On making myself a smaller target for illness

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I like the idea of being reflective, and giving serious thought as to how one might be able to do better in the year ahead, but, as a rule, I think they’re counterproductive, as they’re rarely kept, and just leave people feeling like shit. Perhaps more importantly, though, I think that people who talk publicly about New Year’s resolutions tend to be kind of douchey, especially when those resolutions revolve around losing weight. With that said, however, I want to share the following letter, which I sent to a few old friends early this last December, just after I’d decided, kind of on a whim, to change my diet for a while, in hopes of possibly making myself a less attractive target for those illnesses that come for people in their 50s. And I’ve decided to share it for two reasons. First, I’m hoping that some of you might have insights that will prove valuable to me as I continue to rethink how I’m going about this. And, second, I think it’s possible that someone out there may actually get something useful out of this. I should add, it pains me to be writing about personal shit like this, but, as something that I wrote not too long ago about getting a colonoscopy prompted someone I know to finally get one, setting in motion a chain of events that would see him diagnosed with, and treated for, cancer of the appendix, I’ve decided to just put this out there, even if it means running the risk of being perceived as a vain, weight-conscious douchebag… Anyway, here’s a slightly edited version of the letter I sent out to my friends Matt, Dan, Mike, and Dave at the beginning of last month.

…At least twice over the past ten years, I’ve given up everything for about a month. First, I did an elimination diet, to see if I could figure out if maybe something that I was eating was causing me to be anxious, and the other time I just did it because it felt like something that I should do… a kind of dietary reset. Both times, I cut out grains, dairy, corn, soy, processed foods, fried foods, sweets, peanuts, potatoes, fatty meats, alcohol, etc, and just lived on fruit, vegetables, nuts and lean meat. Nothing from a can, box, or bottle. Now people call it Whole 30, but I don’t think it was called that at the time. Or, if it was, I didn’t know about it.

And, as far as I can remember, I felt better when I did it. I also dropped quite a bit of weight both times, like 15 pounds or more, without any real exercise to speak of.

For the most part, my weight these past few decades has fluctuated between 190 and 200. And I’ve come to develop a kind of built-in sense of when I’m approaching maximum acceptable volume. I’ll spare you the specifics, but I generally just know when I hit the 200-mark, and that’s where I pretty much draw the line. And, when I feel myself crossing that line, I put systems in place to drop back below the 200-mark. I watch what I eat for a while, drop down a few pounds, and forget about it until I notice that I’m crossing the line again. This system has worked for the most part, but now I’m wondering if I might improve my overall health by moving the ceiling of what I consider acceptable from 200 to 185. Or, actually, maybe that should be 183, which, according to the guidelines I’ve been able to find, is the heaviest “healthy” weight for a man who’s 6-feet tall.

For what it’s worth, I’m not so sure that I’m 6-feet tall anymore. I think, after five decades of being beaten down by life, I’ve lost an inch, but let’s pretend for a moment that I still am. According to the numbers I’ve found online, the acceptable “healthy” BMI for a man of 6-feet tall, is between 18.5 and 24.9, which translates to a weight range of 140 to 183. [If I really am 5′-11″, the “healthy” range drops, becoming 136 to 178. So, maybe I should shoot for 178, but I think, for my purposes, that 183 is good enough for now.]

So, in hopes of lessening my chances of acquiring cancer, while cutting down on my back pain, my GERD, and maybe even my anxiety, I’ve decided to once again cut everything bad for me from my diet. [This time, I’ve decided to keep potatoes, corn, and some dairy (yogurt and buttermilk) and grains (steel cut oats), but otherwise it’s pretty much the same as what I’ve done in the past.] The only difference is, this time I want to keep at it longer than a month, and try to put some kind of system in place for once I get down to what I consider a healthy weight.

As for right now, I’m about five days in. Maybe I should have started after the holidays, but I thought that I’d at least try to do a week or two and see how it goes. The cravings for bread and cheese are still pretty intense, but otherwise things seem to be going OK.

So the thing I’m questioning right now is how I should move forward once I drop the weight, assuming that I can lose the 20 pounds. [I had to go the doctor a few weeks ago for an earache, and I weighed in at 205. The last time I was there, a few months ago, with a really bad, persistent cough, I was 199.9. I should have adjusted then, but I didn’t.] Anyway, assuming I can get from 205 to 183, or 185, which I think should be a pretty healthy weight for me, my question is, “What do I have to do to reset the ceiling, so that both my body, and my mind, come to accept that as the top end of what’s acceptable?”

