Please, No Sweets This Holiday Season

I’d much rather have the pleasure of your company.

One of the most persistent “gifts” I receive each holiday season is weight gain of at least 5 pounds. I gorge myself at parties and feel sick afterward. Well-meaning coworkers give me a bag of chocolates or Christmas cookies and it sits alone in the room with me, on the counter, calling my name all shift long. I don’t have the self-discipline to resist. I also have several friends who are excellent bakers and want to share the wealth.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I know these people mean well, and their generosity is coming from a place of nothing but goodwill and holiday spirit, but the end result is my health is undermined from now until January 2nd, and this year I’m not gonna take it anymore.

It’s funny, the destructive ways we as a species sometimes show our love. Giving a bag of chocolate to someone who hasn’t asked for it is like saying, “I have no idea if you’re struggling with your weight, or have diabetes or heart issues, and I don’t care. Here’s a big old ball of fat for you to enjoy. Eat up! Merry Unhealthy Christmas!”  

And then there are the people who send you things that aren’t palatable or that you wouldn’t consider eating at any other time of year, and because you don’t want to waste food, you eat it. Does anybody really like fruitcake? And Christmas Cookies always taste stale to me, even right out of the oven.

With all the food waste in the world, I’m loathe to throw things away. And if I don’t want to indulge in poor health myself, I don’t want to pass on that poor health to someone else, either, so giving this unwanted stuff to anyone, even a homeless shelter, seems wrong. Sugar is killing this country. And so here I am with a dilemma that I never asked for in the first place.

“But it’s tradition!” we say as we joyfully throw obesity at each other. We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings by telling them not to waste their baking on us. And it’s true, I can also be accused of having done this to people in the past without first asking. It’s what you do this time of year.

It’s particularly amusing/confusing to me when someone who is so wonderfully considerate that they say “happy holidays” to people, because like me they want all people to feel joy and inclusion at this time of year, and yet that same person is perfectly willing to ignore those of us who are desperately trying to get healthy and live longer. Diabetes? Have a cookie. You’ll feel better. It’s my mother’s recipe, may she rest in peace.

This year I discussed this issue with my two coworkers on my drawbridge, and they both agreed that they, too, have no willpower and would therefore much rather not see these sweets this year. So I sent out an e-mail to everyone in our department which said the following:

“’Tis the season when people start giving chocolates and cookies and the like to the drawbridges, and we definitely appreciate the sentiment and the warm holiday spirit. Having said that, I’ve discussed this with the two other people who work on this bridge, and the consensus is that we all want to focus on our health this year.  We wish all of you the happiest of holidays, but we would prefer not to receive any such items at this time. Thanks in advance for your understanding.”

I’m really amused at some of the responses we’ve gotten. One guy, a temp who rarely works here, says he might work here one day this month, and he wants the goodies to be there. So, in other words, to hell with us.

Another person freaked out and thought we were talking about all the drawbridges, not just ours, and he made it clear that he wants the sweets on his bridge, not for him, but because someone always eats them. Well, yeah, they do, but do they regret it? Have you even asked? Well, not my bridge, so not my realm of influence.

Another person, who always buries us in chocolate, acted all offended even though I think my e-mail was polite. If an e-mail such as this upsets you, you may want to examine why you are giving out the chocolate in the first place. Is your desire to be perceived as a nice person more important than the recipient’s desire to reach his or her health goal? Well, sorry, but my health comes first from now on, even if you do get butt hurt.

Call me a Grinch if you must, but I know for a fact that I hear people constantly complaining about being surrounded at this time of year by foods they’d prefer not to eat for whatever reason. And I hear those same people expressing seasonal regret in January for having ingested the stuff in the first place.

So if you’re going to provide these kinds of temptations, please, first ask if they’re wanted. And if you ask me, my answer is going to be no thank you. Please don’t take it personally. Just kindly keep your candy canes to yourself. I’d much rather have the pleasure of your company, or, barring that, a children’s book for my little free library. That’s the kind of thing I’m perfectly willing to pass along.

