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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Monthly Archives: January 2011
It’s interesting, and sad. We’re in a massive obesity epidemic; overall, about 1 in 4 adults in the US are considered obese, and that number is growing. About one in ten are diabetic, and the numbers there are staggering, with an expectation that half of Americans will be diabetic by 2020, and there are estimates that in the next couple of decades, that could rise to one in three.
And yet, do you have any idea how often someone suggests to me all I need to do is put less on my plate? eat less? exercise more? Simple concepts, which, in fact, fail miserably and have for years for wide swaths of humanity.
Here’s a hint: if it was that simple, I’d have probably figured it out by now and done it. (yes, I’m back on the “it’s complicated” meme again. sorry. but it IS).
This is just the latest facet of the damned Nancy Reagan “Just Say No” mentality, where simple platitudes make you feel like you’re accomplishing something, when in fact, you aren’t. Just say no doesn’t work for drugs, it doesn’t work for teenage sex, it doesn’t work for alcohol or smoking or eating. Real life isn’t that simple. If it was, you wouldn’t need to keep running around yelling “just say no” to people, they’d figure it out on their own. But I guess it makes people feel better. Too bad they don’t actually see if it works before building it into government policy…
Okay, enough ranting. well, maybe. I wanted to share some stuff I’ve run into that may help you understand just how complicated this is. Right now, we’re spending billions of dollars on research into obesity between government programs and medical/pharma industry (because they know if they can figure this out, there’s a goldmine on the other end that’ll make Viagra look like a generic pill). The fact is, obesity is winning, because there are no simple cures. And researchers are seeing this in their research.
I’ve been doing some research into what they’re learning and what’s going on out there, and I’m finding a lot of this fascinating. Hope you do, too.
For instance, there’s good data that at least some obesity might be happening because of a virus. So you might have caught a bug, and it’s decided it wants its host fat and happy, and it doesn’t care what you think.
One of my pet peeves is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Don’t get me started. (too late). The food industry keeps telling us it’s okay, there’s nothing to worry about. They so believe in the product they’re trying to change the name (so they can maybe hide from the increasingly bad news about it) for a few more years. But some studies have shown a correlation between the growth in diabetes and insulin dependence tracks on a line that matches the growth in the use of HFCS, and more and more research is calling it into question. For instance, an interesting rat study at Princeton showed that rats gained more weight on Corn Syrup than they did on sugar, even when they were fed the same number of calories (now, you have to be careful translating animal studies to human, they rarely are perfect analogs, and you have to be careful about dosage issues and whether the uses are rational for comparing in humans — if it would take 30 pounds of sugar a day in humans, there are bigger problems…). By the way, these rats showed classic signs of metabolic syndrome (a precursor to diabetes) and increased tryglycerides. Another study out of Florida showed the same issues using fructose instead of sucrose (fruit sugars). And the bottom line? Well, according to the folks at Harvard, here it is: The combined findings demonstrated a 26% higher risk of developing diabetes type 2 and a 20% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome among people who consumed 1 to 2 sugary drinks per day, compared to individuals whose monthly maximum was just one such drink. Even daily consumption of just one 12-ounce sugary drink raised diabetes type 2 risk by approximately 15%.
Still want that Coke or Pepsi? If so, make it a diet.
Other things impact obesity and weight loss. Feeling depressed? Are you getting enough sleep? Urban living, where you run into pollution, seems to be a factor. And there’s growing evident that, in some cases, your do it to you. So can , although what I believe they’re really seeing here is sleep apnea, for which severe snoring is a key symptom.
Fortunately, progress is being made. One thing that seems to make a difference is to move from refined carbs back to complex ones. So look at your carb sources, and work to shift back to whole grains. There’s also research showing that helps. Remember my note yesterday about shifting more to turkey and a higher percentage of protein? Guess why?
