do i have an autoimmune disease? my first visit with a rheumatologist

After a blood test for autoimmune antibodies (ANA) ordered by my gynecologist turned up positive, I went about hunting down a rheumatologist. I settled on one nearby and saw her this past week.

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She started by telling me that 15 percent of positive ANA tests are false. And she questioned a bit suspiciously why I even had the test. From what I’ve read, many people present to their doctors with aches and pains and doctors won’t typically call for an ANA test. Maybe because it can be alarming to get the result? I told her my doctor has known me for thirty years and thought it unusual for me to complain of pain. I didn’t mention that this OB/GYN has witnessed me give birth with absolutely no pain meds.

She did an exam, noting my stiffness and slightly swollen knees. She ordered up eighteen blood and urine tests to narrow down this thing. She ran through my family history. I had a grandmother whose ankles and knees were crippled for as long as I’d known her, a mother who developed a thyroid condition late in life as well as breast cancer and who had high blood pressure, and a father who died of a heart attack and had angina and high blood pressure. My bp has always been good, as has my heart rate and oxygen levels. My cholesterol, however, has been slightly higher than it should be.

Not sure how I feel about this doctor. I started a gluten-free diet a month ago and mentioned it to her, but she shrugged it off, calling it a fad. I don’t agree. From what I’ve read, autoimmune diseases are linked to irritation. If gluten causes irritation, why not cut out gluten? I told her my neurologist, someone she had just commented was a good doctor, suggested a gluten-free diet. So, there!

I started going to a gym just yesterday, and I actually like it. There’s a gentle yoga class at a nearby branch I’m going to observe today, if that’s possible, to see if it’s something I want to or can do. I’ll also hop on a treadmill and a cycling machine for about an hour’s worth of a workout. I’m determined to hit this thing head on and not wait it out, hoping for the best, putting my faith in conventional-doctors’ hands, praying that it’s nothing, doing little if anything concrete to put it in check.

I’m eager to find out what the next set of blood tests reveal. I’m hoping for all negatives, but I’m too realistic to put much trust in that hope.

weight loss is possible in menopause and i’m proving it

It creeped on over the years until I thought I was stuck. I couldn’t move down, just up. In weight, that is. Then I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “if not now, when?” Oh, wait, that’s what Oprah says in the ad for this weight-loss program.

But she’s right.

If not now, when? When you’ve put on more weight? When you’ve had to buy yet another, even larger pair of pants? When your lower back starts to ache from walking because of the strain your bulging midsection is putting on it? When your doctor prescribes a half-dozen different pills to thwart a heart attack? If not now, when?

I took the bait and off I ran. And you know what, it’s working!

I started reducing my food intake and exercising more on April 6. It’s now May 18 and I’ve dropped 3.5 pounds. I wasn’t huge to start with, but I definitely was starting to see a woman in the mirror I had never seen before and barely recognized. Every angle was now rounder. Every body part was now looser or wider or just plain bigger. My BMI was embarrassing. I shouldn’t have been in the high 140s at all. I should barely be in the high 130s even. But every year, eating basically the same diet as forever, the pounds kept adding up and were miserable to get off.

This losing pounds and getting more fit and healthy is still a work in progress, but I’ve read that it takes twenty-one days for an activity to become a habit. I’ve surpassed that time and I’m now in a routine of watching what I put in my mouth and upping the minutes on the treadmill or in walking the dog. I’ve increased my pace too. And on days when I don’t think I can fit another walk in, I’ll jump on the tradmill for ten fast minutes while the water for the pasta is boiling for the night’s supper. Or I’ll stick my feet under the wing chair in the living room and do twenty-five sit-ups.

I haven’t added up the calories I’m taking in, but I’d say it’s about 1,500 or 1,600. I stick to my basic toast and coffee  and sometimes an egg for breakfast. I eat a light frozen-food lunch and a cup of my favorite Greek yogurt and fruit. And dinner is my usual stirfry or pasta or whatever I make for the family. And there are always veggies. I’ve just cut back on quantity, especially of carbs, including my number-one favorite item: white Jasmine rice.

Thinking about what goes into your piehole prevents you from, say, shoveling in another slice of banana cream or piling in chips one after the other. It makes you reach for a mandarin orange instead of a cookie. And when you do treat yourself–and that’s perfectly fine–you’ll probably not want a double serving of ice cream or a generously sized piece of chocolate cake. You’ll savor that cookie or that cake and actually taste your food.

