Endomorph vs. the NIH

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from the National Institutes of Health that suggested the solution to my lifelong weight problem was math.

(We’re from the government; we’re here to help.)

In its news briefing, the nation’s premier health agency directed me to a calculator wherein I could punch in a couple of statistics, previously known only by the TSA and my mother, and learn the exact number of calories I should consume if I want to weigh a certain number by a specific date.

This interested me because:

A) I’ve been on a diet, or about to be on a diet, for approximately 35 years, give or take a decade,


B) If there is a magic number that, south of it, means weight loss, and north of it, means my jeans don’t fit, I don’t know what it is.

Yes, I know, B explains A.

Ever seduced by that old scoundrel hope, I went to the calculator and obediently typed in my age, height, weight and activity level, which, sadly, I could only say was moderate since I’m still battling plantar fasciitis.

Then, like a second-rate genie offering to grant me two wishes, the NIH asked what I wanted to weigh and when I wanted to weigh it.

I suggested 125 pounds the day after tomorrow.

The NIH, humorless bureaucrat that it is, wouldn’t play ball.

So I chose 146 pounds, on the day in November when I leave for my annual excursion to West Virginia with friends. Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 8.09.15 AM

Game on.

The NIH said I will weigh 146 on that day if I eat 1,476 calories every day between now and then.

Now, set aside the fact that this number represents something akin to (gasp!) a diet, the sort of diet people used to go on in the 1970s before we stopped counting calories and moved to math-free method, such as eliminating carbs or sugar or white things, or eating only between 10 and 6. It’s not news that people who severely restrict their calories lose weight. More diets die from boredom than anything else.

But things got interesting when I clicked on “switch to expert mode,” and the NIH spit out a spreadsheet of what I would weigh every day between now and November if I did what the statisticians in Bethesda suggested.

There, at the bottom of the chart, past the mid-terms but before Thanksgiving, was the magical 146, beaming at me like it had just won the jackpot at bingo.

See? the NIH said smugly. It’s simple. Just do the math.

Nothing about how my metabolism is shot by decades of roller-coaster dieting; about sedentary pregnancies in which my weight topped 200; about lengthy recovery from complicated C-sections; nothing about how fat cells increasingly take over muscles as we age, even if we’re moderately or extremely active; nothing about emotional baggage that requires regular infusions of ice cream to keep the wheels moving; no mention at all about how an established endomorph like me can run a freakin’ half-marathon in the heat and still weigh a pound more the next day.

Knowing all this in my bones, I can’t see myself thin, no matter how hard I squint.

But my government wouldn’t lie to me, would it?

So I have set off on what can only be described as a grudge match against the NIH, an attempt to prove that my fat cells are tougher, more determined, more resilient than its math.  My fat cells wear leather; their numbers wear tutus.

So far, I’m winning. After two weeks, I weigh two more pounds than its cheerful spreadsheet says I should, but admittedly my accounting was a little sloppy a couple of days.

It’s not that I need to eat less, though, right? I just need to work on my math.


Lobsters and the 7 circles of crazy

The descent into madness comes quickly.

One month, you’re sitting around the breakfast table scarfing down bacon and sausage links. The next, you’re badgering the bewildered cheese guy at the deli counter about the lobsters; specifically, about how many people are buying them every day.

It has come to this, because it had to come to this.  You care for a hermit crab for a year, and eventually you start to think about lobsters.

And when I think about lobsters, this is where I inevitably wind up:

Live Lobster Tank, Seafood Section, Wegmans Grocery Store, Westwood, Massachusetts, USA. Image shot 2016. Exact date unknown.

Meaning, I’ve had it with the supermarket lobsters.

I’m sick of walking past the cloudy tanks of miserable, bound creatures, and averting my eyes, or worse, looking them in the eye.  And I resent having to do this so a handful of people who aren’t bothered by the treatment of lobsters can have an opulent meal that they want but — let’s be honest here — don’t need.

Moreover, it’s not like my comrades at the Stop & Shop are having lobster every night or even every weekend. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone picking out a lobster, and I go to the grocery store more often than most people brush their teeth.

Who are these people? Do they only come out when the moon is full? And why do their preferences matter more than mine and maybe yours?

To be fair, I’ve eaten many a lobster over the years, but it’s always been in restaurants where I never had to select the victim. If I’d had to, I would have ordered something else.

It’s one thing to eat an animal that’s already dead; quite another to point a finger and say imperiously, “You there! You shall die so I can eat!”

I’m not a vegan or an activist for any cause. I’m just an ordinary mom who feeds birds and the occasional feral cat, and enjoys straightening bent trees trapped in the snow, and kidnapped a hermit crab once by mistake. I’ve tried to be a vegetarian before, and it has always lasted about 10 days.

But I am troubled by the practice of boiling live lobsters and keeping these solitary, long-lived creatures in crowded, miserable conditions with no food, sometimes for months, as they await their fate.

