is hard! Not to mention the whole getting up early thing, and the lines for the porta potties..."

"But you'd get to brag to all your friends that you ran a marathon! Plus think how many cupcakes you could eat if you were running all those miles!

"Wait... Cupcakes?"

But I've never taken Sinister Voice too seriously. Given my lifestyle (lazy) and my fitness goals (modest) and my time management skills (nonexistent) and my knees (crappy), a marathon would just be a doofy waste of already-hard-to-come-by motivation.

And yet, Sinister Voice would always return another day to nag me again.

It seems like if you run at all, the idea of a marathon is always sort of hanging out there, poking and prodding at you. Of course in the old days, it was this freakishly hard-core thing to do, and it was easier to dismiss. Then it got to be a much more mainstream goal. Heck, even spoiled celebrities run marathons now, and if they can drag their over-scheduled, undernourished butts 26 miles to the finish line ... why shouldn't I give it a go?

Because I don't want to?

Actually, I'm still mad at the stupid Greek guy, Phidippides, who started this whole "marathon" business 2500 or so years ago. Why couldn't he have dropped dead after, say 5 miles? Or not dropped dead at all? Then they'd never come up with this arbitrary measure of fitness that I keep trying to pretend I don't care about.

However, after years of bickering with the Voice, I've noticed a curious thing lately... Silence.

That persistent sense that I should be aspiring to run a marathon? It seems to finally be slipping away. Hooray!

Now this is not to say that running a marathon (or a bunch of them or whatever) is not a great goal for plenty of runners. If you train properly, and pay attention to injuries, and have the spare time so that it's not gonna mess up the rest of your life... I say go for it!

But if you, like me, have been looking for reasons to say "screw it" to the whole marathon temptation, here are few suggestions for talking yourself down.

1. Consider your immune system. As Charlotte pointed out in a recent post over at The Great Fitness Experiment, intense endurance exercises actually makes you more vulnerable to bugs than moderate exercise, not less.

2. Watch out for heart trouble. Fitsugar recently discussed the issue, and there's a good rundown of some of the risks in this Men's Health article. Bottom line: they're not sure if it's permanent or temporary damage that marathon running does to your heart, but your at far less risk of ticker trouble if you're running at least 45 miles a week before competing in a marathon.

3. Jenn at Fit Bottomed Girls is not letting the stupid scale get in the way of her marathoning goals. But I gotta say: I'm more shallow than she is. If I found, as she has, that marathon training was increasing hunger significantly, and it was leading to weight gain? I'd want to be damn sure it was extra muscle or I'd say the heck with the extra running.

4. Running a marathon does not necessarily lead to long-term fitness. This Wall Street Journal article discusses the all-too-frequent phenomenon of eager runners working up to completing a marathon and then, due to burn-out, deciding to hang up their sneakers for good.

5. Fitness is not just about endurance, and "more" isn't necessarily better when it comes to cardio. If you hang out at Mark's Daily Apple at all, Mark is pretty darn convincing about the futility of trying to meet all your fitness goals by overdosing on cardio. Sure, some is good, but more isn't necessarily better! And it's not just the Primal people--more and more we seem to be getting the message that there's a crapload of different stuff you need to do to be fit and healthy. Are you going to be able to keep up on your strength training and balance training and High Intensity Intervals and flexibility and functional fitness and breathing and core etc, etc, etc, if you're doing marathon training?

6. All that pounding can exacerbate injuries. For me, it's my knees; I know I'd be risking my ability to run at all if I insisted on putting in the kind of miles it takes for marathon training. Now plenty of people run marathons while dealing with chronic injuries, and have no problems at all. But others put race deadlines ahead of common sense and end up trashing their knees, hips, feet, back, or whatever because they couldn't chill and take the necessary recuperation time.

What about you guys? Training for a marathon? Tempted? Or No Way in Hell?

November 17, 2009

This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You, or: Attila's three most torturous moves

I don't call her Attila for nothing.

Three times a week (give or take), this pleasant, charming, fit young woman invades my house with a variety of weird things packed into a rolling scuba bag and proceeds to make me do exercises that are almost always guaranteed to make me cry.

Herein, the best of the bunch. You can do them with fitness balls and barbells if you have such things, or with a cat and some soup cans (if your cat is patient), or with nothing at all. Ready?

(Disclaimer: be sure to check with your inner Slacker before attempting any of the following exercises. Those with back, hip, lung, bicep, head, or fourth-toe problems should see a doctor before beginning this program. Offer subject to local and state taxes and licensing. Do not use while bathing. Never point at your own or another person's face.)

