Monday, March 22, 2010

Wait, I can't eat WHAT?

I now have a possible answer to why I haven't been eating since about October, which I first wrote about here a few months ago. I finally got myself in to see a gastroenterologist who gave me an endoscopy which I was dreading something ridiculous but it turned out to be one of the least annoying medical procedures I've ever had done, hooray for sedation. During the endoscopy she found probably the last thing I expected--Celiac Disease. The biopsy confirmed it, and now I'm waiting on the results of one last blood test to make it official.

For those of you who don't want to read Wikipedia, Celiac Disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder for which the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Wheat, rye, and barley are found in just about everything.

The finding is surprising because I have none of the typical symptoms. I've always joked about having a cast-iron digestive system--I almost never have stomach/intestinal complaints. Appetite increase is a common symptom, but appetite loss doesn't seem to be. Hell, maybe we just found the Celiac by accident and the appetite decrease is caused by something else entirely!

After going in for the last blood test on Saturday, I decided to give gluten-free a shot starting yesterday. Maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit, but not eating gluten for a few days can't hurt. Brad and I hit up the store, and I immediately realized how confusing this diet is. From my research before heading out, any ingredient labeled "Flavoring", "Natural Flavoring", etc. is suspect. That eliminates so many foods! Flavored with what? Tell me! I can't believe that this isn't required by law.

Despite the frustration we managed to find quite a few foods that I like and aren't glutenated (don't know if that's a real world but I'm going to be using it constantly from now on). I don't think I'm really going to start to miss gluten until my insides start to heal and I get my appetite back!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are you a forest person or a trees person?

I started reading a book called Brain Rules last week, and in the fourth chapter on attention the author slipped in a recommendation to start explanations with an overview of the concept, then break it down into lower level details because that's how people learn best. The author seems pretty scientifically rigorous and this was presented as a blanket generalization, so I was surprised. Mostly because my brain is completely unlike that.

I work terribly with high-level overviews of systems when I don't know the details. Actually, I'm pretty sure that I'm always terrible with high-level overviews of systems. There have been a couple of very memorable moments in my life where I learned enough rules about something that the entire system and how it worked suddenly became clear. Choir-of-angels-singing-from-the-heavens moments, truly. The most memorable of these was the day that I finally understood math--some piece of knowledge fell into place in high school calculus, and all of a sudden everything that I'd learned prior made perfect, wonderful sense. Before that moment I'd hated math. Then I ended up at college majoring in computer science and spent three years as an Algebra TA.

After thinking about it more, I realized that the high-level stuff was actually discussed, usually in the first week or two of a new math class. I vaguely remember analogies being presented about functions and derivatives, but without anything concrete this all went in one ear and out the other. I would have greatly benefited from having the analogies/overview explained to me AFTER learning the mechanisms and details, but that never happened.

Looks like the way my brain works might be in the minority--most people that I've talked to about this genuinely prefer the overview-before-details approach to learning. I wonder how it breaks down as a percentage of the population, but I'm having trouble locating actual research on the subject.

I've definitely made mistakes in the past by assuming that everyone's brains worked the same way that mine does. Instead of explaining a system or concept in a generic way, I've tried to introduce it by assigning people concrete tasks, assuming that after working with the system in a few different ways, they would develop an internal model of the system on their own since this is how I learn best. I heard the question that's the title of this post asked by a coworker who was explaining a system to a new employee a few weeks ago. I'll definitely steal this question for use in future instances where I have to explain a complex system and tailor my explanation based on the answer from now on.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Top 10 Reasons to Put Your Scale in the Trash

I saw this Huffington Post article about ten reasons to trash your scale. While I agree with the sentiment and many of the reasons, I think that a few are either dead wrong or could be more compelling. Here we go...

1. Have you ever had a day when you are feeling great and then you step on the scale and your day is permanently ruined? Yes, sooooo many times. I can even pinpoint the start of my unhealthy relationship with my scale. In grade school they would line us up at the beginning and end of every year to measure our height and weight on a medical scale. In front of everyone. At the end of fourth grade I weighed 90 pounds--I was already 5'1". The rest of my classmates who hadn't started their growth spurts weighed about 60 pounds. I was mortified--90 pounds is SO MUCH MORE than 60.