To admit this publicly is to invite ridicule, to risk being thought of as a sentimental, anthropomorphizing fool or worse, one of “those people” – zealous animal-rights activists who operate on the edge of propriety. They do so because that’s the only way to get anyone to pay attention, because so many of us spend our lives in a food coma, and have neither time nor desire to think deeply about what happened in an animal’s life before it wound up on our plate. And for that, many of us “normal” people call them crazy.

Similar to Dante’s seven circles of hell, there are seven circles of crazy:

  • Runners
  • People who are still playing Pokemon Go in the middle of the night
  • Smokers
  • People who believe they have the universe all figured out
  • People who chain themselves to doomed trees
  • Peter Singer
  • People who care about what happens to lobsters and crabs

Even Singer, the controversial ethicist and the thosiest of “those people,” has written that he’s not 100 percent certain that lobsters feel pain. And I hope that C.S. Lewis and some of the imperial scientists are right, that the rudimentary structure of animals contain the letters A, P, N and I, but “since they cannot read they can never build it up into the word PAIN.”

But given that lobsters’ behavior when tossed in a pot of boiling water looks suspiciously like that of a creature in agony, and given new discoveries about animal intelligence, Singer (and many other super-smart people whose views are not as controversial) believes that human decency demands we give them the benefit of the doubt.

Sweden recently joined New Zealand in making it illegal to boil lobsters alive; chefs have to stun them first. Lobsters in Sweden headed for the dinner table must also be transported in salt water, not on ice.

It’s a start.

Fourteen years ago, the late David Foster Wallace wrote a probing essay about lobsters and pain that, astonishingly, was published in Gourmet magazine. It’s worth reading if you’ve never thought much about your long-standing habit of eating animals. As is Matthew Scully’s provocative book Dominion, which every meat-eater who professes to love animals should carefully read and consider.

Meanwhile, back to the supermarket tanks.

Can we agree that, if Stop & Shop and Publix were stringing up live lambs or chickens in their meat departments and making shoppers tell the butcher which one they wanted, most of us would soon be militant vegans, or at least buying our groceries somewhere else?

The lobsters are there because A) they’re not cute and cuddly and B) because we’ve all been told ad nauseam that they cannot feel pain, even though nobody knows that for sure, and some studies of crabs exposed to electric shocks suggest that they do.

There’s also a C):

The lobsters are there because it’s never occurred to those of us bothered by the tanks to inform the manager of our displeasure and ask the store to stop carrying live lobsters.

This is what I want.  I want to take my stack of store receipts, and the stories about Sweden and New Zealand, and tell the butcher and the store manager of my local supermarkets that I will not shop there again until they stop carrying live lobsters. It’s not like I don’t have options. There’s always Whole Foods, which stopped stocking live lobsters in 2006, and Safeway (according to PETA), in addition to superstores like Target and Walmart.

I haven’t done it yet.

But I did take the tiniest step, summoning enough nerve to ask the guy behind the deli counter where their lobsters came from and how many they sell a day. Just starting the conversation.

Uh, a dozen? he said, although it was clear he really had no idea, and he was looking at me somewhat nervously, as if I was about to smear blood on the counter and chain myself to the tank.

Just by asking a few benign questions, I’d become one of “those people.”

I’m not. Not yet.

But I am increasingly aware of the hypocrisy of loving animals and eating animals, and cognizant that those of us who love animals (just not enough to stop eating them) should be grateful for Singer and all “those people” who’ve been doing the heavy lifting on the front lines of animal welfare all these years.

I’m also aware that, if the loathsome tanks are ever to disappear, all of us “normal” people are going to have to join them.


Time wounds all heels

I come from a long line of bad feet.

When other families get together, they talk about TV shows and current events; my kin talk about hammertoes and bunions. Suffice it to say that certain people in my bloodline consider “Let me show you my foot” a perfectly acceptable way to begin a conversation.

I was not one of them until recently, when karma reared up and viciously bit me in the left foot.

Admittedly, it was a long time coming.

I’ve been goading fate for years by occasionally giving a talk called “How to run pretty much forever without being injured.”

Might as well have opened a window and yelled “Bring your worst, plantar fasciitis,” because it did.

One summer day I was fine, the next I was limping. It’s been two months now. I’m not the nicest person to be around.

I’ve tried rest. I’ve tried ice. I’ve eaten Advil like candy. I’ve rolled my foot on a tennis ball, installed arch support and heel gel pads, and stretched until I looked like Gumby. The pain subsides, a little, for an hour or a day then slams back into me like one of those dogs on YouTube that hasn’t seen his serviceman owner for a couple of years. I’m now on prescription anti-inflammatories, which help nothing.

This means that the time I usually spend running I now spend looking at plantar fasciitis remedies on the internet.

On podiatrist websites, on Letsrun, on YouTube, there are good people and shysters promising that if I just try This One Thing, my heel will be fine within the week. I know so much about plantar fasciitis treatments I could open my own clinic, but for the fact that my success rate is currently zero.

A Spartan Beast world champion I interviewed last week said he had plantar fasciitis for a year, and rest didn’t heal it, so he resumed running and eventually it went away. I was encouraged until I thought about what these Spartan racers go through. How bad can heel pain be for someone who crawls under barbed wire in mud – for fun? Easy for him to run through it.

