September 11, 2010

Of Diet and Destiny.

A couple of weeks ago, my MD diagnosed me as pre-diabetic. This was a bit of a shock to me, I must admit. However, in the spectrum of disease and mortality, on the scale of news that you don't want to hear from your doctor, it's pretty damn good news.

In recent months, my wife and I had talked about Type 2 ("Adult Onset") Diabetes, and I'd even tested my blood sugar once using her little pin-pricker-tester doodad. By learning about my wife's diabetes, I realized that it is a manageable condition, and not that scary once you do your homework and develop some changes to your lifestyle.

At 5 foot 9 inches, I weighed as much as 214 pounds a couple of years ago. I cannot remember exactly when my weight increased above 200, but I'm sure that I wasn't thrilled about it. Hitting 214 was, for me, a weight record and emotionally, something of a low point.

Although he was well over 6 feet tall, my father had been between 220 and 240 pounds and at least 44 inches around the waist when he had a heart attack at the ago of 62. He survived six more years after that, but at a huge cost: five strokes, an epileptic reaction to alcohol, and a plate and pin in his hip from a bad fall in a hospital shower. He was a life-long smoker and drinker and not health conscious in the least. Born in 1921, perhaps Dad was a product of his times. Emotionally and physically, he had not taken care of himself for years and years, and he ended up suffering serious consequences because of it.

I'm using my Dad as an example, but not in any spirit of disrespect. I have a vague memory of him telling me not to repeat his and my mother's mistakes in life. Memories become blurred and distorted over time, and it may well be that he never actually said this to me at all, but by reflecting on my parent's living examples, not following them has absolutely the most important advice that I've ever taken to heart. Dad passed on in 1989, and Mum died in 1995, and not a day goes by that one or both of them are not in mind. I have used the examples of their lives as motivation to pursue my goals with enthusiasm, to improve myself intellectually, artistically and emotionally, and to listen to myself and to others with attention and compassion.

I suspect that a good deal of my Dad's lack of interest in his health was related to him not wanting to get bad news from the Doctor. I'm sure that Dad didn't feel that great much of the time, struggling with lack of sleep, few close friends, no emotional support network, a poor diet, and loads of stress and accumulated guilt and sadness.

My Dad was from the "don't air our dirty laundry in public" school, which is fine if (A) it's possible, and if (B) you have a plan in place to actually deal with your private problems on your own. However, the main thing I learned from being raised with that outlook is to avoid bad news and wait for things to get better on their own. Serious changes sucked then, and they still do. This is a common reaction to events that seem to be too much to deal with - that seem to be outside of your control.

In physical terms, at 214 pounds, I saw myself beginning to resemble my late Dad. Although I had quit smoking at 18, and don't drink too much (haven't been tipsy or buzzed more more than a few times in the past 20 years), my gradual weight gain and a few bouts with lower back problems had begun to frustrate and worry me.

A few years ago, as a Christmas gift, my wife gave me a few free hours with her personal trainer. It has turned out to be one of the best things that anyone has ever done for me. I have kept going to this trainer, appreciated her advice and support, and have gradually developed a healthy attitude towards exercise. I've found ways to integrate low-fat, healthy eating choices and over 40 minutes of brisk walking into my daily routine. However, until recently, I never really paid attention to how much I favoured carbohydrates and "sweet" foods, and how bad my after-meal crashes were becoming.

In the past couple of weeks since my pre-diabetic diagnosis, my outlook has transformed from disappointment and worry into a feeling of hope and enthusiasm. This experience is giving me the boot in the ass that I needed to start making more significant positive changes to my diet and lifestyle, and to encourage me to step up my exercise regime to another level.

I'm fortunate that I was informed early on, and that I can look forward to learning more, and hence, gaining more control over my health.

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