One of my friends who was the same height weighed in at 105 in this weigh-in. They gave us sheets of paper with our height and weight on them to take home to our parents. On our bus ride home that day she was clutching that piece of paper and crying. Doing this to little kids is sooooo messed up. Do they still do this? I'm guessing it might be even worse now with everyone freaking out about childhood obesity.

2. If you really want to know how your weight is impacting your health, get a tape measure. What really matters is your waist circumference. If you are a male, your waist circumference should be less than 40 inches. If you are woman, less than 35 inches. I'm sorry but this is just another magic number and you're replacing one with the other. Do you really think that a very short sedentary woman with a small frame who has a waist circumference of 35 has the same health risks and issues as a large-framed tall athelete with the same measurement? That a sedentary guy with a 40-inch waist is as healthy as a sumo wrestler? And that any of those people is HEALTHY! YAY! when their waist is 34.5/39.5 inches but OMG BAD YUR GONNA DIE! after finishing thanksgiving dinner?

If you must use waist circumference as a measure of your health, wouldn't it be better to advise people to grab a tape measure, take down their own measurement once, and set up a calendar reminder to do the same thing once a month (same day of your cycle for women, as hormones effect this) and try to keep the number from going up?

3. Your weight alone is a poor indicator of your health. Get a complete physical by your doctor to determine how healthy you are. This.

4. A scale doesn't tell you about your strength and endurance. Can you run a mile? Can you touch your toes? Can you walk comfortably? These things are what really matter to your life. Not being able to do these daily activities tells you a lot about the state of your health. Nice. Please tell this to someone disabled.

5. Use your clothing as your guide. Not bad advice. Works better for short people I'm guessing though--I've definitely stepped on a scale and thought "How the hell did I gain 20 pounds? All of my clothes still fit!" so for me personally, clothes are not a good early warning sign that I might want to hit the gym a little more often.

6. A scale does not measure your body fat to muscle ratio. You're right, it doesn't, but a) this is essentially redundant information if you've read points 2-5 and b) you're getting dangerously close to prescribing more magic numbers.

7. A scale doesn't consider your healthy weight "range." It only gives you one number. This is irrelevant. BMI is horseshit. Height/weight tables were developed by insurance companies to maximize profits. "Healthy weight" ranges don't tell you any more about your personal health than a single number.

8. A scale can't determine your worth even though we often give it that power. Agree with this absolutely. But neither does waist size. Neither does body fat percentage. Neither does yearly income, value of your house, IQ, networth...

9. Instead, focus on the process of eating mindfully rather than the outcome results of a number on a scale. Agree absolutely, especially since weight loss attempts are bound to end in failure for over 90% of us. Focusing on health rather than weight has been shown to have positive outcomes.

10. Scales are not all the same. Don't be surprised if your weight at home is different than what they record at the doctor's office. Okay, seriously, who doesn't know this already? Did the writer just need a tenth thing to round out the list?

Here's two more that weren't touched upon. Anyone got more?:
- Glycogen. Changes in the amount of stored glycogen in your body can make weight fluctuate drastically. In the past I noticed that my weight will go up 3 or 4 pounds the day after an unusually tense workout--I'm pretty sure this is glycogen in my muscles for repair work.
- Numbers on a scale are hugely triggering for people prone to disordered eating behavior.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Introverts 101

I found a blog about introverts the other day, probably linked somewhere when I was going through Google Reader. Very very interesting--"It'll be fun!" and other extrovert lies made me laugh out loud because of my initial urge to counter with "But it's true, it will be fun!"

Introversion has caused me confusion my entire life, largely because I grew up in a family with two people that are extremely introverted and suffer from social anxiety, not that they knew this about themselves necessarily or ever explained this. Another thing about people like this is that they can be extremely different in a situation with a few people they know well than around strangers. At home, my dad was gregarious, told stories, made jokes. When he left the house for a reason other than employment (which was rare, most of our errands involved my mom, sis and I), he because a totally different person, quiet and terse. When he was like this at home, it usually meant that he was angry with us, so I spent quite a few years trying to figure out what he was mad about in public before I was old enough to figure out his introversion.