And there are a few things tied up in that. First, I’ve heard that it takes the human body at least a year to reset what it thinks of as its ideal, normal weight. I suppose that could be bullshit, but my sense is that my body feels as though 200 is the weight that I’m supposed to me, and it keeps pushing me back to that point. [It’s hard to overcome the genetic fear of famine, I suppose.] And, second, I’m thinking about the kind of life that I want to live. I don’t really relish the idea of always weighing myself, and I don’t really have the time to hit the gym too often. In other words, I don’t want a big lifestyle change from what I have right now… Like I said, I just want to reset the ceiling so that 185 is the new 200, if that makes sense.

I should add that, generally speaking, I’m better with firm rules. I was good, for instance, at being a vegan. Until I gave it up, I was pretty adamant about it. [I don’t think I cheated for about five years, until things slowly started falling apart with that first shrimp that I ate in Savannah back in about ‘97.] So I’m thinking that, going forward, I may want to make some rules, especially around white flour, which, I do think, may contribute to my anxiety and depression. For instance, once I’ve gone through this, should I drop beer for wine, and cut down the gluten to two meals a week?

I know that’s kind of all over the place, but thanks for hearing me though as I work this out.

Stay healthy, and fuck cancer,
Mark

OK, we’re now about a month in, and I’ve dropped from 205 to 193. 12 pounds in 4 weeks… I didn’t think I’d make it through the holidays without so much as a beer or a cookie, but I guess I felt strongly enough about this… At any rate, having gone a month, I’m thinking about keeping it going for a little while longer, and seeing if I can maybe reach 180, and then seeing if I can put some rules in place to stay within the range of 180 to 185 for a solid year. I may fail spectacularly. A weekend in New Orleans, I’m sure, would put me right back at 200, but I figure that I’ll at least give it a decent shot.

And I probably should have said it right up front, but, by posting this, I’m not saying “being fat is bad.” My intention isn’t to make anyone else feel bad about their size, what they eat, etc. I’m just saying that, for me, I think I’ve come to the realization that I should probably eat less and be smaller. [To my knowledge, the only scientifically-proven way to lengthen human life is through the reduction of calories consumed.] And, yes, these are the kinds of things one thinks about upon turning 50, and hearing, almost every week, about another friend or acquaintance who has fallen victim to cancer, or some other dread disease. I know, of course, that it’s no guarantee that, if I lose the weight and keep it off, I’ll live any longer, or that the quality of my life will improve, but I figure it’s worth a shot, if only to demonstrate to my kids that I tried… One more thing. I should probably add, as I’m sure that someone will bring it up, that the accepted BMI guidelines could well be bullshit. People are different, and what might be a healthy weight for one person, may not be a healthy weight for another. With that said, though, I feel quite a bit better at 193 than I did at 205, and I suspect I’ll feel better still at 183, if I can keep this up for a little while longer.

As I suspect people will ask more about this “diet” of mine, here are the main rules as they presently stand, as well as what’s changed since I first set out on this course at the end of November… Like I said in the note to my friends above, I set out to eliminate flour, fried foods, sweets and alcohol from my diet. And I’ve done all that, with one exception. I decided about two weeks in to allow tortilla chips, which are fried. I probably could have fought the urge, but I wanted something crunchy in the soups that I was making, so I decided to make an exception. I also haven’t been a terrible stickler about dairy, having now eaten cheese on about half a dozen occasions. And, it’s probably worth noting that, while I gave myself an exception for steel cut oats, I’ve made it thus far without resorting to them, opting instead to have smoothies for breakfast. [My smoothies generally contain some combination of kale, beet greens, collard greens, carrots, celery, berries, banana, hemp seed, chia seed, flax seed, apple, beet, tumeric and ginger.] It’s probably also worth mentioning that I’ve tried to stop eating by 7:00 each night.

Here, in a nutshell, are the primary tenants… No sugar. No wheat. No alcohol. A smoothie a day. And nothing after 7:00.

And, by just doing that, I’ve been losing about 3 pounds a week. And I’ve probably only exercised about four times over the past month. So any weight loss I’ve seen has all been due to those simple, straightforward dietary changes. [Oh, here’s a really good recipe for red lentil and beet green soup, for anyone who might be interested.]

