Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Memory Of......Several Things!

 Little Cataloochee Baptist Church - Little Cataloochee Trail
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - October 24, 2012

After two incredible hiking days in the Cataloochee area of the Smokies, I am now relaxing in my "home" for the rest of the week in beautiful Maggie Valley, North Carolina.  I got lucky as there was a cancellation for this prime week in October and knowing how much I loved coming here, the cabin manager called to see if I'd like to come for the week offering me a deal I simply couldn't resist.  My friend, Becca, who blogs at An Unlikely Adventurer was able to join me for a couple of days of hiking and Bill will be here for the weekend.  Perfect spur of the moment adventure!!

With Becca gone back home, it's just me and the cabin is quiet.  I love that feeling of exhaustion that comes after hard physical activity when you can relax on the sofa and simply rest.  My mind begins to wander and I am filled with every emotion from sadness to gratitude to overwhelming contentment as my memory reflects..........................

Two and a half years ago, I began this blog for no reason other than to journal my thoughts.  One day, I got a comment and that began a friendship.  Those of you who have been with me from the start will remember Margie and her blog.  You will also remember that Margie and her husband, Bruce, were killed in October of 2010, by a suicidal driver while taking their morning walk.  Margie was my first follower and although I never met her in person, she was my friend.  There will never be an October go by that I don't think of her and remember what a support she was to me when I began Gains and Losses.  I still mourn and miss the loss of one of the great encouragers the weight loss blogging community had. 

I am now officially celebrating the loss of old eating habits.  One year ago, I weighed 30 pounds more than I do today and could find no motivation for change.  Today, I am not perfect (nor will I ever be), but my eating habits are as close to "normal" as I think they've ever been.  Over the past couple of months, there have been many temptations to revert back to old habits, but I've remained committed and am gaining more confidence that those days of out of control eating are nothing but a memory.  I did confess to Becca that there was a little "episode" with the peanut butter jar over the weekend!  Although more was consumed than was needed, even that was stopped before it got totally out of hand.

Once week ago, I was in more pain from a very active Rheumatoid Arthritis flare than I'd experienced in over a decade.  At the very least, the pain was acute enough that I was unable to continue normal daily activities and was actually feeling pretty useless since my days were spent on the sofa with heating pads attached to various parts of my body.  In a plea of desparation, I begged my rheumatologist to let me restart the medication, Enbrel, for one more trial period before switching to something else.  As I've mentioned, Enbrel was a miracle drug for me that kept my RA in remission for over a decade.  I had stopped it in July because of increasing headache pain that we were afraid was going to become full fledged migraines.  I was given permission to restart the Enbrel last Thursday and I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am to report that the change was almost immediate.  Within hours of the first injection, I could feel a difference and within 24 hours, I felt as normal as a person with acute rheumatoid disease will ever feel.  By Thursday afternoon, I could lift my coffee mug again with one hand and Thursday evening, I cooked dinner and loaded the dishwasher.  Things continued to improve culminating with yesterday's hike of 9.3 miles followed by today's hike of 6 miles.  As I said earlier, I am tired, but it's the good kind of tired.  So far, there have been no headaches.  My second injection will be this morning.  Let's hope for an even better week and no headaches.  

Thanks so much for all your concern these past months.  It has been so tough, so challenging and emotionally draining.  For the rest of my life, I will battle the ups and downs of RA.  A decade of remission had somewhat put me in a state of believing the worst would never happen again.  But it did and it will again.  I am so grateful for every day with minimal pain and freedom of movement. 

On a lighter note, I'm thinking of letting rest in peace.  For the past couple of years, it's been my go-to for tracking and analyzing, but I'm bored with it.  So I'm asking for your input.  What tracking system do you use and why?  I'm particularly interested in hearing from those who've used Calorie Count and switched.  Why did you switch and to what did you switch? 

I'll leave you with a few pictures from this week's hiking adventures...............

 Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail - GSMNP

 Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail - GSMNP

 Little Cataloochee Trail - GSMNP

 Little Cataloochee Trail - GSMNP

Little Cataloochee Trail - GSMNP

Enjoy Today!
Tell someone you love them, be active, pay it forward!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Totally Random Thoughts

Blue Ridge Parkway near its beginning at Cherokee, NC
October 15, 2012

Following the introspection found in my last two posts, decided today needed to be simple and direct.  And BTW, thanks so much for all the comments, support and encouragement given to those last couple of posts.  Most importantly, I hope they've encouraged you.   Without further ado, here's the latest Gains and Losses reported through Sharon's eyes!!

You may have noticed not much has been said about hiking lately.  Truthfully, there have been days I just plain haven't felt like it and other days when the thoughts of how I feel the day FOLLOWING a hike have kept me off the trail as well.   The passion to hike never subsides, so I've tried to use wisdom and prudence by hiking shorter trails and have made much effort to continue lightening the load in the pack I carry.  I am extremely safety conscious and probably carry way too much in my pack, but knew that to protect my neck, back and shoulders, some things were going to have go.  Fortunately, the people with whom I hike are as safety conscious as I am and are carrying those "essentials."  No need for duplication.  Plus with the cooler temps, less water is needed.  Unfortunately with the cooler temps, MORE coffee is needed.  What to do....what to do???

The merry-go-round saga of revolving Rheumatoid Arthritis meds continues, however there is hope.  Happy to say I'm finally totally tapered off the prednisone and with that, many nasty problems disappeared within a few days.  I've also been given permission to restart Enbrel  at my discretion.   Enbrel was the medication that put my RA into remission in 2001 and kept me there until early 2011.  It appeared to have lost its efficacy and had begun giving me some nasty headaches so we stopped it for good this past July.  And that is when the REAL problems began.  My rheumatologist and I are hoping the break will have "shocked" my body into remembering how well the Enbrel worked for so many years.  We'd hoped to keep me off of it for four months and I almost made it.  With so much success before, I am so hoping it will work again.  

Yesterday, I was a responsible patient and gladly was threatened into having my five-year colonoscopy.  I'm one of those who had a few benign polyps when I had my screening colonoscopy so was placed on the five-year repeat plan rather than ten which is the norm.  No, the prep isn't pleasant, but today I am happy to report that he found no polyps at all this time.  Really good news as it's my understanding if you have them once, you are more likely to have them again.  I also asked him to do an upper scope since I'd been having so much severe heartburn from the anti-infammatory meds.  Thankfully, he said everything looked great there as well.  

Bill and I had a lovely, but very quiet fall break in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina.  How can one go wrong when staying for three days where this is the view from the sofa.................

Rocky River Cabin - Asheville, NC

and this is the view you wake up to each morning......................

It wasn't one of those fall breaks where I can report all kinds of exciting things we did.   To be honest, we spent a lot of time sitting on the porch gazing at the river.   And when it started raining, we went in, switched on the wonderful fireplace and gazed at the river.   One night, Bill grilled some amazing steaks and I fixed Tami's Baked Acorn Squash.  We ate outside on the deck and gazed at the river.  When we got home Monday afternoon, we were exhausted from all that gazing at the river.

We are heading into what appears to be an incredible stretch of perfect weather condition and enjoying autumn foliage as it works its way down into the lower elevations.  I'm off next week for another few days in western North Carolina for more fall hiking, so next post will probably be from there.   In the meantime, enjoy some fall pictures from my Great Smoky Mountains in all their splendor.  

What's the fall foliage update from your neck of the woods?

Friday, October 12, 2012

One Year Ago - October 1, 2011

Autumn is working its way down the valley in East Tennessee, but this picture was taken along the Appalachian Trail last week at an elevation of more than 5500 feet.

This is a continuation of Part 1 which you can find here.

The road is long, with many a winding curve that leads us to who knows where........