Exercise One: The Frog-Hop

Grab a ball. The ball we use is a seven-pound, sand-filled thing, but I suppose you could use any old ball (except maybe one of those super-bounce ones). Or you could use a shoe. Or your purse. Just make it something that you can toss that'll stay (mostly) where it lands.

Start at one end of the room. Assume the squat position.

Toss the ball forward a foot and a half or so. Easy, right?

Now hop, without coming out of the squat, so that your feet are just ahead of the ball. Reach back through your legs (don't break that squat!) and grab the ball/purse/shoe/patient cat you've just tossed. Toss it ahead of you again.

Hop forward. Grab ball. Toss. Hop. Grab. Toss. Hop. Grab.

About four reps into this, your butt will begin to burn. It will continue to burn for a couple days afterward as well. We (who's this "we"? I mean *I*) do six laps up and down the room with about eight hops per length.

Exercise Two: Ball *#$&* Passes

For this, Attila brings out my big fitness ball. I hate that thing.

Lie down on your back on a relatively padded surface. (We use a foam step, but you could double up a towel.) Place the Hated Fitness Ball between your ankles. Kinda big, ain't it?

Stretch your hands above your head.

Now bring your body up into a V-shape and pass the ball from your ankles to your hands. Make another V-shape and pass it back to your ankles. Repeat. Nineteen more times.

For this one, I do three sets of twenty, though by about the ninth rep on any given set, it looks more like I'm imitating a dying frog than a graceful Pilates babe.

Exercise Three: Combo Curl Thingies

Grab a pair of barbells or a couple of soup cans. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Curl your weights up, just like you're doing a regular barbell curl.

Now press straight up into a shoulder press.

Lather and rinse nineteen more times. Do three sets. Realize, about fifteen reps into your first set, that although this seems like a simple, easy exercise, it in fact shreds your shoulder muscles more efficiently than almost any other move.

For extra added frustration and whining, combine this move with a simple squat. Curl up as you squat down, then stand up as you do the shoulder press.

If you want to get *really* fancy, you can do it on one foot, or while standing on a balance board, or while surfing. I have tried none of those things, but they seem kinda cool-sounding in my uncaffeinated state.

Putting this all into context: it's rare that Attila makes me attempt all three of these moves in one session. Normally I do a heavy leg workout one day a week, and the rest of the week is combined core and upper body. Frog-hops fall into the "heavy leg workout" routine, and I might do either one or both of the other two on any core/uppers day.

Have fun with those, if you end up trying them. And pray Attila doesn't read this blog. She'd probably make up new stuff to punish me for giving away her secrets.

November 16, 2009

Secrets of Preventing Cancer and Building Your Bones

Does the title of this post lead you to think that there's one simple thing you can do to prevent cancer and keep your bones strong as you grow old?

Sorry about that. It's actually two different "secrets"--the reason they're crammed together in one post is that I was reading the New York Times health section, and these two articles about preventing cancer and building healthy bones both caught my attention.

Note: whenever I discuss health articles from the New York Times, sensitive readers should be warned--there will likely be cursing involved.


Because while the New York Times is a great source for news, I hate their health section. They're the ones, remember, who said exercise won't keep you healthy. And their writers seem to revel in casting doubt on my long-held beliefs about the rewards of proper nutrition and plenty of exercise.

If the New York Times were my only news source, I'd be on a cupcake, cheeseburger, and champagne diet by now, and the only exercise I'd get would be scratching my head over their crossword puzzles. Sometimes the studies they cite are convincing; other times they seem to ignore tons of contrary research in order to take a controversial stand and get people riled up. Either way, I find it annoying to have to rethink things all the time. I have a tiny brain and it gets tired easily.

So wanna know what surprises they had in store about preventing cancer and building bones?

Preventing Cancer: Forget Healthy Living

Yep--they say that eating less fat and lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grain fiber, losing weight, and getting lots of exercise won't really do much to prevent cancer. In terms of healthy living, the only lifestyle choice things they had good things to say about were quitting smoking and, if you're a woman, steering clear of estrogen after menopause. (Well, I imagine if you're a guy you should steer clear of it too).

The fruits and vegetable thing took me by surprise, and elicited the most cursing. I'm certain I've read a number of studies saying that whole grain fiber and fruits and vegetables help prevent cancer. The fiber clears out your digestive system, and the produce is full of all those nifty little antioxidants that will clean up evil free radicals that contribute to cancer. Right?

Well, turns out it's not just the New York Times--everyone seems to be backing down on the diet and cancer connection. As to the ability of antioxidants in fruit and vegetables to prevent cancer--the clinical results now look "inconclusive," according to The National Cancer Institute. Likewise, the Harvard School of Public Health says you should eat your fruits and veggies, but mainly because they're good for heart disease, blood pressure, vision, and gastrointestinal problems like constipation or irritable bowel. As to cancer, "data from cohort studies have not consistently shown that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables prevents cancer in general."

