Healthy Aging

My husband is a model of healthy aging. He stays active, is physically fit, eats and drinks mostly healthy foods in moderation. He has a calm, even demeanor…most of the time. Since he’s been retired, he has kept candy and other things not healthy for me around the house. I believe he should be able to do this, and I should be able to handle it.

As for me, I admire him and try to emulate him, but chronic digestion problems, since I first discovered I had GERD in my early 40s (I’m 65 now) have just gotten worse. I read and research everything about my condition and keep up with my doctors. I have a gastroenterologist, same guy for 20 years, who put me on a double dose of PPIs (protein pump inhibitors) when he discovered I had Barrett’s Esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer.

The immediate problem was my stomach was producing too much acid, which sat in my esophagus all night. Acid doesn’t just sit, though, it eats away. And that’s how the cancer starts. Lucky for me, after a few years on these PPIs, the Barretts had healed. I was lucky. But while they have benefits, PPIs do take their toll on the body. For example, they kill the bad bacteria in your gut but while doing so wipe out the good bacteria that enables nutrients from food to be absorbed into the body.

I told my doc that (he already knew) and he said, “So your choice. Die of cancer or hope you can get along without PPIs.” He did say, a few years later, that I could try reducing my dose from 20 mg to 10 mg. I got horrible reflux the day after I tried that. My primary care physician is working with me on this and the other unhealthy side effects of PPIs, specifically IBSD and pre-diabetes. I’m tapering but slower.

I have tried natural remedies and many diets (vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, Starch Solution, South Beach) with little lasting success. Gradually my IBSD symptoms got worse. I can no longer tolerate wheat, sugar or dairy. Some vegetables that are highly acidic and most fruits are also off the table. No alcohol, coffee or tea. No caffeine at all. I stick to this diet most of the time. You think I’d have lost weight, but no. I have read and researched and this inability to lose weight is a sign of negative gut health.

I’m 65 and I do not want to be diabetic. Nor do I want to continue to grapple with the horrors of IBSD. People who have not gone through this will say “Take a probiotic.” Yes, I tried that. My body doesn’t tolerate them well. My doc gave me a referral to a dietician and also some pills that are fiber and peppermint oil. That’s where I’m at. I’m writing this in hopes that if you have anything going on like this, you’ll recognize that heartburn is the start of a long painful road.

I wish I would have known more about the medicine I was prescribed. I wish I had known what foods I was consuming were contributing to heartburn, and that it would lead to acid reflux, then on to IBSD. But I didn’t know and so I’m coping. I just keep researching and trying things to make my gut healthy again. Meanwhile my husband eats and drinks whatever he wants, in moderation. He’s always been moderate in all areas of life and I have been…the opposite. But I’m learning. It’s never too late.

And after 35 years, I’m still in awe of his ability to not eat an entire box of chocolates in two days. One thing I have discovered is that if I cut all sugar, I won’t crave it or any carbs that turn immediately to sugar in the body. It takes me three days of “no sugar” white knuckling and I’m back to better health. I can do anything for three days. Some things I’ve learned along the way really have helped. And who knows, maybe peppermint oil pills are the cure I’ve been looking for for so long.

Help!

As a lover of self-help, I’ve been on a lifetime improvement course. Body, mind and spirit have all been quieted, redirected and made new. Over and over again. And yet…I can’t give up my self-help habits. I don’t even want to, although I know that some efforts, especially those in the “body” have been fantastic fails. Like when I read Geneen Roth’s first book about stopping diets forever and just letting yourself eat what you want.

I gained thirty pounds on that one. This was many years ago but as I recall, her plan was that you had to ask yourself before you ate the ice cream “Do I really want this?” and as I shoveled cookies and chips into my mouth and poured wine down my throat, I was always sure I really, really wanted it.

I stopped going to Geneen for diet advice, but I kept reading her books because she was so engaging. She didn’t just write about food, but about her obese cat Blanche, and her husband, who she could not get in touch with when an earthquake (a very big one) hit San Francisco. I was riveted by her willingness to show herself in all her anxious glory, especially when she wrote about losing all her money to Bernie Madoff.

I expected more of the same from “This Messy Magnificant Life.” Another disaster story that ends when Geneen finally defeats that book’s particular demons. But she surprised me. Her latest is full of hope. It reminded me more of the Buddhist texts I like to read for spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is a tidy phrase. It doesn’t scare people as much as saying something like “Don’t believe your thoughts. The mind is crazy.”

I’ve been reading about and trying to grasp the idea that my monkey mind is not me. All those self-doubts, recriminations for past misdeeds, fears about the future. Who wouldn’t want a free pass to tell themselves “Hey these thoughts have nothing to do with me. Pay no attention. Don’t buy into them. You don’t need to feel guilty and sad.”

The first time I seriously tried to grasp this idea that we are not our thoughts, and that our thoughts often lead us down the path to suffering, was when Mark Epstein wrote “Thoughts Without a Thinker” in 1996. I remember how the title itself puzzled me and in fact was a little frightening. Who would I be without my thoughts? I needed them to get myself through life.