When I left you last, it was October 1, 2011 and I was 36 pounds above goal.  I knew something had to change and held out hope that it would, but I also knew if the change was going to be permanent, it couldn't be forced.   It is certainly no secret to any reader of this blog that I practice Christianity and that my faith is the guiding force behind my life and decisions.  I believe in divine guidance and am 100% confident that God uses circumstances, other people, our own minds, and any other weapon available to guide us daily.   I believe we miss so many answers that are right in front of us simply because we are looking for something bigger or more dramatic.  You may or may not believe the same way I do, but I've met very few people who totally discount the idea of there being something bigger than me and you at work in this world.  

You can read about my "moment" sometime near the middle of November, 2011 here.  Just know that as I sit here looking back one year at how unlikely the circumstances were that I'd be in that place and that time, I am once more overwhelmed at how strongly I feel that divine guidance was in place.  I don't do "diets," I don't read diet books, I rarely go into Barnes and Noble, I'd never bothered with low-carb plans before and still only consider it feasible in certain circumstances as I don't consider eliminating entire food groups healthy.  

But this plan, The 17-Day Diet worked for me.   It is still working 11 months later.   I follow it every day and see no reason why I can't follow it for the rest of my life.  It is second nature much like wearing the pedometer and recording my steps each morning is second nature.  

Following the 17 Day Diet, I lost all of my weight reaching goal (a slightly adjusted goal) while we were in New England this past summer.  It took approximately eight months.  Since that time, I have remained fairly effortlessly within a two pound range.   The permanent goal weight I have established for myself is seven pounds higher than the weight I achieved in 2007 and 10 pounds LOWER than the original goal weight I had set in 2006.  My body likes this weight.  I am happy and content.  

Here are a few of the things I have learned.   If you are struggling with your own journey, please know these things.....ponder them....take them to heart!   In the whole scheme of things, I am a new maintainer, but I believe my long time maintaining friends (who are my current lifeline) will concur.

1)  Patience, patience, patience!  Only through patience will you find the plan that works for you and the courage to follow through with it over the long haul.   The key to finding the right one is by looking it over, getting that sense that this is IT, and knowing from the outset that it is something your body will enjoy and can do FOREVER.  This is why fad diets do not work and never will.  There are very specific reasons why The 17 Day Diet worked for me and I believe that's why I was drawn to it that day in Barnes and Noble.  But I had to be willing and open to looking at something I normally wouldn't have given a second glance.  I was delighted after talking about it in a post to learn that four of you had decided to consider the plan as well.  One year later, I will tell you that one friend followed the plan to the letter, reached her goal weight and like me, is currently maintaining it.  One is following it loosely adapting it to fit her body and still successfully moving toward goal.  One realized quickly it was not for her and stopped.  One is no longer blogging, but during the short time she followed the plan, did not find it to work for her.  See what I mean?   Keep your eyes open, your mind vigilent, but never jump from one bandwagon to the next just because it seems to be working for someone else.  If an eating plan is healthy and working for all your best friends, but it requires you to eat two yogurt servings a day and you HATE yogurt, THAT IS NOT THE PLAN FOR YOU.

2)  I am not a doctor and can tell you that I do not appreciate the "do it my way or you're wrong" approach often found in the weight loss blog arena.   You may or may not believe that our bodies can be carb-sensitive.  It makes no difference to me and I will NEVER argue the point.  You must find for yourself how your body reacts.  Our bodies are like snowflakes - no two are alike!   All I can do is tell you that adhering to this plan severely limited most carbs for me during the first 17 days.  And to my total amazement, once the first 17 days were behind me, I realized that the intense desires for sweets, breads, pastas, etc. no longer existed.  And this is something I still cannot believe.  You'd simply have to experience it yourself.  I am white sugar free and almost totally white flour free.  The sugar I do not miss.  For the most part, I do not miss the white flour either.  I am extremely judicious with eating 100% whole wheat flour as I can detect cravings for more when I've eaten a wrap or something similar.  So for me, carb-sensitivity is very real.  For my husband, it is not a factor and we've proven that to be true.   You have to do the same, you have to give it time and you have to go cold turkey.   For me, it has given me a freedom I never thought possible.

