A Personal Tune-Up

Two new routines in my life.

I turned 56 at the end of June. (Unlike other women, I don’t lie about my age.) And although I’m a lot more active than my mother (for example) was at my age, I’m not quite as active and fit as I’d like to be. To make matters worse, I’ve discovered that Mother Nature plays nasty little tricks on a person’s body as he or she ages.

While most people would take the attitude that it’s all part of aging and there’s nothing they can do about it, I’d rather not. So I’ve set August as the beginning of a personal tune-up period and have added two new routines to my life.

Feeling Better through Weight Loss

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that back in 2012 I lost 45 pounds or approximately 23% of my body weight. (I’ll let you do the math; and you never thought you’d use high school algebra, huh?) This huge weight loss coincided with the beginning of my crazy divorce and lots of folks assumed that stress from the divorce caused the weight loss. It didn’t — although I suspect it did help. I lost all that weight by getting on and sticking to Medifast, a diet plan that two friends had used to lose 80 and 70 pounds respectively. A friend who started at the same weight as me lost just as much as I did in about the same amount of time. Truth is, by the time I got home from my summer job to face the crazy that awaited me, I’d already dropped most that weight and I managed to keep most of it off for two years.

But as you might expect from going off a strict, unsustainable diet plan — I had no desire to eat that “food” for the rest of my life — the weight crept back on. Not all of it, thank heaven. But enough to make me feel the sluggishness and lack of motivation that I felt back in the final days of my ill-advised marriage. So I decided to do something about it.

The question was what to do? Sure — I could get back on Medifast and drop all that weight in another four months. But then I’d secure my seat on a dieting seesaw I never wanted to be on. I needed a more sustainable plan, something that would allow me to eat the food I wanted without counting calories or getting overly concerned about portions.

Enter Whole30

Long story short: six different friends raved to me about Whole30. It’s apparently been around for a while. It’s a version of a Paleo diet. Food is broken down into broad yes/no categories:

Yes No
Meats, fish, and eggs Dairy, including cheese (!)
Fruit Added sugar or sugar substitute
Vegetables (with some exceptions) Legumes
Nuts (with some exceptions) Grains, including whole grains and pasta
Natural fats Alcohol, including wine (!)

This isn’t everything you need to know, of course. But it is about 90% of what the plan entails.

It’s about your health, stupid.

I have no patience for overweight people who claim that they don’t care what other people think of them or that fat can be beautiful or that society places too strong an emphasis on perfect bodies and they don’t care. These people are missing the point.

I’m not saying we should all look like runway models. I’m saying that we should maintain healthy body weight. So many ailments can be avoided or even cured by weight loss. This isn’t bullshit hearsay — it’s the truth. Not only will you look better and feel better when you get down to a healthy weight, but you’ll be healthier and have a much better feeling of self-esteem. Take it from me: I’ve been there. Stop making excuses and start taking care of your health.

The idea is to stick to this plan exactly as written for 30 days (yes, it’s the 30 Day Challenge). The authors of the plan and the book that goes with it make all kinds of claims about how good you’ll feel at the end of that month. Some of them are admittedly outrageous — like claims to “cure” literally dozens of ailments related to “silent inflammation.” I don’t believe all that crap, although I do believe that symptoms of some ailments can be greatly reduced with a good diet and healthy weight. For example, I have had high blood pressure for years; it runs in my family. When I was very heavy, it took three meds to control it. When I lost all that weight, I got it under control with just one med — and that’s where I am today.

(I might also mention here that one of the reasons I was determined to lose all that weight back in 2012 is because my doctor told me I needed to start watching my sugar numbers. Type 2 diabetes also runs in my family and I didn’t want any part of that. My weight loss took the possibility of that off the table — no pun intended.)

Whole30 BookThe Whole30 book itself is pretty funny if you read it with a mind as cynical as mine. It’s all “rah-rah” and “you’ll hate us for this but” and other such nonsense meant to encourage weak people. The way I see it, if you want to see results, you have to stick to a plan that’ll work. No amount of coaxing is going to work on someone with no willpower.