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A Failure to Completely Alter My Life

Baby steps I can do. But this…

Due to various health issues (I’ll spare you the details), someone recommended a book to me that she purported would change my life entirely.

Boy, she wasn’t kidding. In order to be cured of all my ills, I must do the following, immediately, and all at once:

Do some form of sweat producing exercise for an hour a day, and completely avoid the following foods for the rest of my life:

  • Sugar.

  • All processed foods, including anything in a box, bag, or can.

  • Breads.

  • Cheeses.

  • Condiments.

  • Processed and smoked meats, including bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and sausage.

  • Mushrooms.

  • Pasta.

  • Melons.

  • Potatoes.

  • Dried fruits.

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Gluten.

  • Fruit juices.

  • White rice.

  • Cashews and Pistachios.

  • Breakfast Cereals.

  • Soda.

  • Alcohol.

Upon reading this, I got tears in my eyes and immediately ate a pint of ice cream and fell into a deep, dark depression, as is my wont in moments of despair. Because I know me. There is no way I can pull this off. You may as well ask me to chop off my head and replace it with that of someone else. It’s too radical a change, it’s too overwhelming.

It’s a set up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s all good advice. I’m sure it would be life altering. But it’s too extreme. It’s too all-at-once. And my medical condition isn’t life threatening. It’s just annoying. So the incentive isn’t the kind I’d need to completely do away with every single thing I normally eat, with the exception of salad (without dressing) and other veggies from my garden, and then be expected to get my starving butt off the couch to jog for an hour a day.

I know I’m sounding like a whiney little kid, but am I alone in this? Could you do this? Right this minute?

Apparently this must be done all at once or it won’t work. So… it’s not going to work.

Baby steps I can do. I already don’t drink alcohol or soda. I already hate corned beef. And I eat much healthier than I did 10 years ago. But this… it’s insane.

So, in essence, I bought a book that makes me feel worse about myself than I did before, and I still have the health issue. This does not make for a successful health plan. There has to be a better way.

I’m not asking for things to be made completely easy. I’m willing to make certain sacrifices. I don’t think all life solutions should be to take a pill and continue with your bad habits.

But baby steps, you know? I can’t run a marathon when I’ve barely learned to walk. You can’t expect me to quit my job, move to the country, and eat pine trees, while building my own log cabin. Tomorrow. Or even next week. And anyone who expects that much of me is part of the problem.

The first step in designing a healthy lifestyle system is that it should be at least remotely achievable. Otherwise you’re just selling low self-esteem. Thanks, but we’re already full up on that, here.

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Baby Steps

“If you don’t start exercising and lower your cholesterol, you’re going to have a heart attack or a stroke.” This, from my doctor. My heart sank.

We’re talking major lifestyle change, here. You see, I used to have this amazing body. I mean, a killer, slammin’, take-no-prisoners type of body. Until I was 28 years old, if I had an issue with my weight, I’d simply make a mental note to lay off the cookies, and the pounds would melt away. Exercise? I didn’t need no stinkin’ exercise!

And then I stopped producing the human growth hormone, as one does, and began living with a tall guy and had the mistaken idea that I should keep up with him when we sat down to eat. I expanded overnight. That, of course, plunged me into a deep, dark depression. And I comforted myself with food.

I try not to look into mirrors. I don’t recognize myself when I do. Yes, something definitely has to change.

So about 9 months ago, I started making small alterations to my diet. And, lo and behold, I found I felt better. And as these small changes became habits, I’d add more dietary changes. Now I’m proud to say I’m vegetarian 4 days a week, and a lot healthier than I used to be on the other three. I’ve lost some weight. I still have a long way to go.

So when I went in for my follow up cholesterol test, I was really looking forward to the results. I was really proud that I’ve been eating so much healthier.

Imagine my horror when I discovered my cholesterol levels where even higher. This resulted in a stern lecture from my doctor.

Okay, okay, okay. I need to start exercising. It can’t be avoided. But how does one become an exercise person, for the first time ever, at age 52? At this point it feels like the couch cushions have been fused to my behind.

I’m certainly not going to become a jogger. The only time in my life I’ve ever run was when I was late for an airplane. That’s the level of motivation I require.

