I’ve been struggling for a bit on whether or not I should write THIS post. I’ve gone back and forth on if I should and why and how I would write it.
This blog, since the first post in September of 2010, has, with very few exceptions, been about my perspectives on being a parent to my specific daughters. I’ve tried to never take the tone of prescribing how anyone else should parent but rather to just share my own experiences with a few hopes. I’ve written so I have a place to go back and remember all the big (and some smaller) moments of my daughters’ childhoods. I’ve written so that maybe some people could be entertained or find what I say useful or relatable in their own past, present, or future situations. I’ve written so my daughters will have an artifact, at whatever point they are ready, that acts as a sort of story of their growth from one person’s perspective.
This one is a bit different. This one is about me; because I’m proud of something I’m accomplishing. People who know me well know that I’m actually a pretty private person. My wife likes to say that she and I have switched roles in terms of our respective abilities and interest in socializing. I was always an introverted nerdy type who didn’t always know how to interact with humans. She was always cool. Now, it appears I really enjoy socializing – and I do, sometimes.
I’m not, however, much of a social media poster when it comes to real things. I’ll post about silly things or charities I’m interested in but rarely about myself. For some reason, this moment feels different and I feel the need, perhaps in a moment of selfish vanity, to share this personal story (spoiler alert: it doesn’t have an ending but it’s going great). I share it without judgement or intention to make anyone else feel bad. I know lots of people have serious things going on. This happens to be a story about me. If you’d rather not read it, I’m sure you can find something else to do.
2 years ago, on July 20th, 2021, I had my annual physical.
I’ve always had reasonably good health and this appointment would be largely the same.
I’ve never been considered as being overweight for my height (I’m 6’1”) but also never been a particularly good eater. A few years ago I learned that I was a super taster (my wife also wants me to mention I deal with misophonia but that’s for a different post, quietly). It’s a real thing. I’ve never liked the taste of alcohol, never smoked, despise broccoli, rarely eat let alone look at green vegetables, can’t drink hot liquids, and a variety of other food-related things that most people, including me, would consider weird.
But I do like burgers. I ate lots of burgers. And drinking Coca-Cola. Coke. Is. It.
This was never a problem before and while things like my cholesterol were never wonderful, it was never a red flag when I’d have bloodwork done.
Not until 2 years ago.
That day, my bloodwork showed that my Cholesterol score was 247. It is worth noting that I’m not a doctor but I am an engineer so the next part made it easy to understand. The optimal range we’re looking for on that number is 140-200.
My Cardiac Risk score was 6.9 and the optimal range is 0-5. If you read about super tasters, you’ll see that there’s a common pattern of higher heart disease risk for those people because of the food choices.
My HDL (the good cholesterol) score was 36 and the optimal score there is anything over 40.
Triglycerides you ask? The optimal range is lower than 150. My score? 1036.
One thousand and thirty-six.
Maybe that was a false positive. Maybe not. All that information, along with the health situation of someone close to me, was enough to catapult me into action.
My doctor, who is actually a nurse practitioner, called me that afternoon after the blood work came in to discuss options. I know what you’re thinking: medication.
She told me that we should try some lifestyle changes before we try any medication and that she had confidence in my ability to follow through. So many people in her profession would just immediately go to prescribing medicine. She didn’t and in my book that makes her the best doctor/nurse practitioner on the planet. I started that day.
She suggested I try intermittent fasting. She recommended I eat between noon and 8pm which gives your body 16 hours of fasting time. Something happens after a certain period of time where your body starts to eat its own internal fat – and this can reduce cholesterol. I should do that 4-5 days a week she said.
I see your 4-5 days a week a raise you to 7 days because I’m a software engineer who likes routines and that’s easier for me. She says, “great, but if you get hungry, just drink water to fill your stomach up.” Deal. She said, “make sure you still eat the things you enjoy (like chocolate lava cake).” Double deal.
I already don’t drink alcohol so that’s a the Wheel of Fortune R,S,T,L,N,E.
I went cold turkey on my Coke situation. I have not had a coke since July 19th, 2021.
We talked about cutting back on red meat. I have not had a double quarter pounder from McDonalds since before July 20th, 2021.
And we talked about adding regular exercise to my routine.
Ok. Exercise. Again, for those who know me now but didn’t know me when I was younger, they always seem to be surprised to find out that I was a pretty good athlete. I played tennis, baseball, and basketball and can almost certainly STILL destroy you in a race. As you get older of course, you slow down a bit. My ankles aren’t great, I have back problems, the IHOP early bird starts at 4:00, my mah jong card is out of date, and I have to get to bingo to meet up with Blanche, Dorothy, Rose, and Sophia.
