Friday, June 4, 2010

My MS Story Chapter 39 – Making a Smaller Me

“When I buy cookies I eat just four and throw the rest away.  But first I spray them with Raid so I won't dig them out of the garbage later.  Be careful, though, because Raid really doesn't taste that bad.”  ~Janette Barber
Homer Simpson 2006When I stopped working last year I was at my heaviest all-time weight, and I worried that staying home all day was only going to make it worse. As it turned out, that wasn't true at all.  I didn’t become Homer Simpson.

I initiated a few self-improvement programs after my disability retirement, to keep me focused on what was important, and weight loss was primary among them. I had battled my weight to some extent ever since college. I still keep most of my extra weight right in my gut- just like my father and my two brothers. Damn genetics.

I had enjoyed some success over the years with Weight Watchers. I would lose 10 or 20 pounds, but every time I would put the weight back on after I stopped counting those “points.” So this time I needed a different program, if for no other reason than to somehow hold my interest. My friend Preston turned me on to It's very similar to Weight Watchers, in that you journal every bite of food you eat. Weight Watchers is a little more sophisticated, because it tracks calories, fat, and fiber. With, you count calories and nothing else- simple.

Thanks to I had a program in place to monitor my caloric intake. The other tool I needed was a method for measuring my progress -- a way to weigh. I called a bunch of local hospitals, nursing homes, and rehab facilities to ask if they could weigh somebody in a wheelchair. I didn't have much luck. Finally, Penny, the head nurse at New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland, returned my call. She had a rather old, but still accurate, chair scale.

Each Tuesday I visit Penny. I transfer from my wheelchair to the chair scale. Penny pushes a few buttons, and I get a readout of my weight. I’ve never seen a bill from her, and I’ve never been made to feel that I’m imposing on these busy folks. There are still some genuinely nice people in this world, and Penny and her staff are among them.

Other than caloric intake, the other factor in weight loss is how quickly you can burn calories through exercise. All of you walking folks may not realize how many calories you burn without even trying. The everyday moving about that you do at home and at work helps offset calories you consume. This doesn’t happen for me because I sit in a wheelchair. I do get some exercise on my hand cycle, but its net effect on my weight loss is negligible. For me, weight control is all about managing my caloric intake.

(Photo credit: Sidereal)
In the year or so that I've been tracking my weight I have dropped nearly 30 pounds. It hasn't been perfect though. There've been many weeks where I put on a little weight. There was a period of time around Christmas when my weight was quite flat for many weeks. It is no coincidence that over that same period I had tried to manage my weight without daily journaling. It’s also no coincidence that I love holiday food.

Over time, I have discovered a secret weight loss strategy, previously unknown to mankind. Drum roll please... does it have to do with phases of the moon? Is it about carbohydrates, fat, protein? Is there a magic pill? Is it a special exercise machine from an infomercial? Nope, it’s none of these. Believe it or not I found that there is an almost perfect correlation between the number of calories that I consume in a week and my weight on Penny’s scale. The more I eat, the fatter I get.

Armed with this secret, I am rarely surprised when I weigh in. All I need to do is review my calorie intake for the week, and I have a pretty good idea of what my weight will be. Amazing. I should write a book.

imagesThere are many diet plans out there, and so many gurus, that it can be frustrating for people who are trying to lose weight. In all seriousness, I think the most important thing is to keep it simple. You can't lose weight without keeping a diary of what you eat and measuring your progress (getting weighed) on a regular basis. Anything that deviates from this is likely a gimmick or fad. If you can throw in some regular exercise, that's all the better. But I'm convinced that the primary factor in weight loss is how much you eat, not how much you exercise. Exercise is important for overall good health, and it contributes to weight loss, but it's impossible for anyone to exercise their way to a slimmer body if they are not eating right. In contrast, I’m living proof that you can eat your way to a slimmer body even if you are not exercising much.

Controlling body weight is a challenge for people with MS, and for all people with movement disabilities. I encourage disabled folks to keep trying until you find a sensible program that works. If you are already working extra hard to move, because of a disability, then you’re not being fair to your body by burdening it with extra weight.

I hope I continue to be successful with my weight loss program. I’ve still got a way to go, but it feels good to have met with some success.

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  1. Congratulations on your successful and continued weight loss. I've come to the very same conclusions you have - daily accurate logging and restriction of food intake are the keys. Exercise is just an adjunct. It can be so easy when you're sick and disabled to think that food is your only comfort, and as you pointed out, we wheelchair users need so much less food than ambulatory people!

  2. It's the only thing that's ever worked for me. I call it the "Low Food Diet."

  3. Katja,

    Thanks for stopping by and affirming what I've come to believe about weight loss.


    You should write a book with that title!


  4. Have you considered the MS Recovery Diet? Not only will you loose weight on this diet, but you may also help your ms symptoms as well. Following this diet, you will quickly shed some pounds eliminating things like cheese, fatty meats, breads and pastries. My wife has been following this diet for two years, and has lost about 20 pounds. It has also been one of several tools she is using to keep her ms in check.