Monday, November 19, 2007

the kindness of strangers

The new job requires travel, and I'm on the road, typing this from a comfortable hotel bed in a completely foreign state, one I've never visited before. The thing I hate about hotels is the air conditioning, which always is either blowing right at you at full force or turned completely off. Also my fear of bugs means I have to leave the bathroom light on (door mostly closed) so I don't sleep well. I have some definite quirks.

One of these is that I love the random encounters with people I've never met and probably will never see again. There was a flight a couple of weeks ago where I ended up next to a man who was a great and funny conversationalist. He traveled often for business and gave me a lot of funky travel tips -- like always carry Lysol to clean off the TV remote in hotel rooms. Yeah. Think about it for a second. I think I'll just read and use my computer.

I am not the kind of person who forces conversation on a plane. I usually have a good book with me, but these kind of random chats are really interesting, so if my seatmate is game and is at least somewhat interesting, I can converse with anyone on just about any topic. I guess that's how I got the job I have right now, which involves a lot of public relations. I just generally like people, for the most part.

I'm reading a beautiful book right now, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. This book is about the way that a seemingly random fascination with a mysterious store led to a life-changing encounter with the store's owner and a link to a forgotten passion for pianos. When I glanced at the acknowledgments, I found this quote intriguing:
Please don't try to find Luc or Mathilde or any of the others; they are not waiting to be discovered...As a childhood friend once said to me, solemnly and without rancour, when I tried to impinge on his spaceman fantasy, "Go find your own astronauts!" In the same spirit, let me say to the reader, "Go find your own Luc!"
I think that a lot of us don't realize how many interesting characters are all around us, each with a story. We try to duplicate the experiences we read about or see on TV or film: We might dream of a trip to Napa after seeing Sideways or want to go to Prince Edward Island to trace the footsteps of Anne of Green Gables. But the bigger challenge, and the one that author Thad Carhart suggests to us, is to find our own stories instead. In our car-centric, suburbanized American existence, chance encounters are rarer than they probably used to be. Maybe that's why we're more scared than we used to be. I am finding that travel is a good chance to be reminded of the kindness of most strangers.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

the Biggest Loser's real winner

Though I haven't been blogging as much lately, I have found the time on Tuesday nights to watch The Biggest Loser. Of course, I'm rooting for Jillian (pictured here in her full bicep-flexing glory with the amazing Shauna) to have the Biggest Loser this time. I met Jillian Michaels this summer at BlogHer, and that makes me feel even more happy for her as I see that most of her team members are still going strong, despite what seemed like an effort by trainers Bob and Kim to gun for her. Go Jillian! I love that she seems to really care about her players and gives them, not herself, full credit for their successes.

To me, it did not seem like a coincidence that all the players who have gained weight on TBL in the show's history have been Bob's team members -- I think he learned the water-loading trick from Matt (a former wrestler) and taught it to team members Neil and Ryan. Kim only has one team member left, and the only reason I'm not cheering for her to be eliminated from the show is that Brian is so likeable. I was not sorry to see scheming Amy sent home last week and thought it was laughable that she expected Isabeau to have any loyalty to her. Amy tried to convince people to vote Isabeau off several times. Brian deserved to stay -- he has been one of the few players who seems to have treated this show like an opportunity to change his life and not just a game.

So who do I expect to be in the final three? I fully expect Kae to make it -- she is an honest and determined competitor. As much as I like Brian, he seems destined to be eliminated in the next few weeks -- he is consistently in the danger zone and he doesn't have any teammates left. I expect Bill and Isabeau to represent Jillian in the final three. Hollie got lucky with the triathlon last week (she's a former swim coach) but I think her days are numbered. She doesn't have the toughness to make it to the finals. Julie has been a great player but I think she'll get to take her car and her money home soon, because her weight-loss numbers, though amazing, haven't kept up with the other players' successes.

My favorite eliminated player is probably Jim. I'd like to see him win the consolation prize. I'd love to see Jillian's team get both the top prize and the prize for eliminated players, of course.

Who are you rooting for?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

studying the studies

Photo by flickr user Brave Heart

A link from Anne's blog led me to a story about a recent study by Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Md., and colleagues on the relative mortality risk for people of various BMI levels. The researchers found that people who were slightly overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) are at a lower risk of dying from some causes than those with weights in the "ideal" range (between 18.5 and 25).

