Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Help me -- I’ve fallen into the buffet and I can’t get up.

I’m addicted to food. No, that’s not really true. I’m addicted to sugar, and all things that end up sugar in my bloodstream. Bread, potatoes. Ice cream.

I retired in December 2003. Back in the recesses of my mind was a slender thought that I would have to take hold of my health and strangle it back to life. I’m in my mid-50’s. It’s hard to get up in the morning with all that stiff activity. A back that won’t cooperate and is in almost constant pain. At least I stopped having cramps in my legs after the surgery in 2002.

So in February 2004, I joined a weight-loss group at my clinic on MacArthur. I saw the flyer, and impulsively wrote my name and phone number on it. I thought I’d never hear from them. But two months later, they called me to inform me that the group was starting. That was a year and some months ago.

I started going to classes every Tuesday afternoon with nutritionists Nancy and Andrea, and later Jessica. My initial thought was, gee, nobody must have a job if they can come on a weekday afternoon. But they were all late, always! Nancy kept hinting, loudly, that people need to be on time. Finally she took a poll. As it turned out, nobody owned a car. They all were waiting for a ride that may or may not be on time. Usually not.

That was my first inkling that these people were not my clones. These were people I didn’t know anything about. They were foreign to me. And finally, I thought, we have nothing in common.

That wasn’t true, of course. We all had medical problems. And there was the obvious: we all needed to lose weight because of our medical problems.

It certainly was a shock, though, to learn that some had no income, except for public assistance. Some of them, notably a woman recovering from a strroke with her very overweight (and distinerested) 18-yr-old daughter, didn’t have a clue about losing weight but were sure they couldn’t afford it. They could buy Kentucky Fried Chicken but couldn’t buy vegetables or rice. I didn’t buy their logic but I could see where they acquired it. And how they believed it. Wow.

I lost 40 pounds by following Nancy’s and Jessica’s program. I went from 227 lbs on February 10, 2004, to 185 lbs on Decembert 1, 2004.

The program was rather simple:
1. Portion control - e.g., a steak should measure the size of a deck of cards.
2. Fat control. Change the foods you eat to reduce fat. No more fast food. No more fried foods. Read labels.
3. Reduce sugar content. This was probably the most intuitive but the hardest for me.
4. Try to follow the food pyramid -- don't forget those portions of fruits and vegetables.
5. Exercise.

Exercise was the easiest. I had always had pain in my legs, at least in the last 10 years, but once the blood was getting to my legs (thank you, surgeon), I stopped having cramps or shin splints. I could walk again without pain. However, I had no stamina. So, to build up, I went down to Lake Merritt or the San Leandro Marina and started walking: 20 minutes then 30 minutes at a time, then 45 minutes, then one hour.

Courtesy of the MacArthur clinic, I received a pedometer, which sharpened my focus on walking. I now try to walk 10,000 steps, the goal for a diabetic every day. 10,000 steps a day translates to achieving at least 7,000 steps during my walk, which is about 3 miles, and the other 3,000 will come from other daily activities. Lake Merritt is 3 miles from end to end: perfect. And the Marina measures a 1 mile or 1.5 mile trek: easy. I try to walk 6 times a week.

So, according to my calculations, I figured I’d be able to get to my goal weight of 175 by February, a year after I started the program. Didn’t happen.

In fact, I went up, gained weight. Aarrrgggh! It would be easy to say that life got in the way, but it didn’t. Ice cream got in the way. Chocolate. Bread. Butter. All the things I love that I had not been eating kept inching their way back into my life, more specifically my mouth. I can cheat, I thought. If I gain a pound or two, I can lose it again. No, I can’t. I haven’t been able to get on the same chugging railroad.

So every week when I went back to the group at MacArthur, I would tell them my story of the week. I had some dessert a couple nights. I lost sight of portion control. (Yes, dammit, I know how large a steak should be. A deck of cards!? I’m hungry!) “I know the program,” I would whine at them. “I just can’t seem to follow it.” They knew exactly what I was talking about. These people are my truth barometer.

I seem to have more in common with them than I initially thought. There are a couple in there who have had strokes. They’re impaired now. They’re angry about it, and trying to use that anger to move toward positive goals. They’re determined. There are others who have diabetes, like me. Sugar is poison, but they can’t resist it. There are others who just can’t put down that Big Mac, like the stroke victim’s teenage daughter who didn’t think our program applied to her. There are different types of people in this group, that’s for sure, but we’re all here for the same reason, to improve our health. And we recognize by being here that we can’t do it alone.

I can’t do it alone. I find I behave better when I’m eating with a friend who is on the same general program. She won’t criticize what I do, that’s for sure. But we both seem more inclined to stick to the program because the other is watching. Maybe it’s the shame factor. It works, whatever it is. And I need the MacArthur group.

So here I am. I haven’t weighed myself today, but I believe I’m at around 188. I hover in the same 5 pounds, 185 - 190, hoping to God it’s not 190 today. It’s one day at a time. Working the program one day at a time. I have an addiction, you see. That’s what we addicts have to do to get to the next day.