So, with all of that said, I have a few questions… First, as I mentioned yesterday, my anxiety has been pretty bad this past week or so, and I’m wondering if it might have anything to do with this change in diet. Specifically, I’m wondering if maybe my brain is getting the signal from my body that it’s starving to death or something. It’s actually not so urgent of a question right now, as my mood has been improving over the past 48 hours, but I am wondering if maybe this diet of mine was exacerbating my anxiety. Personally, I think it probably has more to do with the holidays, and being off my normal schedule, but I suppose it’s possible that my my brain, having now seen me walk away from literally hundreds of free cookies, slices of cake, and tumblers of whiskey, has decided to intervene by taking me out of service. At any rate, if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. And, second, I’m wondering what new system I should put in place on the other end of this, assuming I can eventually get myself back down to a healthier weight. Is a “gluten twice a week” rule tenable? Is life worth living without ice cream? …I could go on, but I need to go downstairs and check on my soup stock. I think you probably get the point, though, right?

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27 Comments

  1. stupid hick
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    You’re trying to lose weight too quickly. You change your intake that radically, of course you’re going to have mental health symptoms. Target no more than 5 lbs per month. If you’re not already using a calorie intake diary app, start now. An app like MyFitnessPal will help you set a reasonable goal and keep on course. Use a food scale and measuring cup at home to measure your servings as a matter of course. Estimate if you have to, and when you’re not at home, at a restaurant that doesn’t publish nutrition info on their menu. You don’t have to be exact, but you have to measure your intake and record it to be able to manage it. Don’t try to wing it, at least not at first. Measure and record, so you can manage your intake. Make it easier by piecing together a repertoire of go-to foods that you like that are healthy and take no preparation and which you know in advance how to portion appropriately. To fall back on as a default so you don’t have to think about what to eat if you don’t have time. Don’t beat yourself if you don’t succeed every day, just do your best and try again the next day. If you don’t feel like it, give yourself a break and try again when you do feel like it. But you must know what your BMR is, know what your target caloric intake is to meet your goal, and measure and record. That’s my firm opinion. It worked for me. Limiting caloric intake is the single most important thing to lose weight, but don’t neglect regular moderate physical activity too. I would have more to say about that, but one step at a time. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Make small changes and when you succeed you will want to make more. Good luck.

  2. Sylvie
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    My husband lost weight by tracking everything he ate and drank in the MyFitnessPal app. It’s annoying for me because I have to figure out the nutrition for all the food I cook lol but he’s lost close to 70 lbs and keeping it off for the last year or so. He does moderate exercise, walking 30-45 minutes a day either outside or the treadmill. He didn’t cut out anything major, he just cut down on the amounts. He used the app to figure out what to cut down his calories to. He’s 6’2″, and he was following a 1800 calorie diet.

  3. Kim
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Mr. Hick, I’m not a nutritionist, but I think you’re wrong when you suggest that cutting out sugar, wheat and alcohol is bad thing in that it results in dramatic weight loss. I don’t believe there’s any scenario in which a nutritionist would encourage you to keep consuming alcohol and sugar.

  4. Jcp2
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Like the first two posters, I used MyFitnessPal to track my intake on a consistent basis for a year. I know packaged foods are not your thing, but it has a bar code scanning feature using the phone camera that makes tracking very easy. In addition, I had an activity tracking fitness watch to track my expenditures. Using the two together gave me a sense of proportions, as well as the “cost” of indulgences. I lost close to 25 pounds over a year this way. I don’t track anymore, but I got a good sense of how much the typical American diet, designed for laborers, is mismatched with the typical American sedentary job. Now I eat a small breakfast of a known caloric value (from my year of tracking), a small lunch of known caloric value, and a reasonable dinner. The most important point for me (and maybe you) is that I am no longer the human sink disposal for family meals. I eat only what I have and don’t try to clean up the kids plates.
    I also try to get a half hour of variably intense “exercise” every day if I can, and more on weekends. It can range from a walk with my spouse to a swim at the pool to a hard run on my own. Most commonly I go to the basement exercise machine and watch something with my daughter. She chooses and keeps me up to date with everything, both with the show and with life in general.

  5. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    We are literally what we eat. Keep it up but ditch the potatoes. You’re not a potato.

  6. verifyfirst
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Anxiety is an–often–treatable condition, through therapy and medication. Mine was, and I have had 20 years now of a pretty good (not perfect) quality of life as a result.

