Burningbird’s Diet for Life

Usually our minds turn to dieting when Spring is here and our thoughts are on bathing suits and shorts for the summer. However, a couple of webloggers I know have been talking about dieting lately, and this is something also on my mind.

Frank Paynter is on a diet that has him eating plenty of vegetables, but little fruit and he’s counting scallops. I can’t eat scallops – shellfish allergy reactions – but I wouldn’t be amenable to anything that cuts into my fruit. I love fruit. I love veggies, too, but the grocery stores are all on strike here and it’s hard to find anything fresh.

Norm Jenson recounts a very funny tale of coffee and donuts, with some problems with number and other forms of perception. Personally, its hard for me to bypass a Krispie Kreme, but luckily the only time I go past the nearest store is on my way back from some of my favorite hikes.

(Then there’s Jonathon Delacour’s Ozu DVD boxed set diet. When I first read the story I thought Jonathon had written I’ve stopped eating, I’ve given up drinking…, until he had all of the Ozu DVD box sets. I was reminded of that man in London who didn’t eat for 40 days and how awful he looked, and was getting ready to put together an emergency Paypal account labeled “Feed Jonathon”, when I re-read the story and saw that Jonathon was not eating out until he gets all these movies. Oh. I really must learn to be more careful with my reading in the future.)

Now that I’m feeling pretty damn good myself, I’m also focused on getting back into shape. I not only need to lose weight, I also need to re-establish the muscle system that would allow me, among other things, hike some of the better trails without killing myself or having some nice young woman come along and say, “Oh you poor thing! Are you okay? Do you need help back to your car?”

I’m not one for diets though. The Atkins leaves me cold with its focus on returning us to primal man, when we hunted and killed mastadons, barely searing the butchered carcass over open fires before wolfing down huge chunks of greasy meat. Frank’s diet, though sounding more balanced, also turns me off with the limitations on fruit and having to count scallops.

I have been giving serious consideration to turning vegetarian, not the least because I am a strong animal rights advocate. However, I am also an omnivore, as are all humans, and I don’t think I can quite hack cutting out all meat from my diet. I can cut down, and go with leaner meats and range fed critters and push for more humane practices – but I’m not ready to go the grains and legume route. Not just yet.

(Yes, I have had tofu, thank you. I’d rather chew the foam I’m using to pack my rocks.)

I remember when I was very young my mother gave me a diet sheet that someone had given her. It was a joke diet and included items like “eat five banana seeds for breakfast”, and “for a snack, cut open an orange and inhale the fumes”. What was funny about this is that my mother, tiny woman that she is, never had a problem with her weight – she’s always worked too hard. Even now at 70 she’s in phenomenal shape, and when she was younger, she was a drop dead green-eyed beauty. I inherited her eyes, but I inherited my Dad’s build and the Powers have always been big. Not just tall – big. Come to a family party with this clan and you’re going to get scared to death about being tromped on by accident.

“Oh, I’m sorry little man. I didn’t see you.”

A great doctor I had years ago who helped me quit smoking said that my family doesn’t have a weight problem – our metabolism is great in fact. We need little food to maintain our bulk, while people who are naturally skinny are folks that have a bad metabolism. They need more food just to maintain their size, which means their metabolism is inefficient. What she said made sense, but I used to wistfully think that I would have liked to be a tad less efficient.

To compensate for the fact that I can live on the calories of a person several inches shorter than me is the fact that when I do put my mind to getting in shape, it happens quickly. From previous years work in Karate and being a relatively active person, I have a musculature that seems to snap back into existence with only little effort – once I exercise the discipline I need to bring that baby out of hiding. Luckily, I am more active in cold weather rather than warm, so now is the time for me to drop the excuses of not feeling well, and get well. However, rather than diet, I’m looking at making lifestyle changes, some easier than others. The changes may not make me into a svelte figure of a woman, but I’ll feel good.

First is exercise. I haven’t been hiking or walking as much as I should in the last couple of months and this is going to change. I’m returning to my walks every day, and whenever I can, several times a week I hope, hitting the hiking trails. This time of year there are no ticks and chiggers and I can walk the hikes I have to avoid in the summer.

Hauling twenty pounds of camera equipment around helps, but I also need to start working out with weights again. I believe and strongly too, that the reason women have so much trouble with menopause and other aspects of aging is that they no longer indulge in stenuous exercise when they get older. By this I don’t mean the treadmill – I mean lifting heavy things and really pushing our bodies to the limit. To me the best estrogen therapy is a good work out with the weights. This not only helps to balance estrogen in your body, it also triggers your muscles to burn fat more efficiently, as well as increasing your absorption of calcium.

Swimming doesn’t cut it. You need to have gravity to get the best effects. Swimming is great for the joints and great therapy if you’ve had joint problems – but you need weight training, too. Even if it’s working with a set of barbells when you watch TV at night.

Weight training and walking will hurt rather than help if you don’t add in the final leg of this fitness triangle – stretching. I have a new Pilates video that I’m going to try but I find that sometimes the best stretches are the ones we’ve used for years. Newer isn’t always better.

Working the body is a good thing but that’s only part of the battle – I also need to establish a new regime for my mind, and that’s going to be the harder task.

To start, I am going to stop putting my ego into the hands of others. When we’re young we bring things we make to our parents to get their praise, but somewhere along the way, we get stuck into needing that praise when we become adults. Appreciating praise is one thing – needing it and becoming dejected when we don’t get it, that’s another and it isn’t healthy.

Weblogging tends to enforce this, with our every increasing need for link fixes and rank, as if our pages have become the new druggie flophouses of choice. I challenge you to not to check your referrers or your ranks for the next week, and see when you start sweating. I did this, cold turkey, this week and the only thing I check now is Technorati because it gives me information about who is linking to a specific post of mine, and I like to read what people say; to join in other conversations.

(Or, is that an excuse, similar to saying I need the speed to lose weight and the barbituates to calm down; the cigs to keep from getting angry, and the booze to keep on smiling.)

Part of this effort to take back our egos also means that, at times, we have to cut people out of our lives who are quick to judge us, and even quicker to express that judgement. Life is too short to be surrounded by people who are quick to point out our faults, but strangely silent when it comes to our strengths. When faced with the weight of their disapproval, we can become dejected, eat more, walk less and feel less good about ourselves – it becomes a pretty nasty cycle of disapproval and living to that expectation of disapproval.

People who provide praise and support in equal measure to advice or constructive criticism, these are our friends. These are healthy, confident people and the type of person we should seek to become. The others aren’t worth our effort, and they’re certainly not worth our time or tears.

I’ve read entries in weblogs about people having to come to grips with friends or family members who disapprove of them, who condemn them, or who constantly demean or tear down the person. Usually the weblogger has had to get professional help in dealing with this situation, and that’s not a bad thing; I believe in doing what you need to do to get healthy. However, I can’t help thinking that the person causing the problem is the one that needs help and perhaps the best thing for the weblogger is to tell them so, and then say good-bye until they get their own problems fixed. Yes, even with family – being born in to a family is not the same thing as entering a covenant of disapprobation.

As for food, the traditional focus of a ‘diet’ and really that aspect of getting into shape that’s the least important component: I am practicing moderation, and I’ve had to eliminate or severely curtail some types of foods, but I’m not counting, weighing, or otherwise fixating on it.

Well, except for my box of Godiva on my birthday, of course.

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