Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ten Times More Excited

I started a seven-month leadership program that I expected would hone my skills as a trainer. When I signed up, I was promised that my life would be unrecognizable by the time the program was complete. I think I might have said, “cool” without even considering the old ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage that my mother would have quoted without missing a beat and that would have annoyed me at almost the very same second she said it. Unrecognizable sounded inspiring not horrifying like the kind of unrecognizable I’d be if a semi hit me in the Sentra. Maybe I should’ve been tipped off by the monkey paw that came with the introductory binder.

By month four, my business was dissolved I was unemployed and certain people were responding to me as if I had all the charm of poison sumac. This included my on-again/off-again boyfriend who informed me I was annoying, a sentiment apparently shared by the other girl he was secretly sleeping with. Clearly that makes us ‘off’.

It took a couple of weeks of practice but I can now successfully answer the ‘what happened’ question with the ‘he wanted to see other people’ spin and not be tempted to end the sentence with ‘. . . naked and drunk and then lie about it.’ Can’t people just break up with a handshake instead of going all ‘country song’ with it? Not that I’m bitter, but if Karma hasn’t caught up to them yet it’s simply stuck in traffic with the wrong Google map.

I had a brief but meaningful fling with Haagen Dazs Fleur De Sel Caramel Ice Cream but then remembered it won’t erase an ass from my life only add one. Ultimately it had little impact – I cried out all the bloat over ‘P.S. I Love You’ which I think gave me swimmer’s ear from crying sideways into a puddle I continued to lay in. I rented an embarrassing stack of cheesy romantic comedies until I feared Hollywood Video would sell their database and I’d get a mailbox full of flyers for suicide hotlines and Match.com as well as a suspicious number of coupons for psychotherapy in my MoneySaver pack.

Eventually I was able to reboot myself with enough romance to spike my blood sugar and convince me to at least put on deodorant and chapstick before I left the apartment just in case Gerard Butler or James Marsden was in line behind me buying Fleur De Sel Carmel Ice Cream to match the dried stain on the wrinkled t-shirt that I was clearly intending to be buried in. But it’s amazing what a few clever movie lines can do considering that finding a suitable breeder in my neighborhood is as likely statistically as a semi hitting me in the Sentra.

I played over 3100 games of bubble breaker on my phone which it turns out serves as a sort of screen saver for my overworked melon. Whenever my mind started whirring along I clicked it into energy conservation mode by bursting little colored bubbles until I drooled or my thumb hurt and I couldn’t hold up my arm anymore. Finally, I started meditating which I think happens naturally when you’ve maxed out rheuminating. I started with guided meditation on CDs which I napped through rather successfully so I’m not sure if giving myself a pedicure with the ex’s toothbrush after I woke up was a sacred Tibetan practice on the path to enlightenment as suggested by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso or whether my mind was making a funny. The toothbrush, by the way, was not bad Karma unless I allowed him to brush his teeth with it should the opportunity present itself and I wouldn’t do that. Well, I’m pretty sure but I think that’s mostly because he’s never getting within fifty yards of it.

Between the search for an enlightened path and detours in my career path, I’ve weathered my fair share of stress for the first time in forever. My life was not complicated before and that was by design so my only experience with adrenal overload was thanks to my unholy love of coffee. But as I’ve been recently educated on both impermanence and attachment, so goes it. Sigh.

So if my mind joined the maniacal march of the unconscious thanks to the ceaseless jumping from past suffering to future uncertainty at least until I finishing crying my last ugly, snuffling heartfelt cry you’ve got to wonder what toll that takes. I’ll tell you it didn’t feel all that healthy. Anthony Colpo in ‘the Great Cholesterol Con, Why everything you’ve been told about cholesterol, diet and heart disease is wrong!’ summed it up rather nicely:

“When we become acutely stressed, our internal environments undergo a striking transformation: our bodies, in effect, go into red alert. Blood is diverted away from organs and tissues participating in ‘non-essential’ activities – such as digestion, immune function, growth and repair – and re-routed towards those involved in dealing with imminent danger, such as the muscles and heart. Our reflexes sharpen, our muscles tighten and our hearts start beating faster in anticipation of intense physical effort. This is the famous ‘fight-or-flight’ response, which is triggered when the body releases substances known as catecholamines. The two most abundant catecholamines released during stressful times are norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline). Stressful situations also cause the body to secrete abundant amount of the catabolic hormone cortisol.”