    However, prior to that I lost 15 years of my life to debilitating anxiety, largely because it took me that long to find an accurate diagnosis and competent treatment. Once I found those, it took only a year or two to recover (so I lost 13 years of my life to bad medical care, a not uncommon outcome, I have since discovered).

    A lot of people are severely resistant to getting proper treatment and medication for these so-called “psychological” illnesses, and to them I can only say, “I’m sorry for your suffering, you are free to keep suffering as long as you like”.

    Some symptoms–anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more, are often rooted in a chemical imbalance in the brain, the same as a diabetic whose body does not make adequate insulin–and thus providing the missing substance to the body can make a profound, positive difference.

    University of Michigan apparently has an anxiety clinic, and some former practitioners there have opened The Ann Arbor Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center–I don’t know how they would work with your insurance, but I am presently paying out of pocket to get help there for my disabled, low-income neighbor, and it has been astounding how much his disabling OCD/Agoraphobia, which he has suffered from for over 20 years, had improved in just 9 months.

    As an aside, I greatly enjoyed a book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Doidge (I think there is a u-tube video too), which is about brain plasticity. Amazing things are happening in brain research.

  7. stupid hick
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Kim, I said nothing negative about Mark cutting out flour, sugar, and alcohol. I was suggesting the reason for his anxiety flare-up is because he’s trying to lose too much weight, too rapidly. He’s upsetting his long-established natural equilibrium too radically. Caloric deficit will affect you mentally, I guarantee it. Don’t exacerbate it by going too extreme. Give yourself a chance to adjust and reach a new equilibrium, one step at a time. I’m not a nutritionist but I know a lot about hick psychology. Mark thinks of himself as an erudite sophisticate, but he’s a just a smarter than average hick, who lives in a hick town. I also know from experience. In my case, it wasn’t anxiety, it was temper, impatience, impulsiveness.

  8. Dan Taylor
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m with ya, Mark. We’re about the same size so I’ve always had a similar weight threshold. As I’ve aged I’ve noticed I was becoming far too accepting of the higher end of the range. I’ve been making little changes to my diet over the last month (like cutting out cheese and chips at lunchtime, mixing in more fruit and veggies into breakfast and lunch) but the biggest thing is getting rid of the empty calories from beer. Best of luck in the new year!

  9. Lisa Nichols
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    What seems to me most likely to be prompting your anxiety is the very act of dieting. It endorses a bogus notion that you’re not okay and things aren’t okay because of your current body mass, and it keeps you focusing on this implicit wrongness of you and your size with every number you track and every obsessive moment you entertain over what you are or aren’t eating (which sounds like it’s a lotta moments these days).

    It ain’t no coincidence that anxiety and OCD kindsa things are in the same cluster of psychological problems.

    (Aside: sometimes I think “smart” is largely the result of [or at least is coincident with] habits of hyperthinking, getting all those cogs going and synapses firing, leading to worrying and getting stuck in cogitative loops as much as [or more than] it leads to solutions.)

    I hate to see you afflicted with the diet compulsion. I hope you get through/past/away-from it soon, and before it does ya much damage.

  10. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    This is just my opinion, based on my experiences. 12 pounds in the first month is ok. You should shoot for 2-3 pounds weight loss per month after the initial “big loss”. Be obsessive about taking the weight off at slow rate. Try to only take off .5 pounds per week or less. Shoot for 250 calorie deficit per day.

    I totally disagree with people characterizing this as “diet compulsion”. You should feel anxiety about your weight and fitness level. You are fat and out of shape. You are leaving yourself open to all kinds of health issues… For what? Beer and sugary treats?

    The scale and a measuring tape is your friend. Measure your body daily. Record your progress and setbacks.

  11. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Also,

    People are going to think I am a jerk for saying this but 183 is too fat for your ectomorph body type. How much did you weigh when you were 25? That weight should be your goal after you have reached 183.

  12. kjc
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    in case anyone didn’t already think FF is the most predictable, boring and basic human. you’re not interesting enough to be a jerk.

  13. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Whatever you want to think kjc.

    I admire Mark for trying to make his life better by losing weight. I hope he takes my comments as an expression of tough love. I also hope Mark rejects the people in his life that try to make him feel good about his body image or any bull shit like that. He is not doing this for body image, I am quite certain. Mark is trying to stay alive! Good for Mark.