Well, phooey.

What can prevent certain kinds of cancer? Medicines!

According to the article, a generic drug, finasteride, costing about $2 a day, could prevent as many as 50,000 cases of prostate cancer a year. A related drug, dutasteride, (about $3.50 a day), has the same effect.

Likewise, according to the Times, studies have found that taking tamoxifen or raloxifene could cut breast cancer by 50% among high-risk women. Most side effects of the drugs, like hot flashes, were temporary. There was a very slightly increased risk of blood clots and uterine cancer with tamoxifen, but with raloxifene there was no excess uterine cancer, and the clotting risk was 30 percent less than tamoxifen.

Even better, women did not have to take the drug for a lifetime — just five years. And they said the cost for tamoxifen runs about 30 cents a day; raloxifene is $3.30 a day.

So why would doctors and high-risk patients not be jumping all over this to try to prevent cancer? Well, the Times interviewed Dr. Therese B. Bevers, a medical director at a Cancer Prevention Center. She believes that doctors don't want to take the first step — calculating a woman’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer. Why not? Because that might lead to the next step: "spending an hour or so discussing cancer risk and drug risks and benefits."

An hour or so? Really? When was the last time your doctor spent an hour or so explaining anything? I can't believe doctors can't figure out how to give a brief overview of options in a much shorter time than that. And if it would prevent so many more cases of breast cancer, wouldn't the time be worth it?

Apparently the drugs are a good idea if your lifetime odds exceed 20 percent. (They use the example of a 55-year-old woman who began menstruating early had her first child late, and whose mother and sister got breast cancer. There's an assessment tool here, though they warn you it's designed for medical professionals.)

Equally puzzling, though, is the reaction of high risk patients when doctors do discuss the drug option. According to Bevers, about half the time they turn them down. “The Number one reason I hear is, ‘Oh, I just don’t like to take medications."

Personally, if my risk of breast cancer were calculated to be significantly higher than nomal? I think I'd give the medication a shot.

But no matter what the New York Times says, I'm not entirely giving up on the idea that my bok choy and blueberries and cardio are gonna help me out too.

How to Prevent Bone Loss? Jump!

So the article on exercise and bone loss starts with a disconcerting statistic: a year after fracturing a hip, about one in five people over age 65 will die.

Yikes! I guess I'd really rather not fracture my hip when I'm older.

There is more depressing news, too: a lot of the exercise people used to think would help isn't doing much to build bone density. You need “large forces released in a relatively big burst.” Apparently weight lifting isn’t explosive enough for most people, nor is swimming or cycling. Running can be, although it doesn't work for everyone. Brisk walking helped bone density in older women, but "it must be truly brisk."

What works, they suggest, is jumping--if your bones are strong enough to begin with. “You probably don’t need to do a lot either.” But this recommendation came from... you guessed it. A study of mice.

Oh wait, not that kind of mice...

It seems that in a Japanese study, mice jumped 40 times a week for 24 weeks and built up bone density, and maintained it by jumping 20 or 30 times a week. (I did not allow myself to discover how they got the mice to jump...I hate animal research and think we should do a lot less of it.)

Anyway, six jumps a day, then down to three or four. Sure, I could add that to my exercise to-do list. And maybe I will someday, if I became convinced that I'm one of those people for whom running doesn't work, and I decide I really need to start jumping too to build my bones.

But just because it worked for mice? At this point, I'm not exactly jumping to any conclusions about humans.

So would you take prescription drugs to prevent breast or prostate cancer if you were high risk? Would you jump up and down like a Japanese mouse to build your bone density?

November 15, 2009

Exercising over The Holidays and Important Poll!

So I've got a short guest post up over at Blogher on exercising over the holidays. Nothing you health & fitness mavens don't know already, but I'm hoping if at least a couple people who are registered at Blogher leave a comment then I won't look like a totally hopeless dweeb. You can even say mean things, or totally unrelated things! And I'll most likely reply because I'll be so excited to see any Cranky Fitness people who might stop by.

(Note: this is NOT the corporate-sponsored forum I was pimping for alerting you to over the summer. It's just the regular Blogher and I'd love to get a contributing editor gig there some day).

So here's the Important Poll Question:

If you go to the Blogher Post, or my Twitter Page, you can see I've uploaded an actual photo instead of the standard Crab picture I use as an icon or avatar or whatever that teensy little picture is called on Blogger.