3)  Use every possible and available resource to help you.  Remember that divine guidance I mentioned or if you don't believe in divine guidance, whatever you call on as a source of inner strength?  Some simply call it intuition.  Don't discount anyone, anything or any method that might be placed in front of you as encouragement, method or motivation.  Reminds me of this story which I've heard all my life............

 The Drowning Man
A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, "Jump in, I can save you."
The stranded fellow shouted back, "No, it's OK, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me."
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. "The fellow in the motorboat shouted, "Jump in, I can save you."
To this the stranded man said, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, "Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety."
To this the stranded man again replied, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, "I had faith in you but you didn't save me, you let me drown. I don't understand why!"
To this God replied, "I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?"

So yes, be patient.   But patience requires vigilence.  Patience requires action - it is not static.  You are either moving forward or backward.  It is not likely your journey is sitting still.  Open your eyes, watch for rowboats, motorboats and helicopters.  

This journey is hard.  In these last two posts, I've covered six YEARS!   And I read posts every day from people wanting to lose 40 pounds in two WEEKS!   Patience, people!  You are only setting yourself up for an internal sense that you have failed when your expectations were totally unreasonable to begin with.  

This journey is best done in community and with a strong support system, yet it also intensely personal.  If I can do it - you can too. 

I care about every single one of you who happens to read this.   If I can help, please let me know in what way.   In the meantime, if you have made it to the end of both posts, please leave me a comment (even just one word is o.k) letting me know where you are in your journey! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Six Years Ago - October 1, 2006

Appalachian Trail near Newfound Gap - October 4, 2012
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments in response to my last post.  That one was hard to write simply because it reflected some thought processes still in their infancy and naming some emotions that although not new, are still unfamiliar.  Many of you identified with me and presented some helpful feedback.  Although today's post doesn't continue that, there is more to be said and it will come.

Six years ago, I reached my all time high weight for the SECOND time.  I vowed to lose the 65 pounds necessary to get to a goal weight I'd seen before and one I knew my body liked.  With a determination I didn't know I possessed, on October 1, 2006, I began a weight loss journey using an eating plan I self-designed. Exactly one year later (give or take a few weeks), I'd lost that 65 pounds.  Starting around the same time (10/1/06), I participated in a walking study at the University of Tennessee which got me into the habit of wearing a pedometer daily and walking no less than 10,000 steps each day.  To this day, the pedometer comes off at night after I'm already in bed and goes back on before I get out of bed the following morning.  It is as much a part of me as my left hand!

Through 2007 and 2008, I maintained that weight +/- 5 pounds.  I weighed every morning and recorded that weight on a simple Excel spreadsheet that also averaged the week's daily weights into an average weight for the week.   The walking study had only been for 12 weeks in late 2006, but I was given the pedometer as a "thank-you" for my participation, so I continued walking 10,000+ steps each day and recording those steps into another Excel spreadsheet which also averaged the daily steps total into a weekly average.  These are two habits which I continue to maintain through thick and thin!  Just now as I've looked back over those spreadsheets to verify info for this post, I am reminded how thankful I am (not to mention how helpful it is) to have these records.  

I remember nothing significant about 2009 that would've caused the weight to start creeping back up.  It was a very good year for us and my level of physical activity had picked up considerably.  My RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) was still in remission and in addition to hiking, we were doing lots of biking.   I simply let go of those good habits I'd cultivated and began eating amounts not portion controlled along with out of control snacking.   On October 1, 2009, I was 20 pounds above goal.

2010 was NOT a good year.  Bill's dad had already been diagnosed with cancer in addition to the dementia which was getting worse.  I was beginning to suspect that my RA was slowly coming out of remission - something I'd known would happen eventually and terrified me to think about.  There had been a period of two years in the late 80's when I was first diagnosed that I was unable to dress myself or complete many everyday functions without help and believe me, I did NOT want to go back there.  But in spite of all that, I began this blog is May of 2010 and vowed that I'd be back at goal weight by year end.  I was 30 pounds above goal.