  14. Sad
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Three cheers for staying alive!

    What ever you do incorporate some physical activity. Maybe walking the dog more or dancing. It’s fun and good for you.

    https://youtu.be/I_izvAbhExY

    Those guys look fit! Hot!

  15. Demetrius
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Or … perhaps Mark is a grown-ass man who can decide for himself whether (and how much) weight he wants to lose, and what his preferred diet/exercise regime should be to achieve that goal! ;-)

  16. Sad
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    D – He wants our input. He’s generous like that!

    “At any rate, if you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. And, second, I’m wondering what new system I should put in place on the other end of this, assuming I can eventually get myself back down to a healthier weight.”

  17. Anonymous
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Just remember that the first 5 pounds off is literally just shit and piss.

  18. John Brown
    Posted January 3, 2019 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Get yer ass in shape for the struggle. Humanity is depending on you. No pressure.

    I suggest pushups, pull-ups with a leg lift, planks, and curling ammo cans full of .308

  19. Anonymous
    Posted January 4, 2019 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Curls are for looks, not function. I would replace those with deadlifts and farmer walks using crates of 50 cal.

  20. iRobert
    Posted January 4, 2019 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I can definitely relate, Mark.

  21. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 4, 2019 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    After reflecting on it, KJC is right. I was thinking about Mark’s health in an uninteresting and boring way.

    Mark is okay. Things are okay. Mark’s body mass is okay. There is nothing wrong with Mark’s size. It is better for Mark to not keep track of his number on the scale. Mark should have a policy of ignoring what he eats and in what amount he is eating. Attempts at being healthy are a sign of a mental disorder.

    How was that KJC? Am I on the right track now?

  22. Anonymous
    Posted January 5, 2019 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671027034

    FF, you could help both MM and yourself out if you use his link to get this.

  23. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 5, 2019 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Sounds uninteresting, boring and basic.

    KJC is my spirit-guide.

    The only book I would be willing to read on the subject of “winning and influencing” would be a book written by the KJC. Until that book is written I will continue to read KJC’s patterns of behavior. Do you want to explain anything about your patterns of behavior and their intended goals, KJC?

  24. Sad
    Posted January 5, 2019 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Wow.

    And that’s even after all the down time you had with the holidays.

  25. Jean Henry
    Posted January 5, 2019 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Just got back from 4 days in New Orleans…
    and yeah, you’re right.
    May have been worth it though. The only plus is I think I’ve exhausted any desire to eat or drink much for the next few weeks

    Diets are very personal. Too much input can really throw things off. Make your own choices, adjust as needed or desired. It’s really just about paying adequate attention, like so many things.

    My only suggestion is that if you want crunch on soups or salads or anything really, toasted nuts are a great, healthy (but caloric) option. Prescriptions from others (like that) rarely help at all. Shame is counter-productive. Pleasure in eating matters for health as well. The French are good at this as are many other cultures. Their portions are simply (much) smaller and ingredients are better. Americans are generally just really fucked up about food.

    I wish you luck. I wish us all luck with eating and anxiety…

  26. Posted January 30, 2019 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure how far I’m into this now. Maybe 9 weeks. Maybe 10. So far, I’ve held pretty solid on most things. I haven’t had any alcohol, unless there’s alcohol in NyQuil. I haven’t had anything dessert-like, up until this evening, when I had a scoop of rice pudding. And I haven’t really had any grains, with a couple of exceptions [one burrito bowl with rice, a few slices of gluten-free pizza on two occasions, which were made with rice flour, and the rice pudding I just mentioned]. Otherwise, I’ve just been keeping at it, in spite of the fact that my weight loss kind of stopped. Over the past moth, I’ve weighed myself three times, and it’s stayed pretty consistent, at about 190. Maybe it’s impossible to lose weight in a polar vortex, or maybe there’s just a limit at to how much you can lose just by changing your diet. I’m not sure. Still, though, I think I feel better than I have for a while, even if I do have a cold right now. There was a period of really intense anxiety toward the beginning, which I think I mentioned here, but it didn’t last too long. As for what to do next, I’m not sure. I think I’ll have a hot toddy tomorrow and see what happens. I don’t see myself suddenly going back to pizza and burgers en force, though. My hope is that I find some kind of middle ground.

  27. science headline
    Posted February 5, 2019 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    “Obesity-related cancers rise fastest among American millennials, study finds”

    https://paper.li/weldeiry/weldeiry-cancer#/

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