Science is starting to understand that diets don’t work; that it’s about lifestyle change (hmm, didn’t I say that recently?) A hot trend is forcing restaurants to display nutritional information (hey! just say no!) — too bad it doesn’t seem to work. wish they’d studied it before implementing those laws, but heck, they probably feel better because they did something.
There’s good news out there, too. A little bit of alcohol helps fight metabolic diseases. If you get rid of sweetened breakfast cereals and go with unsweetened ones, your kids will likely go for the fruit to sweeten it, not sugar (so no more count chocula!) And, of course, getting up and moving around is a good idea. Diet alone isn’t enough, you need to add in the fitness aspect. grumpy knees or no.
What do I take out of all of this?
Well, here’s my “I am not a lawyer” thing: I’m a layman. I’m studying this so I can better understand how to fix my own situation. I’m sharing this so you don’t need to put the time in to find this stuff on your own. But — I’m a layman. So talk to your doctor about this stuff, and have them help you figure out what it means for your situation, because your situation is different than mine. And — believe it or not — I might be wrong here.
But… having said that…
As many changes as I’ve made in my life in the last few years, I still have a ways to go. and what this research gives me some hints on things that are useful options.
I gave up most corn syrup years ago; it’s empty, wasted calories. If you haven’t — stop. Now. I love unsweetened iced tea, fortunately, and in fact over the last few years I’ve done a good job of retraining myself away from a nasty sweet tooth in general. But HFCS sweetened fluids are the first thing my doctor told me to nuke, and he was right. There’s an amazing amount of calories there, and it adds nothing to your diet BUT calories. I’m not someone who is in the “no tolerance” camp for corn syrup, because in american society it’s practically impossible and I’m not going Vegan any time soon (heck, with my allergies, I don’t think I CAN, honestly, even if I wanted to), but whenever I have a choice, I choose away from fructose in general, and high yield corn syrup as much as possible.
After that, where I can, I’m trying to eat whole grains over refined grains. I’m trying to eat more lean protein and less fat and a managed set of carbs. Where I eat carbs, I’m trying to eat complex ones over simple ones (that’s a whole different discussion for later). I avoid trans-fats and processed fats in favor of natural ones (butter rules). And yes, Laurie and I still enjoy a bottle of wine here and there, and I am still known to drink an occasional single malt. But my alcohol usage is probably averaging about 1/3 glass a day or less over a period of a week. AND I’m trying to build up the exercise program.
So in my grand scheme of “fix one thing at a time, and fix it permanently” school of building up a new set of healthier lifestyle habits, the first one I recomment to you is to learn to like unsweetened beverages. Or at the very least, diet — if you tolerate aspartame okay. (I don’t, but I don’t mind using splenda).
One goal I set for myself, and I’ve found it to be a useful one, is to work to make every calorie be worth it — we tend to eat a lot of crap that frankly doesn’t taste that good, merely because it’s there. And a lot of that crap is bad for you. And yes, the occasional In-N-Out burger is “worth it” and so it the occasional Kit-Kat Bar, at least in my universe. but the key word there is occasional, and if you stop and think through what you eat, you’ll probably find a lot of stuff going into the mouth not because it’s tasty or good, but because it’s there. And that’s a good place to start your thinking (well, after you nuke the sugared sodas). And for that, the food diary is king, because it forces you to be conscious of what you’re eating, and once you get conscious of what you’re eating, you’ll probably start thinking to yourself “why the hell am I eating THIS?”
And that starts you down the path to eating better….
okay, I’ve probably ranted about this enough for you all for now, so time to shift to something else. but we’re not done here, are we?
Nah. didn’t think so…
update: This article on diabetes just came out. 26 Million people in the U.S. are diabetic, and another 79 Million are pre-diabetic. 8% of America is Diabetic, and a third of the U.S. adult population is pre-diabetic now. wow. (for comparison, the population of the state of California is roughly 37 million, so we’re talking about 3X that impacted here).