The gimmick with the Whole30 Challenge is that for the 30 days you’re following the plan, you can’t cheat. Not even a tiny bit. If you have anything to eat that isn’t allowed, you have to start over. So yes, the 1/3 teaspoon (I measured it) of sugar and half ounce (estimated) of milk that I put into my 18 ounce cup of coffee (allowed) this morning is cheating and I’d have to start over tomorrow. That ain’t gonna happen. I was warned by my Medifast diet coach that coffee, milk, and sugar weren’t allowed on Medifast and I wouldn’t get results if I had them every morning. But I did and I still lost a shit-ton of weight.

And sure, you can throw my words about willpower above back in my face, but my morning coffee is something I’m not willing to give up for a week, let alone a month. I want to find a plan I can live with, not suffer through.

Not a Weight Loss Plan?

I should point out here that the Whole30 book claims it isn’t a weight loss diet plan. I honestly think they say that so you’re not disappointed when you don’t lose weight. But in the book, they say that you will lose weight as a side effect of getting all the bad food out of your system. And although they don’t have you counting calories, they do talk about portion sizes and having just three meals a day — or at least keeping three hours between smaller meals. And that sounds a lot like Medifast.

I guess it’s all the same no matter how different it is.

You Have to Like to Cook

One of the interesting aspects of Whole30 is that because you have no idea what they put in restaurant food, you can’t really eat in a restaurant. And because you’ll likely die of boredom eating plain salad and grilled meat all the time, they have lots of recipes in the book. (There are also a ton online. Want to make a pork dish? Google Whole30 pork recipe.) So you’ll theoretically do a lot of cooking at home. I like to cook so that’s okay with me.

The other day I made their Classic Chili recipe using some of the ground beef I already had in my freezer (from the 1/4 cow I bought last year) and vegetables right out of my garden. It was surprisingly delicious. It also made enough for me to freeze two portions so the next time I don’t feel like cooking, I can grab one out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and enjoy.

The book also has a ton of recipes for various sauces to spice up plainly prepared foods. I made an almond- and tomato-based “romesco sauce” yesterday to top garlic shrimp with zucchini noodles. The recipe made enough for several meals, so I used some this morning on an omelet I made with eggs from my chickens and onions, tomatoes, and peppers from my garden. It really did make breakfast more interesting.

Home Made Lara Bars
With no added sugar and simple, wholesome ingredients, you don’t need to be on a special diet plan to like these energy bars.

I also found a recipe online the other day for Whole30-compliant energy bars similar to the Larabars you might find in your supermarket or health food store. I made two versions: one with dates, coconut, dried cherries, almonds, and pepitas and the other with dates, coconut, dried apricots, almonds, and flax seeds. I put half in the fridge and used my vacuum sealer to seal and freeze the other half in individual bars. I’ve been eating them for dessert and will likely take them on hiking or day trips. They’re actually quite tasty.

So I guess that as long as I can continue to make interesting foods, I’ll have no trouble sticking with it. My 30 days started yesterday and I’ll go until month-end. I’ll likely blog some interesting things I discover along the way.

But I don’t actually expect Whole30 to be the reason I lose weight over the next few months. I’ll leave that to Invisalign.

Stopping Shifting Teeth

Here’s something I never knew about aging: your teeth shift.

I’ve always had very healthy teeth — only three cavities in my life so far. They were not, however, perfectly straight. When I was a kid, my parents actually debated me getting braces for an overbite and eventually decided that it wasn’t severe enough. (They were right about that.) My bottom teeth, however, have always been a bit crooked, with one of the front ones sitting at a 30° angle to the others. Fortunately, no one sees that when I smile since my front teeth steal the show. So although I was never happy about those bottom teeth, I never saw a need to fix them.

One of the happy side effects of my divorce is that I smile a lot more now. (It’s true! I’m a much happier person!) And about a year or two ago, I started to notice that in photos of me smiling, one of my front teeth seemed to be in the shadows. I realized, with a bit of horror, that it was starting to shift backwards in my mouth and it was affecting my smile.

Now I’m not raving beauty and I came to terms with that years and years ago. But I do look best when I’m smiling so I do it a lot. I found the thought of my smile getting ugly very hard to swallow.