Another story summarized the findings as follows:



  • Underweight was linked with increased mortality from non-cancer, non-CVD [cardiovascular disease] causes (23,455 excess deaths).
  • Underweight was NOT linked with cancer or CVD mortality.
  • Overweight was linked with significantly decreased mortality from non-cancer, non-CVD causes.
  • Overweight was NOT linked with cancer or CVD mortality.
  • Obesity was linked with significantly increased mortality from CVD (112,159 excess deaths).
  • Obesity was NOT linked with cancer, non-cancer, or non-CVD mortality.
  • Overweight and obesity combined were linked with increased mortality from diabetes and kidney disease (61,248 excess deaths).
  • Overweight and obesity combined were linked with decreased mortality from other non-cancer, non-CVD causes.
  • Obesity was linked to increased mortality from obesity-related cancers (13,839 excess deaths) but not other cancers.
    This study is important because it suggests that maybe the current hysteria over America's weight problem is a bit overblown. It also suggests that maybe the ideal weight range for health is a little more forgiving than fashion's. Actually, a fashionable weight seems to be unhealthy, though no one talks much about that risk.

    Though it's obvious that there are certain risks associated with overweight, and more the heavier you are, there are currently a lot of risky methods for weight loss (crash diets, drugs, surgeries) that might need to be reevaluated in terms of these findings.

    As I'm sure you've probably noticed, this story set off a huge backlash of people who wanted to make sure to remind us that "it's not OK to be fat." But someone with a BMI in the moderately overweight range probably wouldn't look fat to most of us, and now it seems that they might not be at much health risk, either.

    Statistics can tell us only so much. Personally, I care more about my quality of life when I'm alive than how long I live -- I'd rather have a full and happy life that ended at 60 than a long, protracted illness that I survived into my 90s. Many of us have specific risk factors (joint problems, diabetes) that suggest that we should keep our weights lower than they currently are. But this study, and the extreme reactions to it, may suggest that the concern about our health was never really about health at all -- it was about pushing people around, or personal dislike of overweight people, or, in the case of some of the obesity researchers out there, getting grant money or a quick FDA approval for a risky diet drug with questionable results. All this societal pressure makes it even harder to make weight loss work. This was also the premise of the book Rethinking Thin, which prompted similar knee-jerk, "Fat isn't healthy" reactions from the mainstream media.

    I think that this study is one more piece of evidence, as a recent post on Angry Fat Girlz suggests, making moderate and gradual changes toward the life we really want for ourselves (which might not the one our mothers wanted, or the one that fashion designers think we should have) is really the way to go, as most of us have suspected all along.

    Saturday, November 03, 2007

    today is the first day of the rest of my life

    I made my final dissertation submission yesterday. Today is the first day in two years when I have had absolutely nothing I could be doing to work on that project. It's sort of a weird feeling, like the two or three months where my weight was right where I wanted it to be -- the absence of an accustomed worry leaves a weird kind of a hole in your life.

    So what am I doing with my newfound freedom? This morning I cashed a nice-sized check from BlogHer Ads -- my first one -- and dinner tonight is on them (and you, my readers): We bought two pounds of tenderloin at the butcher shop, plus some assorted other groceries and a nice bottle of wine. I thought about going out, but making shish kabobs at home seemed more relaxing.

    We decided to have dinner out on our picnic table since it was such a nice fall night. We had lots of leftover beef, which is great because it was so tender it melted in my mouth. I made a recipe loosely based on the Mediterranean Pilaf on the Kashi Pilaf box and some green beans. I also made a pot of vegetable soup for later in the week in an effort to eat at home more and choose healthier foods.

    I haven't been counting points or exercising seriously lately. I have been trying to keep my food reasonable but haven't put much more thought into it than that. I read Nina Planck's Real Food a few weeks ago, and I think that sometimes the whole diet thing leads me to eat a lot of fake food. I know that I'm not the kind of person who can naturally maintain at a weight I'll be happy with, though, so if I'm not going to do Weight Watchers, I am going to have to be more active and figure out some other kind of food plan.

    I did take a great Pilates class this morning. And since I spend three hours in a car most weekdays, I have been finding places to sneak a walk into my day where I can -- mostly at lunchtime. Once I'm settled after The Big Move, I am hoping to find a new gym and come up with a real exercise program. Until then, I am just doing the best that I can.

    Thanks for reading, and for dinner!
    "Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07