Weighty Issues: Judgment, Obesity and Life & Death

One of the constant refrains on My 600 lb Life is Dr. Nowzaradan’s warning to patients that they don’t realize how close to death they truly are.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen a few other programs dealing with super morbidly obese patients who didn’t have the chance to make it to surgery or the surgery came too late. I know probably better than most how difficult it is to struggle with obesity all your life and the dangers that come with it.  For those who’ve never had weight problems, it probably seems like the obese are just lazy or gluttonous and while they don’t believe we are deserving of sympathy or help, they do believe we are deserving of their disgust and derision.

I can understand how some people never think of a box of donuts or a bag of chips as dangerous. Personally, I’ve never thought of a case of beer as being something dangerous to me, but to other people in my family, it might as well be a rattlesnake: if you don’t watch out, it can bite you! For those who’ve never struggled with their weight, they don’t understand how someone can eat a whole loaf of garlic bread at one meal any more than I can understand how someone can drink a whole case of beer in a couple of hours (or less). But just like people can drink themselves to death, people can eat themselves to death.  Obesity, like alcoholism, can kill you in more than a few ways.

The most obvious way obesity kills you is that your weight is just too much stress on your body.  Your heart and lungs are simply crushed by your weight: your body is too big for your heart to keep the blood flowing to all your organs and extremities, and as for your lungs, not only are they struggling to keep up with the oxygen demands for your body, but they are having to fight the weight of your chest each time you take a breath.  And that’s the situation if you have no other health problems related to your weight! There’s a host of health problems that come with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney (renal) failure, sleep apnea, high blood pressure (hypertension) and fatty liver disease just to name a few.  Those are the ones that can kill you, but there are a lot more than just make your life utterly miserable, such as lymphedema, skin ulcerations, cellulitis, asthma and gout. FYI: some of these can kill you too if you don’t keep them under control.

Obviously not-being-obese is a big step towards staying healthy. Of course there are plenty of skinny people who have serious health problems but when you weigh double (or triple) what you are supposed to weigh, you have a lot less wiggle room when it comes to your health.  Getting an infection that might be mild to someone with normal weight can be fatal when you weigh 500 lbs.

For most of us, we scoff at the idea that we will ever be anywhere close to 500 lbs.  Even while we may admit that we ‘might be overweight,’ we never think that we’ll be as big as ‘those people.’  I was reminded today of the frog analogy.  Most of us are familiar with it: you drop a frog in boiling water and it jumps right out, but if you put the frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will get cooked alive. (As a frog lover, I totally hate that analogy!) Whether it’s true or not, this is what happens to most of us when it comes to our weight. We start out a few pounds overweight and don’t think much of it; then we end up getting kind of plump and start thinking we should fix this; and then we’re suddenly shopping in the plus size department and start to get really concerned (maybe we even start dieting), and before we know it we are really-without-a-doubt FAT and now we start freaking out.  We don’t give much thought to the fact that food is everywhere. It’s cheap and easy to get and we often eat without even thinking about it.  How many of us have finished off a bag of chips or most if not all of a box of cookies without realizing it? It’s not that we’re gluttons– the cookies were just there and available and we weren’t paying attention!

This is what overeating is like for most people: too much pizza out with friends; scarfing a whole bag/ box of something while binge-watching a favorite show; or too many holiday treats.  But for some of us, overeating has way more in common with alcoholism: it’s become an addiction.  There are more than a few ‘experts’ that protest the idea of a ‘food addiction,’ but for the patient, it’s irrelevant.  They need to find a way to control their eating so they can lose the weight before it kills them! Does this sound over-dramatic? Believe me, it’s not.

People overeat for a variety of reasons.  For some of them, it’s a comfort mechanism: eating something they enjoy makes them feel safe and happy for a little while.  For others, it’s a way of controlling their body or their situation: it takes away feelings of helplessness. I am sure there are other reasons and for many super morbidly obese people, they may not know why they overeat.  The point is that when your weight is approaching a quarter ton, your first goal is to get control of the weight and worry about the whys and wherefores later. It’s basic damage control. Why you are overeating isn’t going to matter much if you’re dead.  Unfortunately, this is where most of us hit the brick wall: we know we need help but we don’t know how to get it.