Enter Invisalign

Invisalign is a program with dental “appliances” to straighten teeth. It’s extremely effective in cases where not much straightening is required — like in my mouth — and it’s popular with adults because it’s basically invisible to others. The patient starts with a set of clear plastic appliances that fit over his or her teeth and gently tug them toward the desired end position. Every 7 to 10 days, the appliance is replaced with a new one that continues the positioning. At the end of the program, the teeth should be in the desired end position.

My dentist showed me an animation of my teeth moving into the proper position over time. It was very cool. I’ll see if I can track down a sharable copy.

In my case, I’ll be using 20 sets of appliances. They started me yesterday with my first one. The worst part is the placement by the dentist of small upraised points on several teeth to hold the plastic braces in place. Then they snap in snugly and go to work. I can feel them pulling, but although I thought they’d keep me up, I slept like a log last night — nine full hours!

And yes, I do have to wear them night and day. You must wear them 20 to 22 hours a day for them to work.

I’ll wear these for 10 days, then switch. Then 10 days of that and a switch. Then I visit my dentist so he can see how things are going and get the next batch. I’m hoping that they’re going well enough to do a switch every 7 days instead of 10 to speed up the program.

The net results: I should have all my teeth — even the bottom ones I’d already decided I could live with crooked — straightened within about six months.

Of course, since my teeth will want to continue to shift as I continue to age, I’ll have to wear a retainer at night, likely for the rest of my life. Let’s hope I can live with that.

Invisalign and Weight Loss

Of course, I talked to a bunch of people about their Invisalign experience before plunking down a bunch of money to give it a try. (It ain’t cheap.) And one of the things that came up is the fact that you lose weight when you’re on Invisalign.

What?

Well, it actually makes perfect sense. You have to wear these things at least 20 hours a day and you can’t eat or drink anything other than water while you’re wearing them. Sure, they’re easy enough to take out, but if you take them out to eat, you need to brush your teeth and clean the plastic appliances before putting them back in. This is a huge pain in the ass. So, as a result, people wearing Invisalign appliances don’t do much snacking between meals. That means they lose weight.

So combine Whole30 with Invisalign and it would be a miracle if I didn’t lose weight.

Invisalign and White Teeth

I also expect that my teeth will be cleaner and whiter than they’ve ever been before.

Let’s face it: I hate brushing my teeth. I hate the flavor of toothpaste. (Peppermint has been known to make me nauseous.) When I eat a meal, I want the flavor of the meal to linger on my palate 20 or 30 minutes later, not the minty flavor of toothpaste. So I normally brush my teeth just once a day, and that’s usually right after showering. I do everything in my power to avoid brushing right before or after my morning coffee, which really is sacred to me.

But now I have to brush after every meal or snack. I brushed my teeth four times yesterday. I expect to brush at least five times today as I begin considering my mid-morning snack.

I use a whitening toothpaste. Brushing 4-5 times a day would have to result in whiter teeth, no?

So in six months, I can expect to have the straightest, whitest teeth I’ve ever had.

Is It Time for Your Tune Up?

Getting old sucks. (And don’t give me the tired old saw about it beating the alternative; there will come a point for many of us when the alternative is better.) But you don’t have to take things lying down. You can do what’s within your power or budget to make your life better as you age.

That’s what I’m doing. If you’re not, why not?

Shouldn’t We All Be Able to Get Affordable Health Care?

A quick addendum to an earlier post.

I’m one of many Americans who is glad the Trump/Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA or TrumpCare) failed to come to a vote. I didn’t think it was in the best interest for people like me and I really believe it would be catastrophic for folks in lower income situations who are struggling to afford health care.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that the people who support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) are those who don’t benefit from it. These are people with decent incomes who, most likely, get health insurance from their employers. In their mind, they shouldn’t be “subsidizing” health care for those who don’t get it from their employers — mostly because they think these people are unemployed or otherwise sponging off the system.

That isn’t true. Millions of people who benefit from the ACA are hardworking people who don’t have insurance benefits through an employer — including self-employed individuals like me.

