Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rediscovering Weight Watchers

"There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them." ~ Dr. Dennis Waitley




So I have been writing a lot over the past six months about nutrition and exercise because I am on a mission, and I mean a SERIOUS mission, to improve my autoimmune symptoms as much as I can by eating healthier and exercising my very unpredictable and sometimes seemingly frail body. As all journeys are, this particular one is an ever changing and evolving journey. This blog entry is about my most recent change.



In January of this year I changed to a gluten and dairy-free diet with a focus on also reducing refined sugars and processed foods. Then around April, I joined a new gym with the intention of getting myself on a very regular exercise program which would help me to build a stronger body and in the process, alleviate some of the overwhelming stress I had experienced over the previous several months. Despite many obstacles with my physical abilities at times, overall my exercise program has been quite successful in terms of meeting the objectives and goals I had set for myself.



Although the primary focus of these lifestyle changes was, and still is, for the purpose of improving my health and combating this god awful autoimmune illness, there is more to the story. In addition to wanting to be healthier, I was sick of being fat. Sick of being the biggest person in the room. Sick of never finding the right clothes to fit me in a flattering way. Sick of looking in the mirror and knowing that I didn't like the image looking back at me. I had lost a good amount of weight, thirty-six pounds, on my own over the past three years but I had stalled out in my weight loss for a variety of reasons. However as I was making these dietary and fitness changes since January, I was also determined to not fall into the diet trap again. The one I had spent so much time in for most of my life. You know, the one where you start a diet, do OK for a while, fall off the wagon, and start hating yourself all over again. I wanted my lifestyle changes to be about taking good care of my body and not about dieting.



However despite the changes I had made already, I knew that I needed to do more. Yes, I was on steroids and sometimes huge doses of them. But I felt like I was not in control of my eating and definitely not in control of my weight. I felt like I was not truly doing the best that I could do to take care of myself and I needed some help.



As luck would have it, a dear friend of mine had recently started Weight Watchers and she told me about their new program. I had been to Weight Watchers before and did well with it for a period of time. And then I would stop following the program or start cheating a lot and I would fall off the wagon. I was also concerned about the gluten and dairy-free issue and how I would pull that off. However this friend of mine is also gluten and dairy-free so she was my inspiration for believing that it could be done.



I sat down and seriously thought about if I started going to Weight Watchers, would it work for me? What if it didn't work for me with all the steroids I was on? What if I couldn't stick with it? What if, what if, what if. This is what I finally decided. First, I had to stop using the steroids as an excuse for being overweight. Yes, they can cause weight gain but let's face it, I was severely overweight before I ever popped a prednisone tablet into my mouth.


Yeap, truth hurts sometimes.


Secondly, things are different now than they were when I was on Weight Watchers years ago. My health is a mess and I have a lot more to lose now. My autoimmune illness is not weight related but I have spent so much friggin' time being sick that I want to be as fit and healthy as I can possibly  be so that I can enjoy my good days more fully. In addition, I don't want to have to deal with any weight related health issues down the road on top of the health issues I already have. I want to be in the best possible state of health that my autoimmune illness will allow. I have never been this motivated to change.



So on my 41st birthday, May 3rd, I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting. And you know what? It felt good to be there. To be taking yet another proactive step in an attempt to create a healthier version of myself.



I have to admit, between following Weight Watchers and staying gluten/dairy-free, the past seven weeks have not always been easy. I have come to figure out that even though I was eating a lot healthier over the past six months, my portion sizes were ridiculously out of wack. I found that the new Weight Watchers program focuses more on eating whole natural foods than it used to and I really liked that fact. I have found a lot of emotional support in the group meetings and through the message boards online to help change some of my unhealthy eating habits and to learn to eat with purpose. Eat to live rather than live to eat.



And it is working. Looking at the numbers, I have lost twelve pounds in the past seven weeks, despite being on steroids for five of those weeks. This puts me back at the weight I was at seven months ago which is when I started my last round of steroids. More importantly though, I feel better about myself and what I am eating. I am starting to like the face looking back at me in the mirror every morning. Not because she is twelve pounds lighter but rather because she is working hard to be the best that she can be.