So the new one is not a professional photo, just a backyard photo. I'm not wearing makeup I look all crinkly and middle-aged and, well, kinda butch. But, as Popeye used to say, "I yam what I yam." Anyway, I'm trying to decide whether to start using that as my Blogger icon too, so there's a "face" behind the crab.

However, I'm pretty darn attached to the crab!

Hi Crab!

So what do you guys think? Crab, or crinkly face, or some other option?

Which avatar should Crabby use for her blog comments?
Crab Picture
Crinkly Face
Dolly Parton
Tuna Sandwich
Wait, I Don't Even Like Tuna
What Was This Poll About Again?
Oh That's Right, Avatars!
OK, Maybe 30 Possible Answers Are Too Many
Even If They're Free free polls

And stay tuned--actual health and fitness news on Monday!

November 12, 2009

Maybe It's A Tumor: Calling In Sick For a Workout

How sick is sick enough to skip a workout?

We all know how sick you have to be to miss work. For me, that's when I get up and wonder, "Can I make it twelve hours on my feet today?" If I'm asking the question, the answer is generally "Don't. Even. Try. It."

I've worked out when I'm technically not feeling well, for a couple of reasons: First, because I know that working out (if, say, I've got a head cold) will make me feel better, as long as I do it gently. Second, because I hate to act like a wuss when Attila's there, lookin' all buff and fit.

So when is "sick" or "not feeling good" a sign to lie down and not get on the elliptical?

Generally speaking (ie, according to people who know more about this than I do), if your symptoms are all above your neck and you're not running a fever, you're good to have a nice, gentle, low-to-moderate intensity workout. We're talking stuffy nose stuff here, not "I'm in the depths of the worst head cold ever" symptoms. If you're running a fever, feeling lightheaded, or you have symptoms *below* the neck (like a chesty cough or what I'll delicately term "tummy issues"), Stay Home.

Having the flu--that is, body aches, fever, headache, and exhaustion--is a very good reason not to work out.

(Having the flu, in fact, is a very good reason for calling in zombie and staying put for ten days or so.)

Do not do this.

Having a stomach bug is an excellent reason for not working out, especially if your symptoms

Sinus infection? For Frog's sake, stay the heck home. With a galloping sinus infection, you're likely to bonk yourself in the head with a barbell or fall off the treadmill.

Head colds are a different matter. If you're over the worst of it and no longer feel like your head is stuffed with concrete, you might could do a mile on the 'mill at a nice, pleasant walk. Better, get outside and do your walking, in the sun (if there is any where you are) and away from people who could catch your bug.

Bronchitis is a good reason to stay home. So are generalized viral infections--the sort of thing my doctor calls "viral syndrome"--as both those conditions can wear you out far more than you'd think.

And, of course, if you're pregnant or nursing, you need to be extra-double-careful.

When do you skip? When do you go to the gym or out for a trot? And what do you use to wipe down the machines when you're done, so other people don't catch your plague?

Generation BMI

Photo: hoyasmeg

There are all kinds of phrases designating the time period in which we were born. Generation X, Gen Y and specifics aside, I'm somewhere between Baby Boomer and Millennial (a proper lady never voluntarily reveals her age - and neither do I). And even though this generation coming up has been known as the "iGeneration" for growing up in the shadow of the Internet, I have begun to think that maybe we should be referring to them as "Generation BMI" given the intense focus on childhood obesity and the well-meaning attempts at reining that in.

This particular bee in my bonnet got buzzing when some area towns began flirting with the notion of the schools measuring each student's BMI and sending the results home to their parents. These are the same schools which have slashed recess and phys ed programs, but I digress. I'm not about to touch that third rail know as "school funding". I'm also in the camp of thinking that medical issues are better dealt with through pediatricians but understand that not every child might have access to one. My specific concern is the negative emotional message these adolescents might be receiving while we're trying to correct a physical issue (obesity) - which may or may not actually be a problem because they haven't finished growing yet.

Based on personal experience, I was always a slim child until adolescence came along and hit me with the lumpy stick. My two siblings, who were always very trim, just kept growing in proper proportion to their weight and height (damn them!) - but not me. It's not good to feel different at this stage of life. I don't know about you but I remember adolescence as a frantic, hormone swill of a time filled with extreme self-conscious behavior and constant anxiety over fitting in. That was pretty much the extent of my world but in that regard, I think I was a pretty typical pre-teen. It was bad enough that I was conscious of my growing weight but God forbid anyone else take notice too. (Cue nervous mother.) So it didn't help matters when my well-meaning mother got me a girdle after I turned twelve and insisted I wear it.

