Archive for June, 2009

posted by Amy on Jun 28

About five years ago, one of the partners in a law firm where my first day on the job was my 29th birthday came up to me and said, “You haven’t aged.” I thanked him, and that really was nice to hear, but I was thinking, “Yeah, if it weren’t for the wrinkles, the gray hair, and the middle-aged spread, I’d look exactly the same as I did at 29.” In that five years I’ve slowly gotten even fatter. It’s time to face facts.

After years of obsession with weight when I was younger, which actually skidded dangerously close to anorexia when I was 14, I keep hoping I’ll just learn to be an intuitive eater, and have the body mass I consider best without having to weigh and measure my food and count calories. This hope is pinned in part on what happened in 1994, when I trained for a long bike trip, got into great shape, gained muscle and dropped a lot of body fat, seemingly just from riding the bike. However, in 2005 I trained for another long bike ride. Even before I started training, I had been working out close to 8 hours a week. That time, though, by the time the ride was over I was very fit and healthy, but still fat.

I keep seeing ads on the internet saying “Lose all the weight you want by obeying this one simple rule!” I know what the rule is, and it’s not “buy this latest weight loss fad and eat or drink it,” it’s eat less, exercise more. I have decided to give in to the laws of physics, and to ingest less energy than I expend, which does, sadly, involve counting calories (sigh). I started in mid-May, and I’m making progress. Two months ago, I had a pair of denim shorts that I couldn’t squeeze into at all. A month later, I could get them zipped if I laid down on the bed, but I couldn’t breathe when I stood up, so they went back in the drawer. Last Friday they were still a bit snug at first, but I zipped them without having to lie down, and I wore them all day with no ill effects.

I have worked out, off and on, for my entire adult life. Sometimes the “off” periods lasted many months, though probably never an entire year.  I took my first weight training class in 1976, when the idea of women lifting weights was quite avant garde. I feel great when I exercise regularly, and when I get back with it I always wonder why I ever stopped. I’ve started doing yoga, which I like very much.  I like walking, hiking, and biking.  I didn’t bring any of my weights to Philly, but I have some resistance bands, and what they used to call “calisthenics” are now referred to as “body weight resistance” exercises, meaning you use your own body weight to engage the large muscles, build muscle, and get the heart rate up to burn fat and improve cardiovascular health.

But what about that middle aged spread? In the last few years I have begun to think that may be more about not getting enough fat in my diet than eating too much. I think the “politically correct” high-carb, low-fat diet is extremely unhealthy, at least for me. People who tend to store extra fat in their abdomens may be carbohydrate-sensitive. In those people, consuming excess carbs and storing them as fat leads to inflammation, insulin resistance, and “metabolic syndrome,” all of which are precursors to type-2 diabetes. After years on that very diet I was tired all the time, cranky, and prone to colds and sinus infections. (I was also working full time as a lawyer and raising 5 kids; I’m not saying my health issues were all caused by diet.) A couple of years ago I started attending to what fats I was ingesting, instead of reflexively cutting all kinds of fat.

I am living proof that you can gain weight, or carry too much weight, on “healthy food.” But there is a difference. I don’t have as big a belly as I did. I have less abdominal fat. That’s the dangerous kind, the pre-diabetic kind. Aesthetics are one thing–where would we be without our vanity? But since I’m in the middle of a career change at a rather advanced age, my number one goal is to put a decent number of years into it once I graduate. To do that, I need to be healthy.

Even though I’m watching my energy intake, I’m also deliberately taking supplemental fat. Not a lot, mind you, and I don’t add much fat to food. But I take spoonfuls of coconut oil and an oil blend called Udo’s. Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap. Yes, it’s high in saturated fat. So are brain cells and nerve cells. For proper cognitive function, nerve function, and hormone balance, human bodies need fat.  Human beings are omnivores, and we can survive on pretty much anything that’s handy, at least for a time. My ancestors in Ireland lived on potatoes and cabbage. But the optimal diet has fish oil or some other source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and it has natural saturated fat–no transfats. I eat organic butter from grass-fed cows. Grass fed butterfat is high in Omega-3′s and it has conjugated linoleic acid, which some body builders take as a fat burning supplement.

