Sunday, March 26, 2017

Interpersonal Game Theory

My trickiest task as a writer is to stick to the topic at hand. I'm so parenthetical in real life, it's hard not to be tangential on the page. And given how infrequently I blog these days, I want to put it all out there!

No mind, I'll do my best not to wander.

A number of people have asked me how I'm adjusting to the move (and the fact that the tear down starts on April 3). I don't know how to answer this question because, in any given hour, I feel 6 different ways.

Sometimes I'm very pleased by the spaciousness of this new house - and, really, it's spacious. The neighbourhood is totally different, even as I'm quite familiar with it because it's only a 25-minute walk from my "other house". It's much more of a hub than I realized before I moved here. And I love that. I just wish I didn't feel so annexed. Ha! You know you're a true urban-dweller when a place with a few trees and some stand alone houses (not too many) throws you over the edge. If you want to hear my latest first-world issue, it's that my commute time has doubled. Yeah, I know that most people won't cry for me given that 15 minutes (by public transit) has turned into half an hour. But that means my walk to work is almost not doable at this point, unless I leave an hour for it (not that I've had any time to walk to work in months). And the 15-minute walk from the current house to the subway is along a wind corridor. So inclement weather is a bitch. The other issue is that I pick up the subway further east than I used to. Which means that it's almost impossible to get on a train between 8 am and 8:40 am. The train is just too packed by the time it gets to my new stop (think Tokyo). Look, I knew this would be the case and I'm getting with it. But I can't say that it makes the weekday mornings fun.

As for the impending deconstruction of my home - well, I'm just not thinking about it. This is the usefulness of marriage. One can ignore the unthinkable.

On another note, I made the decision last week to leave the job I've been doing for the last 8 months. (I will return to my former role.) The decision was complicated - my current role was a promotion, the subject matter endlessly fascinating (and, by any estimation, very important). I'm not going to devolve into details, but this is relevant because it gives a bit more context to the, ahem, rich tapestry of transformation in which I find myself currently. In part: I cannot work 60 hours a week (at a relentless pace) while also managing a degenerative disease, a family life and a major home renovation. Coming to grips with my limitations, at this middle-aged time of my life - the time when career push may well have meaningful professional and financial impacts for the future - has been humbling. No question, my ego and my confidence have taken a hit. But I'm sure as hell not the first person that's encountered this sort of dilemma so I'm keeping it real. Not many people have the options I do and I'm incredibly grateful to be able to be able to turn this particular train around. There will be another and that journey/destination will be the right one at the right time.

You see what I mean about the tangents.

If you can believe it, this post is neither about home nor work, but about sugar/systemic inflammation. I know, way to fuck with you! I've been doing this lifestyle diet thing for 3 months, and I thought I'd talk about how it's impacting the way I look and feel. To clarify, I don't have a scale so it's going to be tricky to tell you that I've lost a certain amount of weight, though intriguingly, I did get weighed at the doctor's, right before embarking on this plan, because they needed accurate weight to determine sleep-testing parameters. I'm sure it's on file. So maybe I'll ask about what my new scale-weight is next time I'm there (which is all too often these days).

I'm looking for the book with my most recent dimensions but it's nowhere to be found, unsurprisingly, so I went to my latest online measurements (stored in the Custom Fit database, though from when I can't remember cuz I forgot to note it in the data set) and recalculated on that basis. It would appear that my dimensions have all decreased in size. My waist is 2 inches smaller, my hips - never a place where I gain weight - are also an inch smaller. My full bust measurement has decreased by an inch and I note my bras are not fitting in the same way. Fortunately, I have bras in EVERY size and I'm in no way hard-pressed to restock. My under bust measurement is down 2 inches and my over bust measurement has decreased by 1 inch. I mean, when one loses an inch from the biceps, that's notable. I don't have lower body measurements to call on at the moment but, from the way my clothes are fitting, I suspect I've lost a reasonable amount of circumference in the upper thighs and derriere. This is where weight deserts me first. Actually, weight leaves my face first and many have commented that my face and neck look "very dewy" or "refreshed". Those closest to me have said, point blank, that my face and neck look much thinner. Don't worry, if anything's aged me by 10 years it's all the shit that's going on around me, not the loss of a few inches. :-)

Note: It's possible that this dimensional shift is caused by loss of muscle mass, given how little movement I've had a chance to do lately, but I am being exceedingly careful in my dietary choices to avoid that potential outcome. I consume more than enough calories (I believe, not that I've been keeping a count lately, no time) and most of them are from fat and protein. I will say that I'm frequently nauseated and I often don't like to eat, but again, I think that's as much about my emerging relationship with food as anything.

