A small update on my health.

youarewhatyoueatI’ve had a couple of folks ask me for an update on my health so I thought I should post an entry about it. Here’s the short version:

We’re not 100% sure what the hell the problem was, but it appears to have gone away.

My doctor seems pretty confident that it was esophageal muscle spasms and I’m inclined to agree, but at the time I wrote the last blog entry they felt a lot like heart palpitations. I continued to experience whatever the hell they were for the next week and a half. They only stopped recurring a day or so ago. I was due to have a heart stress test today just to be on the safe side, but the place she originally recommended was out of my network so we’ve postponed it until I can find out from my insurance company of an in-network place I can go.

That said, the results from the blood work I had done show I’m in terrible shape. All the bad things are too high and the good things are too low. For example, my glucose level was 254 when it should have been (after a 12 hour fast) below 140. Bad cholesterol is too high, good cholesterol is too low along with vitamin D. It’s not all bad news as my electrolytes, liver, and kidneys all seem to be in good shape. Still, the whole experience scared me enough to motivate me to make some changes.

So a week ago Thursday I dusted off the elliptical and hauled my fat ass up onto it and did 15 minutes of exercise, which is about all I could handle before my legs gave out. I managed to crawl back on it last Friday and do another 15. I also installed the MyFitnessPal app on my phone and started trying to track calories. I put in my stats to the app (weight, height, amount of moving around I do at work) and it calculated out how many calories I could eat a day and still lose a pound a week before taking into account any exercise I did. Then the weekend hit and I fell off the wagon. Didn’t track calories. Didn’t get on the elliptical.

This week I’ve managed to do 15 minutes of exercise every day except Tuesday when I only managed 5 minutes due to some other events taking place that morning. Tracking calories hasn’t fully recovered. It’s a stunning pain in the ass to do and the app has been having trouble connecting to the servers and any of a number of other excuses I can make up, but I am still paying closer attention to the calorie count of the things I’m eating and trying to make better choices.

My legs are ready to mutiny and I’m starting to tire of all the folks telling me it’ll get easier as time goes on because it’s not getting any easier fast enough. It’s also somewhat disheartening to look down at the display on the elliptical just before my legs give out and see that after 15 minutes of vigorous exercise that has left me a panting, sweaty mess (which is why I’m doing it in the morning before my shower) that I’ve only managed to burn a pathetic 113 calories. My enthusiasm isn’t helped any further by the fact that last week when I stepped on the scale we have here at work (good for upwards of 2500 pounds) I came in at 298 and maybe a half pounds  – the scale couldn’t settle on whether that .5 was legit or not and kept flopping back and forth — and today, a week later, when I stepped on the scale it read a solid 299.5. Which means I’ve gained one to one and a half pounds since I started trying to control my calorie intake and exercise.

Needless to say I’m feeling pretty fucking pessimistic about my success at the diet and exercise thing, but at least my heart isn’t about to fail. I will trudge on and attempt to expand my daily exercise to 20 minutes a session by the end of next week and I’ll redouble my efforts to track my calories, but I’m going to be an a piss-poor mood for some time to come. And, yes, I realize it took me a long time to get myself into this situation and it’ll take a long time to get myself out of it, but it would help if the initial attempts to start doing the right things didn’t seem to make the situation worse. I would’ve been thrilled if I’d managed to lose .2 pounds, but nooooooo.

14 comments

  1. Aww Les, I really, really sympathize. I’m in about the same place, my wake up call came from discovering I have sever hypertension and will be on pills to control it for the rest of my life. Getting the blood test results next week, but at 5’3″ and just about 16st, I can guarantee that cholesterol is going to be a nasty big number. I’m currently at 20mins on a treadmill, covering between 5/8ths of a mile to a mile – meant to be everyday, but yeah… not exactly to plan either.

    I’ve found eating virtually no simple carbs, and replacing them with fruit/veg and plenty of lean meat did start helping (at least I didn’t feel hungry all the time) – but man it sucks when you plateau after just a few pounds.