My plan to get the weight off is off to a slow start, thanks to the grumpy knees. It’s hard to get an exercise program going when you can’t walk, and for a couple of weeks around Christmas, I wasn’t doing much more than hobbling and hiding under a heating pad. It’s been about two years since I was diagnosed with arthritis in the knees, and so I was due for a few bad days. I just wish I knew what triggered it — I have no idea why the knee got inflamed, and the only thing that seemed to knock the inflammation down was time, rest and heat.
It took a couple of weeks after the holiday for things to settle down, but last week, I felt it was time to get moving and see what happened. Half a mile walk, and that evening, things felt pretty good, so the next day, I did it again. It still felt pretty good, so the day after that, I spent some time doing some cleanup and hauling stuff around in the garage. That left things pretty sore, so I spent a day just sitting and resting — and now it feels pretty good again. Not 100%, but probably 95%.
One of the interesting challenges of arthritis is that one of the best methods to keep it in check is to exercise the affected joint, but if you cause inflammation, you make it worse. So there’s this set of lines you travel through and try to navigate between too little and too much, and when you’re just starting out, “too much” might not be a lot. One of the best ways to impact arthritis is to get off excess weight, but if you can’t exercise, getting the weight off is an interesting challenge. so it all twists into itself and it’s this slow, careful process to get the knotted tangle cleaned up and everything moving forward smoothly.
One of the lessons I’m learning — the hard way, repeatedly — is that this is something you can’t out-stubborn. I have to learn when to back off, when to shut it down and use rest as a therapy. I’m getting better at that, but honestly, my personality is to just bulldog through everything that gets in the way, but some things win, and it’s not always easy to realize you need to go around and try a different strategy…
The answer: just keep trying. Learn to listen to the body, pull back when it tells you to, push forward when you can. It’s a balancing act. And not get frustrated when it’s not right the first time, and not focus too hard on results too quickly in ways that cause serious regressions or major downtime by injury. It took many years to get to this point — it won’t fix itself overnight any more than a baseball player can score five runs with a single swing. Baseball players know this — and yet sometimes they still try. they’re wired that way.
And so part of the trick here is to rewire yourself.
When I started talking to my doctor about these issues, that was one of the things he emphasized. It’s not so much about weight loss, it’s about restructuring your lifestyle, and with it, the health changes will come. If you don’t fix the lifestyle issues — even if you lose weight, changes are, it’ll come back.
That’s something the diet industry doesn’t want to talk about — diets don’t work. Even if you lose weight, most people gain it back. Many people gain back more than they lost — and there’s growing evidence that yo-yo weight loss is more harmful to your health than doing nothing.
The plan my doctor and I talked over years ago was to understand what the root causes of the weight were and deal with the lifestyle and diet issues, to get everything under control and moving forward. Remember that in 2004-05, when this process started, I was living on the burger and fry diet five or six times a week (at least), so to say my diet was a disaster is understating it.
All of these things are habits — and habits are tough to change. It takes about six weeks to rewire a habit, and even after that, can take longer before it feels natural. If you break the cycle of rewiring along the way, you tend to fall back on the old habit again and then have to start over. That falling back can be caused by many things, but a prime cause is stress, so stress is one of those things you need to learn to manage and reducing stress in your life is an important aspect of all of this.
I also found what worked best for me was to keep it simple; one of the worst things you can do is change everything at once — because you’re dealing with so many habits that you’re going to lose out on some of them, and once you do, they cascade and you tend to lose everything. What worked for me was picking some pieces I felt I could change and doing them.
Over time, I went from bad fat-laden, calorie heavy breakfasts, fast-food lunches and generally eating way beyond my metabolism, and eating really crap stuff.
Today? Well, before christmas I spent two weeks logging my food.