I plan to keep this up until I reach my goal and then stick with it as best I can. I don’t ever want to get to the high 140s again, because just around the corner are the 150s, and they’re waving me on.

 

 

week one weight update

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I’ve been on the weight-reduction and -maintenance program, the one in which you get points for food and can take them away with exercise, and I’m doing OK. I was hoping to have dropped two pounds by week one, but I’ve dropped just one. Still, I am putting on muscle weight–I can feel it–and I’m noticing my cheekbones are coming back into definition, my chin is getting smaller, and my girth is reducing.

I understand that weight loss is more apparent in the beginning, but because mine so far is slow and steady, and I have a history of putting muscle back on the more I exercise, I’m taking this as a silver lining and that my weight loss will be gradual but obvious.

I haven’t cheated at all, unless you count a Costco sample of Chicago-style popcorn cheating. I also went to the movies this past week, Friday, and I had a smallish bag of Target popcorn there, plus water. I figured it was about 6 cups of popcorn. But that’s all I had in the middle of the day between my usual morning meal of an egg and sourdough toast and a small evening meal. And I took my morning walk and then a longer, 45-minute walk at the nearby lake with my son in the afternoon. It was a great day. I love going to the movies and am glad the 6 cups of popcorn didn’t hurt me much. I also liked that I was able to make up for the calories by walking more than usual later in the day.

I don’t have a long way to go in my goal. Fifteen pounds isn’t 50 or 150 and I feel for people who have that much to lose. I can only imagine how discouraging it is to give up stuff you love, add in more exercise, which is often hard to accomplish when carrying extra weight, and not get the results. My weight gain has been gradual over the years–four babies in a thirteen-year span and then middle age and a desk job following directly afterward–so I assume my weight loss will be as well. It’s basically about being cognizant of what you put into your mouth and adding movement to help take away the calories added on.

It’s possible to shed the pounds one day at a time and I’m happy with my results so far.

will watching weight work ?

So I never thought in a million years I’d join a weight-loss and -maintenance program, but I have. Since one can do it from the privacy of his or her own home, I gave it a shot. I signed up for the three-month initial program and will track my progress on these pages.

I don’t know what to expect. Will it be difficult (I assume it will be) and will it impose on my lifestyle (I would guess it would)? I still cook for a family of four, so I can’t eat what I want when I want for dinner without having to prepare two separate meals, so the program I’m following allows participants to eat real food as we count points for food totals and exercise. It sounds like a reasonable plan, I don’t have to attend meetings (there’s online support), and I don’t have to buy prepackaged meals, which I’m sure would taste like cardboard and the portion sizes would suit no one bigger than Barbie.

My niece (and Oprah) signed on to this program recently and my niece has already shown improvement after just a couple months. Of course she’s in her early thirties and has yet to have a baby, so her body can’t be compared to mine apples to apples, but it’s nice to see her results. Like me, she loves to play board games and this is a game of sorts. Participants go onto their personal web dashboard and type in what they’ve eaten for the day and what type of exercise they’ve gotten. The dashboard will tally the points, letting participants know how much more exercise they may need for the week or how much less food they should sock away. More exercise equals more food and vice versa.

It might be fun to see if I can meet the end-of-week totals and reach my goal weight. My goal is to lose fifteen pounds–those nasty fifteen that, honest to God, seemed to materialize overnight once I hit fifty. I also want to stop looking like a dark-haired female Michelin Man. As I uploaded photos from the past year to my computer today, I was shocked to see–on a 22-inch HD computer screen no less–just how big around the middle I’ve gotten. We don’t carry weight well in my family at all. It all settles around the middle and under the neck. (Why couldn’t we have gotten saddlebags and big thighs instead?) The estrogen from menopause sends fat to the midsection already, so I didn’t need my family’s apple-shaped physique to add insult to injury, but what are ya gonna do? It is what it is. And hopefully, it won’t be there for long.

I never thought these “diets” worked. I was a busy young woman who had trouble finding time to eat and therefore had no trouble keeping off the pounds, but I would watch other coeds and coworkers struggle through these programs. The weight would be lost, then come right back on, and the women would be miserable while trying to stay on course and not cheat. They would talk about the weigh-ins as if they were comparable to being sent to the guillotine. I was happy I was able to regulate my weight by eating well or not eating enough in college, with two or three part-time jobs at a time along with a full course load to deal with. That was followed by multiple jobs after graduating and then by running around after the babies and being too poor to buy goodies in my mid to late twenties. When my thirties hit, the weight began settling in, but I still could fit into a size small or medium. By baby number 4, I was in my late thirties and it was harder to lose the pregnancy weight and then keep the pounds off.