Note that I have managed a house move (a huge stressor from my perspective) and a job shift within the same week and I did not stray from the "healthy lifestyle" path. This proves to me that eating for emotional reasons is a very useful technique - which becomes all the more palatable when one opts to forego that path. Oh well. Let's chalk it up to skill development.

I don't feel as if I've returned to my optimal/comfortable size and shape - that which preceded the transition of perimenopause - but I'm moving in that direction. With some time to exercise, I suspect it's within the domain of possibility within the next few months. This is very encouraging though I'm not one to count my chickens.

So I'm here to tell you, if you wonder whether giving up a vast swath of the foods you enjoy will make a meaningful difference to mid-life weight gain, the answer is definitively yes. Sorry, I have no good life advice to get you from here to there. There's no fucking way in hell I'd be doing this if not to reverse and delay serious pain and its root cause. And I'm seriously vain.

On the topic of vanity and middle-aged weight gain, I can attest to the fact that, once that weight goes, one does look younger in the frame (if not in the face, for some). And I, for one, look infinitely less frumpy.

But how do I feel?

Well, this one's hard to contextualize given a few factors: it's the end of winter (generally when weather and dampness have been at their worst for longest and my pain reacts badly to those), I'm beyond stressed and I'm in the midst of a variety of treatments (jaw related specifically). I've also not done yoga (in any meaningful way) in almost 3 months. Partly this is about lack of time but it's also my decision to step back to unlearn some of the body-memory that may be limiting me in improving pain with yoga. Yoga is soon to be reinserted into the equation.

I definitely feel different, though to quantify it is currently challenging. I feel lighter (which no doubt has diminished some of the physical stress on my stressed-out skeleton). I'm also more able to discern what's happening with my blood sugar at any given moment. Lord, if there's one thing you do for yourself this lifetime, go through the misery of giving up sugar (and it's HORRIBLE) - at least for a couple of months, so that you can learn what it is to be at odds with your blood sugar. When you can stabilize your blood sugar, you can function with so much less effort. Note: It's sadly dull. Be warned.

Recently I told my mother how, all my life long, I used to routinely forego food until I felt that sick tug of shakiness and omnipresent craving because that's how I liked to feel when I started to eat. She was shocked and horrified. I had no idea that this wasn't a normal approach. Disordered eating can sneak up on you, peeps, and it can happen independent of those big ticket ailments like anorexia or bulimia. Just sayin'. Having gone through withdrawal, I really do wonder the degree to which those with big ticket conditions experience said conditions, in part, because their brain chemistries are fucked up beyond belief because of uneven blood sugar.

I've read that eating in an anti-inflammatory fashion (and I'm doing this in a modified way, in no sense extremely) can take up to three years to do its systemic damage-control. Most people do start to feel better within 3 months, but three years is a long time to hover in the brink. I don't see that I have much of an alternative right now, except to embrace this choice as a meaningful enabler of my future health. In a worst case scenario, it'll have been a really dry few seasons.

I will say that my tinnitus is still all too there and I have times of bad pain, though it's somewhat less systemic-feeling than it has been and it doesn't linger as endlessly.

So that's all the news that's fit to print today. Hope your weekend is going well. Peace out.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Rocket Girl

There are some things one should really only buy from Italy. Shoes, flashy cars and, yeah, espresso makers.  And no one's ever going to accuse me of being self-denying. To wit, meet my precious:

Rocket Cellini Evoluzione V2
I have made 8 espressos in the last half an hour. Sure, a few of them went right down the drain. But I'm so jacked up on caffeine right now, I should be able to unpack every box in the next 2 hours :-)

This machine hovers in the sweet spot between commercial- and consumer-grade. It works for home and light-commercial purposes and it'll likely last 20 years. Moreover, the heat exchanger (2 pressurization systems) allows one to make the espresso while also foaming the milk. And the foamer does not fuck around.