(digression: the first and best weapon in getting your diet under control is the food diary. I’ve used a number of tools, including pure manual paper logging, but today, I like Livestrong.com as a place to manage that information. Food diaries, if you’ve never done them, mean you take a period of time and you log everything you eat. EVERYTHING. When, how much. what. and then you work out what the nutriional aspects of that food is. I’ll probably talk about food diaries in more detail later, but suffice it to say, it is a great tool for showing you the food you’re eating that you don’t realize you’re eating by forcing you to be aware of it, but it also gives you a baseline for understanding where your diet now, so you, or a nutritionist, can figure out what you can change to improve it, one dietary problem at a time. this presumes you don’t lie to yourself, of course, and that’s sometimes the hardest part of using a food diary, because deep down inside, you know you’re screwing up and hate to force yourself to admit it. And sometimes, doing that alone makes a big difference…)
What I found was pretty much what I expected to find. My diet breakdown was about 35% calories from fat, anywhere from 30-50% calories from from carbohydrate, and the rest from protein. My goal has been a balanced, 30-30-40 diet, so these numbers are things I could take to a nutritionist and feel happy with. It’s a huge change from when I started (when I was probably 50% or more fat in the diet, much of it saturated), and it affirmed to me I was eating pretty much at maintenance (finally) although not losing.
The problem? That’s a gerat diet for a normal person, but for a diabetic, the carbs are too high, and that’s contributed to the weight I’ve gained since I started treatment, since one of the drugs managing the blood sugar does so by reducing insulin dependence and encouraging moving carbs into the fat cells. Which I need to better manage by reducing carbs so they aren’t there to sequester, which… (like I keep saying, it’s complicated….)
So I need to get those rations to around 35% fat, 30% carbohydrate, 35% protein. I don’t want to raise the fat percentage to reduce carbs, that’s for sure. And I’ve already pulled a few hundred calories a day out of the diet, but I need to pull out another 500 or so to make sure the weight loss gets going on on the downward slope, but I’ve found I have to be careful how I do that, or there are side effects. So I know what I need to do, but finding the right combination of changes that work for me has been — a bit of a challenge.
The big problem spot in the diet is mid-day, when I’m running around and at work. At home, I have my stock of stuff and on weekends things tend to work pretty well. But the weekdays are fighting back. See, carbs are portable. I can stuff Clif bars in my backpack and haul them around (and I do, for those times when my body starts doing the “you need carbs” dance or I end up in a meeting that spans a normal mealtime). Protein? You can’t just stuff a turkey breast in a backpack and not expect bad things to happen if you haul it around for a while — this all requires more planning and care. Most proteins need refrigeration, where carbs tend not to; so I’m having to figure out how best to change all of that around, and yes, that means “carry your lunch”, and using blue ice bricks and stuff. and that means changing out some habits, and…
And in my case, this is more complicated than usual, because of some food allergies. One common protein you can use that doesn’t require refrigeration is nuts, and so peanut butter is a common item in all of this. And guess what? I have a nut allergy, so that’s off the list.
Fortunately, I do in fact like turkey and it’s now a staple. The current goal is to move to a much lighter carb load during the day, and swap in some turkey, add in a regular salad and include a couple of pieces of fruit for morning and afternoon snacks to help regulate the blood sugar across the day, and see what happens.
So we’ll see. It’s been working on weekends, so it seems time to shift it to the weekdays. I’ve picked up the lunch sack. I know how I have to change my shopping (and laurie’s a huge help here, also). The grumpy knees have made me, honestly, not really feel like screwing around with other stuff so much, but now they seem to be cooperating again (mostly). So know we see how it goes, I guess.
And if it doesn’t work, we’ll learn from it and try something else…
When I started talking to people about whether I should blog about some of the “stuff” going on in my life — the weight, the diabetes, the apnea, and now the arthritis — I had a lot of people strongly suggest I keep that private. A few were seriously freaked I’d even consider talking about the breakdown, which simply shows that we have a long way to go about understanding and dealing with these kinds of issues as a society. Which is, in fact, a strong reason FOR talking about it, to help teach and help people understand. A common worry was that potential employers reading my blog might shy away; honestly, the fact that I’m 50 hinders this as much or more than any potential worry, and to put it bluntly, any employer that won’t hire me because five plus years ago I needed some help getting my head straight over a few weeks is an idiot, and I don’t want to work for them anyway. It’s their loss. (the whole “aging geek” thing is it’s own discussion for some time in the future, maybe).