“Norepinephrine and epinephrine exert pronounced effects on the cardiovascular system: they increase heart rate and dilate blood vessels in muscles, allowing for increased blood flow to support muscular effort. High levels of catcholamines also increase blood viscosity and encourage blood clotting, a development that serves to minimize blood loss from any injury that may occur while frantically fighting or fleeing danger. Meanwhile, cortisol raises our blood sugar levels, ensuring a ready supply of fuel for the brain. In order to achieve these elevated blood sugar levels, cortisol overrides the action of insulin. In other words, during brief periods of stress we become temporarily insulin resistant.”


Prior to my present series of plot twists, I was only able to achieve that level of stress through sleep deprivation. This, as I’ve mentioned before, has the same impact. Larry McCleary, M.D. makes it clear In The Brain Trust Program. The noted neurosurgeon said, “Studies done in young healthy male volunteers have shown that even a few days of sleep loss (on average sleeping about four hours a night) can disturb the metabolic systems that regulate blood sugar. This produces transient glucose intolerance to the degree seen in diabetes. When these young subject resumed sleeping for nine hours each night, the metabolic changes resolved.”

But a sleep debt doesn’t get resolved the way most people attempt it in one lazy weekend lolling in bed. In fact, in a study by the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in K√∂ln, Germany studied thirteen helicopter-based emergency medical service pilots (mean age 38 yr) who operate from sunrise to sunset, requiring up to 15.5 hours of continuous duty in the summer months for 2 days before, 7 days during, and 2 days after their duty cycle. Over the 7-day duty period, mean sleep duration decreased from 7.8 hours to 6 hours or less. Results showed that, “Mean levels of excreted adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol increased significantly by 50 to 80% and remained elevated for the two post-duty days. Although the actual flights did not cause critical physiological responses, the acute and accumulated sleep deficit led to incomplete recuperation between duty hours and induced elevated stress indicators.” Again, the recovery period tested was two days.

McCleary also pointed out that the increase in cortisol “makes brain cells more vulnerable to the physical toxic insults of the environment.” How vulnerable? John Hopkins University researchers injected mice with ‘known chemical carcinogens’ after altering their natural sleep patterns as reported in ‘Lights Out – Sleep, Sugar and Survival’ by T.S. Wiley and Bent Formby, Ph.D. As a result, the short-night mice developed tumors so quickly that researcher couldn’t tell which substance caused the cancer. And, by the way, said substances were as simple as household cleaners, plastic from water bottles and components of antiperspirant. The long night mice didn’t get as much as a hangover from their carcinogen cocktails.

What I find interesting is that spikes in cortisol levels associated with sleep deprivation coincide with the most common sugar cravings. After ten years of training, I can easily say that most people suffer from the munchies mid-afternoon and evening. If you look at the cortisol profile in the study, ‘Impact of Sleep Debt on Physiological Rhythms’ by Centre d'Etude des Rythmes Biologiques, Laboratoire de Physiologie, Universit√© Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, the results show, ‘If the overall 24-hour cortisol profile was preserved, sleep restriction was associated with increased cortisol levels in late afternoon and evening hours and the duration of the quiescent period was reduced.”

Just because I traded my sleep debt for garden-variety stress, doesn’t mean I escape the ravages of cortisol. Colpo makes that clear in ‘Cholesterol Con’ when he says, “In controlled experiments, infusion of stress hormones produces an immediate but temporary insulin resistant state in healthy human subjects. If excessive catecholamine and cortisol levels occur during the post-meal period as a result of psychosocial stresses, then even greater rises in blood glucose and insulin release can be expected.”

He goes even further though because he makes the connection to the arterial clogging I could’ve looked forward to if I had insisted on being a victim of circumstances. “Dr. Malcolm Kendrick is by no means the first cardiovascular researcher to focus on the postprandial period, but he is the first to hypothesize the potentially atherogenic connection between the post-meal period and psychological stress. According the Kendrick, the presence of psychological stress in the postprandial period – a phenomenon that can significantly amplify the usual post-meal rise insulin and blood glucose – may dramatically accelerate the progression of heart disease.”

