Monday, January 19, 2015

Going Paleo

Me, circa 2006

Me, circa 2015
I have struggled with my weight for years, but it wasn't until 2 1/2 years ago that things came to a head. A strange shadow found on my annual chest x-ray, as part of my health check for work, lead the doctors to notify my school. The vice-principals sat me down to have a serious chat about this shadow, and they advised me to see my doctor as soon as possible. At that time, I didn't have a regular doctor that I was seeing, so my first chore (after totally freaking out and crying on the phone to my husband) was to find one. An old friend recommended her doctor, not because he was this great specialist in chest x-ray shadows, but because he was a caring man who even spoke a little English. She offered to go with me for my first appointment.

One more chest x-ray, electrocardiograph, blood work, with an MRI at a nearby large hospital later, the doctor sat me down to inform me the "shadow" in lower region of my chest, just below my heart, was a Morgagni Hernia. A small opening in the center of my diaphragm had allowed a blub of fat to move up into my chest cavity. This triangle-shaped fat mass, about 4 cm in size, was taking up space in my chest cavity, which should be empty and reserved for expanded lungs. It sits just above my diaphragm and below my heart.

He advised me to lose weight pronto, 25 kg (that's about 60 pounds) by Xmas. It was only September.

For about 1 1/2 years, I worked hard to lose the weight. I joined a gym, paid through the nose for a personal trainer, started taking long-ass walks on the weekends, and began cooking low-carb meals. When these things didn't work and I ran out of money to pay the personal trainer, I decided to start a more aggressive diet using Vemma products. This involved an iPhone app, daily menus and reminders to eat, an exercise program (which I didn't use at all but instead just kept walking), morning smoothie powder mixes, and an energy drink for mid-afternoon snacks. When I ran out of money to import the energy drinks, which were heavy and expensive when shipping and duty taxes were figured in, and when I admitted to myself that I hated the taste of the energy drinks, I gave that up too. But I liked the idea of smoothies, so I bought a smoothie cookbook and started making them for breakfast and dinners. Then, I got sick with some kind of horrible virus that took over my body for 4 days. After I recovered and could eat normal food again, I never went back to the smoothie regimen.  But at this point, I was down 10 kg (about 22 pounds). For the next few months, I did nothing but watch the weight slowly creep back on.

So, you can see the pattern here. I try something full-force. I realize later that it's expensive and difficult to maintain. The results are very slow. (10 kg in one year is not all that motivating to someone who is meant to lose 25 kg.)

I am not going to go into my all my excuses, but I will list some reasons why I may have failed time and time again.

I was keeping it a secret. People knew about my hernia issues, but they did not know about my methods for losing weight. I was ashamed about my chosen methods and so kept them quiet and hidden, even from my husband.

It was expensive. Expensive, imported energy drinks, personal trainers, expensive health clubs - it was hard to maintain it all for such a long time.

Weekends Vs. Weekdays was a huge issue. I could do very well on week days when I cooked our meals, but my good behavior would also go to hell in a hand-basket on the weekends when my husband was in charge of cooking and shopping. I had a hard time explaining to him that his wonderful family meals were doing me no favors. We often eat Japanese family-style on the weekends, which means a big pot of something is placed on table and as it cooks, we eat it. We used tiny plates and add the ingredients to the pot or teppan, cook it, and eat until the food is gone. Examples are nabe, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, yaki niku - you get the idea. He sometimes made stews, such as curry or cream stew. Wonderful and amazing way to share family meals, but the problem is you never know HOW MUCH you are eating. It's rather difficult to control your portions, and Y was always encouraging us to not waste the food, there would be no leftovers, just eat up til it's gone. This is quite normal for a Japanese family (I think!). A couple weekends a month, Y would opt to eat out instead or he would arrange for us to have dinner at his parents' house. In this case, the cooking the meal on the table was also the norm, but add in the fact that his mom always laid out several other side dishes to go with the main entree, and again, we were encouraged to eat, eat, eat. Every Monday morning, I started at ZERO and it got so frustrating that I lost motivation quickly.

Peer pressure does me no good. Because I kept my weight loss issues a secret, I couldn't just belt out, "I don't want to go out to lunch with you because I can't control myself!", so I would just keep quiet and go out with my friends and have a good time...and eat and eat and eat.

Trapped at home. As a mother of two small children who is working full time and doing all the evening care by herself because her salaryman husband returns home so late, I couldn't just pop out for a walk or a jog after dinner. I have heard of Japanese housewives leaving the house after dinner to pop into an aerobics class or whatever, but I couldn't do that. Perhaps their husbands came home by 6pm and were willing to help with the kids. Anyway, once we got home from daycare/school pick-ups and after-school lessons, I was basically trapped there until the next morning. This is still the case, by the way. 

I am sure there are more, deep-seeded reasons, but these are the basic issues I have had over the past few years.

Last year, in 2014, I decided to ignore my weight issues. At the beginning of 2014, I discovered that my lifestyle was in for some big changes due to a job change. This was great news, and I assumed that somehow the weight would fall of me because I had always blamed my job and related stress to my weight gain. (Of course, it really was because of two pregnancies and 3 years of grad school within a 6-year period in addition to my job!)