If the terrain around here weren’t so hilly, and there weren’t so many ghost bikes around to remind me of the many fatalities in this town, I might get a bike. But no. And long walks, all alone, are just too depressing to contemplate.

There is a public pool near me. I’ve never been there. I like swimming. But when I get home from work, I’m not very motivated to leave again. And when the weather is cold, the prospect of getting wet leaves me… well… cold. And let’s face it: there’s no job on earth that’s more sedentary than being a bridgetender.

Excuses, excuses.

So what to do? I’m a firm believer in baby steps. That’s how I changed my diet. Maybe I can apply that to exercise. I know myself well enough to realize that some radical, all-encompassing lifestyle change is not going to stick. But I can sneak changes up on myself, bit by bit.

So you’ve heard it here first. Today I brought some hand weights to work, and I plan to use them 15 minutes a day for starters. I’m trying to frame it as a gift that I’m giving to myself rather than a chore that must be done. Wish me luck.

weights

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A Hitch in My Giddy-Up

Yep. I’m getting old. I have slight arthritis in my hips, and some mornings it feels as though they’re not going to support my weight for a few seconds there. Rather than a morning smoker’s hack (the sound of my mother’s made me a nonsmoker for life), I have a morning hobble and groan.

I’ve also been feeling a twinge in my knee of late. As with small sounds in my car, I keep ignoring it, hoping it will go away. Fingers crossed…

And bell peppers don’t agree with me anymore. That’s a shame, because I like them. But if I eat them, I know I’ll soon regret it.

And the more grey my hair becomes, the more kinky and unmanageable it gets. It seems I did not inherit my mother’s silky, lustrous silver tresses. I’ll probably be one of those unruly, witchy women, in appearance as well as in word and deed.

But even though I miss my 19 year old body, I don’t miss the 19 year old me. If all these aches and pains are the price I have to pay for a life well lived, full of lessons and experiences, then I’ll take it. I’ll take it and come back for seconds.

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Glutton Free

Since I’ve come to Seattle, I’ve noticed that a lot of people here are quite dedicated to having a gluten free diet. I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of such a decision, but I do give kudos to people who take their health seriously. I’m not quite to that gluten free stage yet. Baby steps.

I’m still focused on becoming glutton free. I try to avoid buffets, because I generally overeat in an attempt to get my money’s worth, and then I leave there feeling slightly sick. This is not self-kindness. (But every now and then I can’t resist going to the Chinese buffet down the street to graze like a bovine. Rules were meant to be broken.)

I also tend to eat my anger. Piss me off and I can go through an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s Triple Caramel Chunk in one sitting. And before sending out for pizza, I need to learn to check in with myself and figure out if I’m fuming. I don’t know why I think that punishing my body is the best way to deal with my fury at an external source, but there you have it.

I must say that I am doing a lot better than I once did. I rarely have fast food. I do go for organic and local food whenever possible. Even though I tend to pinch pennies at the grocery store, I have given myself a free ride when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Money is no object in the produce section, and farmers’ markets are the one place in my world where I don’t even second guess my urges. The healthier the better, and prices be damned.

I’ve also moved more toward vegetarianism. I’d say that my “meatless Mondays” happen about 4 days a week now. But I must admit I still love a good burger every once in a while.

In terms of gluttony in other areas of my life, I think I’m doing better with each passing year. I really have very little desire to accumulate “stuff” anymore. In fact, I’m making great strides in getting rid of things. This is primarily because I’m sick of lugging all my junk from pillar to post. What good does it do me?

I’m much more interested in experiences these days, rather than possessions. A good memory means much more to me than a tchotchke. I chafe at the idea of even one more item that requires dusting.

So, I’m working really hard on the sin of gluttony. Next, I probably should tackle the sin of sloth.

Nah. Maybe tomorrow.

