Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting back to the real me

25 Dec 2013

20 Dec 2014
So last September, I started reducing sugar and starches because my blood work showed high blood sugar. Then in November, I completely cut out all sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods because of horrific menstrual cramps. Between 24 November and 24 December 2014, I exclusively ate meat, chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables, avocados, nuts and beans. Contrary to the still popular belief that the way to lose weight and improve health is to count calories and reduce fat intake, I didn't count calories and ate fatty cuts of meat and plenty of butter, eggs, avocados, nuts and coconut oil (lots of coconut oil).

In early December new blood work showed that I'd improved my numbers! I was happy to learn that I'd lowered my fasting blood sugar level, and by Christmas I'd even lost some weight. I have better energy, digestion and moods. No one can tell me that cutting down on fat and animal foods is my path to health. My path to health includes dead animals and lots of oils and fats.

Exercise is also supposed to be necessary for weight loss, but even though I've tried to get myself to exercise, I didn't manage much more than a few yoga stretches a few days a week. Burning calories hasn't been part of my transformation, yet I still took three inches off my waistline. But exercise IS a huge part of physical and mental health. I've got to get myself in gear because physical movement is critical for brain function, good hormonal levels and healthy organs; it just isn't part of losing weight.

Some backstory:
It was October 2012 when I began my weight gain. From 2012 to 2013 I put 50 pounds on my 5'2" body, until I weighed 180 pounds at my mother's funeral in June 2013. Early details of my adventure going from a size 8 gym rat to a size 18 non-exerciser are here, here and here. For the whole story, also see:

Today as I was toweling off my arms after a shower, I saw the definition of my biceps for the first time in two years. Recently my collar bones have started to emerge. As a sculptor carves away the marble that isn't part of the statue, I'm discarding the parts that aren't really me. I'm getting back to my natural weight. I'm getting my real body back and I'm very excited about it! (If you've read this post, please also read this post.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

25 Dec 1914: The World War I Christmas Truce


This summer and fall, many have been recognizing the 100th anniversary of the early events of World War I (which lasted 1914-1918), but here's one we should all note. Do you want a story about two warring armies who - for 24 hours -  stopped firing on each other, out of respect for a holiday? It almost reads like a fable about desperate men who just couldn't bring themselves to obey orders because this one day felt too special, but it happened. Soldiers on both sides of a grisly war honored a completely impromptu cease-fire, even against the wishes of their commanding officers. If you want the whole story, pick up a copy of Silent Night: The Story of The World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub (2002). It's a stunning narrative and it's all true (unsurprisingly, it's currently sold out at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but you can get it instantaneously as an ebook. I found a paperback copy in a used bookstore last September).

Weintraub's brief (184 pages) history of the days surrounding the truce gives details of miserable war conditions and horrible weather that somehow didn't cause everyone to hate each other even more. Stress conditions have been proven to increase violence, but incredibly by December 24, 1914 the Germans, Englishmen, Irishmen, Indians, French, Belgians, Scotsmen and North Africans entrenched on the Western Front were ready for a holiday break. Weintraub combed newspapers, letters, personal accounts and military reports for evidence of this truce and he confirms that the Germans initiated it. The English believed the Germans were barbarians and the Germans saw the British and French as soulless, materialists incapable of appreciating Christmas, so everyone's eyes were opened that year!

On Christmas Eve, German soldiers began setting up Christmas trees on their parapets, causing the Allies to wonder what game or trap they were setting up. Within hours the Germans were waving signs that read "WE NO FIGHT YOU NO FIGHT" and the British could hear them singing. Men's voices carried "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht" across the area between the two armies, known as No Man's Land. It took some doing for the Germans to convince the English, Irish, Scots and Indians that they were sincere, but the most distrustful, according to Weintraub, were the French. When German soldiers began crossing No Man's Land unarmed, bearing wine, chocolates and cigarettes, the French took the longest to believe them, but eventually they laid down their arms, too. In one area, a trained German dog carried bread, cognac and newspapers back and forth between the German and French lines.

Weintraub speculates that the Christmas tradition might have been stronger in Germany at that time, explaining why the German army equipped themselves with Christmas trees and candles and pushed so hard for everyone to suspend fighting. Many German soldiers risked their lives to walk - completely unprotected - over frozen earth towards the Allies' line. That the Allies held their fire when the enemy began advancing, even unarmed, shows how different war used to be. One English soldier later reported that with German soldiers walking towards their trenches, the English didn't feel like they could shoot unarmed men, but they also couldn't let the enemy behind their lines. What else could the English do but walk out to meet the Germans halfway? So that's exactly what happened: up and down the Western Front soldiers left their trenches to meet, chat, smoke, exchange gifts and even play ball in No Man's Land. For 24 hours they all acted as if they had never been fighting at all.