Throughout my forties, I and a couple friends would do a weekly three-hour hike up and down mountains and I was able to maintain my weight sufficiently. But by my fifties, menopause made weight loss much harder and my friends became too busy to go on a weekly hike. Now we’re lucky to get two in a year, while we used to go every Wednesday morning, come rain or come shine, for years on end.

I’m still a bit cynical that this program will work, but I will try my hardest to stick with it. Once in a while it’s good to be proven wrong.

new year, new me

The tree is at the curb, the lights are put away, and a new year is here. It’s time to make some personal changes as well. Or is it? It’s estimated that 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions–and just 8 percent achieve what they set out to do. That makes for a lot of Americans who don’t want to change, know they can’t change, or give up on changing. What’s with us, people?

I, for one, always have good intentions in January but to start the year with a list of “I will”s seems too bandwagon. So I traditionally start to make my life changes during Lent, the season of preparation commemorating the forty days and forty nights before Jesus’ death and resurrection. I don’t want to mess with the Lord so I tend to stick with my “resolutions.” And it usually always works, probably because Sundays are not included in the forty-day count, meaning they’re cheat days. Every period of sacrifice, whether it be a diet or repentance, should include cheat days to give us sinners something to look forward to weekly before getting back on the wagon.

So what will my Lenten observances be: overall, being a better person, but this includes taking better care of my body (daily exercise and staying away from sweets and fats) and taking care of my soul by not losing my temper and by being kinder to others. If I can stick with that for Lent, I can usually carry it into the late spring and summer. Before I know it, I’ll have lost five pounds and become less stressed out.

There are no statistics I could find on how many keep their Lenten observances, but I’m guessing the number is a little higher than 8 percent, because when you’ve got the Big Guy watching over you, you are less likely to give up. Or at least that’s how I see it–plus cheat days are built in. God thinks of everything!

 

 

 

want to drop 5 pounds? get a dog!

A 25-year study performed from 1969 to 1994 that tracked weight loss in the obese found that an exercise-only plan can reduce the amount of weight in people by an average of three pounds over 15 weeks. The exercise-and-diet group brought the weight-loss average down to seven pounds in that same time period. To the exercise-only people, I have a word of advice: Get a dog!

Since bringing our golden retriever puppy home less than eight weeks ago, I have lost five pounds. Five pounds on an average-size woman is quite a bit. And it seems to be all lost in fat. I’m becoming more lean and more muscular, which goes without saying that that’s a good thing.

How did I do it? Well, walking a rambunctious puppy two to three times per day for an average of 20 minutes per walk is the key. Playing soccer with him for a few minutes a day a couple times a day helps too. As does getting up at a regular time every morning and not lollygagging in bed (although I haven’t had the pleasure of sleeping in since I was a teenager–and even then it was rare).

Golden retrievers are high-energy dogs. Golden retriever puppies are insanely high-energy dogs. They need to get out at least twice daily, and not just in the yard, but into the neighborhood or the woods or the park, or wherever time and distance permit. Not doing so will make for an ornery dog that can become destructive. Unless you enjoy shopping to replace the furniture that’s been gnawed to slivers, you may want to get on this plan.

This morning I took Woody across the road to the regional park. We are blessed to live within walking distance to one of the largest regional parks in the United States. We are also blessed with beautiful weather that permits taking walks and hikes on nearly a daily basis. Today we explored the bike park for 20 minutes of what Woody would describe, I’m sure, as pure bliss. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the dirt under his paws, the birds flying overhead, and the bunnies scampering across the path were a delight to a dog whose breed loves the outdoors, birds, and tracking scents. He was in puppy Nirvana.

I realize that not everyone has it so good. Maybe their landscape is sidewalks and buildings, maybe the birds flying overhead are helicopters, maybe the closest park is overrun by undesirables. And maybe there is snow or ice or frigid temperatures preventing them from pulling on their sneakers and taking a walk. That’s excusable. To the rest of you, take to the paths and sidewalks and put one foot in front of the other to get a little exercise, to get a little healthier. And if your motivation wanes, get a dog.