My intention is to lose fat and preserve muscle. It’s wrong to watch “weight” alone, without paying attention to body composition. I have proof of that. In 2003, after a traumatic personal loss, I lost my appetite for an extended period of time. Twenty pounds came off very quickly, because I was hardly eating anything. (I tried to eat, but I couldn’t force myself to chew and swallow. It was actually scary.) But my body was larger than in 1994, when I weighed nine pounds more.  That experience also allowed me to prove, inadvertently, that crash diets make you fat. A lot of the weight that I lost on that “crash diet” was muscle. When I finally felt like eating again, I pigged out, and I ate things that I don’t normally touch, like white bread, and candy. I regained all the lost poundage, and kept gaining until I stabilized at 10 pounds more than the starting point, but it was fat, not muscle. My metabolism had tanked. I was cold all the time. I was weak. And I had a big round belly.

It is more important to move than to restrict food intake. A fat person who exercises is healthier than a skinny one who doesn’t. However, the option of being a skinny non-exerciser is not open to me. Barring some devastating, wasting illness, my only two choices are to be a chubby exerciser or an exerciser who, because of nutritional discipline, is also lean. Exercising while cutting calories spares muscle tissue. More of the weight lost comes from fat. And that, as I said, is what I want.

posted by Amy on Jun 13

One Tuesday last month I went to a prayer meeting at my church at 8 a.m., then spent the rest of the day in court. Twelve people who had been arrested as part of a nonviolent civil disobedience exercise in January at a Philadelphia gun shop were on trial for disorderly conduct, defiant trespass, blocking a public right-of-way, and conspiracy. Most of them are clergy, and all are religious.

The group calls itself “Heeding God’s Call.” They had been trying to get the gun shop to enter into a voluntary code of conduct for gun merchants, and they resorted to civil disobedience when the gun merchant refused. (At the trial, he claimed he was willing to sign on to 9 of the 10 points, and that he believed one of the points violates federal law.) The procedures in the voluntary code are intended to reduce the number of weapons that are sold lawfully but end up becoming “crime guns.” Gun traffickers pay “straw buyers” to purchase weapons, which are then resold to people who could not lawfully obtain them directly. One of the ten points in the code of conduct is to limit buyers to no more than one gun a month. Is there a legitimate need for a private buyer to purchase more than twelve guns per year per gun shop?

About 300 people came to watch the beginning of the trial. There was a delay of several hours while court personnel found a courtroom large enough to accommodate most of the spectators. The United Methodist Bishop for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, Peggy Johnson, was there for much of the day.

On average, there are 300 gun fatalities a year in Philadelphia. Many more people are shot and wounded. Many guns sold in Philadelphia become crime guns in New Jersey, Delaware, and New York, which all have stricter gun laws. Of the over 800 licensed gun dealers in the City, only ten percent have sold crime guns. Of those, only a handful are willing to sell multiple guns at a time to a single purchaser. The gun shop that the protestors targeted is in this group. A few weeks after the trial, the gun shop owner was quoted in the paper as saying he has never sold an illegal gun.

I was very interested in the defense strategy. All twelve defendants were representing themselves, though they had two lawyers working as “consultants” who did all the lawyer stuff (entering into evidence, examining and cross examining.) This self-representation allowed each defendant to combine testimony regarding the defense of “justification” with a five minute closing statement that each defendant personally wrote. The statements were very powerful and moving. They all told stories of being personally affected by gun violence, and of feeling they had to do something about it, to save lives. That was the essence of the justification defense.

The prosecutor was obviously in a difficult position. The City isn’t really opposed to regulating guns. Far too often, guns purchased by straw buyers end up killing or injuring Philadelphia police officers. Ordinances mandating all the procedures in the voluntary code were passed by City Council, but have been challenged in court. Evidence from the City’s own briefs in that case was used by the defense in this one. In this case, however, his job was to enforce the ordinances that these defendants allegedly violated. He didn’t do a very good job. (I, and many others, were praying for that result.) He was not prepared to address the justification defense. His cross examination was annoying and repetitive. He completely failed to make the case against two of the defendants. He had no witness who testified to seeing those two at the scene, not even the arresting officers.

The judge found all ten of the remaining defendants not guilty, and set them free.

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