While people who work for big companies can get health insurance as easily as filling out a form and handing it in to their employer’s Human Resources department, the rest of us have to literally shop for insurance to find policies that meet our needs with a premium we can afford. Then we have to fill out forms and submit them for approval. In the old days, we might have to connect insurance companies with our doctors so they could look through health records. That’s how I got denied insurance coverage for a “pre-existing condition” that didn’t exist, as I blogged last week.

ACA LogoThe ACA made it easier to shop for insurance by setting up a marketplace. It prevented insurers from denying coverage or setting unreasonable rates for people with pre-existing conditions. It required insurers to provide a list of basic coverages that a person might need. It covered, at no additional cost to insured people, annual well-care visits to help prevent illnesses or to catch them before they became serious problems. It required more employers to offer health care benefits to employees. It encouraged everyone to get health insurance coverage to increase the pool of insured individuals, thus reducing the overall cost of coverage for each of us. It prevented insurers from taking obscene profits on healthcare coverage by setting maximum profit levels that actually refunded premiums to customers. These are all benefits that help those of us who don’t work for big companies that offer health insurance in a benefits package.

The people who think the provisions of the ACA aren’t needed are either mistaken, ignorant, or just plain selfish.

Why should only those people who sign up with a big employer get affordable health care insurance? Why shouldn’t small business owners like me be able to get it? Why shouldn’t the 58-year-old former banker with a BBA who’s lucky to have a part-time job as an aircraft refueler at the local airport be able to get it? Why shouldn’t the single mother cleaning offices on the night shift be able to get it?

What pissed me off this morning was a Trump supporter named Linda Caudill who, when interviewed by NPR, said:

Frankly, health care is not a constitutional right. But I really would like personally that government get our of health care altogether and let the free market take care of it.

Wow. Just wow.

Health care might not be a “constitutional right,” but isn’t it a human right? Shouldn’t we all be able to get the care we need to stay healthy, productive, and happy?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness isn’t in the Constitution either, but our country’s existence was based on those “unalienable rights” for all of us. Isn’t the ability to get affordable health care part of this?

I’d love to hear how this woman’s song would change if she or her husband suddenly lost the job that’s obviously providing them with the health care they need. No one in the middle class who has to buy health insurance on the open market would share her point of view. No one.

What these people need is a dose of reality. How about a health care plan that does not allow employers to offer health insurance plans? One that forces everyone to be on the same playing field, buying insurance on the open market. Then we’ll see how Trump supporters feel about “free market” insurance.

Until then, I’m glad the ACA has survived to help me get the insurance I need for my health and and peace of mind.

My Health Insurance Story

If the AHCA passes, something like this could happen to you.

I’ve been self-employed since 1990. When I left my last full-time job — which did include health care benefits — I bought my own health insurance coverage. I was 29 at the time, a non-smoker, and in good health. But health insurance was something I thought everyone needed to have, so I signed up with one program or another — I honestly can’t remember any details — and stayed insured for years.

Understand that I seldom needed insurance coverage. Again, I was in good health. If I caught a cold, I went to the doctor. If my insurance covered the visit and medicine, fine. If it didn’t, I paid and didn’t complain. When I had some problems with my knee and needed several tests, some physical therapy, and finally some arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus, I ponied up the $1,000 deductible before finally getting some benefits to cover most of the other costs. I’m not rich and I’m not poor but I was usually able to afford any kind of medical attention I needed.

Each year, my insurance rates went up and I paid the new premium. It wasn’t a big deal; I made more money every year and I saw the increased expense as part of my cost of living increase. Occasionally, I’d shop around for a new policy and get one that was a little less costly. That would creep up over the years and I’d change again.

The biggest mistake I ever made

I’m not exaggerating when I say that getting on my future wasband’s health insurance was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. Why? Because when was I diagnosed not long afterwards with a tumor that needed removal and possible cancer treatments afterwards, he told me that I might not be covered if the insurance company found out we weren’t married. Terrified of bankruptcy from medical expenses for surgery and cancer treatments, I agreed to marry him. After all, we’d been together for 23 years and “engaged” for most of that time. We’d obviously stay together forever.