Hitler was a regular soldier that Christmas, but Weintraub reports that he refused to have anything to do with the fraternizing. Other soldiers later described him as an odd man who never discussed family or anyone back home, didn't smoke or drink and often brooded in his dugout. Apparently Hitler wasn't big on Christmas because not only did he chastize his peers for not fighting on Christmas Eve, he didn't even participate in the reading of the Christmas gospel.

One of my favorite stories comes from the personal letter of a German soldier who wrote to his beloved about going to cut down a tree outside of an abandoned house. While he was there, he wrote, he noticed inebriated members of the French army coming out with bottles of wine. He ran back to his division and returned with six men so they could get some, too. They entered the house and were about to go down to the cellar when a French officer saw them, but he was so drunk he didn't even notice they were German. The officer ordered them to "move out the champagne," so they willingly headed into the wine cellar where they found many Frenchmen, completely sloshed. At this point, the French soldiers recognized their enemy, but they all agreed to a truce for the rest of Christmas as long as the "Parleyvoozes" (the term this soldier used) helped the Germans carry fifty bottles back to their encampment. 

I also like the story of how a German baker dealt with some Algierian soldiers for whom December 24th didn't mean anything. On Christmas Eve the Muslim Algerians kept firing, enraging the pastry cook, who - incredibly - was working on a batch of marzipan balls. His work interrupted, the baker grabbed a decorated tree and furiously charged the enemy line. The Algerian soldiers didn't feel like they could shoot this crazy man, so they watched as the baker reached the halfway point between the lines, set down the tree and lit its candles. He reportedly bellowed, "Now you blockheads! Now you know what's going on! Merry Christmas!" At that point the Algerians received word of the temporary cease-fire and put down their arms.

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce is full of details about that dream-like time when the entire Western Front of The First World War stopped fighting and started sharing cigarettes, souvenirs and goodies from care packages. They spent Christmas Eve drinking and singing, and on Christmas Day they helped each other bury their dead and then played some ball. You can also find an account of the Christmas Truce on Wikipedia, but be sure to throw Wikipedia five bucks if you use them.

This week, 24-25 December, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of this fable that actually happened. Take a moment to consider what it might be like if warring enemies were still able to see each other as human beings, even some of the time, and not as embodiments of beliefs and ideologies. Reviewer Robert Morris wrote that the incident "suggest[s] a human need which transcends military obligations." I call it my favorite war story.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Christmas tree

It's my Christmas tree with all-pink ornaments. This year I got a reindeer throw rug to go under it. I love December 17th because it's exactly one week before Christmas Eve, which is my favorite day of the year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Test results

Finally got the results of my latest blood work. My fasting blood sugar is 95, which is back in the "normal" range and I'm out of danger! No pre-diabetes for me, thank god (to coin a phrase). I put "normal" in quotation marks because of the input of Dr. Emily Lindner, who's a great general practitioner who helps with hormonal imbalances. She's the one who has guided me to clean up my diet (rather than seek more drugs) and has been 100% right so far. She says a truly healthy fasting blood sugar level is somewhere around 70-85, so I've got room for improvement.

And how long do I continue to abstain from all sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine and processed foods? She said to give it eight full weeks and then it's a matter of when my menstrual cramping stops. Eight full weeks takes me to the third week in January, which gets me completely through the holiday season - oof! It won't be easy, but I'm willing to eat very well during the holiday period so I can avoid having a painful holiday period.

I'm stunned to hear that it's possible, even at my age (48) to live without any menstrual cramps at all. Apparently, once you've completely detoxed your body and regained hormonal balance, you can have your period with no symptoms! Can you believe it? I can't, but I'm determined to run the experiment. I'll let you know if it's true.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Single and dating again? Never mind.

Without that old desperation to find a man -
Without that old certainty that I'm a total loser without romance in my life -

- I just can't work up much interest in dating. So, never mind the online dating websites and keeping a constant eye out for available men. It's not a priority for me now.

I love being divorced. I feel so much more peaceful.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"


[I originally posted this on January 5, 2006 and it's my tradition to re-post it every December.]

Here’s my summary of the History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas which I find extremely relevant to the annual discussion of the true meaning of Christmas. The following historical facts are from the History Channel program, but the opinionated statements are mine.