There’s a lot of self fear — people worry themselves into inaction. I’ve been there, done that. it took me a long time to go from thinking about talking about this stuff to actually talking about it. Part of that was because I wanted to be sure I knew what I was talking about — that I wasn’t going to screw it up and that I could talk about it intelligently and not but proclaim my expertise in something — but there was also the fear factor.
What I’ve found since deciding to start on this is that it’s making a difference. Every time I talk about the apnea, I get one or two emails from people telling me I’ve convinced them to go get checked, and in a couple of cases, I’ve heard back about the diagnosis and how the CPAP has improved their life. That pretty much everything I’ve heard back has been supportive and positive, and that there’s concrete responses that it’s making a difference — that’s huge. And it makes any potential worries about doing this trivial to me. I don’t know what your goals in life are, but among mine are to leave the world around me a better place, even if only in little ways, and to make a difference instead of just existing; and this seems to be working for both of these goals. When the apnea kicked in, and then the diabetes, it drained a lot out of me and I found myself crawling in a hole just to keep the essentials moving, and now, it’s rather nice to be able to see my ability to fill that hole with concrete and build a launching pad on top of it to get back into the place I’d rather be, which is in the middle of stuff and stirring it up….
Three things helped me get over this hump — and be strong enough to start this discussion. And given the news that Steve Jobs is taking another leave to deal with his issues, I thought it was an appropriate time to talk about them and pass them forward to you as items for you to consider as well.
First one is, not surprisingly, Steve and his commencement speech.
I was still working at Apple at the time, but I knew my time was heading towards the end there. One of these days, I need to write about Steve, having been able to watch him and Apple from a close vantage point for so many years (and Laurie worked at NeXT, way back when as well). What I will say right now is that he could be a tough person to work for, but I never saw him demand more of anyone around him than he demanded of himself. Tough, brutally honest, and yes, I saw him obsess over a comma on a couple of occasions, but that’s because he knew those commas mattered. My last project — Chatterbox — was sometimes the object of his affection and sometimes the object of his attention, and it wasn’t always easy, but Steve isn’t about easy. he’s about getting it right and doing it right, and I’ve said more than once for the right situation, I’d happily go back and see how close I could fly to that particular sun, because if it didn’t kill me, it’d make me a lot better at what I do.
Whatever’s going on now, Steve, good luck at it.
The second thing that got me over this hump was Randy Pausch’s Final Lecture:
I didn’t catch onto it when it first came out, but came back to it more recently. I strongly recommend his book The Last Lecture. Here is someone who found out he was going to die, and his response was to look for ways to make a difference, to leave something. You look at what Randy did, and how can you not be inspired to join him and try as well? I was, and I recommend him to you, also, if you haven’t.
Finally, a third person who showed how you can make a difference if you get over the fear and worry of what people will think. Laurie and I have become fans of Craig Ferguson’s Late Late show, and so I read his book, American on Purpose. It’s a fascinating look at how he got to where he is today (and why), but more important, he made a choice not to be afraid to talk about how he screwed up his life and what it did to him — and use it as a way to try to help people avoid going to the places he went to.
If these people can do it, why can’t I? It turns out the person we most fear in stepping out on these issues is ourselves. And when we grow beyond that fear, good things can happen.
Every time I’ve talked about the apnea, I’ve heard from at least one person who’s written to tell me it’s caused them to realize they need to talk to their doctor. This last time, I heard from two, and one of them has since gone on a CPAP and wrote me to tell me how much better he feels already. When I started talking about the diabetes, similar things happened.
And nothing bad has happened. Nobody’s made me wear a scarlet letter, I haven’t been shunned, I haven’t been ridiculed. I’ve been thanked. And I’ve impacted people’s lives in positive ways — perhaps getting someone into a doctor before the apnea causes a stroke, or before that diabetic coma hits or the kidneys fail from trying to clear out all that sugar. These maybe aren’t huge victories — but they’re victories. And that’s awesome.