I had a cousin who died from obesity.  He was in his early forties and weighed over 600 lbs.  Like all those patients on My 600 lb Life, he fought obesity all his life.  I remember him being about 18 years old and having high blood pressure. He was probably about 200 lbs then and his mom was screaming at him for eating potato chips and yelling at her husband for not hiding them from their son. He tried everything to lose weight, including joining the Army.  He was probably his thinnest ever once he got out of boot camp, but the weight came back and his health problems worsened: kidneys, diabetes, heart and liver issues. Although bariatric surgery at his weight was still highly risky, his doctor laid it out for him: either he takes the risks with surgery or he gives up and dies from his weight.  He risked the surgery and died on the table, leaving behind a wife and a son.

In my small high school, I was the second heaviest person in the school (that’s including the football players).  The heaviest person in high school was my friend Jennifer.  We were in the same grade and we took a lot of the same classes. She made a lot of her own clothes because it was hard finding anything that fit (this was the early 80’s). After graduating, Jennifer lost a lot of weight. In fact, I didn’t recognize her when I first saw her because she was ‘normal weight’ and looked so different. I confess I was completely jealous because I still weighed the same, around 200-250.  After college, she gained the weight back like so many of us do and this time she decided to try bariatric surgery.  She didn’t die in surgery like my cousin, but there was a complication with the anesthesia and she spent the last year of her life in a persistent vegetative state before dying of pneumonia.  She would have been 37.

My aunt was someone else who was always unhappy with her weight.  Unlike my cousin or my friend, my aunt (my dad’s sister in law) never approached 500 lbs or even 250.  My aunt’s weight hovered around the 200 lb mark but for her, it might as well have been 500 lbs. She hated being overweight and tried diet after diet. I tried a lot of them with her, mainly because I outweighed her by about 100 lbs.  She wanted to lose weight and lose it fast so she also opted for the gastric bypass. She was in and out of the hospital in no time at all and the weight seemed to melt off her.  She was over the moon! Until she started having issues with keeping food down.  Her weight went from slender to emaciated and she didn’t have the strength to walk or even stand up.  One of the complications with bariatric surgery that gets swept under the rug is anorexia. If eating a little bit of food leads to quick weight loss, eating even less food or no food leads to faster weight loss! For those patients who use food and their weight to control others or their surroundings, this is especially dangerous. For my aunt, I think it was just that she had always wanted to be thin so badly all her life and by the time her weight loss became a problem, the physical problems involved with anorexia had taken over. They were simply too much for her to overcome and sadly a few weeks after attending Jennifer’s funeral, I went to my aunt’s.  She was fifty-one.

The point of this post isn’t “bariatric surgery will kill you.” For a most bariatric patients, the surgery is literally life-saving. The point is I remember my cousin as being compassionate and funny and a warm-hearted young man.  I remember Jennifer as being a gifted artist, great with children and so giving of herself.  My aunt was also artistic, quick-witted, with a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful grandmother.  These are the people I knew and they are missed, but for the stranger on the street they were just fat.  They were neither gluttonous or lazy.  They were in fact some of the most industrious people I knew. Obesity is a serious medical problem but it gets overlooked because of snap judgments: “She wouldn’t weigh so much if she kept her hand out of the cookies!”; “He’d be thinner if he got off his butt and worked more!”

What is tragically ironic to me is that Jennifer, my aunt and my cousin all died while trying to help themselves while so many of the obese are stymied by their situation.  They know they need help, but other than ‘a diet’ they don’t know what to do or how to help themselves.  Unfortunately, many of their family members don’t know how to help them or believe their weight is the result of their own gluttony, laziness or greed (I remember my mom’s sister screaming at her son). Because it’s seen as “something they did to themselves,” it’s not seen for the real danger that it is. The obese are lumped in with drug addicts and alcoholics: “it’s their own fault!”  These are diseases of lifestyle, which nowadays include conditions like diabetes, but no one gets judged for having type 2 diabetes. Blame is a sad excuse for lack of compassion and a sadder excuse for letting someone die.