We also bought a good Italian grinder (the Lux). It's not the one that costs 1300 bucks so we'll need to play about with a knob to set the right grind. Once we find that, though, this version is every bit as good as the $$ one at half the price.

I can tell you that pulling a perfect shot is both complicated and eternally simple. I deliberately went with a semi-automatic machine because, people, I'm not a robot. I want to engage with my coffee, not to simply press a button. And every time I open the brew lever I am miraculously transported from greasy, grey, late-winter TO to endlessly beautiful, mid-summer Barcelona. Mentally, I'm on a terasse. This whole house smells like a cafe. I'm using some pre-ground beans (Faema gave us a batch ground to the correct consistency for practice purposes) and the taste is crazy delicious. It's caramelly and bitter with some cocoa undertones - I'm not into fruity beans. I steamed all the kinds of milk from skim to homogenized to determine what will make the best foam. I'm leaning towards the full fat for a thick, milky pour. Note: these beans must be jacked on caffeine because, even as a daily 3-shot drinker, I'm jittery right now.

This machine plumbs into the waterline which, obvs we won't do till we bring it back to the "new" house in the fall. In the meanwhile, we can use its water reservoir which, while quite robust, still required 2 refills while Scott made his own batch of coffees.

I've spent 15 years wanting a gorgeous machine and Scott has always used the same refrain: Wait till we renovate and put in an espresso counter. Secretly, I believe that was his way to avoid bringing any new appliances into an overstuffed kitchen and, really, he doesn't like to commit when it comes to the gizmos. Remind me to tell you about the ice cream maker fiasco of 2010.

The time for delayed gratification has been and gone. This is the season for living like a grown-up - a grown-up with great taste. We have a huge, if not chic, front porch (maybe 300 square feet) that'll be totally perfect for knitting while coffee drinking this summer. Now I just need to find that real fur blanket...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Movin' On Up

Yeah - I'm supposed to be moving shit right now. I can hear my husband muffle-yelling at me from the third floor. What can I say? I need a few minutes to chill.

Here's a photo of the dining room of house we're vacating. Disclaimer: The whole fucking house looks like this:

Truly, at this point I cannot tell you if I'm so stressed that I've come out the other side, or if I'm in denial the likes of which is so significant that nothing can touch me. Occasionally I think of all of the elements of this reno I haven't even contemplated yet and I feel a wave of panic. But I can't encounter those necessary steps until I get through this one.

So let's focus on the objective positives:
  • The weather is changing and I can tell it's gonna be fine living amongst the residential peeps. The downtown area is famous for reckless deforesting but fancy homeowners in the satellite neighbourhoods know how to fight the system. This house has some very nice light and a north/south orientation.
  • While I'm not living amongst the establishment proper, I'm pretty fucking close. And, let's face it, this is probably as close to this sort of vibe I'm going to get cuz, when all is said and done, I'm freaked out by homogeneity. I wrote this post 6 years ago and strangely, today I'm moving right next door, if only temporarily. Wychwood Park is the idyll in that link, Wychwood is my surrounding 'hood. Hillcrest is across the road. The stupidly gorgeous, organic hipster market cum artist commune is at the end of our dead end street (well, across a fence we can't get through, so we have to go up and around). OK, it would appear that I should look at a map more often. (Apparently, I overestimated how far north our new place is (everything is north when you live south of Bloor) and the market is both north and east of the new place. But still - it's only 10 minutes away.) I can almost imagine that I've moved to Toronto for a short-stint and I'm living as one imagines the natives do. It's not particularly real, but it's liminal reality.
  • Weekend market aside, I'll have 2 of the best grocery stores in TO within a 5 to 7 minute walk (and on the way home from the subway). I can tell you right now, if there's nothing else I miss about this adventure when it's over, it'll be the all-out access to best-in-class groceries.
  • Did I mention we have 6 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (one of which is on the main floor). In my current home we have 4 bedrooms (albeit of reasonable size). We're each about to have 2 rooms of our own in addition to common space. Decadent, I'm sure you'll agree. Sure, one of the 6 bedrooms is a glorified closet, but it's nice enough and it'll be perfect for yoga. Plus, when you have minimal furniture, what do you need with a zillion rooms.
I know that there are many pluses I haven't had the chance to consider as yet. And figuring those out will be fun. One thing I love: The best cappuccino machine vendor in the city (perhaps country) is a block away. And I think I've chosen the model that'll sit at the espresso station when we finish the reno:

Rocket Giotto Revoluzione v2
No reason I can't buy it next week though, right?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The First of Those Ten Posts about Sugar Addiction I Promised to Write

I'm only sort of joking about writing 10 posts on this topic because its impact is everywhere - systemic and personal. There isn't a part of the complex continuum of human experience that sugar doesn't touch, in the West, anyway. And whatever it touches, that thing gets fine.

This post is not about how sugar will kill you. (Note: I appear to be in the mood to tell everyone what everything is not about. Let's hope it's a phase.) This post is about the no-shit thrall it has me in and how fucking miserable it is to have had to remove it from my personal human experience.

I've said to a bunch of people, over the past 6 weeks that, if sugar were heroin, I'd be in a facility detoxing. I am not joking. And I don't even have to hide for shame because, sugar - it's legal, it's in all the fun foods, it's in many of the not fun foods. Everyone eats so the issue is theoretically omnipresent. I can talk about it and you can laugh and it's all good.

But it's really not good.

Allow me to give the requisite high-level overview:
  • Seven weeks ago I eliminated all sugar, all grains (every last fucking one of them including the ones you've never heard of), 90% of booze (except for up to 15 oz per week in course of 36 hours on Sat/Sun. If I don't drink it then, it's done till the next week), all legumes, all soy and every last form of junk food. If it doesn't have 8 ingredients or less, all of which you'll find in nature, I don't eat it. You know how I secretly judge people who do this, right?
  • What does that leave? Organic or grass-fed everything that falls into the meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables (even the occasional starch or nightshade), fruit - but only the berries, pears and apples - unless you count coconut. I like to call coconut my new food group. BTW, I've always enjoyed coconut but even I'm finding it hard to keep the love. I also eat dairy, albeit in moderate full-fat amounts. And most beloved, one daily, dry cappuccino with 2 or 3 shots of espresso. Fair Warning: I may lose it on anyone who suggests I should give this a miss. My genetic testing showed that I have a caffeine-sensitivity gene thing that goes along with my vitamin D issue gene thing. (I know, my science-speak is impressive. Caffeine exacerbates the vit D issue.) I of all people should be giving the coffee a miss. But it's going to be the last fucking thing to go. On the upside, I down it with 16 grams of collagen protein which I gleefully stir into it while taking 2000 IUs of Vit D to offset the damage. Yup. I've become that person, but it's the subject of another post.
  • How else does my anti-inflammatory approach correlate with other genetic test results? I'm not gluten or dairy intolerant, gene-wise. But I sure have got rid of the gluten. For me, it's pretty easy (if meh) to live without grains. Legumes I love, but I don't miss them overly, though I may have at first. Weirdly, I don't care about anything but sugar. The degree to which I care about booze is only the degree to which it fucks with my blood sugar. Because apparently, that's my high of choice. But, in a sugar-free vacuum, I'll take a good chocolate bar before alcohol, any day. I miss the junk food, particularly fried carbs with weird coatings, preferably laden in sugar. Do you know that popcorn is a grain?! Lord knows what I thought it was.
  • Why am I doing this masochistic thing? Because my body pain is caused by systemic inflammation and sugar, grains, booze and processed foods are the most inflammatory foods out there. In the event that one will have direct, or indirect, inverse correlation with the other, I'm on the hook to verify. Sugar addiction is the flaw in the design of human evolution. Just watch every metabolic syndrome documentary ever made or read the literature (high and low). Go to any mall in suburban North America. Consider diabetes, an epidemic that's going to bankrupt the global health care system unless we start to make serious cultural shifts and stop burning out our pancreases by mainlining sugar. Note to reader: Of course, this is true, but I'm only saying this because I can't eat it.
  • One more thing: I'm pretty stringent. The only goddamned reason I'd ever consider doing this for my health. And it won't work if I don't do it consistently. The smallest amount of sugar (subject of yet another post) makes me actually tingle, esp. if my blood sugar is low. I feel it happening in my brain and I love it. And then it's gone. And then I want more. So I stay the fuck away from it and life seems endlessly flat.
When I stopped eating in the way I had, in some sense, I lost my identity. Hear melodrama if you must, but that's not the angle I'm working. I had lived under certain ebullient terms that worked for me, and they are gone. For the first three weeks, I felt the numb thud of craving, followed by a sinking feeling of loss, in practically every moment (to say nothing of being sick as a dog).