    “They” say that the exercise may lead to increased muscle density, which may make your weight go up to begin with – and that’s ok because the higher your muscle mass the higher your resting calorie burn rate. Hard to feel that, when you’ve put so much effort in and seen the scales stick two fingers up at you for it.

    The only thing I cling onto is that whatever the scales say – what you are doing is better for your health then what you were doing before.

    If you need a sympathetic and supportive ear on the other side of the Atlantic, you’ve got my email so feel free to drop me a line.

    Keep you chin up pet – we can do this – however bleeding miserable it makes us!
    Kat

  2. Les,

    Keep at it. Losing weight is a long-term investment.

    I’ll tell you what worked for me a couple years ago. My boring three-step program:

    1. Weight-loss shake for breakfast
    2. Weight-loss shake for lunch
    3. Elliptical machine 3-5 times a week for 25 minutes, plus about 5 or 6 weight exercises

    I just don’t think I have the discipline to count calories. It’s the sort of thing I might do for a week or two and then just get tired of. One reason the shakes really worked for me was that I bought a 6 week supply of them and that was it: either I was throwing them in the trash, or I was sticking to my diet.

    I will say that for about the first 3 or 4 weeks I was hungry during the day, and famished by dinner time. After about a month, my body got used to it.

    I lost about 37 pounds and took my BMI from a 28 (overweight) to a 22.5 (normal). Took 6 months — a little over 1 pound per week, not counting a “spike” for the first couple weeks where your body is burning glycogen and losing a lot of water in the process.

    Lifting weight absolutely does help. Invest an hour per week in building strength. The muscle you put on will be burning calories all 168 hours of per week. Lean muscle burns calories while you’re sleeping.

    One more thing: chart, chart chart. I weighed in every Friday right before dinner. Made an Excel sheet and graphed it. Just looking at 2 or 3 months of slow, steady progress will keep you motivated after a bad week. One weigh-in doesn’t mean anything; a trend line going down is what kept me engaged.

    If you decide to try it, get the Equate brand shakes from WalMart. They’re cheaper than Slim-Fast and as a bonus, no hydrogenated oils.

  3. Mad props to you for trying. My weight topped out at 252, which is not as big as 298, but still pretty big. This is not an easy thing to attempt. :-)

    For the leg endurance issue, I’d suggest doing body weight squats (and eventually weighted barbell squats). They’ll help strengthen all your leg muscles (most importantly the small stabilizing muscles around the knee and ankle) , and have the advantage that you can do them throughout the day, anywhere. I suspect that 10 squats a day would really help with the endurance issue and quickly give you improved mobility and strength.

    Focusing on a few pounds over a short period like a week is a good way to get discouraged. Your body can gain a surprising amount of weight as it metabolizes carbohydrates (since the carbohydrate storage polysaccharide glycogen holds water), and exercise encourages your muscles to hold more glycogen. Your weight can fluctuate substantially over the course of a day depending on how much water you drink, when you eat and when you use the bathroom.

    You actually don’t have very much direct control over you weight: you only have control over the inputs (what you eat and how much you move). It’s extremely difficult to lose weight: your body fights you, and it’s a slow process. I think this blog post (http://www.fitocracy.com/knowledge/the-myth-of-willpower-and-eat-less-move-more/) summarizes things nicely as “The only way to succeed at fitness is to create a positive feedback loop.”

    Without this positive feedback loop you will get discouraged and quit. I’d suggest picking a different output variable that you can change more rapidly and has more direct effect on your life. Weightlifting is great for this because you can see quicker improvements in what you’re lifting and how easy it is to move throughout your day. Which is not to say that the elliptical or treadmill is bad, but something that shows quicker progress will be an encouraging supplement to difficult cardio work.

  4. Hey Les,

    I stumbled upon your “Four Miracles of Atheism aren’t” blog page (which was well thought out and a great post, by the way) and then saw this post.