Right? Wrong. Most of our thoughts are better let go. I only finally really got this about twenty years after I read Epstein’s book. Buddhists have no time for ego. They don’t spend days and weeks in self-loathing mode. They start where they are and every day the mistakes of yesterday, or five minutes ago, get a clean slate.

This is not to say all thought should be ruthlessly abandoned. How would I write this post if I did that? What the Buddhists say, and what Geneen finally understands, is that most thoughts are unrelated to our present reality and many of our recursive thoughts will slow our progress toward understanding that, as the Dalai Lama says, our religion is love.

Love your thoughts, if you must, but in the end, you’ll be happier if you let most of them go. Try this. Try seeing how you feel when you give up the persistence idea that you should have protected your child more (I’ve been having that thought for 40 years) or you should never have tried cocaine (30 years) or that secretly you’re a failure because your career was a joke (20 years) or that your marriage just does not somehow make everything okay (10 years) or that your family members do not love you as much as they love other members (yesterday).

Yes, so I had that thought yesterday, and I had it every day for the past week or so and I’ve had it often in the past. I’ve had that thought longer than any other one. What’s great about having a thought like that now is it glides from my mind like a passing cloud in the sky. Silly thought, I think. Knowing 100% that it has nothing to do with me, with my family, with love, or with anything important at all.

When I’m 64

All of my adult life, I have been collecting my favorite books and authors, promising myself I’d read them all again when I retired. Some day in the distant future. When I was old.

BTW, I don’t give the word “old” a negative connotation. It’s a place the lucky ones will all arrive at one day. At 64, I have arrived. Old is a place that you can’t really pack for…how was I to know in 1975 that there would be a little electronic book called the Kindle that stole my heart and helped my eyes? I have as many books saved on the Kindle as I do on my shelves. And I won’t need a van to move my Kindle to Florida. It fits in my purse.

I’m a planner. That plans often go awry is a lesson learned. I’ve gained mental flexibility as I’ve aged. When Al retires and we begin living on a “fixed” income, I’ll slow down my book buying (something Kindle makes far too easy!) and read again all those books I’ve loved before. I’m looking forward to it, but now I wonder if the book and the time of life have more to do with reading pleasure than I’d previously considered. Soon, I’ll find out.

My ideas about what to do in retirement are not for everyone. Some other surprising things I’ve done are completely change my diet and let my hair grey naturally. The diet makes me feel so much better and coloring my hair made my scalp burn as I got older. So I adapted my way of doing things. Now after completely reloading my pantry with nuts and seeds and coconut, two or three times a week I’m batch-cooking healthy foods that contain no sugar or wheat. If you would have told me this just eight weeks ago, I would have said no way.

Now when my body yells at me, I take the approach of “well, I’ll try this new thing.” It’s working out just fine. I don’t even miss bread. Or pasta. I kind of miss pizza, but everybody has gluten-free pizza these days. I made fudge this weekend. I used Swerve instead of sugar. Swerve does not raise blood sugar like other artificial sweeteners. It was a test and for my delicate tummy, Swerve did not pass. I made peanut butter cookies with Swerve, too. Al liked both sweet treats and didn’t have any digestive issues. But he doesn’t have problems with sugar, either. Next time I’ll try brown rice syrup, which my body tolerates better.

As for the hair, it is finally growing out to a longer length. Not sure if I’ll like it this way, but it will be easy to put in a ponytail in Florida and, as I get older, I am all about easy.

My Struggle

I have been trying to read the first in the memoir series called My Struggle by Karl Ove. I gave up after about a hundred pages. Maybe I’ll get back to it but I don’t think so. It’s really a guy’s book; I don’t enjoy reading about teenage male boners. He’s an interesting writer in that he gets so into detail and that part of the reading experience can be lovely. I also felt for him as he was a teen living alone and I too had been a teen living alone. The feeling I grew up with was that my family didn’t want me. They all lived in one house and I had my own little place my dad owned. At the time, I thought it was cool to be so free from authority, but honestly, deep inside I was lonely and could have used some support and guidance. So, I did relate to that part of Karl’s struggle.

Kind of went off on a tangent there. I really do have a struggle of my own I wanted to write about today. Looking at my last post I see I had totally one hundred percent failed to take into account that I would be on the road eating restaurant food for four days in December. I am afraid to weigh myself. I had actually batch cooked some food on my diet plan and meant to bring it in my cooler but Al got me up very early to hit the road ahead of rush hour and I forgot nearly everything.

You can’t eat plant-based whole foods in restaurants. I did my best. Wait. That’s a lie. I caved in by lunch and things just went downhill from there. I had to buy stronger medication as the Lactaid alone wasn’t cutting it. You know, one thing I learned early in life is to love myself and forgive myself. So I have done that. And I have gotten back on the right eating plan. But it took five days, because we don’t keep food in our house in Florida. Bugs like it when people leave for six months. So we had nothing, not even salt and pepper, when we finally got here.

