My “Before” Pictures

At 6’6″ I’m blessed with a relatively large frame over which I could distribute some extra weight.

But when that extra amount became 40 pounds, it definitely showed.

Even under a sport coat:

Two weeks after my youngest daughter’s wedding, in August 2016.

Here are a few of pictures from June of that year, when I had the opportunity to visit China, along with one with my dad at a baseball game in Chicago:

And finally, one from Australia in 2015. You can definitely see where water had an opportunity to collect after a shower.

Readiness to change is an extremely important factor in improving health, but another is knowing what kinds of changes would be beneficial.

In my next post I’ll describe how I started to get some inklings that the path that would lead to sustained weight loss was different than what I had expected.

Getting to “Peak Lee”

Before recent asides to indicate the future name of this blog – Stuff I Find Interesting (SIFI) – and to provide a necessary disclaimer, I had told the story of getting a celiac disease diagnosis at an anemic 225 pounds and becoming at least borderline obese at 260 pounds four years later.

Here’s how it happened.

In one sense, the explanation is that my gluten-free diet allowed the damage to the villi in my small intestine to be repaired, which meant I was now absorbing my nutrients.

That’s how I explained it to myself at the time anyway. While I had previously been able to eat anything and in any amount without appreciable weight gain, with newly repaired villi that was no longer the case.

I simply needed to adjust my portion sizes to this new reality. And I also tried to follow the advice in the USDA Food Guide Pyramid (which I had used as the basis for my SMUG Social Media Pyramid.

At its base was the recommendation of 6-11 servings per day from the Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta Group.

While I couldn’t have wheat, barley or rye because of celiac disease, I soon had plenty of other options, especially as food manufacturers became more accommodating of the gluten-free diet.

The next level up featured the Vegetable Group and the Fruit Group, with 3-4 servings per day each.

I’m not claiming to have been a model adherent to these guidelines. I’m sure my idea of a serving size didn’t correspond exactly to the USDA’s definition.

But I’m pretty confident the proportion of my diet coming from each of the food groups was reasonably close to the recommendations. I had done media relations work in the cardiology field, so I minimized eggs and drank low-fat (but not skim) milk to reduce my fat and cholesterol intake.

A typical day’s menu looked something like:

  • A bowl of cereal (typically Corn Chex) for breakfast
  • A grab-and-go chicken salad from a restaurant near my office, with a few favorite choices
  • Dinner (various entrees and side dishes)
  • At least a few nights a week, air-popped popcorn as a late-evening snack, with no butter.

Sometimes instead of popcorn I would have tortilla chips and salsa, taking one item from the grains and another from the vegetable group.

While I now know some of those choices weren’t the best, none were wildly out of line with USDA recommendations.

And yet, within less than four years, I found myself carrying around this much extra weight:

As I sometimes joked, I was “working on my ‘before’ pictures.”

In my next post I’ll show some of them.

Keeping the Lawyers Happy

Who am I kidding?

I don’t have any lawyers. I’m just a guy with a blog.

But still, I guess I should clarify what I’m doing here for legal purposes.

I’m not offering medical advice. No doctor-patient relationship is being created.

I’m not a doctor or a medical professional of any kind.

This blog’s purpose is for education. Mainly mine.

Just as I started it in 2006 to learn about blogging, and later shifted to learning in public how to use social media, I’m following the same model for the future.

I’m sharing some things I’ve found interesting, and a lot of them will relate to health, diet, fitness, longevity and disease prevention.

I’ll talk about the things I’ve decided to do based on what I’ve learned, and I’ll share the results I’ve gotten.

I’m not saying what you should do. You need to decide that, in consultation with your trusted health care professionals.

And if you read my posts and have questions, or have a different opinion, or can provide links to studies that cast doubt upon or support something I’m saying, I hope you’ll post them in the comments of the relevant posts.

We all have to make our own health decisions.

Hopefully together we can become more informed in them.

SMUG to SIFI

As I have pivoted (in Silicon Valley lingo) my blog from its social media focus and taken a new role as Chancellor Emeritus, I’ve been ruminating on a blog name that would capture the essence of what I will be writing here.

I had considered Interesting Stuff I’m Studying, but the acronym for that title would have been…unfortunate.

I thought Stuff You Might Find Interesting (SYMFI) would be a good one. It’s reader-focused…it’s about things I think you might like. Unfortunately, there’s a drug called Symfi, and the last thing I want is to get cease-and-desist nastygrams from pharma company attorneys with trademark objections.

I finally settled on a new name that I plan to implement soon: Stuff I Find Interesting (SIFI). A couple of advantages in this one:

I kind of like thinking of my blog in that sense, although I know it won’t be the recipient of any government aid.

I’ll probably change the header this weekend. I looked at purchasing the SIFI.com domain, and someone has it locked up. I didn’t put in a bid.

I just repurchased leeaase.com (which I had let lapse) instead, and at some point I might switch this blog to that domain.

It matches my usernames on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. It’s also my customized LinkedIn URL, though not really a username: https://www.linkedin.com/in/leeaase/

Brand consistency is a good thing, I guess.

It also help to have a seven-letter name with five vowels.

SEO magic.

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.

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