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.