Diet dilemmas

I went for my quarterly hospital check-up today, and there was good and bad news.

Good news

The good news is that my cholesterol values total, LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol) as well as triglycerides are all well within the normal range, and the electrocardiogram also showed everything is fine. And my blood pressure remains normal.

Bad news

The bad news is that my HbA1c blood sugar value is way up again – back to almost where it was after I got out of the hospital. It’s really very high.

The doctor wanted to put me back on blood sugar medication, which I’ve been off of for almost 3 years now, but I know from multiple times in the past that medicine isn’t necessary. I can control it with diet if I can just lose the weight I’ve regained. So the doctor agreed, without much argument (I think he was just in a rush to see the next patient) and has given me 3 months, until my June 1 appointment, to get my blood sugar under control by myself.

I also had a meeting with the dietician, but she admitted that by now I know as much as she does about all the diets there are and the best advice at the end of our meeting she could give me was to try to drink green tea instead of eating between meals. Not a bad idea I guess.

What to do now?

The problem I’m left with right now is I don’t know what to eat to get my weight under control. I mean I know theoretically what to eat. I just don’t know how to stick with it. And weight control is the key to everything for me. If I lose weight my blood sugar goes down. If I’m too fat my blood sugar goes up. For me, it’s as simple as that. It always has been.

While on the Ornish “heart disease reversal program,” which is basically vegan, no-added-oil, no nuts or seeds I fairly quickly dropped 88 lb. That’s the program I went on after getting out of the hospital.

But after 700 days or so, as with every other diet I’ve been on my whole life, my will-power weakened and I started gaining weight. For a long time, I was able to restrain my weight gain to about 15 lbs or so. But since getting back from St. Louis my weight started creeping up again and I’ve regained a total of 35 lb so far – about 20 lb since getting back to Japan.

I’m still about 50 lb or so below from when I started, which  is a good thing. And I haven’t gone off the wagon to the extent that I’m eating fried chicken on skid row. So I’m somewhat relieved I’ve managed to prevent a total rebound this time. So far. But things are still in a precarious state, and I know things can go either way.

Things I know about diets, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.

Here is what I know so far from my own experience with dieting, and also after monitoring of my blood test results every quarter since starting in May, 2012:

1. How long I can diet. I seem to have initial success on just about any diet I try, and I tell everybody about my success with great enthusiasm. But the success always only lasts for about 700 days, about two years. During those first two years I seem to have perfect will-power. I never ever go off my diet. I never have the urge to go off my diet – really! I can follow whatever the diet rules are, I can keep my calories under control, and I lose weight.

2. The 700 day effect. No matter what the diet is, “something” happens after about 700 days and my will-power weakens, and something (a combination of biology and psychology I think) causes me to start overeating again, and my weight creeps up, and I can’t stop it. I start flailing around from diet to diet trying to find a combination of eating tricks that works, but I can’t. Usually this ends up with me completely going off the wagon and a complete rebound.

3. Not a complete rebound so far but… So far I’ve been able to avoid a complete rebound this time. I’ve avoided fried foods for one thing, which I know is the worst of the worst for me. Yet my weight is still slow creeping up and I keep compromising about the limits I’ll accept: First I won’t allow my self to get above this weight. Then I won’t allow myself to get above that weight. Then I won’t allow myself to get above this other weight. These limits are getting dangerously high now, and it’s seriously depressing. I have to admit it has been weighing (as it were) too much on my mind lately.

4. What causes high cholesterol? As far as cholesterol goes, I just don’t don’t believe Ornish or Esselstyn or any of the vegan-no-fat people anymore. When I started my diet, my cholesterol was higher than normal. 6 months into the diet it was still high. It wasn’t until I started taking one statin each evening that my cholesterol dropped to the normal range. Since going to St. Louis in the summer, I haven’t really been vegan any more. During my two months in St. Louis I had some fish for lunch every day and some skinless chicken for dinner ever evening, and my weight stayed under control. And when I got back to Japan and had my next blood test a month later, my cholesterol was still low. And on December 1 my cholesterol was still low. And even today my cholesterol was still low (LDL of just 81 with a normal range of 70-139). So I think the recent U.S. government guidelines which now say the cholesterol you eat doesn’t affect your blood cholesterol are correct, at least for me. In other words, I don’t think it matters if I am vegan or not as far as cholesterol goes. I think probably eating olive oil in small amounts also doesn’t hurt either as far as heart health goes.

5. So should I eat more animal products? For me, there is a “feel good” limit in eating animal products since I went vegan. I can tolerate a little fish each day, or a little chicken. But beyond that I just don’t feel well at all. If I try eating beef or pork I get nauseous. So my sense is that no matter what I do going forward that it won’t involve a lot of animal products. But I see no reason in being fanatical about being 100% vegan. If there is a little chicken or fish in an otherwise low-calorie product, I don’t see any reason to let it bother me. The new guidelines also say eggs should be ok, but I’m a little hesitant about eating them again. If they are safe though, they are really great for weight loss since they are so low calorie, high in protein and satisfying.