    Here’s my 2 cents:

    If you’re falling into a heap after 15 minutes of exercise, it sounds like you’re starting out too hard. I’d ease up so as NOT to give out after 15 minutes and go for at least 20 kinder, gentler minutes now. Don’t think “vigorous!” Think “moderate!” You should have a “good tired” feeling when you finish, not be a sweaty panting mess! You should work within your target pulse rate (http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/exercise/pulsethr.aspx). Don’t worry about what intensity level gets you to that zone, you will become more fit over time compared to where you are now, and that’s the important thing. Also, you should take at least one day per week off your exercise regiment (that’s one thing that a certain mythical god that has a big following in these parts got right: in this case, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for you, but please don’t take on his other characteristics :-). On the other hand, don’t drop below three times per week: consistency and sustainability over time is key.

    As for diet, there’s a lot of crap “wisdom” out there. I know it sounds too simple, but a good general guideline is to consider food as fuel: take in more than you use and you gain weight; take in less than you use and you lose weight, take in the same amount as you use and you maintain. It’s best to determine the right amount of calories to take in per day in order to lose weight slowly: a pound or two per week–not more than two. For non-diabetics, non pre-diabetics, and those for which blood sugar is not really an issue, eat what you like within the bounds of a healthy, varied diet, and eat less of it (i.e., stick within your caloric guidelines). For diabetics or those for whom blood sugar IS an issue, when you do the above, also follow the guidelines of credible sources reflecting the best information we’ve learned about diabetes and health (e.g., non-quack doctors and dieticians). Do a little research and always think critically about all the diet and health claims floating around the same way you would about religious claims.

    Did I say anything about “sustainable” above? One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make is reaching a goal and declaring themselves “done,” especially when it comes to weight loss. That’s why I hate the word “diet” because it suggests something that you “start” and then “go off” when you’ve lost your weight. When they reach their target, they simply need to move into a maintenance phase. Then, I’m afraid, sustainable, good sense diet and exercise is something we need to incorporate into your lives until the day we die: with a decent healthy lifestyle, a little luck, and hopefully by enjoying life, we’ll be tough old geezers who who enjoy a good quality of life for many years.

    Good luck!

  5. It’s been a long time since I dropped by … Great post to find when I did :)

    I 2008 I was also 300lbs. Today, I’m around 230 and have been as low as 200. I’m no expert and won’t event try to tell you what works and what doesn’t, only a couple of pieces of generic wisdom that helped me, over the years, and continues to today.

    - log your food intake. In a journal with a pen. In an app. On a website. Whatever works. Do this for two weeks so you can see what your eating. For me, it was mindless snacking that killed me, and I was shocked to find that out.

    - diets and calorie counting don’t work, no matter how widely adopted they are. Unless you see food purely as fuel, which many athletes do, but most normal people don’t, counting calories won’t help. Look into eating less processed food, more lean meat.

    - find a workout plan that works for you. For me, it was boot camp a my gym, because of the social aspect. I made friends who kept me coming back. These days, it’s crossfit and running and obstacle course racing.

    The scale lies. We got a withings scale that tracks trends, much better.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi Les
    I know how easy it is to get discouraged. When I’ve lost weight I’ve never calorie counted, I just cut out the obvious bad things like candy and chips and just watched my portion sizes, but I let myself have the odd treat at the weekend otherwise the cravings get too much and you relapse big time and that is bad for your self esteem.

    As for exercise as others have said don’t push to hard at the start.When I went to the gym (for both calorie burning exercise and muscle toning) I always exercised no more than every other day to give your body a chance to recover. Start off with a more gentle regimen, and you will soon see things improve. When you realise that you can keep up a certain type of exercise for 20 rather than 15 minutes it really gives you a boost and an incentive to keep going, you then make the exercise a little more difficult, and try to get from 15 minutes back up to 20. Aim small and it will get better.

    Good luck with it.

    steve

  7. Good luck with the exercise and diet, cycling could help, if you can find the time. You’ll need to find a diet that won’t kill you, that you can live with for the rest of your life, just don’t let the treats become your diet, as Jill Connor Brown said “You don’t eat like this every day, because it’ll kill you, and you’ll die with a big ass.”.

