February was the month that my lack of personal physical care really hit me back. March started out not much better, too. I haven’t been exercising very much (once a week with the trainer is not enough), I had been eating more processed crap, and my stress levels at work were just not being managed well. I caught a cold — just your typical upper respiratory infection — but it kicked the crap out of me. I actually had to take two days off work to just lay in bed or on the couch watching horrible daytime TV or reading. Considering that I can telecommute most days and be just as productive from said couch as from my office in the Loop, taking time off is a big deal. The cold lingered for nearly three weeks until it was completely gone.
At the same time I was working on a project with a very critical deadline. It was driving me bonkers because I rarely had time to actually work on the project itself during the normal business day, and in the evenings I was wiped out due to the cold. I found myself going to bed earlier and earlier at night. (I’m actually still on a schedule that puts me in bed at 9 PM most nights so I can read a bit before passing out at 9:30.)
As the project deadline loomed closer and closer I fell back on other forms of self-abuse from the stress. I ate a lot of indulgent foods and drank liquor every night. It’s really not a good thing to eat cheese, crackers and a martini for dinner. Nor is it good to eat a cupcake or a pączki every night. (Hard to resist when they are so easy to obtain in my neighborhood pre-Lent.) I was sitting with my laptop every night, pushing through an hour or two of work while stuffing my face with crap and drinking wine or whiskey or vodka. So not good.
It didn’t take long for my body to rebel. I’m not an old codger yet, but I don’t have the physical resilience of my 20s or 30s anymore. One night after a dish of fatty stew, a glass of wine, and consuming the last pączki in the house, I felt nauseous. I went to bed extra early that night and did manage to sleep despite the nausea. When I woke up the next day I was still nauseous, and my gut was hurting.
Over the next several days the nausea was constant and the pain came and went. It wasn’t severe pain, more like uncomfortable cramping, but it worried me. It wasn’t hard to restrict my food intake; being nauseous really helped with that. But I was worried that what I was suffering from was some sort of gallbladder issue so I basically ate a vegan diet and drank no liquor. After the weekend passed I went to the immediate care clinic and also made an appointment with my doctor for the middle of the week. The immediate care doc said I likely had a stomach bug. My own doc wanted to make sure it wasn’t gallbladder related and ordered an ultrasound and some blood work. It ended up not being gallstones, and after a week I found that I could eat animal products safely without inducing severe nausea. I added about 1/3 of a can of tuna to a salad and had no new bouts of nausea. Such relief.
The upside of all this strict attention to my food is that I lost some weight. I don’t have a scale at home, but I could tell that I had dropped a few pounds because my clothes were looser. So I’ve continued to eat mostly vegan and I’ve also been restricting the amount of breads and baked goods I eat, as well as limiting my intake of alcohol. I’ve made some yummy recipes from my collection of vegetarian cookbooks and have been making an effort to get back to the gym more than once a week.
I would love to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year, but for now my goal is to just fit into some nice suits languishing in my closet by the third week in April. I think that’s very achievable because I have another “secret weapon” that is helping me control my food intake: orthodontia.
This was the year I was planning to get braces, and I finally took the plunge on March 9th. For now I just have my upper teeth in braces, but in a few months I’ll get them on the lower teeth, too. While I was considering making this the year I finally listened to the dentist and “did something” about my crowded teeth (which make it hard to clean well) the only thing that worried me a bit (besides the cost) was how ridiculous I’d feel wearing braces in my mid-forties. I hadn’t really thought of the logistical challenges, such as the fact that food *always* gets stuck in them. There are certain foods I’m to avoid completely, such as popcorn, whole almonds, caramels, hard candies, and anything “sticky.” I don’t eat very many candies and I rarely eat popcorn, but I love almonds. I guess it’s OK to eat them slivered or sliced, but any large, whole, hard nut is a no-no.
It’s not the “forbidden” foods that are the biggest change for me, though, but the fact that eating has turned into a much slower affair where I have to cut things into small pieces and eat much smaller bites than normal. In between eat mouthful of food, I find myself doing a tongue sweep to clear out the wire sitting above my molars and often taking a sip of water and swishing it vigorously to clear stuff out, too. After a meal I always retire to the washroom and use one of the handful of special brushes and picks they gave me to dislodge what seems like half my meal from around my back teeth. Ugh. But all this slow, careful eating and chewing means that I’m consuming fewer calories and reaching my satiation point with smaller portions. That’s good for losing weight!
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with friends and acquaintances — both in person and online — about eating well and taking care of oneself. One of the challenges of the current lifestyle we’re encouraged to live up to is that it incorporates so little physical activity and leads us to foods of convenience. When we’re rushing around all the time trying to keep up with a full-time job, commuting, keeping up our homes, and maintaining relationships with our family and friends, we find ourselves sacrificing the time we need to take care of ourselves. Time for cooking meals at home with whole foods? Gone. Time for exercising, even something as “simple” as taking the dog for a walk? Forget about it!
The results of ignoring our physical well-being are never good. We need to cut ourselves and our loved ones and friends some slack, and also stand firm with our employers as much as we can. I know that making a living during a recession is hard, but we’re shortening our lives, or at least sacrificing the quality of the remaining life we have left when we take on too much work and too many commitments. Let’s all be a bit kinder and more forgiving of each other, OK?