Christmas Started Without Jesus

It turns out that early Europeans were observing a winter solstice celebration centuries before Jesus was born. In Norse country it was called “Yule” and it lasted for as long as the enormous “Yule log” took to burn, which was about twelve days. In preparation for the cold, dark season people would kill almost all their livestock since they couldn’t feed them through the winter. The feasting and general revelry that resulted became the annual Yule celebration.

In Rome the winter solstice marked the period known as “Saturnalia.” During this festival people drank, behaved raucously and generally overturned the normal social order. While this was going on, the upper classes of Rome worshipped Mithras, the sun god, whose feast day was December 25th and who was believed to have been born in a field and worshipped by shepherds.

Early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth, focusing on his resurrection (which makes a lot more sense to me), but by the fourth century the new Church needed to establish Jesus’ holy birth, so it began to put together the nativity story. It knew it would never manage to outlaw the pagan traditions already in place, so it appropriated them and that’s how December 25th became Jesus’ feast day.

It Had More Sex Than Saints

In England during the middle ages, the pious went to church on December 25th for “Christ’s mass,” but for most of the population it was just a regular day. Most of those who celebrated made it a festival of drunken revelry and sex that would look more to us like Mardi Gras or New Year’s Eve. It was a saturnalian free-for-all with little connection to Jesus except in name.

By the 17th century the Puritans had had enough of this and they made attempts to outlaw Christmas in both England and the New World. These devout people saw Christmas as a depraved tradition that had to be stopped. It didn’t work, but the holiday was greatly downplayed for a long time, as evidenced by the U.S. Congress being in session on all Christmas Days for its first 67 years!

America Needed a Tradition

When the United States were established in 1776, the early Americans wanted to rid themselves of all things English, including Christmas. But over time they also needed new culturally shared holidays and a reinvention of Christmas was on the horizon.

One new aspect of the American Christmas was how it addressed the growing class divide of the industrial U.S. In the early 1800’s the holiday became quite dangerous as working class people turned it into a time of violent payback for the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. In response to growing economic imbalances, writers like Washington Irving and Charles Dickens created works of fiction that instilled a spirit of generosity and demonstrated sharing wealth with the poor. These popular stories gave the upper classes guidance about what their responsibility was to those who had less and established “giving” as a central Christmas theme. Christmas now gave people a chance to correct some of the socioeconomic unfairness of newly industrialized America.

The view of the family was also changing. Traditionally, the American family was supposed to discipline children and turn them into hard workers, but by the end of the 19th century the family was seen more as a nurturing body that protected childhood innocence. Christmas, with its emphasis on giving gifts, allowed people to pour attention on children without seeming to spoil them. The holiday became a celebration of children, honoring them with presents and sharing in their joy.

Why Shopping Is Central

The creation of the American version of Santa Claus in the mid-1800's did a few things: it reinforced the idea that Christmas distributes wealth, it solidified the focus on children and it removed gift-buying from the marketplace and placed it in the realm of family love and affection. Shopping became an expression of love. This diminished the obvious commercialism of gift-buying and obliged parents to fulfill their children’s expectations. Thus did shopping become the central activity of the Christmas season.

But Where Was God?

By the late 1800’s Christmas was just about everywhere in the U.S, except in church. In fact, the author of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was an Episcopalian minister who initially kept his authorship a secret because he thought the poem was too friviolous; after all, it didn’t mention Jesus once. The celebration of Jesus’ birth was an established part of the Catholic tradition, but for quite a while American Protestant churches pretty much ignored it. For decades they stayed closed on December 25th until their parishioners made clear that they wanted services on that day.

So it's not quite true that Jesus’ birth was the original reason we have Christmas. December 25th was part of a pagan festival that morphed into a holiday of gift-giving that American churches didn’t want anything to do with until almost the 20th century. There was no golden age during which most people observed Christmas primarily as a holy day. Sorry Charlie Brown, but Snoopy's right: Christmas is as much about the big decorated tree as it is about the manger.

Does Christmas Even Need Jesus?

By the 1920’s the sex and revelry were gone from Christmas and by the 1950’s it was all about kids and presents. Clearly a spiritual focus was appropriate since religious services recall the need to connect with a greater power. In the centuries before Christ, people needed to believe they’d survive the winter and they worshipped the sun as their source of life. Modern Christians worship the son of God, whom they recognize as the source their life.

But for as long as December 25th has been recognized as Jesus’ feast day, there have been lots of other activities going on at the same time. I think if Christmas were really just about Jesus, the holiday wouldn’t occupy public space as it does. Strictly religious holy days tend to be observed only by those who practice that faith. Our grand scale yuletide traditions -- big decorations, big eating, big shopping -- support the religious significance of the day, but don’t engage it.

