Thursday, February 19, 2009

Trying to shape up

2008 was the worst year of my life, in almost every respect.

There have been quite a few years included in that life and a few of them have been pretty bad. 2008, though definitely thus far, has appropriated the black laurels as worst to date. On the positive side of the balance, it has ended. Therefore one must optimistically move onward with what is left and attempt to make this year better and maybe even outstanding as a good period.

For myself, I have decided to make it (2009) a new beginning and to reach for excellence, as the years go, by having it be the start of something positive. I know all about the downturns in almost everything, economy, personal finance and home values leap to mind and then there are the diminished employment prospects due to the aforementioned downturns. Those items, although certainly significant and daunting, are background to life itself and should be considered as such.

So - I have decided to become thinner and healthier in 2009 and to thereby reverse a long trend of becoming less healthy and less svelte ( a cool word not often applied to old men) by eating foods which are lower in fat and other potentially harmful substances. Lest you think that I have become geriatrically narcissistic in my advanced and hypertrophied age, I assure you that it is all due to a phone call from my physician's assistant informing me that in spite of the ongoing medication, etc. - my cholesterol level has started to increase again.

I was treated (in every sense of the word) ten years ago, to a quadruple coronary artery bypass which was offered as the only way to long delay my certain, but uncomfortably (then) imminent demise. I accepted with an unaccustomed alacrity, I'm not afraid to die - I'm just in no hurry - and had the surgery. It was not really a treat, in the sense of receiving something pleasant - unless one counts survival as pleasant, because it was scary and uncomfortable - particularly the removal of the abdominal drainage tubes.

The short-term Frankenstein aspect, provided by the metal staples in my right arm and right leg as well as my chest, was fun ( especially when watching a summer lightning storm from the patio - scared my poor wife, who insisted that I get inside before I added "electrocuted" to my other accomplishments) even though I couldn't get out much to show it off. The scars are still pretty impressive, though, even after ten years.

So anyway, here I am - fat, dumb and working on happy, when the doc's office calls and tells me my cholesterol is again becoming elevated. We discussed diet, we discussed medication (of which I already take too much) and decided to try diet modification. I have become lax, in the last few years, about the foods I eat, pretending to be, simply, a gray-bearded teenager. Not that I had become the triple cheeseburger at the fast-food stand twice a day variety but I was not a lot better. Today that has changed. Call it dietary epiphany if you like obscure words as much as I do. Otherwise just call it a revelation of the obvious.

The Doc sent me a letter showing the healthy foods which I should be eating and listing the unhealthy foods which I should avoid, I have 14 earlier letters showing essentially the same thing. I know that stuff, I even paid attention for a few years. But then I drifted into culinary non-compliance (once again - or maybe thrice again) and started eating too much fat, too much meat, too much sugar and all those other good tasting no - nos, did I mention cheesecake or chocolate.

Someone in the medical profession once told me that he thought that our problem is evolutionary in origin. We are omnivorous hunter-gatherers by heredity and we select for energy foods to allow us to live for days without eating and still retain the energy to run down and club a struggling moose to be the guest-of-honor at dinner.

The problem today is that we eat the stuff we like but don't go for days without eating and then we just drive to the closest supermarket to buy a chunk of pre-caught moose: no running down. Just sauntering cooly down and emerging with a week supply of moose to eat at one sitting, and more for the next day - and the next. It's not so much what we're eating as it is how often we eat it and what we do between those feedings that loads up the arteries.

I could, of couse, choose to run to the market every third day and buy my half pound steak to eat that day and then run there again every day but only buy and eat on the third day. That probably would help. Still: our hunter-gatherer forebears usually only lived long enough to procreate and to raise the offspring to about 8 or 9 years old before succumbing to some fatal incident. For that reason, if for no other, longevity of a mature individual human far past breeding age was really not a factor of importance in our genetic heritage. We, of course, have the leisure time to ponder the meaning of life rather than simply trying to preserve it until the next moose falls.

I, for one, have pondered long and hard the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Thus far I have arrived at no final conclusion and, therefore, desire more pondering time which, oddly enough, leads back to the reason for this whole blog entry. I'm too fat and my cholesterol is too high. Today I found a website, which you might already know but of which I was unaware.

Lance Armstrong sponsors it and might even write some of it if he has the time. It's about living longer and living better by, well, living better. Just follow the link above and you will see what he has there. There are tables of nutrition data and recipes along with other information on exercise as well as tools to help you - and me, too - get to the weight you want, whether you need to lose or to gain, in a safe and proven manner. I'm back to calorie counting and even more essential, for my body, watching my fat intake and I have used Lance's tools to compute what my daily calorie intake needs to be in order to achieve my publicly stated goals.

I need to lose fifty pounds. More would probably not hurt. That not withstanding fifty pounds is my current goal and I have selected 2.5 pounds per week as a reasonably number by which to gauge my progress. That simply means that I need to consume 912 calories, per week, less than what is required to maintain my current weight.

It sounds simple and it really is, but not so easy, first: the site provides a calculator to tell you what it takes, in calories, to maintain your current weight and then based upon your input it tells you how large a reduction is required to attune your to body to your goal. From there it becomes a process of food selection and learning how to maximize nutrition while at the same time providing yourself with food you will want to eat. If you are relatively young the benefit of doing it now will last a lifetime. If, like me, your only connection to "young" is your grandchildren doing it now it will still last a lifetime, just not as many years as it might have had you started earlier.

And it does not have to be unappetizing "cardboard" food, the site provides you the tools to make recipes for the foods you like, while understanding the calories and other things involved and also provides suggestions of how you might modify a recipe to lower the calories (if needed) or to provide more nutrition if that is your goal. It is a great resource and can be an aid in accomplishing your goals, whether dietary help or strength building information is your interest.

Tune in next week for more.

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