I obviously had no real interest in suffering from heart disease even if it was almost poetic that it would have been caused by heartache. And that would also be great raw material for a country song if you can find a word that rhymes with infarction. I instead elected to meditate and I’d be inclined to share my experience about that if I didn’t fear it would sound like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’- a book that made me want to ear-flick an Air Marshal so they’d turn the plane around and I could get my money back at the Bookstore near N-Gates.

I also dug out an old CD of tribal drumming designed to align my Chakras. Taha and I bought it years ago to listen to while making pancakes smeared with Peanut Butter long before I knew how far out of whack either ingestible was going to throw me. I only listen to it occasionally because each track corresponds to a Chakra and I never listen to the whole thing which makes me fear further imbalance. I'm not sure if it actually works but I do know you can time a nervous tick to it quite nicely.

My sister, who’s way more grounded than I, responded to the loss of her entire Anna Forest Yoga training homework by dropping to her knees in a flurry of expletives – a way of expression refined by my people and passed to us at an early age - and vigorously flipping the bird to whatever celestial being paused to take notice. As reported, this lasted for a minute or two and then she collected herself and moved on. This may have been another sacred practice on my CD that I slept through. I might try it next making sure to notice my breathing.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I'm Flossed

It never crossed my mind that twenty minutes of 45K Overhead squats followed by 100 pull-ups for time arranged as some sort of scenic-overlook/rest-stop on the way to the airport was in any way a bad, bad plan. But when the adrenaline wore off and I gathered my pink flip flops as well as a collection of uncomfortably heavy bags spit out of the conveyor belt in security, I realized how closely ‘carry on’ sounded like carrion. I was now going to be separated from the herd on the way to N Gates. Had it been the Serengeti, I’d have been lunch.

As the tragically unfit scurried past me rolling over my toes with oxygen tanks and wheely luggage on the way from sedentary jobs to inert vacations, I was left vulnerable to whatever lurks in the dark corners behind the regional art displays nobody ever looks at. And though clever considering security procedures, flip flops are not a load-bearing shoe and in fact enforce speeds not to exceed a stroll. I had visions of walking up to the nearest security guard, throwing my arms up over my head, and pleading, “Up!” which I’ve seen work rather successfully with small children in supermarkets.

When I say it never crossed my mind however, I’m assuming that’s a lie. Lots of reasons, excuses and justifications run ticker-style behind my eyeballs but it’s about as significant to me as the S&P 500. In fact, as far as my mind is concerned this whole ‘get-off-your-ass and step away from the cupcakes’ lifestyle has always been a bad idea and an experiment destined to fail. That’s why I stopped paying any attention to it because as much as I adore my brain, it doesn’t seem to have my best interests at heart. It turns out there’s really just a fat girlfriend living in my head who’s trying to sabotage me so she doesn’t have to eat alone.

So I’d guess that at some point the words, ‘but you’ll be sitting on the plane all sweaty’, ‘but won’t that kick the snot out of you’ and ‘that could make this a very, very long day’ passed unheeded along with ‘pack appropriate underwear – you’ll be wearing skirts’ which, as it turns out, I didn’t take note of either. I realized that many people think the incessant internal debate will at some point go away ‘when they’re fit.’ Hmmm, let me know when you get there – I haven’t seen it yet.

The only difference with me is how unwilling I am to engage in any conversation with my brain about exercise because it’s clear that it’s a two-year old in the candy isle who skipped her nap. One measly twenty minute workout could consume four hours of foot-stomping internal misery while I whine ‘why!’ along with a bunch of silly reasons I’m not even buying. But that’s if I’m willing to pay any attention greater than the slightest note I make of elevator musak.

“No, I’m good. I’m flossed,” Aaron Hendon said at the ILP Weekend I was attending simply to point out how silly it is that we operate like something is ‘handled’ when it’s clearly a maintenance issue. In the world of wellness, there’s a meal to eat and a workout to do and right now that’s what your fitness looks like. Keep it up, and you can see a trajectory but no guarantees. So it comes down to a series of decisions that you make that are either consistent or inconsistent with you’re goals.