I knew exactly what to shop for our first day here and I started eating my Starch Solutions meals. So that’s half a plate of potatoes, rice, or other whole grains, a quarter plate of veggies, and a quarter plate of fruit. Al eats what I do, plus he’ll grill salmon or chicken. He also will pick up treats for himself like KIND chocolate breakfast bars and Skinny Pop popcorn. He’ll say “Look! It’s vegan!” And it is, but I can’t eat it if I’m trying to lose weight. Or even just not gain.

This part is hard to say but you’ve heard it before. Wine and vodka mess with my body more than anything, but wine has been my go-to de-stressor forever and I’ve grown fond of the occasional martini. I keep reading books about how to be more moderate in my drinking. I don’t think I’m an alcoholic. I just think I let myself have something if I really want it. And having a glass of wine always leads to two. Then I switch to water for the rest of the night. This is why I don’t think I have a serious drinking problem. I don’t drink until I pass out. I can stop after one or two drinks. I actually want to stop.

I might have a little problem, well, I know I do, because I make promises to myself and then I don’t keep them. Be it food or wine or whatever. Then I think, well, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re human. You’re 62 years old. You’re trying to completely change the way you eat. As for alcohol, some days I’d like to just quit drinking. Other days that feels like too harsh of a punishment. And every day I’d like to quit eating outside my diet. I feel so much better eating PBWF. It is the diet my body loves. Now that I’m here and set up for cooking and eating this way, I’m sure I’ll be fine. Most of the time.

The other thing is the kids are coming. My parents are coming today, just to visit. They have their own condo not far away, like literally five minutes. My mom has always been a healthy eater and she doesn’t drink so that’s a plus. I can make us a salad and she’ll be good with that. The kids, on the other hand, are coming to stay. Al and I are in the middle of changing my office into a guest room. Mike and Jessica love sushi and so I know I can serve that, but there are bound to be times when we are eating out as a family. I am overjoyed at the prospect of seeing little Julia (just six months old now) and Owen. And of course Mike and Jessica. My parents will be meeting Julia for the first time.

It’s an exciting and happy time and I am not going to make it all about me and food. My family doesn’t read my blog; they don’t know my struggle. They know I’m always on a diet. They know I don’t eat meat or dairy. They are not food pushers. I’ll be fine with them, happy to see them and spend time with them. It’s just me I’m trying to be fine with right now.

And in keeping with that holiday spirit, we have bought a Christmas tree even though we will be back in Michigan in a week or two. I love Christmas and I knew it would be make me sad not to have at least a tree. It’s so pretty lit up at night, and our community goes all out with the outdoor lights. Last night I wasn’t sure what was shining brighter, that big gorgeous moon or the lights here below. Here’s hoping you are enjoying the lead up to the holidays, too. And if you struggle with food issues like I do, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t be perfect. xo

 

 

Sweetsville

Last week when I stepped on the scale, I was thrilled. I’d lost two pounds after a couple of weeks of plateau. It was due, I knew, to my decision to stop drinking alcohol. Alcohol isn’t banned from plant-based whole food diets. But it has calories, lots of them, empty ones that add no nutrition. So with weight loss as my #1 goal to reverse the diabetes train, dropping wine (and the occasional martini) from my life seemed obvious.

I went without alcohol and stuck firmly to the PBWF diet and I lost weight. Then I started to eat a little bit outside the PBWF box. I didn’t drink any wine, but consoled myself with cake. Just a little square. Which led to more sugar. Because I hadn’t really wanted the cake, what I really had been craving was a chocolate chip cookie. Once the cookies were in my shopping cart, I knew I’d eat more than one.

Now it is Friday and I have done my weekly weigh in. The two pounds I lost last week are back. Even though most of the time I have been faithfully eating my vegetables and fruit, my potatoes and rice, my oatmeal and almond milk … most of the time isn’t enough.

Sure as the sun shines, eating sugar leads to eating more sugar. There is nothing like the high of losing weight unless it’s having a little something sweet to reward myself. I have done this over and over again for thirty years now. Why? Because not eating sugar is hard. And I say sugar but there is a very long list of what I am no longer eating: no meat, poultry, fish, bread, oil, no dairy or processed foods.

I looked it up. About 1% of the US population is vegan. That’s about a million people. I couldn’t find any numbers for PBWF vegans. But really how much lower can you go than 1% ??? So, even the numbers say this is hard. I’m sticking with it, though, because I want to have a healthy rest of my life. After a brief detour into sweetsville, I am back on the PBWF path.

It’s not a coincidence that taking away wine made me crave sugar. It’s replacing one treat with another. Some people who quit drinking alcohol will drink endless cups of coffee laced with sugar and cream. Others smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. That’s a trope of AA meetings, the addicts with their coffee and cigarettes. Cigarettes would solve my problem with sugar. I never had a problem with sugar until I quit smoking. Quitting smoking is harder than quitting sugar. I tried to quit at least ten times before I finally did it thirty years ago.

I am worried right now that my week of eating sugar is going to show at the doctor’s office. My next visit is in ten days. That’s when I do the fasting blood work. Meanwhile, I will not be eating any more sugar. Once you get off of it, with PBWF you don’t even want it. In that way, it’s so much easier to kick than cigarettes.