But ok. Let’s rethink fitness as someone in their mid-40s. I started light exercise: running around my neighborhood, getting a few small home gym types of things, trying to come up with some sort of regular schedule.
I also started to add protein shakes to my diet including shakes that have “green” stuff in it. It would be better if I was eating the actual whole foods but having the powder supplements was better than the nothing I was eating before. I started trying to have healthier snacks in between meals.
2 or 3 days of intermittent fasting and my body had adjusted to the schedule. I was not getting hungry until around noon. Gone were the late night snacks.
2 months of this routine and I went back in for more blood work.
The Cholesterol score was down from 247 to 201 – not good yet but progress.
The Cardiac Risk number was down to 5.6 from 6.9.
HDL? Stayed at 36.
Triglycerides: down to 282 from 1036. Obviously this is significant progress but not near the sub-150 that we’re looking for.
And I lost around 25 pounds. The goal wasn’t to lose weight but was a pretty drastic side effect of this process.
Onward we go.
It was hard, by this point, to not explain to my daughters why I was eating differently. I tried to do the shakes for snacks and lunch and make sure I could have normal dinner with the family. They were seeing the changes to my routine and to my body and I wanted to make sure they knew the real reason why I was doing all this. I explained that I wanted to do everything I could to be around for as long as possible and that this whole thing was about having a healthy heart. This isn’t about weight loss or happiness with my body or anything like that. This was about making healthier food choices and healthier exercise choices.
I’m an analytical person. I like to see proof that an experiment is working. I started to see small changes in my body before that 2nd blood work but when those results came back and there was scientific proof of progress, it became motivation to push even more. Exercise started becoming a really fun and important part of my day; not just a chore. I started trying to figure out ways to do some sort of exercise or moving around every day. This was, of course, during the pandemic so my gym membership (which I had but was barely using) was useless.
The home gym started to evolve.
We added a Peloton.
A couple of weights. A TRX suspension set.
Eventually we added a treadmill, a weight bench, barbell, more weights, and via an outstanding deal from a friend, a Hydrow.
I don’t want to say exercise & fitness in general has become an obsession but that’s because I don’t want to say it. I love it. This isn’t revolutionary but when I exercise in the morning, my energy for the day is so much better. As time went on, I was going every 3 months to get blood work and the numbers were all trending in the right direction.
In April, I saw that a friend was changing careers to persue a career in personal training because fitness had always been a passion for her. I sent a congratulations and maybe a quarter jokingly sent a message, “when are you going to put me on a plan?” You see, I’d been working out regularly but really just doing my own thing; what felt good to me. While it was working, I was always nervous I would do too much or hurt myself or not do the right things. I figured, if someone who knows what they are doing puts me on a routine, everything will be more efficient, progress will be faster, and I’ll be able to do this work feeling more confident that I’m not going to hurt myself.
She started working with me in April. She would come to my house once a week with workout routines that I could do in my own home gym and it was awesome. My confidence grew right along side with my fitness. Over almost 3 months, she gave me 6 different workout routines and helped make sure my form was right along with a schedule of when to work out. During the summer, I’m on my own because the schedule is a bit less consistent but we’ll reconvene later.
2 days ago, on July 20th, 2023, I had my annual physical.
I didn’t actually remember that it was the same date 2 years later and my doctor is actually at a new practice so it’s a bit of a coincidence.
My Cholesterol score, which two years ago was at 247, with an optimal range of between 140-200, is now 182.
Cardiac Risk? That went from 6.9 two years ago down to 3.3, well within the 0-5 optimal range.
HDL (the good cholesterol) was at 36 originally, aiming for over 40, and is now 56.
Triglycerides? Two years ago they were at 1036 and are now 154: right on the edge of optimal. More work to do but so far so good.
There are a lot of things in my life I’m proud of, with the top of that list being the father of two amazing daughters. I sat down to write this post not knowing if I’d actually publish it because it’s pretty far outside my comfort zone to show any sort of pride publicly in anything I’ve done. I’m working hard to be a healthier person because there are too many things in the future that I want to be here for. While there are no guarantees on any of it and so many things outside of my control, there are some things I can take on and so I will. I am fully aware that there are people who struggle with things that are far more serious but for this moment, just this one moment, I think I’ve decided to celebrate this success. That is my choice for me and I think it’s a healthy one. I think I’m alright with a little celebration before it’s time to get back to work.
But first…a lava cake.