Put Down the Phone: Weight Loss & Our Devices

Some of you know I commute five days a week for my job. It’s about four hours round trip and while most people get really frustrated in traffic, I’ve mostly come to enjoy the time to myself. Of course there are some things that still really really irritate me and nothing irritates me more than seeing a driver with a cellphone in their hand.

I live in California and driving or texting while holding your phone is against the law. Using a Bluetooth device is allowed but if you’re caught holding your phone, it’s going to cost you. If you’re lucky, it’s just going to be a few hundred dollars, and if you’re not lucky, you or someone else could be hurt or die.

Unfortunately it’s still one of those laws that most people ignore. I’ve seen cops and CHP (California Highway Patrol) driving with phones in their hands. I was waiting at a traffic light one day watching the woman in the car next to me chatting away on her phone. Then she hung up, put it down, then picked up another one to make another call! I really wanted to roll down my window and holler at her to hang it up.

A few months ago I got a magnet for the back of my truck that says “Put Down The Phone.” I believe it really should say “damn phone!” Recently I’ve been seeing commercials for car insurance with the character Mayhem (actor Dean Winters) pretending to be a cellphone stuck under the console buzzing away.  Obviously the driver of the car smashes into the rear of a stopped vehicle and frankly, the commercials make me laugh. I know car accidents aren’t funny.  For the record, I work as a paralegal at a personal injury law firm and 98% of our clients are car accident victims and some of their accidents are the result of some fool on a cellphone. When I use my phone while I’m driving, I use my Bluetooth and when it’s not working (which is often), then my options are not making the call or pulling into a parking lot. Usually, it’s not a difficult decision: the call can wait.

I realize that this is not what most people would do. Since cellphones and other devices have become pervasive in our world, we are trained to reach for the cell when it goes off. Being out of cell range or – gasp!- turning your phone off is practically unheard of.  We are so connected to our devices and phones in particular that they are taking their toll on us in ways we are just beginning to discover.

I saw a health advisory discussing more and more patients coming to their doctors with “text neck” from holding their head at an uncomfortable angle because of texting. The solution? I completely expected the host to say: “put down the phone!” My jaw dropped when she said the solution is to hold your phone higher so it’s on a closer level with your eyes so you don’t have to bend your head. OMG! How about not texting/ scrolling/ emailing six hours a day?

I’m not going to lie: I love my phone, my iPod and my tablet, not to mention my desktop. I spend several hours a week on this blog and my pet blog (myfourleggedfamilyandme.wordpress.com) which means I’m obviously attached to my device or computer. Even though I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without my devices and the chargers for them, I also know that I don’t use my devices as much as other people do. There are a lot of people who are on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and other sites for several hours a day. I also don’t check my email every day- gasp! Also unheard of in today’s technocentric world! There’s a time and a place to use these things and sometimes that time is “not right now.”

As I said, I am not anti-device: I just think we need to have a little more discretion about when and where we use them, and I don’t just mean “while you are driving a car.” There are the obvious health risks that come with chronic device usage, like overexposure to blue light (impairs sleep), eye strain, headaches, the text neck mentioned above, carpal tunnel and tendonitis in the hands, fingers and wrists from chronic typing, texting and scrolling, but there’s the other less obvious health associated problems that come from being overly attached to our devices.  These are things like chronic sitting.  This is one that usually smacks me literally in the butt: I usually type my blog posts at my desktop which means if I’m not interrupted, I could end up sitting there at my desk for an hour or more, and this is just for one blog post! This means when I do get up, I’m usually a little stiffer than usual. Chronic sitting at a desk isn’t good for your legs, hips, back, shoulders, neck or eyes.  (For more on the dangers of chronic sitting, check out Deskbound by Kelly Starrett.) There is also how we are becoming more and more disconnected from the people we care about. Remember, humans are social creatures and we need a certain amount of contact with others to stay emotionally healthy! We’re familiar with the now cliche family sitting around the living room or kitchen table all glued to their devices, communicating through texts even though they are in the same room. This is cliche because it happens in real life now, and now that everyone is getting an Echo, Dot or other Alexa-enabled device, it’s become easier: “Alexa, call the garage”; “Alexa, call the kitchen.”