This period of non-action didn't help. In fact, it made things worse. As the weight piled back on, I became more hopeless and less empathetic about my health issues. My M. hernia was being unjustly ignored. It's not that I was out partying and eating copious amounts of food, but I certainly didn't make any efforts to exercise or improve my eating habits.

In late fall, M. hernia began to rear his ugly fathead again. I was starting to feel that something was not quite right in my chest cavity. Something was in there. Was it getting bigger? Had it broken apart and was floating around my chest? I started to get scared, but I didn't tell anyone.

Instead, what I said was this:
I am not feeling good today.
I just need to go home and rest.
Just let me lie here for a little while. I need to rest.

And that is very unlike me.

But, even lying down didn't help much because I felt a strange discomfort in my chest cavity. So I really began to wonder what M. hernia was doing. And, then I remembered that I was supposed to see my doctor some time in 2014 to have my blood checked again. Last time, he had threatened to put me on statin medication if my cholesterol levels didn't improve by July. I was happy to report that at my annual health check in September, my cholesterol levels were indeed in the normal range, so no need to go back to him right? Wrong! M. hernia wanted some attention and he was gonna cause trouble until he got it.

So, in January, I decided my word for the year would be NURTURE. It's a great word to help me nurture my body back to health, and in choosing that word, and I needed to face my reasons for doing so.

But, choosing this word carried a a lot of weight.
Did I really want to take care of myself again?
Could I really make time for such a thing?

For the first three months of year, I am mainly working from home and keeping my own schedule, so I felt that if I was going to tackle my weight issues, NOW IS THE TIME.

First, I decided to take up yoga, which was something I always wanted to do. I signed up for weekly classes and took my first class last Thursday (and loved it!). But, I am not doing yoga to lose weight. What I needed was something to help me center myself, relieve stress, work on flexibility and get more confident about using my body again.

Second, a good friend recommended using Jillian Michaels DVDs to work out at home. I have been a fan of JM for a while, but I had never tried her DVDs. I got an easy one (the kind for people who have not been very active in a while), and I started the daily 20-min workouts. (Loving it.)

Here is where PALEO comes in. I have read several books about food and nutrition over the years. Some of these books mentioned Paleo. Last week, I saw a post on one of my Facebook groups about skin issues, and I asked another commenter for more information after she said she had found a way to resolve all her skin issues. I, myself, have psoriasis and have been suffering for the past 10 years, so I wondered if her "way" could help me, so I asked her to message me and tell me all about it. Turns out she was talking about Paleo. We chatted for a while, and she recommended a book and some cookbooks. I decided to read more about it.

So, here I am, partway into the Paleo book and wondering if I can do the Whole 30 thing and then see if there are improvements with my psoriasis and my weight. Haven't started yet because I'd like to finish the book, but the excitement is growing.

Finally, what happened with M. hernia? Over the weekend, I decided that the most important issue needed to be dealt with - HONESTY. Though my husband knew about my struggles and he knew about M. hernia, he barely gave it a second thought after the initial scary diagnosis. I called him into the bedroom for a private talk, and I cried as I told him how scared I was and how I needed help and support, and that I needed to see the doctor again but was afraid to go alone. He agreed to go with me.

M. hernia is not getting bigger, nor is he breaking apart and swimming all over my chest cavity, but he is still there. The discomfort I feel is because my diaphragm moves up every time I breathe, and M. hernia is kind of in the way. The only way to get rid of M. hernia is to lose weight, and after examining all my numbers, he said, "You need to lose 37 kg," and then he laughed quietly to himself, probably because he knows how damn hard that is.

So, here is the 80-pound overweight me looking at old photos of myself BEFORE KIDS and BEFORE GRAD SCHOOL wondering if I can do it this time.

M. hernia, I can beat you.
You are no match for the likes of me.


L. said...

It's worth losing weight (slowly and sensibly) for health reasons, and also because it will make you feel better overall.
But don't dwell on comparing photos of your large self to your former small self -- you really are beautiful at any size. The only reason that you look much prettier in the first photo is because you're smiling. (Oh, and let's face it, you were younger then, and there's nothing any of us can do about aging!)
Everyone's body is different -- I hope Paleo works for you. Gambatte!

Mande said...

L., thank you for the comment and encouragement. Let's just say that I hope that SOMETHING works for me. It's hard to finally face your fears and deal with them, but I think it's important at this time in my life. Yes, the first photo was taken by a professional photographer, but the second one was a spontaneous one taken by my mother-in-law. I didn't know she was going to snap a photo, so perhaps it's not really fair to compare the too. (And then there is the 9 year age-difference, so you are totally right about that!)

Diane. N. said...

Thank you for such an honest blog post! There is no reason to keep any health and weight issues should let your friends know about your struggles with your diet and your health--they are friends and will support and encourage you.
Good luck on the Paleo type of diet...I find I feel much better when I do not eat carbs, particularly wheat carbs. You might want to also consider joining Slimforce.....