Talk about humiliation! I became obsessed about my weight and appearance, although thankfully never fell into any kind of serious eating disorder other than general overeating to help soothe my hurt feelings (oh, the irony!). A year later I experienced the growth spurt that my mother thought was never going to happen and "evened out" quite nicely, thank you very much, but now with the very heavy baggage of what I believed was conditional acceptance based on appearance. LaGuadia Sky Caps would need a payloader to carry these bags from the curb.

I recognize the need to tackle this obesity problem but wonder if doing it through the schools is such a great idea - especially during adolescence. While researching whether or not BMI screening in schools was as helpful a tool as it was intended to be, I came across this article which pretty much nailed what I was thinking - especially in the "Potential Harm" section and beyond.

It stated that while more research needed to be done, the only study regarding a parent's reaction to receiving a BMI report of their child being overweight was to restrict the child's caloric intake - which could prove damaging to a child who has not gone through puberty yet. This could lead to stunted growth and behavioral issues such as sneak eating, hiding food, overeating and eventual yo-yo dieting; all of which ultimately increase the risk of obesity.

Another issue that can arise is the stigma of a child being labeled "fat". A BMI reading of overweight can be devastating for a child whose main purpose in his or her early life is to "fit in". There is an awareness in children very early on that being overweight is socially unacceptable - the health risks surrounding that are the least of their concerns. "Few problems in childhood have as significant an impact on emotional well-being as being overweight". As such, overweight children are at increased risk for lower self-esteem, depression and isolation.

Lower self-esteem in this instance is a bit of a double-edged sword. While labeling a child as overweight can undermine his or her self-acceptance as well as that of others, not addressing it at all can lead to increased weight over a prolonged period, which is just a continuation of the problem. A child needs a good sense of self to set the stage for achievement in school, personal interactions and the world beyond. I've heard of schools no longer printing the honor roll in the newspapers to preserve the self-esteem of the kids who didn't make it and yet there seems not to be the same concern with BMI screenings. Is this the Jekyll and Hyde of political correctness? Do some self-esteem issues trump others?

Body dissatisfaction is one of the greatest risk factors involved in the onset of eating disorders. While the correlation between BMI and body dissatisfaction begins in childhood and is small, the size of the correlation increases with age. Peer and parent pressure along with the constant media bombardment of the "perfect body image" already serve to undermine a child's satisfaction with his or her own body. BMI, while intended to be helpful, may be having the opposite effect.

There are very few bandwagons that I don't jump on but this is one of them. While I acknowledge the problem of childhood obesity I also cringe at the idea of telling a not-yet-done-growing child that they are overweight when in fact, their height possibly just hasn't caught up to their weight and left to its own devices, will self-correct. Physical health risks may have been averted but what of the emotional damage? There must be a balance somewhere but I haven't found it yet. And it's not just the schools getting into the BMI business that worries me (even though that's where an "overweight" reading is likely to spread like wildfire) - it's even how some pediatricians approach the topic. How about a little sensitivity for starters. How about the doctor taking the parent aside and talking about it amongst adults instead of right in front of the child? Or how would you respond to the doctor's nurse asking, "Any concerns about his/her weight, Mom?" just after weighing the child in - but still within earshot of that child? My response? "Ask me when he/she is done growing".

I know a lot needs to be done in terms of making our kids healthier and preparing them well for adulthood. We need to make sure they get enough exercise and are eating healthy foods as often as possible - and in a world of fast food and video games, that can be a real challenge. But by properly addressing their physical needs, we also need to keep their psychological health intact as well. We need to bring up the best generation we can.

So what do you think is the right balance to strike here? To BMI or not to BMI before puberty - that is the question.

November 11, 2009

Does Low-Carb Make You Crankier Than Low Fat?

Photo: FL4Y

So scientists just did another study pitting low-carb diets against low-fat diets. They took a bunch of overweight Australians, put some on low carb and some on low fat diets, and followed them for a year. Both groups lost about the same amount of weight (30 lbs), but by the end, who was in a better mood?

Well, looks like the Low Fat team won this round.

Hooray for the Low Fat Team!!
Photo: terrapin

Yep: the low-fat dieters were feeling significantly more chipper after a year of dieting than the low-carb group.

But here's the most shocking result the researchers found:

After the first eight weeks, both groups improved in mood. And while the Low-Carbers went back to baseline, the Low-Fatters remained more upbeat than they were when they started, even a year later.

But wait a minute... isn't dieting supposed to be miserable? Doesn't it make us feel anxious, pissy, deprived, fatigued, and depressed?

Well, apparently not for this group. But the low carbers couldn't hang on to their improved moods, while the low-fatters did.

According to the researchers, “this outcome suggests that some aspects of the low-carbohydrate diet may have had detrimental effects on mood that, over the term of one year, negated any positive effects of weight loss.” They wondered if it was the "social difficulty" of going low-carb, or the impact the diet itself might have on serotonin levels.

