Saturday, February 1, 2014

Melvin, Janie and Me: A Little Health History

This is Melvin today.
I first met Melvin and his sister Janie 17 years ago, when they were new, and I was 25 years old.  And we have a few things in common when it comes to our health.  Mainly, diet and alone time. Melvin and Janie spent their youth eating the best cat food I could buy for them: Iams dry whatever-flavor cat food.  I traveled a lot for my job, so I would leave them with giant bowls of water and cat food while I was away.  They seemed perfectly content with this system, and I couldn't afford or imagine anything better.  As time went on, Melvin and Janie got fat, but I couldn't really figure out why, since I was feeding them the best cat food in the grocery store.  Melvin is a big cat, and he carried his weight fairly well, but Janie is smaller, and she looked sort of like a basketball.

Janie in her Basketball phase.
Now, I was an only child of a single parent.  In my early childhood (pre-3rd Grade), we lived with my beloved grandmother and one of my cousins.  But before I started 3rd Grade, my grandmother and cousin moved to Salinas, California (to take care of my great-grandmother), and I stayed with my mother in Phoenix for the school year.  I went to Salinas every Summer when school was out, and my mom kept working in Phoenix.

So, like Melvin and Jane in their adolescence, I had a lot of alone time.  My mother left for work before I had to go to school, and she got home a few hours later than I did.  So after a few valiant-but-failed attempts on my mother's part to have someone watch me (as we both learned to cope with our new, smaller family), I convinced my mother that I was self-sufficient enough to get myself to school every morning, and let myself back into the house every afternoon.  And my mother stocked the freezer with PB&J sandwiches, chips, and twinkies, so I could assemble a little bagged lunch for myself every day, and I could have a snack when I got home.

But, just like Melvin and Jane, I got fat.  I'm lucky enough to be sort of lanky (for a girl), so I carried my weight fairly well, like Melvin, but if I was a bit shorter, I could easily have been in the basketball category, like Janie.  Anyway, this was me around 180 pounds in April of 2001.

I have this distinct memory during that era, when I was living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, sitting on my toilet with the sun streaming in (which is the horribly perfect moment to assess what has become of one's thighs) and thinking, "I could just get really fat.  It would be easy."  I could forget all my guilt and shame that comes with my weight just accept it, let it get really bad, and be a fat person.

A few months earlier, I had gotten word that my father, a man I had never met in person and only spoken to on the phone a handful of times, had died.  And his large Mormon family started reaching out to me (another story for another day).  One of the things I learned from those aunts and uncles about my father's family was that of his parents' nine children, there were only 5 left (I think there are 4 or fewer now).  There was a huge problem with diabetes in the family, it was what ultimately killed my father, and it was likely a major factor behind the deaths of his siblings.

Well, if that isn't enough to scare the shit out of a girl, I don't know what is.  But, I was scared, fat, and frankly, sort of paralyzed - not knowing what to do.

Around that same time, I got set up with a primary care physician here in New York City, and on my first exam, she suggested I needed to "trim down".  And she recommended I visit a place called Haelth on Broadway and Houston.  We had a convergence of themes.  I decided to pick up what the universe was laying down.

Two interesting side notes about that: first, I worked one flight up from Haelth in the same building in Manhattan, so it wasn't hard for me to find.  And two, I discovered later that that's one of the places Morgan Spurlock went to get checked out in Supersize Me.

The kind nutritionist at Haelth suggested I try The Zone Diet.  Now, if you ignore the fact that I was still suffering from a fear of hair salons in the photo above, I'm on the more masculine spectrum, and I'd never done the Cosmo Magazine, lipstick-wearing "diet" thing before.  But fear of an early death is an excellent motivator.  So feeling confident about my ability to commit to a full (7 days, mind you - not 5) WEEK of giving it a try, I bought A Week in the Zone, and followed the instructions to the letter.

One week turned into 3 weeks, which turned into for-as-long-as-I-could-go-until-there-was-a-good-excuse-to-eat-an-abundance-of-pie (or whatever).  And I've been down as much as 50 pounds, but usually around 30 pounds from my high (pictured above) ever since.

It isn't as easy as a neat little story summed up with a two-sentence paragraph, though.  As I go along, I'm learning a whole lot about health, addiction (raise your hand if you have a sugar/glucose addiction problem like me), and our food system.  In coming posts, I'll have much more to say about all of that.

Oh, and lest you think that Janie is still looking like a basketball, after switching to an all-protein cat food (which is what cats are built to eat), both Melvin and Jane are looking good.
Janie today.

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