6. Calories are key. I think it basically always comes back to weight and calories. I’m sure if I lose the weight I regained my blood sugar will go down again. From past experience with this, my blood sugar isn’t affected by the kinds of food I eat so long as my weight goes down. And to lose weight I have to restrict calories. There is no way around that basic fact.

7. And what about exercise? Exercise plays some role, but maybe not a big role in all of this. My exercise has slacked off lately I admit. I’m hoping as it gets warmer I will pick this up again. I haven’t been going often to that gym I joined, unfortunately. I was enthusiastic about it at first, but have not used it much since then.  I’m thinking instead of that gym I should just cycle over to the city sports center, which is along the river and only 3 km away, on the route I always take for bicycle runs. In other words, I’ve been cycling right past the city-run sports center for over two years now and not using it! I could use that gym for weight training exercises to help build muscle mass, and then cycle back. Maybe do that two or three times a week (i.e. setting a realistic goal). That would save money over the private sports club, and I would get in extra cycling by just getting there and coming back. Still, I don’t think this is the solution to my overall problem. The main thing is losing the weight I’ve gained. But I think I will cycle over the sports center and see how it is and maybe drop my membership in the nearby private club. I do sit at my desk way too much every day.

8. Addictions and what diet to follow. I’m still lost as to what diet to try to follow next. I’ve tried everything there is to try so far. There is nothing new that anybody can tell me about diet plans. I guess everybody has to find their own personal “bag of tricks” to psychologically control what they eat. Different people have different addictions. Some people can’t stop smoking. Others have alcohol or drug problems. Some people have gambling addictions. I’m fortunate to not fall into any of those categories. I smoke one cigarette every 10 years (next one in 2023), only drink alcohol 3 or 4 times a year and never have an “urge” to drink, and have never had any other addictions except for food. Unfortunately, unlike other addictions, food addiction is the only one where you can’t go “cold turkey” (as it were) and just stop eating altogether.

9. Depression. I have to admit this is bothering me excessively lately. People around me, like people in the neighborhood, have begun to notice. Even today, while walking back from the train station on my way home from the hospital, a neighbor I’ve never spoken with called out to me and said, “So what is happening with you? You used to be very fat. Then you got thin. But lately I think your weight is going up again, isn’t it?” (People in Japan can be surprisingly direct about saying things like this!) And so I talked to him for a while. He was very friendly and sympathetic about it, and said to keep on trying and we’ll talk again. People at Hibikinokai, where I do volunteer work on Sundays, also have noticed this for a while now, and have mentioned it to me.

Anyway, I’m just rambling at this point. I’m still not sure what to do, and I have to do something. I’m wary of grains – even whole grains – because I think they are all excessively high calorie, low protein and trigger hunger pangs. But I bought some brown rice at the supermarket today. I’m wary of legumes, because they just don’t sit well with me. But I bought some tofu today also. And some more non-oil salad dressing and some salad vegetables.

Ideally I would like to start a very calorie restricted diet (e.g. < 1500 calories a day), do some moderate exercise 3 times a week or so, avoid eating between meals if possible, and see how it goes for a few months. During this time I should avoid things with added sugars, simply to avoid hunger urges. Maybe I should restrict fruits? I am not sure.

I’m just talking out loud and not necessarily asking for advice. I think I’ve already tried every diet there is, including diets which won’t call themselves diets and instead call themselves “lifestyle changes” or whatever. Every diet works, and every diet doesn’t work. It’s easy to convince yourself something is working and get all caught up in it, then 700 days later find yourself rebounding.

I need to get back on a weight losing path somehow. It’s just difficult.

 

One thousand days

My diet has had it’s ups and downs and ups and downs, but at least I keep tracking. Today is Day 1,000 of tracking on MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal is also linked in to my gym machines, when I manage to go over there.

My weight has been “stable” lately, but I need to lose a lot more weight. At least I’m not gaining and remain more than 50 lb lighter than when I started.

 

1000-days

 

 

 

The E-word

Many people I know have been getting on me to do more (can I bring myself to say it?) – “exercise.” Ugh. There. I said it.

When I was in St. Louis this summer, my weight went down. But I actually did a lot of exercise while I was there with morning and evening walks. Since getting back to Japan though, my cycling exercise has decreased as it has gotten cold, and I haven’t been consistently good on my diet and my weight has been creeping up again.

As much as I basically am not fond of the idea of exercise, it has been nagging at me that it’s not really good to sit like a lump all day in front of the computer screen and, if I am honest with myself, for my health I can spare an hour or so every day, or at least every other day, and do more.

My doctors’ opinions are mixed. My main heart doctor at Edogawa Byouin is an exercise fanatic. He is one year older than me and runs every day and he seems to think since all my test results are normal, that I should try to burn like 900 calories a day in exercise. My local clinic doctor is more cautious about excessive exercise, especially since it is colder weather (which causes vessels to contract), and he says it’s ok for a 25 year old to exercise for hours a day, but not so much for somebody “my age.”