For three weeks, things were really fucking bad. I don't know how my colleagues tolerated me, although they were incredibly tolerant. Sometimes, when I got  bitchy or stared at them as they ate muffins or chocolate, they'd make jokes about the absurdity of my detox. It defused the bomb.

Scott had the much harder job. That man is a saint and I don't say shit like this ever. I couldn't go 3 sentences without bringing it back, in some way or another, to how my life was broken without delicious, sweet things. And I wanted to talk constantly. I could not shut up about sugar and how lost I was and how life is effectively colourless without sugar. Or about how Big Sugar's going to be the end of humanity (which I do believe, by the way, but really...). Or about how everything he was eating was going to kill him. I know. I'm a tough sell right now. But I'm doing really well by comparison with last week.

I mean, this week I have all of the same feelings, but they're not as intolerable. There's occasional reprieve. On some level, this fast has broken me. Oh, sure, I'm in the lure, but I'm far enough away to feel a little bit safe. The sad truth is that the thing I miss most is the thing I've got to stop missing in order to actually be ok with this lifestyle scenario. And you know I don't want to do this. But my ever-practical side is adaptable. My brain will eventually find the same sexy joy in this diet as it did in my last (God help me for writing shit like that) because I need to find beauty and satisfaction in eating. It's non-negotiable for me.

Moreover, while this way is so dull, it's so stable. I am never hungry and I never crash (though thinking of eating often makes me feel physically sick, I imagine for emotional reasons). When I do have to scrounge up a meal, there's a lot of delicious and decadent good-for-you food out there. More to the point, I'm a really good cook. What can I say? I'm no prodigy of crafts but I'm confident with food. I get food and drink. Cooking is a meditation of gratitude, a way to invest a small part of yourself into what will nourish you. It's how you introduce yourself to your meal. I forgot how fun it is to cook (because I got angry at people I was cooking for and not cooking was how I punished them. But really, I punished myself. You know how that is.) Cooking is the new eating, I like to say, because it's where you first meet your meal. But it's labour-intensive. It's my urban, first world way to hunt and gather.

Anyone who tells you that you can eat this way (organically, sustainably), as affordably as you can while following the standard American diet, is fucking lying. On one level, you're addicted to sugar because it suits the economy. If you subsist on the cheap franken-foods, it's because they're designed to make you love them (whether you can afford better and realize that you should eat better). The only way I can bring myself to approach this lifestyle is by eating the most desirable healthful foods and they cost. For a family of three, we used to spend 900 bucks month on groceries. I know that's a lot but I live in the heart of a big city, in an expensive country and I don't limit myself. That price included booze, fwiw... We now buy way less booze and I'm still spending about 200 bucks a month more overall. Mind you, we're eating more of the food we buy and those meals are so nutrient dense that they're giving a lot of value for the money, even if the cost is absurd. What I don't do much now is eat out, not because I can't find food to eat, but because restaurants without wine and dessert are very depressing to me. Also, most of what I cook tastes better than restaurant food because I'm controlling the taste factors that matter to me.

To some extent sugar is a metaphor for my decadence. With no irony, I do recall relating my current experience to the fall of Rome, recently. Sigh. It's also a great drug and I'm bereft to see it go. For how long will I do this? Who can say, but I imagine quite a while because it could take a year to observe potential changes in pain, stiffness and bone/joint health. I also want time to consider potential interdependencies with yoga, my arrhythmia and my brain chemistry. Living balancedly is excessively dull, but very smooth.

Today's questions: Have you removed all the fun foods and did it work to diminish whatever issue you manage? Are you a sugar addict with a capital A? Have you ever overcome an addiction (to anything) and, if yes, can you relate to what I'm describing? Let's talk.