She is defying the steroid odds.

She is defying her own self doubts.

She is in control.



It is a much better place to be.




























































































































































































































































































































































































Photo Courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Crossroads





I feel like I am at a crossroads in regards to my health, nutrition, and exercise lately. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word crossroads as: a crucial point, especially where a decision must be made. I am not certain that my decisions are necessarily crucial but you get the point.



Over the past two months I have slowly been weaning off my prednisone which was at very high doses to begin with between the oral tablets I was taking and the IV infusions. I finally came off of it three days ago. I knew it was going to be difficult. Historically I come off prednisone for a while and then ultimately go back on it at varying doses because my symptoms return. However this time I am determined to stay off of it for as long as I can unless I am in a very bad or urgent situation such as literally not being able to walk or if I am having extreme difficulty breathing. The reason I feel so strongly about staying off the prednisone is because I am forty-one years old and I believe that my doctor and I need to try another course of treatment. The risk of long term side efefects is high. Not to mention the ones I have to live with when on the medication. It is a toss up most of the time as to what is worse: the disease or the treatment. At this point, it has become a quality of life issue.



But I am in a lot of pain. The joint pain that notoriously feels like someone is driving a chisel into my bones. It is not the worst pain I have ever had but it is pervasive and it is starting to affect my daily life again. I know that if I call my rheumatologist, she will immediately put me back on the prednisone and I just can't do that to myself again right now. Also, the adrenal gland gets shut off when you are on prednisone and they need time to work on their own again. While this rebalance is taking place, it is common to have symptoms like joint pain. I am hoping that this is all this pain issue is: a response to coming off the prednisone.



I am also at a crossroads with my exercise program. While I was on the prednisone, I was able to do a lot more than I can now. At this point, I cannot even swim without being in significant pain afterwards. And this upsets me. I have come to rely heavily on regular exercise to not only manage my weight but also my emotional well being. I am currently reevaluating the exercise program I have put in place to see how I can work it so that I can still exercise without paying such a heavy price afterwards. It is difficult though when I have made so much progress over the past two months in regards to my fitness level. All I want to do is keep going forward, not backwards.



The final issue to my diet. I have been working so hard on changing my lifestyle over the past six months and my dietary changes have been drastic. And now I am ticked off. Why? Because I have busted my butt for the past five to six months eliminating all gluten and dairy from my diet. I have drastically eliminated sugar as well. I did these things because it has been shown that gluten, dairy, and sugar can contribute to inflammation. I have sacrificed a lot to make this eating plan work for me and yet as I sit here typing, the joints in fingers are swollen and painful. I know I may be jumping the gun a bit because once my body chemistry evens out, maybe the pain will be better. But it is hard to not be discouraged when I had a lot of hope placed on my dietary changes making a huge difference in my illness. Not to say that it won't but time will have to tell on that issue.



So what do I do now? Do I give up my gluten and dairy free diet? Do I let myself start having sugary dessert more often? Do I just sit back and use my pain as an excuse to not exercise as often or even at all? Most importantly, do I go back to my medicine cabinet and give in to the pain; knowing that relief may just be as easy as a 10mg tablet of prednisone?


Hell no.


Here is what I am going to do instead. I am going to go to acupuncture more frequently. I will keep reading and learning about pain management techniques and use them as much as possible. I will eat even healthier than I already have been. I will use regular pain medicine when I need to give my body a break from the pain. And I will still exercise. I am not quite sure how but I am resourceful. I will figure it out.


The most important thing I will do is....


Not give in.


I will fight to be stronger than this current flare up of pain. I will not use my illness as an excuse to eat crap or be a couch potato twenty-four hours a day. However, I will also be kind and gentle to my body in whatever ways it need me to be. I will have faith that this too shall pass. One day and one hour at a time.




















































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Photo Courtesy of:  Image Crossroads (C) by www.martin-liebermann.de

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Weighty Issue of Fitness Instructors





As many of you know, I joined a new gym this past April and amongst other things, I have started going to water aerobics classes several times a week. There are a few different instructors and I have been trying to get to certain classes based on who is teaching because well, some classes are better for me than others because of the types of aquatic exercises that we do in each class.