Pick Your Own True Meaning

The History Channel’s program ends with the observation that only children understand what Christmas is really about: pure joy and celebration, and the magic and mystery of opening gifts. That’s why, even as grown ups, we often experience a moment of delight when we see a Santa truly in his role or glimpse a dazzling light display. Such moments take us back to our childhood and the unadulterated awe and glory that Christmas held for us then. Our American Christmas tradition was tailor-made for children and they are essential to its magic.

(I think the child-focus of the holiday is also why Christmas becomes ever more dim and disappointing to us adults: the essence of this holiday isn't about us.)

The true meanings of Christmas include Jesus, but they're also about children and gift-giving. There was never a time during which the majority treated December 25th as a solemn holy day; the drunken orgy it used to be caused the Puritans to try to stamp it out altogether. Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it's as much about decorations, kids and presents as it is about God, an interesting outcome for a holiday with a rich pagan history of drunkenness, gluttony and sex.

Let us all celebrate whatever we choose during the Christmas season. For some that might be the birth of Jesus, while for others it might be an excuse to EAT (etc). I know when I tell someone "Merry Christmas," it has nothing to do with "The Church." I'm just wishing them a really good season of partying.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Still waiting on results...

I'm still waiting to hear the results of my blood work and to find out if I've managed to lower my fasting blood sugar level. In the meantime, I'm doing whatever it takes to stay on my clean diet (which is no sugar, grains, dairy, caffeine or processed foods). It's not getting any easier, especially during Christmastime, so I'm taking my encouragement where I can find it. Here's a good way to look at it: I've lost 2.5 inches off my waistline since Nov. 24th, when I started this new way of eating. Yay! I have hope that within another month or two I'll fit into my nice coats again.

As hard as it is for this sugar addict to go through December without sugar or flour, I don't want to become a hermit because parties have temptations. I still want to socialize, so I'm buckling down on the EFT tapping and meditation to help me get through Christmas parties with my favorite people (Dr. Joe Dispenza's guided meditations are my favorite). I have a cookie frosting party this weekend. Watch me sail through this!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Cutting carbs like my life depends on it, part 2

In September I had blood work done that indicated that my blood sugar was high. The idea of developing diabetes terrifies me, so after that, I began reducing the amount of sweets and starchy foods I was eating. I didn't eliminate them, but I lowered the amount of sugar I had flowing through my system all day long.

More recently, I found out that one cause of painful menstrual cramps (the kind that ibuprofen can't even touch) is one's hormones being out of balance. For my painful periods, a specialist suggested that rather than go back on the birth control pill or find more powerful painkillers, I completely cut out all grains and sugars (including fruit and alcohol), all dairy products, caffeine and processed foods.

Ouch.

I didn't like how this sounded, but she explained to me that hormones are greatly affected by the amount of insulin in your bloodstream and what causes insulin levels to fluctuate is what you're eating. When I eat sugary and starchy foods, I cause blood sugar level spikes which result in my insulin levels rising. Those high insulin levels change my levels of progesterone and estrogen and it's those hormones that affect my menstrual cycle, including how much it goddamn hurts (caffeine and lactose also raise insulin).

Today is Day 14 of my new way of eating: vegetables, avocados, nuts, animal flesh, eggs, fish and potatoes (white and sweet). That's right; that's all I've been eating. I drink only water and unsweetened herbal tea. I use lots of ghee, butter, coconut oil and olive oil in my food. It's kind of like a version of the candida diet, which I've been on a few times in my life. The candida diet is never fun, but the results are always clear. Each time I've gone on this diet whatever physical problems I was suffering from turned around almost immediately, and so it is again. My last period was a hundred times better than the one before it! Relief! The pain was reduced so much that ibuprofen and acupuncture got me comfortably through, which stunned me after the debilitating cramping I'd had in November. My energy and digestion are also greatly improved and, of course, eating this way supports my effort to avoid diabetes, so I am now committed to doing this indefinitely.

This morning, I return to my doctor for another round of blood work. I'm almost excited to find out if I've managed to bring my blood sugar under control. If all this stripping away of the sweets I love hasn't succeeded, I don't want to think about what will. But I'm proud of myself and feel quite sure I've done it. In fact, I can't wait to get that needle in my arm and fill up those little vials with blood. It'll be days before the results come, but let's get on with it.

But there are sugar cravings. Old-fashioned donuts and red velvet cupcakes call to me, and the idea of eating nothing but vegetables, protein and potatoes for the rest of my life upsets me. Since childhood, sugar has been my favorite thing and since young adulthood it's been my drug of choice. I self-medicate with it, self-soothe with it and even knock myself unconscious with it by eating a big, sugary snack and then napping for up to three hours (a great way to avoid life). I don't like alcohol, so sugar has been the perfect coping mechanism throughout my whole life. Giving it up is hard.