The chronic sitting and the disconnectedness are bad enough but chronic device usage is more insidious because it directly interferes with our daily activity. When I am glued to my desk top typing away, I am not getting up and moving around, which is why I am stiff.  When mom or dad needs to call little Janie or Mikey to the dinner table, they just send a text or have Alexa call the living room or bedroom rather than walk down the hall or up the stairs.  That lack-of-activity adds up!  We have the same effect when we order paper towels or other household necessities online and have them delivered to our house rather than going to the store and walking around to get them ourselves.  All of these daily little activities have gone away in favor of doing it on a device. Are you out of cat food? Get it delivered! Out of detergent? Get it delivered! And while you’re at it, order dinner to be delivered too!

I’m a huge fan of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save where I get some supplies delivered monthly and I also get an Autoship from Thrive Market each month as well.  I’m not going to lie about how convenient it is, especially since most of what I order is a hassle for me to buy locally (or plain unavailable). I will point out that I make at least one or two trips to local stores each week, and when I do buy online, I pick it up in the store if I can, partly because I’m impatient and I want what I ordered today dammit! and partly because if I’m going to order it online, I might as well get what exercise I can picking it up! Remember, activity is necessary for our health, let alone weight loss! Sitting on the sofa, the recliner, or even at the desk not only isn’t burning calories or building muscle, it’s an invitation to eat while you’re there! How many of us have devoured a bag or box of junk food just because it was there in front of you? And I’ll bet you don’t remember eating it all and definitely didn’t enjoy most of it!

This is the most insidious way that our devices inhibit our weight loss and contribute to our weight gain. Not only are we stuck on the sofa mindlessly munching popcorn while we watch YouTube on our phones, we ‘don’t have time’ to work out anymore. We’re too busy on Instagram or Facebook to go for a walk, a run or go to the gym.  Why would we take a walk and spend some time face to face with our friends when we can stay at home, eat brownies and do Facetime? Why would we even go outside to get some healthy sunlight when we can be shopping online for a Joovv light?  Then we could get healthy sunlight in the middle of the night when we’re liking things on Facebook! Let’s not even talk about staying up late into the night instead of sleeping because we’re on our devices! (Formerly guilty of this one also! I stopped when my forearms began to hurt from holding my tablet! Bad, bad, bad!) Your body interprets lack of sleep as stress and as Megan Ramos (The Obesity Code Podcast) stated recently, even if you’re eating right and working out, you won’t be losing weight if your body is under stress!

I love my devices and technology but I am also aware that all technology isn’t good for me or everyone else for that matter.  As I said above, I’m a paralegal at a law firm, and I am also the receptionist which means all the phone calls come through me.  When I came to work here, all of our attorneys had phones with intercoms, so when someone called for them, I could put the caller on hold and buzz the attorney to announce the caller. At my old job, we didn’t have intercoms, but our office was one large room with offices attached, so our intercom was “DAVID! THE COURT’S ON LINE TWO!” unless we happened to have clients in the office, in which case I got up. When I came to work here, hollering wasn’t an option, so I did what came naturally: I got up, walked down the hall and told the attorney face to face who was on the line for them rather than buzzing them (that seems rude to me).  When one of our attorneys semi-retired, he moved out of his office to a cubicle and he elected not to have his “intercom” moved to his new phone.  Now when someone calls for him, buzzing his line isn’t an option: I have to get up to announce his call.  It’s a little amusing for me because both he and his wife (a frequent caller) apologize when I get up to tell him he’s got a call.  Even though I tell them both it’s not a problem, I know they are used to the old receptionist who just buzzed everyone.  Incidentally, the receptionist I replaced at this job was not only overweight with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, she eventually had a stroke and had to retire on disability.  Believe me, getting up and walking down the hall to tell Rick he’s got a call is not a problem for me!




The Weight of Self-Worth

A friend of mine on MFP (My Fitness Pal) recently posted about “Plus Size Day.” Apparently it’s a day to celebrate being “plus-sized.”  In his post, he mentioned a parade full of larger people and how the news snippets were full of larger women making nasty comments about skinny people.  He concluded his post about how this day is to promote being the best You you can be, whatever your size, and he voiced his own concerns that maybe the best You doesn’t carry an extra 100 lbs.