I expect at some point the trolls will arrive, because that’s what they do. But what’s more important — avoiding trolls that have no power you don’t hand to them in your reaction? Or helping someone change their life for the better.
That first time you do it, it’s tough to get over that hump. Once you do it once, you’ll find it’s pretty good, and pretty easy. So here, for you, are three things that might help you, too, get over that hump.
You can change the world, one person at a time — if only you decide to try.
The weather was wonderful here in the Bay Area today, so I went out for a walk. Not a huge one — a total of half a mile, but just before christmas, one of my knees decided to secede from the Union and I’ve been working to bring it back into the fold since.
I think I need a bit of a digression for that to make sense. Back in late 2007, I was out birding and walking, and while out, took a step back and landed in a gopher hole, twisting my knee and doing the “hop around on one leg cussing like a sailor” thing. So I got myself home and got ice on it and gave it a couple of weeks to recover.
It didn’t get better. So I resigned myself to having it checked and went to my doctor, and told him I’d torn the meniscus. So he sent me off to the orthopede and we took xrays of the knees, and he sat me down and said “see this? you’ve torn your meniscus”.
And so I asked him if we needed to go in and clean it up. His response wasn’t what I was expecting, it was “no, we’re trying to delay your knee replacements as long as possible”. And then he showed me the arthritis. Which today I realize shouldn’t have surprised me, since there’s a family history — and since i tore the meniscus of one knee back in high school (long before arthroscopic surgery was invented), grumpy knees the predict the weather isn’t exactly a new thing.
But I do have to admit hearing that I should expect knee replacements at some point didn’t exactly make my day. But we talked over various options and ways to manage it when it flared up, and thanks in large part to 500mg of Relafin twice a day, the last three years have been almost painless (literally), beyond the usual weather predicting grumpiness and the occasional twinge.
This wasn’t a twinge, however. For reasons I don’t know (I have no idea what caused the flareup), the other knee, not the one I messed up in 2007, but the one that’s been grumping at me for 30 years, decided to have a major argument; swelled up, stiffened up, lots of pain and general “don’t you know it’s the freaking holiday, why now?” kind of thing. So for the last month, I’ve been living mostly on the couch under a heating pad. There were a couple of weeks where I should have used crutches, but I’m too damn stubborn some days…
This is the kind of thing where it just takes time to get the inflammation down, although I was starting to think I might need to get my dosage raised or consider a switch to a different drug (but the Relafin works well, I tolerate it nicely, and honestly, I really don’t want to load up on larger doses of NSAIDs unless I absolutely have to…). Fortunately, while it flared up a second time during the trip to SoCal (the main reason we cut the christmas trip short and cancelled our plans for Salton Sea….), it’s been slowly getting better and the last week or so has finally been getting almost back to normal.
So when I say I went out for a walk, given how things were two weeks ago, that’s awesome. Not pain free, but now it’s time to start the dance down the thin line of getting exercise onto the joint without so much exercise that it flares up again. The nice thing is, 30 minutes under a heating pad after lunch at work and the stiffness and pain was all gone, which is what I was hoping for. Shows that we’re almost back to normal.
But this has complicated some of my plans for the last few weeks; I couldn’t implement the exercise program because I couldn’t exercise, and I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on the couch with the iPad consuming stuff rather than at the laptop creating stuff, but that’s also a nice break; I don’t do that enough, honestly, and it gave me a chance to catch up on some reading, which I’ll try to do reviews on soon — that’s been on the todo list for a while.
Being limited to what birding I can do from the car has been annoying, so it was nice to get out to EEC in Alviso and wander a bit. And the downtime has given me a chance to put some research time in on some issues, and you’ll hopefully see the results soon.
And I get to keep my own knees for a while longer, even if they occasionally behave like spoiled teenagers and pout when the weather’s bad…