I’m not quite ready to give concessions to age (I’m still in my 50s!) and decided that my friends, my sister, and my main doctor are right.

Meanwhile, a new gym opened in my neighborhood – Anytime Fitness. It’s ridiculously close to my house (like 3 minutes away on my bicycle), right above Mon and Monta’s vet. It not a “full sports center” in that it doesn’t have a pool or studios. But it has a lot of cardio exercise machines, weight machines, and also free weights. And changing rooms and showers.

The price is also reasonable – ¥6,300 per month (just $53 thanks to the booming dollar). And they are having a campaign where if I join this month it is pro-rated for this month, free for January and then the regular rate after that.

Also, it’s open 24 hours a day, every day (even on the new year’s holiday). The staff is just there from 10 am – 7 pm, but you get a fob for your keychain and can get in 24 hours a day.

Anyway… I did it. I joined.

Even with the campaign, I ended up paying about ¥17,000 today because of the first month, last month and fob charge. But there is no commitment after that – it’s all month by month.

I started today, and let me tell you, this is not your grandfather’s gym. It is actually really high-tech cool!

All the cardio machines are made by a company called Life Fitness and they each have big, hi-resolution LCD screens like this (the  picture on this screen is actually the entrance to my location).

 

LifeFitnessScreen-1

Notice at the bottom right where it says “Login” in Japanese (the blue square) that it’s a QR code. If you download the Life Fitness free app for your iPhone or Android and sign up and give it your personal stats: sex, age, weight, etc., you just point your iPhone at the QR code on the screen and it logs you in to that particular exercise machine for your session! You even see your name show up on the screen.

While you are working out, you see not only basic stats (calories used, how far you’ve gone, time, pace and heart rate), you can also choose what you want to watch to keep you entertained during your workout. This can be Internet pages, TV stations, custom pages you set up yourself at the Life Fitness site, or even just pleasant scenery, like you are cycling through Switzerland. So you can actually do healthy exercise while watching TV or wasting time on Facebook.

 

LifeFitnessScreen-2

 

And what’s even cooler is that after your session at that machine, your workout is saved to the Life Fitness site and synced with the app on your iPhone or Android, and you can see how many total calories you burned at each machine on every day you exercise. And it even syncs with MyFitnessPal, which I’ve been logging into for over 900 days now.

Here are the results from the three cardio machines I used today.

 

lifefitnessworkout1

 

Note: In the app you can set your language, so when you login to a machine by pointing your phone at it, the language automatically get set to your preferred language – Japanese, or English or any of a whole bunch of other languages. When you finish your session it logs you out and reverts to the default language for the next person (in my gym of course it reverts to Japanese).

Today I only burned 287 calories over 47 minutes. But I think that is reasonable. Burning 900 calories would really take too much time I think. I have work to do also. I can’t see spending 2.5 hours a day exercising. I mean, let’s be realistic.

The machines I used today were the following:

I started with the Cross-Trainer, shown here. This machine really gives you the best bang for each minute. After just 4 minutes I could see my heart rate going into the 130s and was breaking a sweat. You clearly burn the most calories per minute on this machine. The first few minutes were quite difficult, but then I found a way of pacing that made it more comfortable. Still, it was the hardest device to use. And probably the best for whole body conditioning because it feels like you are moving everything.

 

Cross-Trainer

 

Next I tried the recumbent bike, shown here. This was the easiest, and I see what my Edogawa doctor meant when he said, “bicycling is better than doing nothing, but it’s not the greatest exercise.” I didn’t break a sweat, and in fact it was so relaxing I felt like I could do it in my sleep. It burned the least calories per minute as well. Still, it was comfortable, and I can see using it to fill in time between other exercises. And calories burned are calories burned.

 

RecumbentBike

 

Lastly, I used the treadmill. This was actually the first time I ever used a treadmill and I was pleasantly surprised. You set the speed you want and also the incline percentage you want and just keep up. It was actually pleasant, because I like walking. You can see from the stats above that it didn’t burn much more than the recumbent bike, but I did break a sweat and I can see using this more and picking up speed and having higher inclines as I get more into shape.

 

Treadmill

 

Here are some of the weight machines they have, and I tried them out for a bit. Each one works on a different set of muscles in your body. I didn’t overdo it today, and tried just 10 reps on 4 of the machines to get a feel for what they were like. I didn’t use any free weights, which they had on the other side of the gym.

 

Weights

 

Here’s a view across the gym. You can see the free weight area all the way down in the distance on the other side, past the lockers.

 

AnytimeView

 

Anyway, it was a good experience. And I really like how it is all connected via the Internet and syncs to your mobile device, and the web, and MyFitnessPal (and other services like FitBit), and how the screens are all wired so you can watch TV or look at the Internet so time passes quickly while you are doing something that is otherwise, essentially very boring.

All I have to do now is keep going back. I hope I do…