Not that I don’t have hope. There is, after all, the Charleston man who, a few years ago, decided he was tired of being in pain all the time and had his foot amputated so he could run again without pain. I’ve never understood this until now. Now it seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do, if the Republican health plan, if ever it comes, covers elective amputations.

Meanwhile I write this on the offhand chance that one of you is sticking voodoo pins in my foot for fun. If so, I beg you.  Have mercy.  Also, I’m entertaining all treatment options that don’t involve the words “I think you really need to consider not running anymore.” If you have an idea, please share.

Meanwhile, let me show you my foot. I have plantar fasciitis and a heel spur. But after two months of rest, my bunions are much better. Thank you for asking. heelspur



Life finds a way

As possibly the only person on the planet who has grown grass on the floor of a Corvette, I shouldn’t be surprised when life emerges in improbable places.  Like a dry, dusty stall floor with no sunlight or water. corndogstick 022

These weeds will get water now (at least until they’re noticed and eaten by the creatures that share their space). I admire their spunk and defiance and am happy to help out with their resistance against circumstances that would wilt lesser plants.

The woods in New England are full of things that shouldn’t be alive, starting with every single tree.  Each spring, when the snow melts, I’m awed by the fragile pine seedlings that still stand resolutely, even after being buried by a couple of feet of snow for a month or more.  New England winters can break people, but trees are made of stronger stuff, it seems.

cubbook 039

When I walk the dog in the woods, I look for young trees that have been trapped at odd angles when other trees fell on them; often you can pull them free so they can grow tall and straight.

I get no appreciation for this; in fact, for every tree I “rescue,” there’s another one ready to point out that they can manage just fine on their own, thank you very much.

Even trees that get clobbered by other trees when a Nor’easter blows through find a way to endure and thrive without my help.  Like this one, flattened, but growing beautifully on its side; horizontal but still green: cubbook 033

And this one, my favorite: an impressive young pine that somehow managed to grow its trunk into a loop a roller coaster might envy. Nevertheless, it persisted, you might say.cubbook 042

I still straighten bent saplings when I can, but it’s only for the rush of endorphins the act gives me, the so-called “helper’s high” —  not that they need me to live. Although that grass in the stall is looking kind of thirsty.


Mamas, don’t let your puppies grow up to eat corndogs

If hotdogs are bad for you, corndogs are worse – they’re carcinogens on a stick, breaded and fried.

So I hate to admit that you’ll occasionally find a box of State Fair corndogs in our freezer. Or, you did until one nearly sent us to the Animal Emergency Clinic.

A couple of teens were eating corndogs around the TV and one set his plate on the coffee table for approximately 3 seconds, which, as it turns out, is the exact amount of time it takes for a bad border collie to lunge across the room and attack an unattended corndog.

Much shrieking ensued, and half a corndog was wrested from the bad border collie’s mouth. The rest vanished down his throat, stick and all.

If this ever happens to you, don’t Google “My dog ate a corndog.”

This happens with some frequency, it turns out, and the resulting vet visits, x-rays and stomach surgeries don’t always turn out well. Plus, some of the advice on the internet seems downright suspicious, like feeding the dog bread.

Jason was breathing normally and didn’t seem in distress (unlike the teen who lost his corndog). We offered him a little rice a half-hour later (the dog, not the teen), and he took it happily. So I recalled the advice of my longtime farrier who once gruffly told me, when Foggy was limping, “Well, you can panic if you want to, or you can wait and see what happens.”

This has turned out to be a good mantra for much of life.

So I decided to hold off on the panicking and monitor Jason closely, having neither the time, desire nor trust fund to spend the night at the animal ER.

The next day, Jason walked, frolicked and ate normally. There was no hint of difficulty in swallowing or breathing, no behavior that seemed abnormal.  I started to hope, as improbable as it seemed, that somehow he’d chewed the corndog properly and it broke into pieces and was digesting normally. We started poking through his poop, looking for evidence. But no corndog arrived, no corndog stick.

Then, on the third day, with no notice, he suddenly threw up this: corndogstick 027

Half a corndog stick, intact, with a scarily jagged end.  How it didn’t puncture his esophagus, I can’t tell you. In fact, looking at this depiction of a dog’s digestive system, I don’t know how it got into his esophagus at all, or came back up.

In his terrific book, “If Our Bodies Could Talk,” James Hamblin talks about how humans could theoretically die from swallowing a tongue ring. If the point punctures your bowel, the bile and intestinal flora would trickle into the abdominal cavity and cause sepsis, which kills more people than cancer.

All I know is I have never been so happy to see a used corndog stick, and as long as we have a dog, I think we’ll stick to eating corndogs at fairs.

Note to anyone who found this post by Googling “My dog ate a corndog” — if your dog is in distress, please take him to the vet. We were lucky. My farrier’s wise advice not withstanding, sometimes panicking is entirely appropriate when you have a bad dog.