(Personally, I'm not in either the low-fat or the low-carb camp: for me, I like a good balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. It's the kind of fats and carbs that matter to me--I try to eat the healthy kinds, not the junky kinds).

But it's funny, I hadn't realized how much I'd bought into the idea that "dieting is miserable" until this study reminded me that actually, that's not necessarily true. I've settled into healthy eating patterns and have been at a fairly stable weight for so long, I forgot that deciding to lose weight and succeeding can make you happier! Seems obvious, but so many aspects of the process are annoying that I kinda lost sight of the big picture.

In fact, I remember years ago when the Lobster and I decided to change our eating habits, track what we consumed, and try to lose weight, we refused to call it a "diet." We called it going on a "Thing."

We'd say things like:

"Wow, I didn't realize how small a serving of pasta was until we started the Thing."

"Hey look how loose these pants are, I think the Thing is working!"

Even now, when I start getting a bit sloppy about too many treats I'll say: "if I don't stop eating so much junk, I'm going to have to go back on a Thing."

But when we were on The Thing? I'd forgotten that we were actually pretty psyched about it most of the time. Sure, the tracking and measuring and planning was a huge pain in the ass, but there was a big sense of accomplishment at (mostly) sticking to our plans and (mostly) meeting our goals.

However, we only had about 20 or so pounds to lose. We weren't in a hurry, and we didn't have to do anything drastic. And lucky for us, we both have pretty "normal" metabolisms that respond obediently to increased exercise, fewer empty calories, and more muscle mass. I know many folks can do all the right stuff and not get results, which must be incredibly frustrating.

But it's interesting the way I automatically assume that "dieting" is some sort of unpleasant ordeal, when my own experience was that it was pretty darn rewarding, even though I was certainly happy to stop measuring and counting once I reached my goal. I know restricting caloric intake can be completely counter-productive for a lot of people--but this study reminded me that for other people, it can also lead to a better mood.

Now I haven't personally noticed my low-carb friends being any more depressed or cranky than other dieters, but now I'm wondering, after this study, if there are any extra mood challenges with that sort of plan. And I'm curious about the "social difficulty" of a low carb plan--I picture hordes of angry pitch-fork wielding villagers chanting "bread, you must east bread!"--but I expect it's probably a bit more subtle than that.

What have you folks found? Does "dieting" or otherwise consciously limiting your food intake make you feel more miserable, or more upbeat? Does low-carb feel any worse (or better) than other plans?

November 10, 2009

In Which Jo Tries A Totally Unscientific Experiment!

Edited to add this disclaimer, inspired by the sensible E. in the comments: The results herein are totally my own experience. You should not extrapolate from my three weeks of supplement use to your own life. If you insist on doing so, be warned: some or all of the vitamins et al I mention here might interact with other medications you're taking, might cause you to develop diarrhea, heart palpitations, kidney stones, or muscle spasms (no kidding, people), or cause other problems if you can't metabolize them or overdose on them. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. Do what I did: Talk to your doctor, your pharmacist, and preferably a registered dietician as well before haring off and mega-dosing on stuff. Most of all, to repeat: DO NOT ASSUME THAT WHAT WORKED FOR ME WILL WORK FOR YOU.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled post.

I've been working out and doing Weight Watchers and ignoring the siren call of Cheetos now for about five months, and I've lost fifteen pounds--and maintained that loss. I've also got twenty-five more pounds, several points on my cholesterol, and a few more inches on my waist to go.

So, with Crabby's okay, I've decided to talk about a Totally Unscientific Experiment In Which I Am The Study Animal.

The conversation, which occurred via Gchat, went something like this:

Jo: So, yeah, I've been taking all these supplements lately. Is that something I can blog about, or is that kind of off the Cranky track?

Crab: I think that's a great idea, actually. What have you been taking?

Jo: Oh, just stuff like Evening Primrose Oil and magnesium and so on.

Crab: You do know, don't you, that magnesium can have a laxative effect?

Jo: Oooop! BRB...
(sound effect: Jo's feet pattering toward the bathroom)

What I'm Taking, What It's Supposed To Do, and What It Actually Does:

1. Evening Primrose Oil, 500 milligrams (9% GLA), two capsules every night before bed.

EPO is supposed to be good for getting rid of belly fat, controlling the mood swings that come with PMS, and helping with cholesterol numbers. Because I have two of those three problems (not PMS any more, thank Frog), I decided it couldn't hurt and might help.