While I realize he was just putting his opinion out there, this is the attitude I have lived with all my life. I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve heard all the comments, from sad & pitying, to nasty & snide, to the passive aggressive- all of them.  Most of them now I just ignore: ignorant people will continue to be ignorant no matter what I tell them, but occasionally, they still make me mad. I understand why some of those larger women are angry: like me, they’ve spent their entire lives being told there is something wrong with them; they are somehow broken/ substandard/ a failure; or they are just flat out ugly. They don’t meet some arbitrary social standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘acceptable.’

People might think that thin has always been pretty but there was a time when plump and curvy was the standard for pretty.  Having curves, wide hips and an ample bosom meant you were prime for bearing children and survival.  Thin meant poverty, possible miscarriage and malnutrition.  When the most important thing a woman could bring to a marriage was her ability to produce offspring, choosing thin meant betting long odds, whereas plump was almost a sure thing. (For men, plump meant being a successful  provider.)

Obviously those days are long past, but the idea of beauty being relative hasn’t changed.  Every February, the media is full of biologists’ reports about the ‘biological recipe for attraction,’ and how some physical attributes or gestures cue us on a biological or subconscious level that someone is a potential mate or is attracted to us.  Whatever science and biology may dictate, attractiveness is still defined by the individual.  We still bring our own personal values to the table, and these include our values about ourselves.

In one respect those old platitudes are correct: if we don’t value and respect ourselves, no one else will either.  When we look at ourselves and see someone who is disgusting, unworthy, ugly, stupid or hopeless, it shows.  We communicate those ideas and attitudes to others, and worse yet, they are reflected back to us by them and over time, those beliefs become firmly entrenched in our psyche.  We are unworthy and unlovable and we have nothing of value to offer anyone else.  Whether those ideas start in ourselves and come back to us or come from outside and become part of us is irrelevant.  If we believe it, it becomes our truth. 

This is what I and almost every overweight person has been told for as long as they have been overweight.  Most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a lot of free advice about how to lose weight; unsolicited attempts at ‘motivating’ you to lose weight; plenty of incentives to be thinner; and more than a few nasty comments about being a glutton, including the not-so-subtle implications that gluttony is a mortal sin and my being fat is sending me to Hell (thank you, Catholic school!) As a kid, I got them all the free and supposedly helpful advice about how to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with me; what I didn’t get was the idea that I’m fine just the way I am. When I was a kid, I probably carried an extra 20 lbs through middle school but the more people tried to ‘fix’ me, the more weight I gained, so by the time I hit high school, I was probably close to 200 lbs if not there already, and I kept slowly gaining weight. By the time I hit college, I was definitely over 250 and heading towards 300.

And the bigger I got, the more I heard about how flawed and unacceptable I was. My mom (the chief proponent of this attitude) pretty much gave up on me at that point.  Whatever was wrong with me, she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to fix me.  But I still got lots of criticism from the rest of society, because by then, I wasn’t just ‘plump and curvy’; I was certifiably FAT! I was the definition of ugly; of lazy; of gluttony. I had no redeeming values at all, because I was defined by my weight.  Whatever my mind or spirit might have to offer is completely negated by my fat body.

This idea that who I am is defined by how much weight I carry and what I look like eventually completely p*ssed me off.  Someone else was determining my value based entirely on what he or she saw, rather than who I actually was.  I was repeatedly being told by my professors and administrators and -yes, the same society that was condemning me- that it is flat out wrong to judge someone by their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or physical capabilities, but it’s totally okay to call me a loser because of my weight! How stupid is that? Everyone is to be judged on the content of their character, except for that fat chick over there- she’s worthless because she weighs 300 lbs.

This is why I stopped listening to other people’s opinions of me and my weight.  It’s why when my mom decided to try and ‘fix’ me again (after my sister stopped talking to her), I pretty much ignored her attempts.  I would come home and find diet books left on my doorstep followed by a voicemail asking if I got the book she left: I just stacked them in a corner, and over the years, the stack got taller and taller, and dustier and dustier.  While I realize that part of her motivation was my slowly declining health, her attempts at ‘fixing’ me were accompanied by more of the same dangling incentives: I’d have all the guys I wanted; she’d buy me a brand new wardrobe; I’d be ‘gorgeous.’  Because obviously, I wasn’t attractive to anyone at my weight! (FYI: I didn’t tell her about my boyfriends because they sure didn’t share her attitude!)