  8. I don’t want to discourage you, but it sounds like you have already started on a path to failure. “Dusting off “ the elliptical, means you really don’t like the elliptical, so hitting it to change and not seeing that change in a matter of days pretty much means you are going to fail. Killing yourself for 15 minutes and seeing no change is a set up to fail, but going for a walk, a bike ride, or playing a video game wont leave you disappointed.

    If I remember correctly you have a PS3, I picked up EA sports Active 2, Fit in 6, Zumba and Sports Champion. Whatever system you have, there are a bunch of workout programs out there. Each one will be fun for a few weeks or a month, and then move on. I know you like video games, so this is a fun way to get active. You will get quick rewards ( high scores trophies etc) to keep you involved. You have to change your lifestyle and begin to enjoy being active if you are going to succeed. These are a simple change to being more active that could be fun. I had a blast with these games, and still play them infrequently. Usually when I’ve been pretty inactive for a few months I’ll break out EA Active 2 and do a couple of 2 week programs, a 6 week program, and some work outs I design for myself, then switch to fit in 6. Eventually I get bored of the games and start doing something else, but they are easy to jump back into to get that start at being active, and are a shit load more fun then an elliptical.

  9. Thanks for all the suggestions everyone. Right now my weekends are lost causes as I don’t have a set routine, but I am managing to climb onto the elliptical every weekday morning for 15 minutes at a time. I’m pretty confident I can make that into a routine and eventually get it up to 30 minutes. I managed to make drinking water a habit despite hating every second of it so I’m sure I can manage the same with the elliptical. And it’s not that I hate the elliptical itself, I hate exercise in general. Truth be told, of the different types of exercise I’ve tried, the elliptical is the one I hate the least so that’s what I’ll stick with.

    I wouldn’t mind getting a bike, but living in an apartment I don’t have a good place to store it so that’ll have to wait until I can buy a house. I’ll look into some of the workout video games that are out there as a possibility. There’s a couple available for the PS3 so we’ll take a gander at them soon. If nothing else it would make for some amusing YouTube videos.

    The doctor now has me on Glucophage for my blood sugar, Prilosec for the esophageal spasms, Lisinopril for blood pressure, and some form of calcium supplement. Plus a one-a-day multivitamin. I’m a walking pharmacy.

  10. I hated exercise too, but I grew to enjoy it. Those endorphins work, eventually.

    As for weight, you have to remember that if you exercise then you will very likely build muscle which is more dense than fat, so it is not unusual for your weight to go up a little, at least initially.

    good luck

  11. Les:
    My son has over the past year gone from over 300# to about 225#. Which for his 6’8″ build, is just about right. I asked him how he’s done it.
    6 days a week he sticks to Lean Cuisine and the like. Smaller portions, low calorie/high nutrition meals. No between meal snacks. On the 7th day, he eats whatever he wants. Says it keeps him from feeling totally deprived. [And according to what I've read, keeps the metabolism off track a bit, to keep it from re-setting at a lower level].
    And he’s started riding a bike again. Got one [used] that folds down so he can keep it in the back of his car. Found a buddy from work who also wanted some exercise, so whenever it’s nice, they do 10 miles on the local bike trails. [And even if the machine you're using says you've only burned a very few calories, there are some studies that suggest that your muscles continue to burn calories at a higher rate after exercise].
    And he’s just started doing crunches, while watching TV, for muscle tone.
    Good luck, and keep it up. If you miss a day, you just start again the next day.

  12. Les, I’d be curious to know what your A1C result was. The blood sugar was way high, which points towards being diabetic, but the A1C will tell you for sure. When I was diagnosed a late onset type 1 (used to be known as juvenile diabetes) my blood sugar was over 300, and my A1C was about a 14. (A1C is Glycated Hemoglobin, and since blood cells live on average 90 days, the A1C will give you an average of what your blood sugar level has been over the last 90 days, weighted towards the recent history (fewer blood cells will have died from recently, whereas from 85 days ago, there’s a lot fewer still around).). Feel free to email me directly if this is something you’d rather discuss that way.

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