Sunday, August 23, 2015

This Chick and her Eggs: More Thoughts on Aging

Recently I was talking with a friend about my injuries. I have my torn rotator cuff, which I've mentioned before, but I also have something going on with my hip. I think it's to do with my psoas. It's annoying, and both force me to modify my life more than I would like. I joked with her that it's my 'mid-life crisis.'

And it's true. I'm realizing my injuries have really brought on a mid-life crisis of sorts for me. They're forcing me to recognize that my body is changing. My hair is graying, my skin is thinner. I've put on a few pounds that reasonable effort will not remove. I get a little stiff and creaky. I can no longer do some of the high-intensity exercise I enjoy, or at least, not as often. And my cycles have changed--a lot. I'm pretty certain there will be no more little darlings pattering about the house.

Some of these changes are fine. I have no particular longings for more darlings. The two I have occupy my time and affections quite thoroughly. I don't even mind the aesthetic changes... at least, not too much. And my darling husband loves me just as I am... he's a true Mark Darcy in all the best ways, and for that, I am thankful.

I do miss the workouts. I miss the daily lala fix. I don't like being stiff and creaky, and I struggle with what to do with it in my mind. Is this the 'new normal?' Or can I get back some of that youthful vitality with lifestyle changes? If it's the former, then that's fine. I could make my peace with it, but I struggle. Not knowing if improvement is even possible makes me long for it.

But a funny thing happens when I discuss it with others. When I point out to people the obvious: that I am no longer a 'young woman,' that I am firmly within the stage of 'middle age,' they often react very strongly. "You're still young! You're not middle aged!"

Seriously, I've had people say that to me. Um, yes, I am a middle-aged woman. I am no longer young. I may be 'younger than' plenty of people, but if life expectancy has me living into my eighties, then my mid-forties puts me firmly in the middle of life.

Yet as a culture, we seem to be terribly uncomfortable with that truth. A young woman is vital, sexy, full of life and fecundity. A middle-aged woman... even the sound of it conjures an image of a frumpy woman past her 'prime.' We worship youth, we pursue it at great cost. The anti-aging industry is enormously profitable, and they have made it such at we deny the fact that youth is fleeting. The simple fact that we reject the reality that youth has passed reveals our ambivalence about it.


Years ago I stumbled across a very interesting and entertaining blog called A Chick and Eggs. It was written by a woman who was trying to conceive using donor eggs. (I found it because I was facing up to the fact that at thirty-eight, I had been diagnosed with 'diminished ovarian reserves.' In short, I was running out of eggs. The doctor told me the best he could do for me was IVF with donor eggs. We were not interested in that, and happily I found out a few weeks later that I was already pregnant with Darling Son #2.)

Anyway, this blogger wrote a somewhat controversial post speculating about reproductive technologies used by celebrities. She had no inside knowledge as to how these stars had conceived their children, but based on their ages and other circumstances, she guessed who might have used donor eggs. Realistically, a 45-year-old woman bearing a child has almost certainly not used her own eggs. By our mid-forties, our chances of conceiving on our own are pretty slim. (Maybe you know someone who did, but that's not the norm.)

Many of the comments criticized the blogger for digging into these people's personal lives, that they were entitled to some measure of privacy. While that's true, the blogger held her ground. She pointed out that many celebrities have nearly unlimited funds to pursue the latest in assisted reproductive technologies, plastic surgeries and other enhancements. They live in a world where failing to avail themselves of these opportunities means career suicide, but in doing so, they promote the myth of eternal bloom and fertility. She felt they had a moral obligation to own up to the extreme measures they took to extend their youth and fecundity well past the age when it would naturally be gone.

We live in an age of possibility, and particularly for us Americans, we tend toward relentless optimism. We're told with hard work and hard cash we can extend pert freshness indefinitely. But when we try to tap into all these possibilities, we lose something... that quiet contentment that can come from just... accepting. We're all aging. Time is moving on, and with it's passing we gain some things, and lose others.

Over the last few months, I've been grieving these changes I see in myself. And I'll be honest, all the assurances I get from people that I'm still young! do not help me. The more we deny this reality, the more we entomb the idea that middle-age is this terrible, terrible thing. One that must be denied and battled and beaten into submission. It reminds me of a commercial I saw for face cream years ago. The woman said, 'People talk about aging gracefully. Not me! I'm going to fight it every step of the way!' Good grief. Does this strike anyone else as silly?

I can't help but think I have more important things to do than deny reality and fight the inevitable. Even though I struggle, I must say, for all the vim and vigor I had in my younger days, I realize I wouldn't go back for all the world. I was a neurotic mess at twenty-five! No, thank you. I'll keep my wit and wisdom, and leave the fast-paced burpees to the young.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Myth of the Ideal Diet

I'm currently engaged in a most interesting discussion about the merits, or lack thereof, of animal foods with a vegan and a really-limit-your-animal-foods person on Facebook. I've never met either one of them, but they're delightful, interesting and the whole conversation is civil and respectful. So it can happen. I know we often only hear about the mud-slinging, but rational, polite discourse can occur online and I think we should shout 'hurrah!' when it does.