I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to lose weight despite ignoring my mom’s and everyone else’s criticisms.  My desire to lose weight came not from thinking of myself as worthless, but instead came from my growing inability to do the things I wanted to do.  It’s hard to walk around and be active when you’re carrying 400 lbs.  The pain in my knees had more to do with my desire to be thinner than anything my mom had to tell me. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or end up diabetic or have to sleep with an oxygen mask because my independence was far more important to me than the opinions of strangers. While I wasn’t happy being 400 lbs, I did my best not to allow it to dictate my life any more than I allowed other’s opinions of me to do so either.  I lived my life the way I wanted to live my life.  I became the best Me I could be, whatever my size.  For the most part, I am still that same person: I do what I want, say what I want and think what I want. The only difference is that now I weigh 185 lbs less. I am the best Me I can be, despite carrying that “extra 100 lbs” my friend mentioned in his post.  Although I am still losing weight, it’s not so that I can hit my “ideal weight” or some arbitrary “goal weight” set by some doctor or BMI chart; it’s because I value my independence.  I like being able to do all the things I want to do, and I like trying new things.  Being thinner and healthier has added more valuable activities and abilities to my life, but at the same time, I also know that I am still obese. That “extra 100 lbs” is still there and strangers still judge me by my weight.  And you know what? I still don’t care. Who I am is not what I weigh, nor am I defined by what other people think of me.

Fear of Missing Out, But What Should We Really Be Afraid Of?

I’ve never understood Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) when it comes to food. I think it’s because there are just some foods I really don’t like, so when they’re offered or available, I just automatically say No thanks.  Other than these particular foods, I’ve always been more than happy to sample, often and as much as possible!

Over the summer, I heard a lot about FOMO, maybe because it was wedding season or because of all the barbecues and parties.  I know at my sister’s wedding, I certainly sampled quite a few things that aren’t normally on my menu! (Some were pretty good, too!) But again, it wasn’t FOMO that put those items on my plate.  It would have been just as easy to leave them off, and there were quite a few items that didn’t make it on my plate too!

I’ve always been an adventurous eater.  It was one of the good things I learned from my mom: just because it looks weird or different doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it out!  It’s one of the things I share with my best friend.  We’ll go to a restaurant for the first time and we’ll pick something we’ve never had before because hey- that looks different! Of course, not all of these experiments are winners, but we remain undeterred!

From what I’ve heard and seen, when it comes to FOMO, people are afraid they are missing Something Amazing.  Usually, they go out to a special event or restaurant and there is a food or drink that looks like it’s amazing or others who’ve tasted it have already said “It’s AMAZING!” and they are dying to try it!  I can sympathize:  I am not normally a beer drinker (or alcohol of any kind).  This is partly because alcoholism runs in my family and it’s partly because alcohol usually doesn’t taste good to me.  I concluded that if I’m going to drink beer (or alcohol), then it really is going to be amazing because otherwise it’s not worth the awful taste. Recently, my friends and I went out to a local microbrewery that has a reputation for making some awesome beers, and one of the items on the menu is a “Beer Sampler” where you choose five brews and you get a five ounce glass of each.  Two of my friends usually get that when we go, but honestly, that’s a lot of beer that I probably won’t finish!  I opted to choose two glasses of two different beers that I wanted to try.  One really was amazing, and the other was good and different, but not something I would order again. I normally don’t finish it, but it actually tasted better the warmer it got. FYI: I am a total beer snob- American beer tastes really really awful to me!

It wasn’t that I was ‘afraid’ of missing out on some great beer.  I’d been to this microbrewery before and not touched a drop of beer or any alcohol and I didn’t think I’d missed anything special or amazing.  This time, however, I felt like trying something new and so I did.  I had a good time, had one great beer and one a little better than average, and I don’t regret my choices (at least with the beer!)