It took me even longer to discover that my sister was the same way. It wasn't until she was 18 and I was 20 that I realized that she was just like my dad in this regard. I'd taken her shopping for some school stuff (we were at the same university, she was just starting out) and we ran into one of her high school classmates in the aisles. This girl had been a cute popular cheerleader type, she was very nice and greeted my sister, tried to be really friendly, and my sister just paused and finally got out a tentative "Hi." In the car I was laying into my sis for this, like "She was being so nice to you! Why were such a bitch back?" Her response was something like "I wasn't sure why she was talking to me, I was confused and put on the spot." Then it clicked and I realized that she was just like Dad.

If it takes you 18 years of living with a sibling to realize how introverted and shy she is when in public, there is definitely need for some introvert education.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hitting the Wall

So back in December I was ranting about, well, lots of things, but all related to this random loss of appetite I'd been experiencing. It's still going on. I went back to see the doctor in January and had lost another 15 pounds since my appointment in December, so she did a bunch of blood work that all came back totally normalsauce, so no idea what's going on yet.

Here's how my day goes with eating: I wake up in the morning, I'm not hungry but want to force myself to eat something, anything. We're out of fruit that I normally can force down a few bites of, so I look at cereal. I pour myself about a third of a cup, look in the fridge for milk, and notice there's not much left, so decide to skip the cereal since I will probably only eat two bites and Brad will make better use of the milk. I look around the kitchen for anything slightly appealing, even considering snacky foods like chips and chocolate, but they all seem gross. So, breakfast is coffee, a gummy vitamin, and some omega-3 capsules.

I go to work and see bananas in the microkitchen. I grab one and make it my goal for the day--to eat this damn banana. Around noon everyone else is grabbing lunch but I'm so not hungry. Eventually I realize that I won't be and the cafeteria closes at 2 so if I wait much longer, I won't have anything to choose from but snacks. I make myself a spinach salad with cucumbers, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and eat that. I decide I want to make it to a dance class at 5:30 so I get started on the banana around 4:30. I eat half of it, and getting that much was incredibly difficult.

Go to dance class. I've been active my entire life starting with dance lessons at age 3. I enjoy exercise and do it for regularly for stress-relief/health reasons if not just for fun. Given how much trouble I have eating now, I'm petrified of losing lean mass and getting terribly out of shape, so I'm looking for ways to get exercise in that are fun and not terribly strenuous. Just get the blood flowing for a bit, have some fun. They've started offering dance lessons in a new space at work, so I'm exploring those. The one I went to last night was probably the most elementary class available, an hour of light movement with a lot of breaks and explanations, so perfect or so I thought.

After the class ended, I knew that I had hit the wall. Since I am not a marathoner or triathelete, this is a new experience for me that only has been an issue in the past couple of months. Basically you hit the wall when your body's glycogen stores are completed. Usually it takes several hours of pretty intense exercise to get to this point (marathoners tend to hit the wall at around the 20-mile point), but I guess my glycogen stores are now super-low because of what I'm eating.

I was so confused the first time this happened to me! It was after the first hour-long dance class I tried in the new space. I made it through the class which was more intense cardio than I'd bargained for, but afterwards I had to sit down in the hallway for about fifteen minutes before I could even move to back to the locker room and change. I'd planned to go back to work after the class which I did for a couple of hours but my brain was definitely slow--I remember staring at some code I was working on and being like, "Whaaaaaaaat?" so I eventually went home and laid down on the couch. I felt terrible--I was tired, naseous, dizzy, had a terrible headache, and was just completely out of it. About four or five hours later the food I ate post-workout started to kick in and I started to feel human again.

I learned my lesson from that episode, so ever since I've been trying to make sure that I eat something substantial (banana, pack of almonds) before I try a workout. Since doing that I haven't had issues as severe as the first time, but this is still an issue. From some experimenting I've determined that I'm fine as long as I limit my workouts to around 40 minutes. Last week I was on the elliptical machine and lost track of time from being distracted by a conversation with my trainer who was waiting for his next client. I was fine one second, then got hit with a wave of chills and nausea and immediately stopped--it was almost exactly at the 50 minute mark. It took me a couple of hours after returning to my desk and eating something to be back to 100% mentally.

I guess I just have to watch it from now on--take the classes I want to take but peace out after about 40 minutes. I'm going to hate doing this though, it feels soooo awkward. Will the teacher be offended, thinking I don't like her class? Will everyone be staring at me thinking I'm this awful out-of-shape chubby person who can't even finish? (Not to mention that sometimes I'm having fun and don't WANT to have to stop.)