I'll tell you one thing: This stuff knocks me on my butt, sleep-and-relaxation-wise. I don't know if that's one of the supposed benefits of EPO, but it's doing wonders for my sleep. I take it about an hour before bed and can feel when it kicks in; the muscles between my shoulder blades start to relax. To make more sure that this wasn't psychological, I tried taking it during the day and found myself falling asleep over my lunch.

2. Magnesium, 250 mg, every night before bed.

Most people aren't deficient in magnesium, but Mama's diet tends to be sketchy when it comes to things like spinach. Mama also likes her pink gin of an evening, and alcohol use can wash magnesium out of your body (even moderate use; you don't have to get completely tooty every night). So magnesium it is!

Yes, it does have a laxative effect. Let's just leave that alone, shall we? Thank you.

Mag is also supposed to help with muscle and nerve function and keep your heart healthy.

I've found that taking mag keeps me from feeling shaky and weird in the mornings and seems to help me recover more quickly from the hellish workouts that Attila puts me through. If I miss a dose in the evenings, I feel...odd the next morning, like my hands and feet aren't quite connected to my body. I'm also much, much more sore, both from Hellish Workouts and just from walking and lifting and twisting at work.

3. Zinc, 50 milligrams, at night after dinner if I've eaten enough not to get queasy.

Zinc is one of those immune-boosting, sugar-craving-busting wonder minerals that, again, Your Faithful Correspondent tends to miss because her diet is like the little girl with the little curl: either very, very good or horrid. (Incidentally, did you know that at the time that rhyme came into being, "forehead" rhymed with "horrid"? See the benefits of a liberal education right here!) Zinc is also used in the naturopathic treatment of alcoholism, to control alcohol cravings (see: sugar cravings), but so far I haven't noticed that effect. (Alcohol cravings, in me at least, tend to be more a function of the people I have to put up with at work, though, so your mileage may vary.)

Sugar, though? If I take zinc with a meal--and that's important, as zinc WILL make you barf if you take it on an empty stomach--I don't get sugar or simple-carb cravings.

As far as the immune-boosting effects are concerned, check with me in January, which is when I usually start coming down with whatever bugs are circulating.

4. B-complex capsule, with things like niacin and folic acid in it, every night before bed.

B-complexes are important for nerve function and energy. B-vites tend to get washed out by stress, caffeine, bad diets...check, check, sorta-check. Repleting them means that I have a heck of a lot more energy, I'm not as anxious about things, and I pee neon-yellow for the entire day. It's like Christmas!

The one drawback is that this particular formula tends to make me flush if I don't take it on a full stomach. Ooo--I forgot the other: B-vitamins have a diuretic effect, so I pee a lot. But I pee a lot anyhow. But now it's neon yellow! Wahoo!

Another benefit is that, combined with the magnesium, the B-complex takes away the horrible disconnected, shaky feeling I get in the mornings if I'm sleep-deprived, which is most of the time.

5. Calcium! Two chewable extra-strength generic version fruit-ick-flavored tabs before bed, 750 milligrams each.

Who doesn't love calcium? It's good for your heart, it's good for your central nervous system, it's great for your bones. It's bad for your kidneys if you're chronically dehydrated or have odd ways of metabolizing the stuff, but I don't have either, so calcium is my friend.

Calcium builds (as we all know) strong bones. It's also good for indigestion. I have no idea if my bones are actually stronger through taking icky fruit-flavored chewables (remind me to get the orange next time), but I don't have heartburn. Then again, I never had heartburn before. *shrug*

Given that I am now closer to 40 than 30--a lot closer--it's important that I don't lose any bone mass. My *grandfather* had osteoporosis, if that gives you any indication of my genetics, so I'm a little obsessive about Ca+ and vitamin D. The vitamin D I get from the sun, but come the dead of winter, I supplement that as well.

For now, that's it. If I'm pressed for time in the evening, I might pop a multivitamin (generic version of Centrum or some such), but I find that I don't feel as good as if I take the more focused stuff listed here. If I had to take only one bottle with me to a desert island, it'd probably be the B-complex; I don't know how I managed without it.

If I feel really adventurous over the next month or so, I may start taking stuff like, say, kudzu or garlic or (ew) fish oil, which makes me burp (ew). You will, of course, be the first to be updated.

November 09, 2009

Smart Phones and Dumb Humans: Is Web Technology Messing With Your Brain?

Photo: boris

So I finally signed up for Twitter. There's now a little widget down there on the left sidebar that displays my "tweets."

I'm at the Clueless Newbie stage of twitterdom and still have no idea what to tweet, or how to get people to "follow me," or even what the damn thing is supposed to be for. Also, I don't own a smart cell phone, just a dumb one (which is appropriate considering I never recharge it can't remember the phone number), so fear not--you won't have to read my thoughts from the grocery store about what brand of yogurt I'm buying.