But with the past few years of Emotional Freedom Technique, meditation and self-hypnosis, I've hacked away at my sugar addiction. EFT, meditation and hypnosis have helped me re-wire my brain so it's not as dependent on sugar to regulate my mood. Eating it less has made my taste buds more sensitive to it, so I don't need as much sugar to get that hit of sweetness on my tongue. I've been moving towards a reduced-sweets way of eating for a while now. It just took the monstrual cramps from hell to motivate me to completely eliminate sugar 100%.

When I start to despair that I'll never get to enjoy donuts again, I remind myself of what I've heard: it might take six months to a year of not eating sugar, but eventually those cravings go away. That sounds like it might require some ugly white-knuckling, but it also sounds too good to be true: can I, a lifelong sugar addict, forever stop craving heavily-frosted layer cakes? Really? I have doubt, but I'm holding on to hope. The previous times I did the candida diet, I was still very emotionally hooked on sugar and lots of my eating was emotion-driven. That's not true anymore and I'm hoping that if I can let go of the belief that no cookies means horrible deprivation, I can let go of one of my most destructive habits. I've got more EFT and meditation to do, but I'll do whatever it takes. I'm just as determined to break sugar's psychological hold over me as I am determined to keep that menstrual pain and diabetes diagnosis away.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Criming While White

It's a trending Twitter hashtag that some say illuminates the many ways police let white people get away with things they'd never tolerate from Black people. Some say it doubles as a way for white people to brag about the things they've gotten away with. Others say it's just white people pulling focus again when everyone needs to focus on Black lives.

As someone who just contributed to it, I can say that I take no pleasure in having benefited from police racism. With shame, I tweeted:

My white husband caught driving without a license. Cop gave warning, had me get in the driver's seat. #crimingwhilewhite

This happened years ago and at the time I felt grateful that the officer gave us a break (he might have been brown, but I don't remember). He didn't even ask me if I had a drivers license. He just assumed I did. Recently a Mexican friend and her Mexican husband were pulled over for the same thing. They didn't get the same break, and her husband was arrested (both incidents took place in Chicago).

Many are upset that #crimingwhilewhite simply keeps white people at the center of the discussion when more attention needs to be paid to the voices of Black people. I believe #crimingwhilewhite is a direct response to the voices of Black people, and a good one. Black people have been saying that police treat people differently based on skin color for decades. #crimingwhilewhite is white people finally taking part in a discussion about race that isn't white guilt, white-splaining or white denial. This conversation shows white people recognizing how they participate in and benefit from racism. Such awareness is critical to social progress in this country. White people don't listen well to people of color. We need white people to speak up about how they recognize racism in their own personal experiences and to start this conversation with each other.

We're angry about how white people have violently taken up all the resources and attention for hundreds of years, but I hope we can recognize the difference between a white person saying, "Everyone listen to me again" and "I guess I'm a part of this. I'm shifting my view."

ADDED at 9:30 PM: It infuriates many people that people of color (POC) have been pointing out the police double standard for decades, but white people haven't listened. They say #CrimingWhileWhite shouldn't be the way whites learn about racism; they should listen to Black voices. Well, the reality is that while it's horribly unfair and completely fucked up, it's simply TRUE that most white people don't listen to POC on the topic of racism and have to hear it from other whites. No, it shouldn't be at way. Yes, it's wrong. Yes, it's infuriating and I hate it, too, but the fact is that white people need things like #crimingwhilewhite just to educate each other. That hashtag isn't for POC, or anyone who already knows that police unjustly kill Blacks way more often than whites. If you're a POC who's angry that white people still need to learn basic Racism 101, then don't listen to their dialogue. We aren't the audience for #crimingwhilewhite. People who need to learn about the double standard are. 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Game of Thrones? No, thanks.

A friend insisted that I try Game of Thrones, which I'd never watched. I'm finishing watching the first episode of the first season. I don't have much patience for a show that doesn't grab me on the first viewing, so this is all I got.

Pros:
Cons
  • Not nearly enough female lead characters as opposed to male ones
  • The lily-white blonde female lead spends most of the pilot episode being terrified of the foreign people whose queen she has been married off to be. The foreign people just happen to be brown, heavy-browed and violent. Her people are white, blonde and speak English.
  • The foreign, brown king gives his new pure-white, blonde queen a gift that actually distracts her from her terror for a few minutes. It's a horse. It's white.
Besides that, the time period bores me and nothing happened that made me want to keep watching. So much for me and Game of Thrones.