Last week, one of my regular instructors was on vacation and there was a substitute instructor. When I got to the pool area that morning, I noticed a woman getting the various weights and flotation devices together for the class and I was puzzled. This couldn't actually be my substitute teacher for the class, could it?? There was only one water aerobics instructor that I had not met yet but I figured that it wasn't her. Maybe she was just someone in the class helping to get the equipment ready, which is a frequent occurrence.




I took my spot in the pool at 8:30am sharp and this woman I saw moving the equipment introduced herself and started the class. I have to admit, I was quite surprised that she was the actual instructor. Why? Because this fitness instructor was overweight. It was the instructor I had not yet met.




I have a difficult time estimating how much people weigh but if I had to guess, I would figure that this woman was about forty pounds overweight or so. And this brought up a lot of questions for me and as they so frequently do, the wheels started turning....




To begin with, I have some strong opinions about fat discrimination. I think bias against overweight people is one of the last accepted forms of prejudice in this country. Overweight people are frequently seen as lazy, incompetent, and ugly in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with messages about the importance of being thin. That is not to say that I think being overweight is a good thing or a healthy thing. However I do think that as a society, we often view overweight people with a lot of disdain and we are quick to judge them without even hearing a word coming out of their mouths.




Being an overweight person most of my life, I consider myself more open minded and less judgemental about overweight people than many other people however I quickly judged the competence of this overweight instructor without ever having taken her class and never even having spoken with her. I was surprised about the reaction I had to this substitute water aerobics instructor but I was conflicted about my opinion on having an overweight instructor teaching my class. Did that make me prejudiced?




I do not expect any fitness instructor I come across at my gym to be stick thin. But I do expect them to look fit. To me, fit means able to provide a good aquatic work out for the class participants as well as having a physique that includes looking toned. I don't care if they have cellulite or love handles. But I do care if they are overweight or obese. The other water aerobics instructors appear to be of average weight and more importantly, they appear fit. They have visible muscles and overall look toned. One of them appears to have a physical disability of some sorts that I have gathered, from overhearing conversations, is from some type of accident. She sometimes requires the assistance of a wheelchair. This woman is strong and fit despite her disability and she also does a great class. The overweight substitute instructor's class had some very good points, such as the balance exercises, but it did not provide me what I thought to be a great work out. I am not sure if this was related to her weight or fitness level at all.




And this got me to thinking: can overweight or obese people be fit and healthy?  I know this is a loaded topic for many people. To me, the answer to this question depends a lot on what your definition of fit and healthy is. It also depends on you definition of overweight. Lastly, it depends on whether a person's excess weight is within their control on any level as sometimes there are extenuating factors such as certain illnesses, medications, and hormonal factors.There is a difference between being five pounds overweight and being forty pounds overweight. As an overweight person, I can say that I have never been truly fit and almost every single overweight or obese person I know (almost every one but not quite!) is not fit and healthy. That being said, there are also a lot of average weight people who are neither fit or healthy.





This is the conclusion I have come to for myself: I have lost forty-five pounds in the past several years and I still have a minimum of forty-seven more pounds to lose to put me in a healthy weight category. Every single day I have to make very difficult choices about what goes in my mouth and every single day I have to find the motivation to exercise. When I am watching a fitness instructor lead a class, it is very important for me to see that instructor as an example of what I am striving for. Not the perfect body and not necessarily a thin body either. But rather a body that appears healthy and fit. I want, and need,to be inspired by people who take their fitness seriously. I need good examples such as the instructor who has a disability but yet is still is a healthy and fit woman. Maybe it is wrong to equate general good health with the appearance of a fit body but to me, it is a necessity. It doesn't necessarily make me right but just that I know what works for me.



Part of my reason for writing this post was to get feedback and opinions from others on this topic as I am curious as to what others think about this issue. Please feel free to comment below and remember to play nice. Thank you!







































































































































































































































































Photo Courtesy of Google Images