I turned out to be wrong about that. But the insurance was the root of my mistake; if I hadn’t gotten on his health insurance plan, I never would have married him. It would have been a hell of a lot easier to get him out of my life when he decided he wanted a mommy more than a wife and took up with a desperate old whore he met online only six years later. (Read a few of the early posts tagged divorce if you want the details of his betrayal.)

And no, there was no cancer.

In the early 2000s, my future wasband took a job in the Phoenix area with a company that offered very good health insurance plan. Around the same time, I got a sizable increase in my health insurance premium. He told me I could get on his insurance and it would be cheaper and better. Even though we weren’t married, I assumed he knew what he was talking about when he made the offer, so I dropped my insurance and got on his.

Sometime after we married, when I was still on his insurance, I started having digestive issues. I went to a gastroenterologist connected to Wickenburg Hospital — which I will never do again — and told her about my symptoms, including pain in my upper abdomen. She translated that as chest pains and decided that I needed to get an EKG. When that showed no problem, she sent me for a stress test. When that showed no problem, she sent me for another test. When that showed no problem, she finally gave up trying to diagnose me with heart problems. She was never able to resolve the digestive issues I had. Neither was another doctor I went to see. I wrote about this in a 2010 blog post titled “Getting Quality Health Care: Apparently Impossible.”

My wasband lost the job with the great insurance got another one with good insurance. I stuck with his new plan. Then he lost that job and was unemployed for a while. He got us on Cobra, which he paid for with our joint checking account. Except he didn’t pay on time. He missed a payment and they cancelled our coverage.

He got in touch with them right away and made the payment. It was only five days late. They reinstated him immediately. But they looked at my medical records, saw the heart tests, and refused to cover me because I had a “pre-existing condition.”

Except I didn’t have the condition they claimed I had. I had never had that condition. All tests had proved negative. My heart was fine.

It took six months of fighting with Blue Cross to get insurance coverage again. For the entire time, I was completely exposed to financial loss: if I was hit with a major health problem, the cost of medical attention could easily bankrupt me. Actually, I guess it could bankrupt us — I don’t think my idiot wasband realized how exposed he was, too.

I finally got coverage under my own name, separate from my wasband, by signing papers saying I’d never put in a claim for heart-related issues. I had no trouble with that because I had a healthy heart.

And, as you might imagine, I learned my lesson and kept my insurance separate from my wasband’s no matter how good his next employer’s plan was. I simply couldn’t trust him with something that important. (That probably helped confirm my financial independence from him in divorce court a few years later.)

I have been on one health insurance plan or another since that “pre-existing condition” scare all those years ago. The Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) made it easy to find insurance that met my requirements. Again, I’m generally healthy and I make a decent living. I have insurance primarily to prevent bankruptcy in the event of a major illness. I have assets to protect, including my home, my business assets, and my retirement funds. I’ve worked too hard my whole life to put them at risk.

To keep my premiums as low as possible, I have a very high deductible: $5,000. I take advantage of a health savings account if I can. (My new plan does not allow additional savings but I can still use the balance from my old plan.) It’s nice to have annual check-ups and special tests like mammograms covered by insurance without having to worry about the deductible. Coverage under ACA helps people who can’t afford doctor’s visits at all to make at least make one visit a year which can, hopefully, find any problems before they become serious.

I’m not at all happy with the provisions of the Paul Ryan American Health Care Act (AHCA or TrumpCare) in part because it will allow insurers to deny coverage or greatly raise rates for people with pre-existing conditions.

Will it affect me? Will I be denied coverage? Or charged some outrageous rate for premiums? Just because I had a few heart tests ten years ago? Tests that proved I had a healthy heart?

And will some test or problem you’ve had in the past prevent you from getting coverage?

And what about well-care visits? Maternity coverage? Contraception? Mental health care? Any number of items on the list of required coverages from the ACA?

(Don’t worry boys, I’m sure you’ll still be able to get your little blue pills. Republicans wouldn’t dare threaten a man’s sex life.)

With only 17% approval rating from the people, Republicans could pass the bill later today anyway. They don’t care about the people who voted them in. They care about the lobbyists and rich donors who pay for their campaigns. The people most likely to benefit from this plan.

So I guess time will tell how it affects you.