So hurrah!

Anyhoo, as you all know, I'm not a vegan. In fact, I recently bought half a grass-fed cow from a rancher in Maine. As a former vegetarian, I've been converted to the moo-side, but I think it's important to note that there is no one ideal diet for everyone. Our nutritional needs change, and our dietary habits shift based on a number of factors. 


A few months ago, I read a most interesting book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price. I know, snappy title. Sounds like a real page-turner. I'll own that it's a bit dry in spots, but the premise is fascinating. 

Dr. Price was a dentist from Cleveland, Ohio. He noticed that dental health was declining in his practice with each subsequent generation. He wondered why this might be, so with his wife, Martha, he embarked on a lengthy tour of the world in the early 1930s. The Prices visited remote areas of the globe, tracking down isolated people groups to study their teeth. They started in the Swiss Alps, visiting a village that was not yet connected to the modern world by road and traveled through Europe, to arctic regions of North America, islands of the South Pacific and remote African tribes. 

As you might imagine, the diets of these different people were as varied as the landscapes in which they lived. The Swiss lived on raw milk, cheese and a type of sourdough bread, the Inuits of the arctic ate only fish, meat and a little seaweed, the Masai of Africa ate meat, milk and animal blood, the South Pacific islanders ate mostly fish, fruit and vegetables, and so on. In short, the people ate what was available. Foods that were difficult to digest were prepared in ways to aid digestion. The prized cuts of meat were always the fattiest, particularly the organs. Our now expensive tenderloins would have often been fed to the dogs. 

Instead of finding people riddled with cavities and heart disease, Dr. and Mrs. Price found the opposite. In these communities, the people who consumed their traditional foods enjoyed remarkably good dental and physical health. The only ones who suffered were those who had adopted the sugary refined foods of the modern diet. 

One picture Dr. Price took from an isolated island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland is particularly telling:

The island had only recently been connected to the mainland via ferry service, and with the ferries came all the modern foods--refined flour, sugar, jams, Crisco and tinned foods. The brother on the left worked at the ferry dock and enjoyed the modern foods. His teeth began rotting and the father said this son struggled to get out of bed in the morning. The brother on the right ate the traditional food the islanders had been eating for centuries--mostly codfish and oats, traditionally prepared. He had no dental decay and excellent health. Not a varied diet, but whole food and no 'displacing foods of modern commerce,' as Price called them.

These men are brothers. Same genes, different food. 

Dr. Price found the same tragic effects in every place he visited. These 'displacing foods of modern commerce' resulted in rampant tooth decay and illness.

As I've been discussing the meat/plant debate on Facebook, I'm struck by what a luxurious age we live in. We are no longer constrained by what is seasonal, what is available wherever we live. We can get pretty much any food, any time. This tremendous liberty is, in some respects, a blessing. I'm guessing oat-stuffed codfish gets pretty old after a while. But the dark side is navigating our way through this sea, both literal and figurative, of food options we have set before us. There is so much choice. And not all of it is to our benefit. 

There are many lessons to be learned from Dr. Price's research, but one key take-away is this: a steady diet of sugar and refined foods is not good. For anyone. Apart from that, there are many, many ways of eating that can be good for us. Take your pick!

Monday, August 3, 2015

What to do when you gain weight

Over the winter I put on some weight. I truly did not notice this was occurring. Probably because I was too busy shoveling.

I discovered this most inconvenient truth sometime in late May, as I was digging out my summer clothes. Back in October, I had bought a very cute skirt with the little shorts underneath, a most convenient garment for the mother-of-small-people. Loved this thing. Very excited to wear it. Fir back in October, so assumed it would fit in May.

But it was tight. Way tight. Thanks to the Lycra contained therein, I could get it on, but it looked.... Not good. And it felt even worse. So I got on the scale and whoa.... Nearly 15lbs.

Oh dear. I try not to freak about weight. As I've mentioned before, I don't think it is the most important thing. It's a thing, but not the most important one. But the fact that all my summer clothes were tight was a most depressing development.

I started doing some detective work and discovered that part of my problem was the anti-inflammatory I was taking for my torn rotator cuff. I am not sorry I took it, but meds can absolutely affect these sorts of things. I gradually went off and and boom! Nearly 5lbs. Gone. That still leaves with 10 extra, but hey, every little bit helps.

You know what else I did?

I bought some new clothes. Not a whole wardrobe, just a couple of skirts and two capris. I honestly cannot account for those 10lbs. I eat a healthy diet and move around a lot. I'm going to explore some other things that might be contributing, but I'm not going to starve myself or engage in punishing exercise, both of which I suspect would be counter-productive anyway, but I'm also not going to walk around in too-tight clothes feeling lousy about myself.

Which leads me to my point. (I always get ther!) you know why people have muffin tops? Because their clothes don't fit. Maybe they need to cultivate some different habits, but first stop is a new pair of jeans. Because life is too short to walk around feeling like. A polish sausage in a hot dogs dress.*

*thats a good one! Hugh? Credit goes to my old roommate Amy.