Thanks in part to all of you, I was well on my way to doing just that having already lost 16 of those pounds when on August 19, our world changed with the death of Bill's dad.  This was our first experience with losing a parent (my parents and Bill's mom are currently very healthy) and even knowing his quality of life here on earth was over, it was tough!  And silly me!  All my life, I've taken food to people when death occurred in their families, but when the tables were turned and it was ME receiving the love.....well, as you know, love is expressed through food when someone dies.  I fought it as long as I could, but eventually gave in to the pressure of being constantly watched along with the total absence of healthy heating choices.  Once all that was over and life returned to normal, it seemed I simply no longer cared.   On October 1, 2010, I was 32 pounds above goal. 

Throughout the remainder of 2010 and most of 2011, I stayed within a narrow range of 28-35 pounds above goal.  My RA continued to worsen and the tedious process of changing meds began in earnest.  Somewhere along the way, I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidsim and completed the dreaded "change of life" process.   Thankfully, the thyroid issue was quickly brought under control and hasn't waivered since.   I am fortunate that the "change" didn't bring on the horror stories one hears about from others.  But both were constant reminders to me that losing weight would become harder and harder as I got older.  As 2011 wore on, I became determined to lose the 30 pounds once and for all.  Bill and I have BIG plans for retirement and I actually experienced periods of fear that I wouldn't be physically able to participate in those plans if I didn't do all I could to take care of myself.  I just couldn't quite get a handle on how I was going to do that.   On October 1, 2011 I was 36 pounds above goal.

But what a difference a year can make.  The guidance I was seeking found me.  Most of you will know my story over the past year and most of you know that on October 1, 2012, I am at goal weight.  But what is most important to me is sharing what I've learned over the past year that may be of help to you in your own journey.   That post is coming up in a day or two.  So let's just say to be continued........................ 

If it has been awhile since you posted your weight loss story, consider doing it again.  So many people are struggling and we are heading into the holiday season where much, much damage can be done.  If you chose to write about your own story, let me know and I'll link to your post.  For some reason, I just have this sense that personal stories may offer more encouragement than any "advice" we could possibly share.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mountain Memories

On the grounds of the Appalachian Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - September 19, 2012

Just over a week ago, I returned home from my wonderful getaway to Maggie Valley, but it seems like the trip happened in another lifetime.  I knew that I was returning home to a hotbed of stress in my own life, but didn't anticipate the role that my health would play in my ability to deal appropriately with that stress.  Some of it, I can write about - some, too personal to share.  I'm making every effort to use this period in my life to evaluate, learn and grow.  I find it interesting when roaming around in BlogWorld, to find that it isn't just me.  Seems a time when so many are struggling in ways that seem (to them) simply beyond their ability to cope or care.  Blogging becomes far less frequent and when posts do appear, the stories are gut-wrenching.  It parallels our real lives in so many ways because you want to help, but realize that this is where blogging has its limitations.  It isn't real life and our ability to truly help each other when the going gets REALLY ROUGH is very limited.  Some may disagree and that's o.k., but I'll repeat something I've said many times......please make sure that you have friends in real life to whom you can turn when "life" threatens to drown you.  

As for me, the life lessons are coming so fast, I can't possibly write about them all, but thought I'd briefly flesh out the "claustrophobia" thing I mentioned previously in the hopes it might bolster me as well as encourage someone else.   

In the fall of 1985, I traveled to an away football game.  My Tennessee Volunteers were playing the Florida Gators, a rivalry already in place that has done nothing but grow in subsequent years.  Florida's stadium (which looks NOTHING today like it did then) was small, dark and consisted of narrow ramps leading up and into the stadium.  Following the game, while exiting the ramps, my friends and I got caught in an escalating rampage of celebrating fans that can only be described as terrifying.  We could not get out and I was very nearly knocked to the ground.  It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life and since that day, I have been extremely claustrophobic.  I have no memory of being concerned about tight spaces before that time, but since then, cannot handle being in any type of place where there is no escape or where I am surrounded by walls, people, doors, etc.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  Point is, the feeling of suffocation is VERY real.

