Not Dead Yet #4: thoughts on obesity, exercise and life and fixing your lifestyle

This is probably the final in the Not Dead Yet series. I’m happy to say I’m not dead yet, and still able to write these things, in and around work, which is really busy right now…

It’s now two months since the event as I’m writing this, and I’d meant to write this earlier, but as life is won’t to do, it got a bit complicated, so now I want to summarize what’s been happening.

The good news

  • I’m still here. The blog is pretty quiet, but that’s because other parts of life are really busy and not leaving a lot of time for writing it. I am trying to slowly shift that back now that some other things that have been sucking up my brain are dropping off the critical path of life.
  • I broke under 385 today for the first time, notable because, among other things, that breaks the 30 pound line from my high, ten pounds since my ER visit, and around 8 pounds for the month.
  • The exercise is slowly improving, but I’m starting to notice things are getting better. But it’s still, honestly, slow and sometimes frustrating.  haven’t, however, gotten hurt doing it yet, so that’s something.

The longer discussion

I’ve been trying to understand how I got here, make decisions on what changes I have to make, and start getting those changes started and building the new habits and momentum that will push those forward. Oh, and I took a week off from work to travel to Mono Lake, where I spent a week around 8000 feet walking around and taking photos, and that didn’t kill me, either. It did, however, give me some confidence that I can actually push the exercise harder, if the knees will allow. More on that in a sec.

The weight that’s come off in the last year (my all time high was November 2013) is about 12% of the goal — 415 to 180. A non-trivial amount, but a long way to go, too. I’m not reading too much into this large drop this month, either, since my body has this tendency to try to protect a set point weight for a while and then give up and dump a bunch of weight all at once. It’s not unusual for me to grind out one or two pounds over six weeks, then lose 8-10 pounds in ten days (and go to the bathroom a lot as the retained water weight gets recycled). Why? I don’t know, it’s not like I’m in charge. I just work here.

It does give me the ability to declare a seven bottle event — remember that a two liter bottle is about 4.4 pounds. 30 pounds means I’ve deleted seven of those puppies. Stop and think about stuffing seven of those into a backpack and strapping it on and carrying it all day. And sleeping in it. And…

Do you notice it? The change tends to be slow enough that it’s not always obvious, but one day you realize it’s easier to put on your shoes. Another day you walk out the door and your pants try to fall off and you have to tighten your belt.

Steps up and down are easier, because gravity wins, folks.

Eventually you realize things feel better and some things  are easier to accomplish.

But it’s also just a start. Long way to go, and it’s not something that happened overnight, and not something that’ll go away overnight. Still, progress.

The weight chart right describes the problem. One caveat is that the early data, from before about 2007, is spotty at best and is estimated based on a few key values I captured — like wrestling in the 145 class as a sophomore in high school (summary: I really sucked).

That weight loss around 2009 was the diabetes trying to kill me. Waking up one morning and realizing that the weight loss I was seeing had absolutely zero basis in fact was what finally sent me to the doctor for tests. I do wish in retrospect I’d been more active about keeping that weight off after diagnosis, but I can’t go back and slap myself (and I was busy trying to hold my part of Palm together…)

The long and winding road

In trying to understand why I gave up on my exercise program, I realized there was a specific event — in 2010, I was out birding at a local birding hotspot, and I tripped and fell. I ended up effectively spraining the left side of my body and I was lucky I didn’t dislocate a couple of fingers, but it was a rather unpleasant six weeks while my body put itself back together again.

That seems to have been the last straw. The reality is that the last four times I’ve tried to build up an exercise program, I’ve ended up injured. Twice minor things, once it was the knee injury that led to the diagnosis of all of the knee problems (and the cortisone shots, and the ice bags, and the eventual knee replacements), and then this one. When you weigh this month, it affects your balance and center of gravity — I’m not joking when I joke about being a klutz. Even being careful about it, I have to be careful whenever I get off of a paved path. Some times a hiking stick helps, but other times with the gear I carry it gets in the way and makes it worse. And in this case, I caught the edge of the trail and went down hard.

And that was that. I basically stopped walking and stopped trying, because why bother? Every time I tried, I ended up under an ice bag or in front of an X-ray machine. Somewhere in the back of my head my body just wrote it off, without me really realizing it. I’d still tell myself I needed to, but always found some excuse to put it off. (I did the same to that birding location; despite being one of the best in the county, I’ve visited it maybe three times in the four years since, without even realizing I was shying away from it until recently. Guess what one of my winter projects is?)

It’s not even something I was consciously aware of. I’d decide to go out for a walk and visit the place (Shoreline Lake in Mountain View) and somewhere along the way, I’d decide to shift over to another place like Palo Alto Badlands, a lot more amenable to car birding. I was effectively editing my own decisions without really noticing.

So now I’m working to break those habits and get myself out on the trails and away from the car more. Not always easy with the knees, but the knees will benefit from more work and less weight, too. In the long run.

A side note to that — when I did the Fall Foliage workshop with Michael Frye, one of the things I did was successfully trip and launch myself head first into a creosote bush in the south tufa area during a pre-dawn hike, because I’m a klutz. And so there I am lying in a bush on the side of the trail taking inventory (“does the finger move? does it hurt? no? good. does the wrist move? does it hurt? No? good….”) and I could hear the discussion going on in the back of my head — klutz… loser… just give up… go back to the car… and then I realized I was getting pissed  about this instead, and it turned into a very determined Fuck this, let’s go take pictures…

And I did. And so if the 2010 fall and injury was the inflection point that pushed me into full couch potato mode, it was that workshop and that visit into the bowels of the creosote bush that was the point where it changed back and I started pushing my way back to activity.

Next steps

This is just a beginning. Part of a long process. The next step?

More steps. My overall activity is up about 10% from before the event. A good start, but just a start. One aspect of now working mostly at home is there’s a tendency to get up, sit at the desk, and not leave the room most of the day. That’s a tendency I need to fight by making time to get outside, or get on the exercise bike.

The list of next steps is a long one, and rather boring — thousands and thousands of them, in fact.

But in cases like this, there are no magic cookies, not short cuts, no secret hacks.

Just next steps…