Archive for January, 2010


posted by Amy on Jan 22

I got a physical two days after I got back from Denver. About a week ago I got the results of the blood tests.

My cholesterol is high. It’s all in the LDL, which, in case you’ve forgotten, is “low density lipoprotein.” That’s the “bad cholesterol,” and all of a sudden I’ve got too much of it. That number has gone up almost 50 points in five years. My primary care provider said she’d give me 6 months to try lowering it with diet and exercise, and if that doesn’t work then we’ll have to look at medication. I note, however, that I was given no guidance on just exactly what she meant by “diet and exercise.” I was left to my own devices there. Thankfully, I have Internet access, and I found a nice booklet from the NIH about lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol.

It says to lose weight, limit saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, get more soluble fiber, and use foods that have been fortified with plant stanols or sterols.

Well, I can certainly get more exercise, and drop some weight. I wasn’t working out much during fall semester, and I gained back some of what I lost last summer. (Why, oh why, is it so hard to maintain balance?) But, honestly, I already eat a near-ideal diet, heart-wise. I don’t eat red meat or get much animal fat of any kind. I eat ridiculous quantities of vegetables, especially the high-value ones like collard greens and broccoli. About the only room for improvement is to lower the number of egg yolks a week, and cut back on (or eliminate) butter and cream. And now, sadly, I’m kind of afraid to eat cheese.

I did some research. Diet-wise, there are two things that I wasn’t doing that might help. One is soluble fiber. I used to eat a lot of oatmeal, back in my low-LDL days. Then I decided I should cut back on carbs, and I got out of the habit. Well, alright. Oatmeal it is. Brussels sprouts also have a lot of soluble fiber. And so do citrus fruits, and some other things, like lima beans. The other thing that helps, and that can make a significant difference (comparable to a low dose of Lipitor) is plant-based sterols and stanols. There are some foods that have patented versions of these compounds added to them. (To get the recommended 2 grams a day just from food I’d have to eat 70 carrots, or 5 cups of wheat germ.) The special orange juice, which no one seems to sell anymore anyway, had the daily dose in 16 ounces of juice. Good grief, that’s a lot of carbs (and calories.) The margarine seems like the best bet.

So now I’m eating oatmeal, oat bran, milled flax seed, wheat germ, and a brand of margarine with an “ideal” fat composition that also has 1700 mg of plant phytosterols (from pine trees) in a one tablespoon serving. It doesn’t taste as good as my grass fed cultured organic butter, but it’s not too bad. And all I need is a 17% reduction in LDL, since my other risk factors are low. I have high HDL (the “good” kind of cholesterol), my triglycerides are nice and low, and my blood sugar is normal. I can’t figure out if they still think soy foods help. It seems like the jury is still out on that issue. I used to drink soy milk, and I’ve gone off that. But I could eat a bit more tempeh and edamame, I suppose.

I came up with a cooking hint for porridge. Laurel’s Kitchen, the best single source on vegetarian cooking. suggests starting it the night before, and putting it in a thermos to “simmer” all night. I found a thermos with a not-very-wide mouth that cost $30, or I could get a miniature crock pot for $15, so I got the crock pot. When I get up in the morning I bring the grain and water to a boil, and cook it until it starts to thicken. Then I put it into the tiny crock pot (designed for keeping dip hot) and plug it in. I do my workout, and maybe even take a shower, and the gruel is ready, all nice and hot and fully cooked, when I am ready to eat it. A little bit sticks to the side, but it comes right off after being soaked in cold water. It would also work fine to cook up a week’s worth at a time, and to heat individual servings in the microwave, but I don’t have a microwave.

I’ve been writing down everything that goes into my mouth, tracking calories, saturated fat, total fat, total fiber, soluble fiber and cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is not supposed to exceed 200 mg a day. (An egg yolk–just one–has 215 mg.) I was surprised to learn that fat-free dairy products and fish still have cholesterol, but even so it is not tough for me to keep the weekly intake under 1400 mg. Total fat should be between 25 and 35 percent of calories. I only started Monday and all the tracking and calculating is already a huge imposition, and a bore. But the nice thing is if you don’t vary your diet all that much you can just copy down the values you already went to the trouble of looking up, so after a few days it gets faster. There’s a USDA website that gives nutrient values for foods, and you can quickly find all manner of foods with a simple word search. That helps.

I’m having a hard time finding values for soluble fiber. I’m supposed to get 10 to 25 grams a day. The quickest way to do that is with psyllium husks, with 5 mg. in a tablespoon, but I haven’t decided to do that yet. It just seems weird. Flax seed, on the other hand, doesn’t. I’ve been adding ground flax seed to my gruel.

I’ve also been working out. With my heart rate monitor I track the time, the calories burned, and the average and maximum heart rate. The recommendation is to get 30 minutes a day of moderate activity. Since I want to lose weight, and since I have no desire to be on statins for the rest of my life, I’ve been doing almost an hour a day.

I’ve got six months. I’ll let you know how it comes out.

posted by Amy on Jan 13

I finished the fall semester on December 17, and flew to Denver that same night. I was in Denver until January 4, catching up with family and friends, singing twice with the choir in my home church, hiring a new caregiver for my sister, and having a wonderful time. I also completed three seminary transfer applications.

There are six seminaries on my list of places I’d like to go to finish up my M.Div. I got one application done before the trip, and two, with February deadlines, are still pending. I want and need to be in a seminary with a stronger connection with a larger academic community. I also want more intellectual challenge, and a broader exposure to other religious traditions. I now think I am being called to teach, so I want to go on after the M.Div. and get a Ph.D.

Palmer is a good school. All of my teachers have been excellent, and I have learned a great deal. It has been a wonderful introduction to theological study, and I am grateful for the experience. For that matter, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to get the academic recommendations that I needed for the transfer applications without having been here. It almost had to be a two-stage process.

Working as a writing coach, and helping teach New Testament Greek, gave me an opportunity to experience a special kind of satisfaction. Teaching is a lot like parenting, in that the reward comes in seeing the people one has taught or parented excel, and get the credit for their own achievements. I’m perfectly happy to be surpassed by those whose lives I have affected with my work. In fact, I want that. The next generation will have enormous challenges. They need excellent preparation for those challenges.

I get a bigger thrill when one of my students gets a perfect writing score (which has happened already!) than when I do. The “dance” that I do with my students is complex and fascinating. I have to win their trust. I have to figure out how to restore their confidence and encourage them to do more of what works. I have to pinpoint what the issues are, and explain them in ways that make sense to them. And I want to be sure they can replicate their success. I love doing those things. It is a special kind of loving interaction. I am perfectly content in a supporting role.

Years ago I read a story about a piano teacher who had a student who won the Van Clyburn competition. It stuck in my mind, and now I think I know why. My true excellence may lie in my ability to inspire the genius in others. As a teacher, I can train others and send them out to do the things that need to be done. I can also use my status as a scholar and teacher to have a voice in public discourse about kingdom of God issues.

I still think I’m also being called to ministry. I am much more comfortable, and much happier, doing pastoral ministry than I ever expected. That’s another way God can use me. In light of my teaching and ministry experiences, “Plan A,” which was the M.Div./MBA joint degree, does not seem like quite as good a fit. It would still be fine, and if I don’t get into any of the six seminaries to which I’m applying, I’ll go ahead and stick with it. But the road signs now seem to be pointing elsewhere.

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