But over the past few years, I have noticed that it's getting WORSE.  And as much as I've fought to understand, control or even overcome the panic, I can't.  I despise it because it effects my quality of life. In a moment of amazing clarity, thanks to my blogging friend, Karen Anderson, and an incredible post she wrote while I was in Maggie Valley, I think I might have had a breakthrough.  Karen, whose blog I've been reading for a long time, writes one of the most honest blogs you'll find about her struggles with weight and self-acceptance.  She writes HARD stuff and I am so grateful that she isn't afraid to put her own weaknesses out there in order to help others.   This isn't the first time something she's written has been an "ah-ha" moment for me.  In this post , she says this very candidly about a phobia of her own, "I have long suspected that this fear is not literal, but rather that it’s the container in which I put generalized anxiety because if I didn’t have something in which to contain it, it would spill out or explode all over the rest of my life."

It was as if the heavens opened up and music began to play.   I don't think I've ever had a moment of realization so clear.   My claustrophobia, although very, very real with an identified source behind it, is also not literal - it's the container in which I put stress/anxiety in the hopes of keeping it boxed up.  Like Karen, I am well aware that I live (if you try to convince me otherwise, you are a contributor to the very thing about which I'm talking) in a state of low level anxiety.   I don't like it, but it's just the way I'm wired.  It has taken a lot of years and a lot of tears to understand that the basis of the stress is the understanding that I am a true radical and that I march to the beat of a different drummer.  I think differently, I have odd personality traits, I am an introvert, my ideas of friendship/relationship are different than most females and the ways in which I choose to spend my time are just unusual.  But that's not where the stress/anxiety lies.   I'm o.k. with who I am and pretty much always have been. I'm happy and I'm content.  I wouldn't want to be any other way.  The stress comes in the fact that I don't expect anyone to change for me, so why must you expect me to change for you?  And why, when I'm NOT like you, when I say "no, thank you", or perhaps, choose not to participate in something YOU organize, or simply not answer the phone when you call for the 85th time to discuss the weather, must you decide that a) I don't like you, b) something is wrong, c) I'm arrogant, d) sick, e) I should change, f) I don't want to be friends with you, g) I'm not a team player, h) yada, yada, yada? 

Karen goes on to talk about how long she resisted seeing the anxiety/stress in her life in this way, "But as it turns out, what I see now is that I could not – WOULD NOT – acknowledge stress in my life. I resisted it. I mean how could I be stressed out? I have a wonderful husband, no money worries, no children. I’m a successful writer and author, and I am launching my Acceptance Whispering practice. I have fabulous friends and a full, wonderful life. 
Acknowledging that I’ve been a big ball of stress for pretty much my entire life would seem to contradict all of that, right? Or maybe acknowledging it would come across as being ungrateful? Or whining? Or weak? Or as if I am blaming someone? Or all of the above?"

Reading Karen's words during a deluge in Maggie Valley on a day when I was supposed to be hiking, but instead felt the walls closing in on me, brought a clarity which I pray sticks with me for a long, long time.  With the exception of the words about being an author, her words fit my life to a "T." At that very moment, I began a private journal. Every time something occurs which causes me to feel "claustrophobic," it is recorded in that journal.  As of this morning, there are 21 things in the journal. Sadly, I cannot share them here as they are simply too personal.   What I CAN share is the fact that I still have a long, long way to go, but feel as if I've made great strides in identifying what the real "issues" are, determining when compromise is needed, letting go when not, and perhaps as Karen says, "relaxing into acceptance.I'm not sure the walls will ever stop closing in on me completely, but I'd like to think that this is a start.

If you don't read Karen Anderson's blog and feel as if your weight issues are tied to much deeper things than food, I highly recommend that you begin reading her words.   Don't just start with her most recent post, but go back and systemically work through the whole blog.  You will not be sorry.  I have made her aware that I have have quoted liberally from her September 17 post and YOU need to know that all words in red are copied from that post.  Please give her credit for that writing.  No way could I have said it better.  

Do you have a "claustrophobia" that is not a literal fear?   Think about it - share if you can.