January 27, 2011
Today’s Weigh-in: 228 lbs
Loss to Date: 8 lbs
To goal: 58 lbs
Again I want to start by thanking everyone for their encouragement, especially those who have shared their own stories of weight loss.
Your stories reminded me: I’ve done this before and I will do this again.
It’s funny how these things start. In my case, it was a 2004 family trip to Alberta for my cousin’s wedding. For the most part, I stayed in my own hotel rooms. I was 27 and well employed, a veritable grown-up who didn’t need to crash with his parents. With one exception: the two nights we stayed in the bed and breakfast where we were having the wedding dinner and, since Cape Bretoners were involved, party . The first night, I stayed in a room with my parents, they in the bed in an above loft and me on a pull out couch. At some point, Dad kicked the pull-out bed to get me to roll over, complaining I was snoring too loud. I flipped the bird, called him a hypocrite (among other things unfit for publication), but ultimately complied. This ritual would be repeated when I went to Halifax for another cousin’s wedding, this time sharing a room with my parents because I neglected to reserve one myself and the hotel sold out.
Dad had good reason to get called the “h” word (the others, … well … he did actually kick the bed). Neither of my parents are what you call quiet sleepers, and I spent many a night while travelling on family vacations utterly powerless to get to sleep after they started. When they tried to warn me that my snoring was unnaturally loud, my reaction when I was in a good mood was typical of my generation: “Whatever” or “My snoring isn’t my problem, it’s yours.”
Turns out though, it was my problem. In the months that followed, I noticed a whole host of things happening that simply weren’t normal for me. My memory recall was shot. More than one friend over the years has remarked at my ability to recall the tiniest bit of trivia – a skill that was very useful at Rick Anderson’s trivia shows – and one even suggested I try to get on Jeopardy to fund grad school.
I was also dozing off at work. Now I’m sure that happens to everyone now and then, but this was happening daily. With my coffee consumption at the time hovering around 3 to 4 extra-large Tim Horton’s a day, I had more caffeine in my blood than actual blood. I was especially worried about the dozing off, because it was summer and a 7 hour drive to the family summer homestead in Ben Eoin was never out of the question and I often drive with my boss to political events. I write “drive with” because he likes to drive himself, but if I’m lucky, he’ll be just tired enough he won’t want to drive home so I get to do my Jeremy Clarkson impression and get behind the wheel of his Jaguar or Caddy.
Figuring these were connected, I went to see my doctor. I hate going to see my doctor. Not because it means admitting I’m sick, but because he’s a cranky bastard. The good thing is cranky bastard doctors are pretty efficient so at least he usually runs on time. In this case, I actually got a med student doing their practice term. She looked down my throat, ruled a few things out, got stymied and was thinking of what other tests she could subject me to when I opened my big yap:
“I’ve been hearing about this thing called sleep apnea. Could this be it?”
That pretty much crystallized whatever she was thinking. Next thing, she’s ordering the sleep test.
I should probably mention at this point that I have never been a great sleeper. A good night sleep for me might be four hours. My mother says, “You’ve been a night owl since the day you were born. You just stopped keeping the rest of us up with you.” This history wasn’t quite helpful when the intern would ask when was my last quality sleep and my response would be typically, “Never” or “Two weeks ago when I went out with the boys. It took about eight hours to sleep that off.”
I’ll spare you the medical mumbo-jumbo on sleep apnea. That’s what Google and Wikipedia are for. All you really need to know is the sleep test, which uses infrared to measure the continuous levels of oxygen in your bloodstream while you sleep. If it records levels going down, you have apnea. Like most tests I’ve taken throughout life, I registered a high score. A high score in this test, however, is more like a high score in golf. You don’t want it.
The diagnosis was in. The treatment was a Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) machine and weight loss. I then weighed in at 244 lbs. In the BMI index, that was 37 or Obese Level II. In fact, just a few points shy of morbid obesity. While no causal link has been established between sleep apnea patients and obesity, there is a high correlation between the two. Since the correlation is greater than that of cigarette smokers to cancer, I figure they might be right on this one.
