Friday, October 23, 2009

Feed a cold, starve a fever?

Feed a cold, starve a fever? Or is it, Starve a cold, feed a fever? I think I may have it mixed up. I have a raging sore throat this week and am not all that hungry. But I have one bad habit when I'm sick that ensures I don't starve anything.

When my husband has a sore throat, he doesn't want any food touching it. He'll spritz on bottle after bottle of Chloraseptic to numb it. I hate Chloraseptic! It gets on your tongue and the inside of your cheeks, and then you feel like you just came from the dentist.

Instead, I go for the blanket approach. I want to coat that throat and cover up the hurt. So... instead of tea, which I probably should drink, I make huge mugs of hot chocolate and wash down spoonfuls of peanut butter. I don't like plain chicken broth, but I do make a great egg drop soup, with a chicken broth base, but I stir in some fresh lemon juice and finely shaved parmesan. When I do get hungry, but it still hurts to eat, I make a big pot of mashed potatoes. That's my ultimate comfort food.

When I was growing up, boxed "pre-fab" mashed potatoes were all the rage. Remember those magic flakes? Well, I hated them. Of course you can tell the difference. But my mom, even though she hated cooking, never bought convenience foods because of the expense. Her mashed potatoes were always the real thing. Well, we ruined them by using margarine. (Butter was too expensive, too.) When I'm sick now, I do it right. Real mashed potatoes made with real butter, and topped with a pool of melting butter.

My son, on the other hand, wants whipped cream when he's sick. I'll give him a bowl of Jello and whipped cream, and he'll just skim the whipped cream off the top and leave the Jello. I don't have that same craving for whipped cream (luckily!), though I do love it when I'm not sick. Good thing, too. I'm probably already consuming as many calories as when I feel healthy, and yet not exercising any of it away. I guess if it's a cold I have, I'm doing a great job of feeding it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gwen Mergian: A Numbers Gal

Numbers are powerful. Just ask Gwen Mergian. The first number to slap Gwen in the face was the number 50.

“When I reached my 50s, I felt like I was living on borrowed time,” says Gwen. “My father died at age 49 from a massive coronary and my grandmother had a sudden fatal heart attack in her 50s.”

The second number that stopped her cold was 303.

"My diet was fairly healthy, even though I didn’t really exercise. I had no chronic disease, but I was maybe ten to 20 pounds overweight,” says Gwen. “Still, a routine blood check came back showing that my total cholesterol was 303."

That number put Gwen in the American Heart Association’s highest risk category. The AHA says that having total cholesterol of 240 milligrams per deciliter of blood or higher presents a person with twice the risk for coronary heart disease as someone whose cholesterol level is 200 mg/dL or below. Gwen’s doctor recommended she start on a cholesterol-lowering statin drug. Trained as a nurse, Gwen didn’t like that idea. She decided to bring the scientific method home.

“I read up on all everything that is supposed to lower cholesterol and I thought, I could conduct my own experiment. I could be the subject, the researcher and the reporter,” she says.

Gwen proposed to her doctor that she try to lower her cholesterol herself. If at the end of six months, her numbers weren’t good, she would go on the drug. Moldering in Gwen’s basement was an old copy of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease. It is a low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

Gwen’s goal was ambitious—and it involved another number. She targeted her LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad cholesterol,” which can be a more accurate gauge of risk. Her LDL was 193—again in the AHA’s highest risk category—and she set a target level of 130.

“I was committed, but I didn’t really think I could do it,” she admits. “I am a very stubborn person, though, and when I put my mind to something I’m like a tenacious dog.”

Gwen says pizza was the hardest thing for her to give up. She also liked meat and cheese, eggs and omelets, and had ice cream about three times a week. But the real hurdle was a big one: she didn’t really like vegetables.

Nevertheless, in March 2007 Gwen switched to a plant-based diet. She gave up meat, except salmon a few times a week, for the omega 3 fatty acids. She ate huge salads and tried grains like kasha, quinoa and cous cous. She loves to bake and adjusted recipes to cut down on fat and sugar.

“I wanted to see what I could do,” she says. “I didn’t want to cheat. If you do, you have to think about it: Well, I cheated yesterday, so today maybe I’ll… I cheated only twice in six months, once when a very kind woman made a pie and I couldn't refuse a piece.”

After six months, Gwen's total cholesterol dropped to 177, well below the 200 mg/dL benchmark. Her LDL cholesterol came in at 96, almost 100 mg/dL below her starting number and 34 mg/dL below her target of 130.

In addition, Gwen lost about 20 pounds. At her highest weight, Gwen had been 140 pounds, and at five-feet, five inches tall, a size 14. Gwen is satisfied with her weight now, even though she has regained five pounds.

Gwen continues the Ornish plan. She takes a multi-vitamin and red yeast rice and flax seed, which are said to lower cholesterol naturally. She drinks white or green tea, and a drink she mixes from apple cider vinegar, pomegranate juice and grape or apple juice. Three or four times a week she has a scientific dose of red wine, about 30 millileters.

Gwen admits that exercise has not been a priority. She will sometimes walk the two and a half miles home from work. At the gym, she works out two or three times a week, usually speed walking on a treadmill. Gwen bought a bicycle that reminded her of her mother’s 1970s chestnut-brown five-speed bike. She began biking around her neighborhood, and eventually worked her way up to an 11-mile ride suggested by a friend.

“I was going to say no, but then I thought, You can try, Gwen,” she says. “I had to stop four times and walk my bike up the hills, but I did it.”

Gwen has also tried means of lowering stress, such as tai chi, mindfulness meditation and yoga. Focusing on making change fun, she has tried activities said to stimulate the right side of the brain, such as writing with her left hand or sketching upside down and left-handed.

What started as an experiment has turned into a lifestyle, which Gwen blogs about for the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union. She's grateful for the opportunity she’s had to expand her horizons.

“This experiment took me in directions I wouldn’t have expected. It brings me such joy and pleasure,” she says. “As you age, it’s easy to get into a rut and experience things as diminishing. I find myself embracing new things and as I look ahead, I want to be healthy and I feel like there are good things to come. That’s the blessing and the bounties of this way of life.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

I'm Over the Moon with my Over the Top award

It was so nice to log on this morning to my blog and find a little "award" from my fellow blogger, Leah. What makes me feel even better is that she says on her blog that she finds the success stories that I write about here motivating for her in her weight loss journey. That's what it's all about! Thank you, Leah!

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's in the bag!

A fellow weight-loss blogger, Leah, recently posted her weight loss as she visualized it in bags of sugar. What a great idea! Congratulations on your success, Leah!

Looking at those bags, it made me think of my own ah-ha moment last New Year's Eve when I bought a 10-pound bag of flour for a party game (go ahead... ask!). Looking at it, I realized that I had lost the equivalent of three 10-pound bags of flour. Thirty pounds doesn't sound like a whole lot to me, especially since I've interviewed people who have lost up to 220 pounds. But, looking at it in terms of pounds of sugar or flour -- and hefting those heavy bags! -- helped me see the accomplishment as the huge deal that it really is.

So... here's my success, in five-pound bags of flour. (Couldn't find 10-pound bags. Besides, it looks way more impressive this way!)