My day is just not interesting enough for me to report on my doings every few minutes.

"What are you doing?" Twitter asks, all perky and hopeful.
Photo: Netzkobold

Well, gosh, Twitter...

I'm sitting here on my ass in front of the computer screen again, trying to write a blog post. And later, I might go into the kitchen for a snack! I'm thinking some little almond crunchy things and a glass of milk. Oh hell, that's way more than 140 characters and I just remembered...

Nobody gives a fuck what I'm doing right now.

So I'm thinking maybe I'll use Twitter to point out interesting health studies I come across, or fun videos, or stray thoughts, or blog announcements, other miscellaneous items that I don't necessarily want to write a whole post about.

Or, more likely--after a couple of weeks I'll stop using it entirely and pretend I never signed up. I joined Twitter for the same compelling reason a teenager one day starts wearing all her t-shirts inside out: because she figures that's what the cool kids are doing and she wants to be one of them.

(I can now hear my mother saying: "but what if all your blogger friends decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you do that too?" And my answer would be..."No way, of course not!... Well, not unless I got a humongous boost in page views or a cool sidebar badge or something.")

Anyway, what I will most certainly not do with Twitter is use it properly, like a professional blogger or a young person would. I will not read or skim through thousands of tweets a day, replying @hither and @yon, gaining thousands of followers and networking and building new relationships and bringing hordes of new visitors to Cranky Fitness. That sounds like way too much work. I'm already terrible at keeping up with lovely blogfriends I've met through the comments here. Instead, I will fail to keep up, and watch as my 7 followers drop to 3, and then when I'm down to zero followers I'll try to figure out if there's a way I can follow myself--without defying the laws of physics.

But here's the thing: my inability to multi-task, and my stubborn resistance to new internet technology might actually be a good thing! At least according to Nicholas Carr, who's written some fascinating and controversial stuff about modern technology and the human mind.

Carr's contention is that the web and other aspects of modern technology are changing the way our brains work--and not for the better. We may have access to a lot of information, and may be able to take on many tasks at once, but as a result we're getting all stupid and shallow.

Note: this is an oversimplification; Carr is much more balanced than that. But don't blame me, that's at least partly the point! Oversimplification is all we have time for now, and who am I to argue when it means less work for lazy bloggers?

Anyway, here are some brief excerpts from recent articles in The Sun ("Computing the Cost: Nicholas Carr On How The Internet Is Rewiring Our Brains") and The Atlantic ("Is Google Making Us Stupid?")

See what you think; is he on to something? Does any of this sound familiar?

"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory....I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. ... Now I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text."

"I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet... Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets, reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link."

"Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

Anyone else notice this phenomenon? I know my ability to concentrate on difficult tasks seems to have suffered quite a bit since I've gotten more used to endless distractions of the web. On the other hand, I discovered when I took a couple of weeks off from the web recently that I'm perfectly able to immerse myself in a well-written novel--especially if it's funny or compelling or features hot lesbian love scenes between 18th century English aristocrats.


Carr goes on to point out the ways in which our culture is changing to accommodate our web-altered short attention spans, and brings up other negative aspects of our technological dependence: the costs in terms of our relationship with people, nature, and our privacy. In particular, he worries that we will "emphasize efficiency of thought over depth of thought. I fear we’re going to lose...the kind of contemplative, reflective intelligence that is most valuable, most human."

I'm not sure I agree with all of his darkest scenarios, but I worry about some of these things too. However, aside from a study comparing new computer users to experienced ones (that shows some brain changes) the articles are a little light on research. (And I have to confess, true to his predictions, I didn't read every word of either article and it could be he had a lot more proof of the whole re-wiring hypothesis in there that I didn't see). Carr has also written several books and has a new one coming out in June, called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; perhaps that's where all the convincing "our brains are totally fucked up now" research is.

However, whatever the research says, the whole idea of the internet messing with my brains definitely got me thinking! ... At least for a few seconds.

***Personal footnote for Cranky Team Co-bloggers: You know that section of the Official Cranky Fitness Style Manual on "Appropriate Language" (pg 243, paragraph 2), that reads: "In order not to offend sensitive readers or potential advertisers, please try to avoid the gratuitous use of swearwords, or if you must use them, consider the strategic use of asterisks-- i.e., "bullsh*t"; "assh*le"; or "f*cked up?" Um, you can go ahead and cross that section out. Thx, Crabby.

Are any of you on Twitter? And if not, would you bother to look at a sidebar thingy on the blog that had health links or should I not bother? And what do you think about the notion that the internet is... um... doing something bad to our... wait I forgot what I was gonna ask you.