Cadaverous to Corpulent

In the Spring of 2008, I had some amazing things happening in my life, both personally and professionally:

  • I learned that our first grandchild (coming in August) was going to be a girl, and that her name would be Evelyn.
  • We were launching several of our early Mayo Clinic social media channels, including YouTube, Twitter and some blogs (News and Podcast) that have since been replaced by more robust offerings.
  • I was blogging like a crazy man, with 33 posts in April, 17 in May and 24 in June. This was peak SMUG, just after I had rebranded my blog.

But from a health perspective, I was at the start of some disturbing developments.

For several years, I had been giving blood every 10 weeks (or whatever the required waiting period was at that time.) When I went to the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center to give my unit of A+ blood (only the best!), the helpful staff would always help me preschedule the next donation.

But in the Summer of 2008, I began to notice that my pre-donation hemoglobin test, which started with a reading of something like 16, was declining a little each time.

I didn’t think much of it when it was 15, and then 14-something, but then it got to 13…and finally, in January 2009, to 12.4.

The magic of that number and why it’s memorable to me is that 12.5 is the minimum level required to donate.

I was officially anemic. They wouldn’t accept my blood.

I thought I should see if there was some underlying problem. Lisa also said she thought I wasn’t looking healthy.

I was at about 225 lbs. and playing pick-up basketball, and so I had attributed my reasonable weight (at 6’6″) as due to getting lots of exercise.

Lisa thought I was gaunt – skinny in a not-healthy way. Haggard. Cadaverous might be overstating, but it made an alliterative headline. And when you look at all of the synonyms, one of them is anemic:

So I went to my doctor, a high school classmate and great friend, Dr. David Strobel, and he started by looking for the most common causes of anemia for someone my age: namely, unexplained blood loss.

Thankfully, I didn’t have colon cancer or a bleeding ulcer. On March 13, 2009, he diagnosed celiac disease.

I recently wrote a post on the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network site about that celiac disease journey that highlights how social media helped me to cope: to learn about gluten free eating and where to find gluten-free restaurants.

The story I didn’t tell in that post was what gluten-free eating to manage my celiac disease did to my weight.

Because I have celiac disease, eating gluten had caused my immune system to attack and severely damage the villi in my small intestine, which made it hard for my body to absorb nutrients.

I was anemic because I wasn’t absorbing iron. I was gaunt because I wasn’t absorbing other nutrients well either, even though I was eating a lot.

The good news is most people with celiac disease have their villi restored when they eat a strictly gluten free diet, and that was true for me as well.

My iron and ferritin (a measure of stored iron) levels gradually increased.

So did my weight, and not necessarily in a good way. I was eating as I always had, but now I was absorbing all of those nutrients.

By March of 2013, my medical chart says I weighed 117.7 kg, which translates to 259.48 lbs. Two years later I was 117 kg – staying below the dreaded 260 lbs. mark, but just barely. In February 2016 the charts say 117.9 kg.

That’s also when I did the #ScopeScope.

My chart says my blood pressure in the pre-colonoscopy physical was 155/94, but later that year I was “only” 139/92.

The highest I remember reaching when I would weigh before workouts at the local YMCA was 265. But here’s the highest photographic evidence I have, from May 21, 2016:

So my Body Mass Index (BMI) on that date was 30.3.

I was officially classified as obese.

I understand the limitations of BMI, and I never had a doctor tell me I was obese.

But going from haggard to hefty – to the tune of 40 extra pounds – between 2009 and 2013, and then spending four years within five pounds either side of 260, and with borderline or high blood pressure, was not a healthy development.

In my next post I’ll tell why this was so frustrating for me.

Follow along on TwitterLinkedIn or Facebook.

Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 12. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

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