Monday, June 25, 2012

Dr. Abby Gets Personal

Dr. Abby Gets Personal

As a passionate observer of weight fluctuation, I became fascinated by my parents’ recent journey.

Mom was skinny for most of her life.   I remember Dad making malted milkshakes to fatten her up, when I was young.  (None for me, though!)  As she hit her 70’s, she spread into a size 16, but retained her bean pole legs.  She never really dieted, but went through brief periods of “watching her weight.” 

Her weight gain seemed normal to me as she aged, and I was happy that it would protect her bones.  This was gratifying, since the most exercise she ever does is pushing a fork or remote control.

Early in her 70’s, she became ill, and lost about 20 pounds.  She was finally diagnosed with” Cdiff.”  After a few months it was under control, and she regained all 20 pounds.   

Dad always looked normal to me, though he developed some weight around the belly, as he aged.  He often did “calisthenics” at home, and before my time, was a very fit soldier.  His love for tennis kept him in good shape, and still helps manage diabetes, at 83. 

Last year, Mom underwent surgery for colon cancer, which resulted in a shortened colon.  There were some complications and scary moments, but in the end, she was cancer free, and able to live her life.

She lost 30 pounds over 6 months during the ordeal, yet gained every single one back in the next 3 months.

Dad was loyal and caring throughout, and moved into her hospital room for the duration.  They snuck him hospital food every day, and after six weeks, he lost 15 pounds. Afterwards, he also regained all of those pounds, in half the time taken to lose them.

Did Mom and Dad pig out, during the recovery?  Hardly.  They ate normally, and had absolutely no control over their weight.  Their bodies simply reverted to homeostasis – their normal weights.  In fact, they actually eat less than ever!  Mom says they used to have a steak each, and now simply split one.  Their bodies manufactured more weight from less food.

There was one other notable weight-related event.  About 8 months ago, Dad fell on the tennis court, and sustained some injuries.  He had to stop playing for a few months.  During those months, he lost about 7 pounds!  What could explain that?  Exercise is supposed to help you lose weight, not gain!

Perhaps he lost muscle tone, which is heavy, and perhaps he inadvertently ate less, since his body required fewer calories.  Who knows, but when he started playing again, he regained the weight.

What’s the moral of the story?  Our biological set points are tough, sturdy markers, which operate to maintain our optimal body weight.  People naturally come in small, medium, and large sizes, and try as we may to permanently alter our weight, it may be a losing battle.

These observations certainly reinforced my belief to strive for “health at every size, naturally.” Live a healthy lifestyle, to become your personal best.

I also believe this experience offered my parents a new perspective on people of size.  Perhaps they no longer believe that all fat people are gluttons.  Gaining 30 pounds in 3 months was eye-opening, and helped them to become more compassionate and respectful of diversity.

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