There are a lot of times at my friends’ places, they’ll mix some great drinks or have some really amazing food (my friend is an awesome chef!) but I don’t feel that saying no thanks means I’m going to miss out on Something Amazing.  My friend knows I eat differently than she does and sometimes I will have a small taste to be polite (or if she wants to know if it’s missing something), but really, if I say no and pass on Something Amazing, what have I really missed out on?

That’s what it comes down to for me.  Bottom line: it’s food.  Even if it’s a food I probably won’t have an opportunity to try again (i.e. something at a resort or vacation spot I might not get back to), what have I really lost out on?  Tasting an amazing cheesecake/ pastry/ alcohol/ etc?  It’s FOOD! Tasting it is not going to change my life and it probably won’t add anything to it either, just like not tasting it isn’t going to take anything away from my life. It might be enjoyable; it might not be enjoyable, but either way missing out or not isn’t something that I should be afraid of.

Maybe that’s a little extreme, but when some people mention FOMO, they really are nervous and afraid.  I can understand it if others are pressuring you to try something.  I’ve tasted a lot of stuff just to be polite but that was because of FOOO (Fear of Offending Others), definitely not FOMO. There are some things that I am afraid of missing out on, and none of those things are food.  I’m afraid of missing out on a trip with friend or family; I’m afraid of not being able to do activities I want to do, like working out, walking or playing with my pets; I’m afraid of being too big to buy the clothes that I like or to fit in my car or drive for a long period of time because my legs or back hurts.  I am afraid of missing out on experiences, activities and time with people I care about; for me, missing out on food doesn’t even rate!

In 2012, I went on a trip to Disneyland with my friends, and that experience really hit home for me, because that was something that really meant a lot to me and because of my weight, it was not a good experience.  I essentially ‘missed out’ on doing a lot of things I wanted to do with them because I was too big to fit on the ride, fit in the seats or walk as far as they could.  That is something I really regret missing out on, so compared to that, food just doesn’t rate! Compared to running around Anaheim with my friends having a once in a lifetime experience, eating even Something Amazing doesn’t even come close! Missing out on an Amazing Cookie or an Amazing Meatloaf Sandwich or an Amazing Wine isn’t something to be afraid of; missing out on spending quality time doing Something You Love with People You Love is what we really need to fear.











Connected: Being Part of a Pack- er- Tribe?

I recently heard a podcast about ‘Longevity village’ in China.  This is an isolated village (or at least it used to be!) where the residents routinely live 100 years or pretty close to it.  Once researchers found out about it, they naturally had to figure out why these people were living so long and were so healthy. From what I heard, most of it was the obvious: hard physical work that keeps them mobile most of the day; getting up and going to bed with the sun; clean fresh food and water; natural optimism when it comes to stress; and strong social connections.  The strong social connections is what catches a lot of people by surprise.  What does it matter if you have a positive social network?  Being a devoted pet parent, it’s easier for me to understand than for someone who doesn’t spend 90% of their time around four legged individuals.

Some of you know I am a hard core TLC addict, and I’ve been seeing ads for a new show called The Putmans, which has yet to premiere.  It’s about an extended family all living in one home, which is about 25 people.  I grew up in an atypical family and although we didn’t all live in the same household, we regularly interacted.  If any of you have seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, my family was really similar.  There’s the scene where Tula gets busted because her cousin sees her with her boyfriend who tells her aunt who gets in her face about him.  That was pretty much how I grew up: lots of relatives who all live in the same town so we run into each other all over.  We also had a tradition of getting together on Sunday afternoon/ evenings.  We would eat dinner and spend time talking, playing games or passing around parts of the newspaper.  Usually the television would be off and any devices would be put away.  This was time we spent being together and holidays were simply to ‘all day version’ of Sunday afternoons.  These weekly get-togethers ended when my grandparents passed away (we met at their house) and they are one of the things that I miss most.  Although I still connect with my family, it’s mainly over the phone or through social media.  While the host of the podcast feels this is still a viable connection, for me, it lacks the real connection of being in the same room with them.