What’s funny to me is when clients argue that they should see results anyway because they’re ‘trying.’ That’s like going to a college graduation and handing out the diplomas followed by a bunch of ‘honorable mentions’ of equal merit because these are people who had unique circumstances that the rest of as couldn’t possibly understand. Good to know, but you either do the work or you don’t.

What’s even funnier is that I understand this so clearly in the gym and yet I’ve been unwilling to see the rest of my life the same way. Doesn’t everything start at a ‘Point A’ where you set out to get to ‘Point B’ and there’s a bunch of stuff that has to get done to get there. If you don’t do the stuff, you don’t see results no matter how much you whine that it’s not fair and that so-and-so didn’t have to do as much stuff and that this shouldn’t be so.

I see clients struggle through similar conversations in the middle of workouts and I say – thanks to the advice of Michael Street – shut up and work. It’s all very fascinating and yet nothing other than a muscle contraction will make the weight move. And since I was hired to help get weight to move and not to facilitate a support group of one, you can see where the conflict begins.

So I was in San Francisco in a leadership training program engaging myself in a non-stop whine-along about how I couldn’t do the homework while the coach side of me rolled her eyeballs and said, shut up and work. “But . . .” my mind would whine. Honestly, I was ready to break up with me. “Please, I’d like to see other cerebrums,” I’d say and then excuse myself to the restroom so I could ditch me. Can you lobotomize yourself with a coffee stirrer and expect a reasonable amount of accuracy, I wonder? Somebody please Google that. In the meantime, I got my own coaching right back at me yet again.

So what have I learned? I’ll never stop whining. So what. It’s never a good reason to stop what I'm doing. And when people whine to me, I’ll nod sympathetically but it’s all still a bunch of noise that isn’t going to make me budge because I'm familiar with all the unpleasant consequences either way.

For me, that’s evident with nutrition more than exercise. I spent the whole time in San Francisco eating at Whole Foods yet walking into every bakery, caressing display cases, smelling the sultry smells, reading the names and ingredients of all the baked goods and then walking out. It was neither heartbreaking nor brave that I chose not to eat anything – it was just the overwhelming desire to not feel like ass even as my mind whined about being ‘on vacation’. 98% of the time, the choices I made were consistent with my goals simply because one urge outweighed another.

What’s insane is when a client tells me how yucky they feel and still tries to debate with me why they should be able to eat crap anyway. Um, ok. I promise not to interfere with your efforts to lesson the quality of your life even though, inevitably, you paid me to do so. Please make all payments in advance.

Yes, you will always want to eat crap and believe me, I know what that feels like. Stop worrying about the wanting, choose the results you’d like to see and then do the stuff that gets you there. Feel free to be as neurotic as you’d like along the way, however. For instance, I once knew a bodybuilder who looked as spectacular as one could look while training that way and she always answered the question, ‘how are you?’ with a list of what she ate that day. That might be the answer to ‘what are you?’ and for those of you who are curious she was a lot of canned tuna. Though reflexive, I stopped asking after awhile and would just smile and nod hello whenever I saw her leaving the meal plan for someone else to sign off on.

As for me, I can see myself placing an ad in the ‘Seeking other’ section of ‘The Stranger’ that reads, “Please eat powdered sugar donuts for me while I watch . . .” and I’d only get a little weird about how they’d have to smear powdered sugar all over their face but not really creepy like they couldn’t have milk or something. It would be next to the ad asking for someone to throw luncheon meat at them. No, really. I actually saw that ad and I wondered if they meant Boar’s Head or Oscar Mayer. Thin sliced Boar’s Head in some classy Italian meat that’s cured or smoked and ends in ‘della is one thing but steamy Glad-bagged Wonder Bread sandwiches adhered with warm processed cheese foods and perspiring bologna is clearly twisted. On the other hand, it earns props if it’s unsliced and serves as a new dodge ball inspired game with Honey Hams. That would require skill, an ability to tolerate blunt force trauma and the courage to face down high glycemic glazes.

I probably had that entire conversation in my head while refueling from a brown Whole Foods box filled with a chunk of uninspiring hormone free meat from the hot bar. Well, at least it was keeping the fat girl in my head occupied while I was busy not listening.