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Georg Emanuel Opiz der Voller, 1804

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The Drawbridge Diet

If you work on a bridge, by all rights you should be as skinny as a rail. Once you’re on the job, it’s not like you can run down the street on a whim for doughnuts. As a matter of fact, if you abandon a drawbridge, I’ve been told, the Coast Guard can fine you $10,000 dollars and/or give you 10 years in jail. Impeding the transit of vessels, especially commercial ones, is a HUGE no no. I’ve never heard of them actually ever imposing those penalties, but that possibility was frequently drummed into our heads in Florida. No one ever says anything about this in Seattle, even though we are bound by the same Coastguard Federal Regulations, but the bottom line is, it’s very, very bad to leave a bridge untended.

So if you forget your lunch, you’re pretty well screwed. I’ve done that before. It has taught me to leave a power bar or two in my locker for emergencies, because 8 hours without sustenance is a long, miserable time. It’s even worse when you forget to bring something to drink, because while every bridge I’ve been on has running water that is supposedly potable, I wouldn’t stake my life on it. No, I bring my own.

One time during a typically hot Florida summer, on a bridge where the water was slightly brown and stank of rotten eggs, I forgot my thermos, and I called my boyfriend and asked him to please, please, please swing by and drop off a jug of orange juice or something, anything, because I had about a half inch of Dasani water left and that was it. He said he would. Nothing makes you feel more thirsty than not having access to water. So I waited, and waited, and waited. No boyfriend. I called him again.

“Oh, you meant bring it to you at work! Oh… well, now I’m on the other side of town and I’m about to go to bed, so… sorry. It’s in the fridge.”

Un-freaking-believable. I mean, who does that? I could never do that. I rationed that half inch of water and cursed my existence (and his) all shift long.

But knowing how impossible it is to indulge cravings on a bridge, it often surprises me that most of us are overweight. Yes, it’s a pretty sedentary job, but is it really that hard to leave the snickerdoodles at home?  If you’re trapped for 8 hours someplace and all you bring is healthy food, you should be able to control your diet better than the average drudge who actually gets a lunch hour and has access to snack machines and Starbucks.

I really can’t blame the job. I actually do eat very healthy food when I’m there. But then I come home to an empty house and don’t exercise and I eat my frustration and lonliness. So no, I’m not a size three. I’m a bridgetender.

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Sugar n’ Fat Sauce

That’s what a friend of mine calls macaroni and cheese. He has a point. Pasta converts itself to sugar in your body, and that cheese sauce is mostly fat. Thinking about it that way sort of robs it of its appeal, even if you did grow up in the South like I did.

Educating yourself about what you’re putting into your body is a double edged sword. On the one hand, you’ll begin to make healthier food choices. On the other, your life will become much more complicated, time consuming, and expensive.

A consumer who wishes to be educated will spend much more time reading food labels. Gone will be the days of running into the grocery store and basically sweeping random boxes into your cart. (What? That doesn’t resonate with you? That’s probably why you’re a size three and I hate you on general principle.)

The more educated you become, the more you want to buy organic, local, unprocessed ingredients. That equals more time in the kitchen, but also a great deal more flavor.

Farmers’ Markets will begin to appeal to you in ways you never imagined. More effort, more errands, but you’ll adapt. But when you actually buy fruit and vegetables that don’t come in a can, things will rot if you don’t keep up with them. You actually have to have a plan. What a concept.

My transformation into a healthier human being isn’t happening over night, but I feel the momentum starting to increase. I’m not going to wake up tomorrow as a slow food movement vegan. I’ll still want my sugar n’ fat sauce now and then. But change is coming. Yes, yes indeed.

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[Image credit: food.com]

I Love You, Honey

I was sitting in the back yard the other day, watching the dogs play and enjoying the sun, when a bee landed on my hand. In my younger days this would probably have freaked me out. I don’t want to get stung. Who does?

But now I’m a lot calmer and more logical. I wasn’t threatening this bee in any way, so she wasn’t going to give up her life by stinging me. In fact, I’m sure I was but a brief stop as she went about her busy schedule. And sure enough, after a thorough inspection of my cuticles, she flew away.