SinceI grew up having my family around me, it was normal to stop at a bakery or business where a relative worked.  Seeing them in stores or around town was and still is normal.  Even as a child I was very aware that this was not how it was with most of my classmates and colleagues (my grandparents lived into their 90’s, so this tradition lasted well into my 40’s).  I also came to realize that for friends and colleagues who grew up in other countries that this was very normal for them.  For them, running into a relative while shopping or having coffee with friends was just part of every day life and most of my foreign-born friends soon came to realize that most American families have a different idea of ‘family.’

I’m not criticizing anyone’s idea of ‘family,’ but having grown up with one version and now living a more ‘standardized’ version, I know which version I prefer.  I miss the connections and interactions with family, and while many of them are happy connecting through social media, I’m pretty lame when it comes to apps like Facebook or Instagram. The important aspect is the Connection.  Humans are social creatures and we don’t do well in isolation. This is what makes positive social interaction important to our health.

There is a reason that solitary confinement is a punishment, not only in prisons but also as children.  Remember all those times we misbehaved and got sent to our room?  It’s solitary confinement: if you can’t work well or play well others, then you’re going to be alone.  Across the world, cultures have traditionally used a form of isolation or ostracism to punish those who disrupt the society at large, and it tends to be successful.  Loneliness is a huge problem, even in our cyber-connected society, and it leads to a host of health problems.  As the author of The Longevity Plan pointed out, people who have strong and positive social connections live about seven years longer than those without them.

Having grown up with pets all my life, I have seen the interaction among them.  Dogs are as social as humans are and while we travel in ‘tribes’ and dogs travel in ‘packs,’ it’s all the same thing: this is my social unit.  We eat together, we sleep together, we play together and we work together.  This is how we survive. (Cats are less social, but they also strengthen their societal bonds in the same ways.) If any of you are familiar with Dr. Jane Goodall’s observations of chimps, our closest primate cousins also travel in tribes and follow the same kinds of bonding behaviors: grooming; sleeping; eating; playing; working.  We are more successful, productive and safer in our groups. A chimp, dog, cat or human is far safer in their group than on their own.

I have a very clear memory of when I began living alone, or at least being the only human in my house. It was the day my sister moved away to college: I said good bye and watched her drive away and as I walked back into the house, I realized that I was alone.  More specifically, I realized that changing the lightbulb in the garage had new implications for me: if I fell off the ladder, it could be days before anyone realized something had happened to me. This is one of the reasons ’emergency pendants’ are such big business now: more of us live alone and face the same dangers.

Falling off the ladder aside, positive social connections promote a positive outlook.  When we’re happy, we have others to share our joy and when we’re upset or angry, we have others to commiserate and share our burden. We have others to help with a project, come up with plans or even help with the physical labor. Remember the expression ‘many hands make light work’? Being alone makes everything harder, even the every day tasks most of us don’t really think about.  Living alone, if I don’t do the dishes, they sit in the sink until I do them.  The same with throwing out the trash, making a meal, doing the laundry, and the shopping and the rest of the housework.  If I don’t do it, there is no one else in my house who will.  That means all of the work falls to me, which means I have less time to pursue things I enjoy or to socialize.

Even taking care of my pets falls to the sole human in the pack (2 cats, 1 dog, 1 human).  I notice a lot of the same bonding behavior among us even though we are different species: they will all groom each other, play with each other, sleep next to each other and eat together.  As the lone biped, I am not exempt: they include me as much as they can with playing, licking and sitting on me.  When we go to sleep at night, all four of us end up in the same room and usually on the same bed. I realize that most people think it’s pretty weird to consider animals as part of a family unit, but I really grew up treating them as people (they are a Who not an It.) I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter so much what we interact with so much as the fact that we do interact.  If we feel we are connected and feel the benefits of those connections, then it doesn’t matter if the connection is with a phone, a tablet or a dog or a cat.  We benefit from knowing that we are not alone.  Recently, in fact, I was at home without my dog since I had returned from a trip on a Sunday and could not pick him up until the following day.  When I went to bed that night, I was very aware that there was no dog in my house and I didn’t feel as safe as I do when he is there (he’s all of 12 lbs!) The cats were also aware that one of our pack was missing and were looking for him in the house, which felt oddly empty without his bouncing around. I know my furry little family unit looks a lot different than most and while they may not be human, they are most definitely my tribe.