Most of the time I appreciate how physically demanding workout classes offered are, but right now intense calorie burning is pretty much the last thing I want from a class. I wonder if there's a local senior center that'll let me drop in on their aqua-aerobics classes? (Joking. Kinda.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Males, Females, and Ratios

An article from the NY Times about the female:male ratio at the University of North Carolina has been mentioned on at least three blogs on my Google Reader with various opinions about the topic. The article itself is pretty silly but I find the general topic fascinating.

You don't have to have a demographically-verified highly skewed ratio to hear similar complaints to those voiced in the article. Every person I talk to who is single and looking for a partner will eventually say "It sucks being a single (man/woman) in (college/neighborhood/city/greater metro area) because..." In large metropolitan areas on the east coast, single women significantly outnumber single men, so they cite that ratio. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the number of single men is much higher than that of single women, but there are still reasons to complain. "Nothing but nerds and sociopaths" is the best complaint I've ever heard voiced about dating in Silicon Valley from a woman's perspective. (When said by my friend in her charming French accent, it came across as adorable instead of bitter.)

From my male friends, the complaints are usually about the difficulty of getting a woman to give them the time of day, particularly on online dating sites. I love reading OKCupid's analyses of online dating trends, and find it very interesting that the metrics they use to measure "success" in that world are quite different for men and women. Women are successful based on number of new contacts per month. Men are successful based on the ratio of women who respond to them per contact attempt.

Given my gender and experiences, I naturally sympathize more with women's complaints, but cannot argue with the evidence to support complaints from men. After all, only 40 percent of human men who have ever lived got the chance to reproduce, while 80 percent of women have. From the UNC article (emphasis added by me):
Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.

I found the claim that 50% of the men around would even be options quite generous. While running the numbers on the two biggest deal-breakers/filters I applied when dating, these two alone eliminated all but 1 or 2% of men from consideration. For anyone curious those two factors are height (I'm taller than 50% of American men, and cultural pressures and my own insecurity made me very reluctant to consider dating anyone shorter) and intelligence (again, being reluctant to date anyone who could not match wits with me--arguably a less shallow criteria than the height thing although I've come to the conclusion that exceptional intelligence is just as much a matter of hitting the genetic lottery as possessing movie star looks). So yeah, it's tough out there for men too.

I think that the largest frustration I encountered when dating was learning that things that I thought should be advantages (being smart, successful, and independent) turned out to be disadvantages in the dating market as a female. I was commiserating about this with my hairstylist a few years ago when we were both single--she was half-jokingly considering telling men she met that she worked a minimum wage job and had tens of thousands of dollars of debt since most men ran the other direction when they found out that she was a successful business owner who had her life together.

Seeing this site about dating Googlers last week brought this subject to mind again. After going on and on about their dating service and how to verify yourself as a Googler, there's this lovely bit at the end:
Date a Googler welcomes female Googlers looking for men, as well as same sex relationships, but cannot offer the same benefits/dynamics for these groups.

Fantastic. After thinking about this issue for a while, my best theory about why men are turned off by successful women is similar to the reason that I avoid dating short men. I know there are fantastic guys out there who are shorter than I am, but cultural expectations have programmed me to associate femininity with smallness, and masculinity with tallness. If I'm in a relationship with a man shorter than me, I will feel uncomfortable and unfeminine any time we leave the house together--"They're staring at us because I'm a freaking giant over here." But they're probably not even starting at us. Culture puts a lot of expectations on men too. They have to be tall, strong, smart, successful, and able to protect and provide. If they are in a relationship with a woman who doesn't need to be provided for, maybe it feels similar to the way I feel with a shorter guy.

But I am not a guy so I have no clue, that's just my guess. And, hey, I found a great guy who loves how smart I am so everything worked out in the end. At the end of the day it's not about ratios and playing games to make yourself more attractive to a larger percentage of available people of your preferred gender. You only have to find one.

Monday, December 7, 2009


This is a screenshot from a search I did last night. The result is definitely understandable given that there are so many more people interested in and linking to information about human penis length than cat length. Still, totally giggled like a schoolgirl at that one.