The month long trial with the CPAP machine made me wonder if the device was in use at Gitmo, extracting info from Taliban militants. For those who haven’t taken the hint and googled sleep apnea, a CPAP keeps your airway open while you sleep by blowing air through your nose through the airway, forcing the flap to stay open. If you’re thinking it sounds like a vacuum cleaner on reverse, you’re right. It’s just quieter. The first mask they gave me went over my head like that for a fighter pilot. Since I was a light sleeper, this was enough to ensure the next month would be a sleepless one, thus defeating the point of the machine. Two weeks in, I asked for different mask. This one was the tube kind like you see emphysema patients, it wraps around your ears and goes up your nostrils. It wasn’t much of a help. Despite having a built in humidifier, it dried out my nostrils and caused frequent nose bleeds. Cocaine addicts have less nose bleeds than I had. I ended my four week trial in week three because my mind was made up. There was no way I was going to spend $1200 for this thing. Since I wasn’t going to buy it, there seemed little reason to lug it with me on a business trip to Washington, DC.
So weight loss it was. Ironically, when I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I was already moving in this direction for its own sake. I had already started to go swimming daily prior to my diagnosis. Since I had also moved out of my parent’s house in New Maryland for a townhouse on Connaught St., I was now within walking distance of my office at St. Thomas, albeit an uphill walk. The morning after my diagnosis, I took out a membership at the STU fitness centre. Since most of my vehicle use was meetings off-campus and the weekend, I would leave the car at the university during the week and walk to work on weekdays and workout at the fitness centre before going to work. After work, I would walk downtown to the Beaverbrook hotel to swim before walking home. I even symbolically sold my junk food to one of my housemates for a dollar and moved it from my side of the cupboard to his.
I didn’t have a nutritional plan like I do now, but I cut down on portions. No more “fourth meal” on Friday night. I would keep my Saturday morning routine of going to the Boyce Farmer’s Market as a reward, but other than that I kept true to my plan. I even cut back on drinking. At the time, I was probably drinking a couple of gin and tonics a night. I cut it down to couple a week. Fridays at the Taproom were still sacrosanct.
By the time I left for DC in August 2005 to start my PhD, I was down to 178 lbs. I was down from a 44 waist to 38. I had my suits taken in. Oddly, I hadn’t gone down a shirt size. The dimensions for men’s shirts are such that neck, shoulder, and chest size matter in determining size and those don’t change much through weight loss. The large might still have been too small, but the XLs were pretty loose, though.
The following years would see me gain almost every pound back. In part because my weight loss didn’t lead to me having some ripped body like those late night informercials, I didn’t notice the pounds coming back on. I figured the walk to places like Urban BBQ for their soul rolls was enough to justify them. Upon coming back to Ottawa, working while writing the dissertation didn’t help. I needed the quick meal so I could get writing, not the good meal. Suit sizes became an unreliable indicator, too. When designers switched to slimmer suit designs to capitalize on the Mad Men fashion trends, I arbitrarily went up to a size 52 suit while my 46s still fit perfectly.
I haven’t had the return of the symptoms of sleep apnea, but that’s not to say that I was healthy at 236. We too often equate health as the absence of illness, even though some ailments are less illness and more conditions. I started to think I was in poor condition back in late November when a fire alarm forced the evacuation of the floor of my building around four am. Walking down 19 flights was not a problem. It was walking back up 19 flights because the night shift at security couldn’t get the elevators running again that damn near killed me. Since I was already losing weight, I figured it was now time to get fit, too.
Since starting this program, I have had a cartoon running through my head. My friends from the east coast of Canada will remember a time with the cable company carried the Bangor affiliates of the US networks, instead of Boston. The NBC affiliate used to show cartoons in the afternoon around the time we’d get home from school. Many of these were old Tom and Jerry ‘toons and the occasional Fleisher Superman cartoon. Sometimes they’d throw in an old war bonds cartoon. The one I keep thinking about while I’m on this journey is about some mice who band together against their common foe, the household’s cat. They gather materials, recycle toothpaste tubes, etc. to build a mechanical dog to chase the cat away. The entire time, they’re singing a song “We did it before and we’ll do it again.”
And so will I.