I recently read Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey by Holley Bishop. It gave me a great deal of insight into our buzzing neighbors, and it also made me run out and order a sample pack of various types of honey from Smiley Honey, the apiary she writes about in the book. I have to say their wildflower honey is the best honey I’ve ever tasted in my life. It’s like sweet golden sun-kissed flowers on your tongue.

The book talks about the long history of the relationship between humans and bees, and also how dependent we are upon their pollination skills. If we lose the bees, we will lose a huge amount of the food that we take for granted, and that’s a scary prospect because we are killing them off with our chemicals and our twisted interventions in the natural world.

It has long been on my bucket list to keep a beehive. After reading so much about it, I’m more determined than ever. People have been doing it for centuries. If I’m ever a homeowner again, I plan to do just that.

The book also talked about the fact that honey has benefits that refined sugar does not provide. A quick google search will tell you that if you compare the same amount of honey to sugar, you will find it has fewer calories, 25 times as much potassium, 6 times as much calcium, fewer carbs, and also provides you with things that sugar does not, such as some fiber, protein, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. I’m definitely going to do my best to use honey as my main sweetener from now on.

It also discussed the many benefits of bee pollen. These benefits are more controversial, but many consider it a superfood that increases your vitality, reduces cravings, strengthens the blood, prevents infectious diseases and allergies, and even prevents cancer. So I went to my local health food store and got some in bulk, and have started taking it, a spoonful each morning. It kind of tastes like sweet dirt.

Be advised that I’m not a doctor, and you should probably consult with one before adding bee pollen to your diet as some people have experienced side effects. Having said that, just in this short period of time that I’ve been consuming honey and bee pollen, I have noticed a great improvement in my breathing and energy levels, and have had less lower back pain (probably due to the potassium in the honey). Coincidence? Honestly, I have no idea. But I’ll take it!

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Healthy People Die Too

The other day for some reason, I was thinking of Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru from the 50’s. Maybe it’s because I watch health nuts jog by from my sedentary perch in the bridge tower every day. I ought to jog, but I know myself well enough to admit that I never have and never will. Jack LaLanne died at the ripe old age of 96. I doubt I’ll make it that far.

And then there’s Robert Atkins, of Atkins Diet fame, who, despite a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure, and hypertension, still believed in his controversial diet when he died at the age of 72.

Eventually, death comes for us all. That’s a fact most people don’t care to examine very closely. If you think you can jog your way to immortality, you are sadly mistaken.

I’m not saying that one shouldn’t exercise and have a proper diet in whatever form you feel that should take. These things will no doubt improve your quality of life while you are living it. But you’re still going to age. You’re still going to punch your ticket sooner or later. And all the good health in the world isn’t going to prevent you from being taken out by a cross town bus.

So make healthy choices, by all means, but every now and then, stop jogging long enough to smell the roses, and stop dieting long enough to eat the occasional bowl of coffee ice cream. Because life is what you’re living right now. Savor it.

“Jack LaLanne 1961” by Photographer: Cliff Riddle, Hollywood. – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Ignorance

It’s what causes women in backward villages to be stoned to death. It justifies the withholding of the truth. It encourages people to demonize scientific proof. It suggests that if children are not taught sex education, there will be no teen pregnancies. It allows us all to focus on one group and make them the scapegoats for all evil. It permits women to vote for the very politicians who are hell-bent on undermining their human rights. It advocates female genital mutilation despite documented health threats. It’s the reason there’s a spike in domestic violence during the Super Bowl. It asserts that two people who love each other should not be allowed to marry if they are not members of the mainstream. It convinces people that others will go to hell if their beliefs do not align with their own. It advocates violent solutions, and claims that most rape victims are asking for it. It allows people to believe that background checks for gun purchases is a bad thing, and that this opinion is not motivated by politics and greed. Does your very life depend on a certain diet? Ignorance will allow you to remain in denial about that until you’ve thrown away the very gift that should never be returned. It advocates censorship, because God knows we shouldn’t be allowed to form our own opinions or draw our own conclusions. It supports changing the facts of history in order to alter belief systems.

And most of all, ignorance promotes a hatred of knowledge and turns intellectualism into a dirty word, because in the presence of intelligence and insight, ignorance cannot survive.

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