July 8, 2011
Belly fat comes in two radically different forms. One is slightly annoying and fairly harmless. It is the layer of fat directly under the skin. It’s called subcutaneous fat. Think of it as a layer of fat between the surface of the skin and on top of your abdominal organs. It’s also known as muffin top, love handles or jelly belly.
The villainous other type of fat is called visceral abdominal fat, VAT for short. It’s associated with cancer and heart disease and a slew of other miserable age-related diseases. This layer of fat is beneath the organs and is what gives one that very rotund look of a potbelly. If know people with an exaggerated apple shape, they are VAT as well as fat. These VAT people are more prone to disease because of the nature of serious problems associated with visceral fat.
Another little known fact is that fat in the abdominal area functions differently than elsewhere in the body. It has a greater access to blood supply as well as more receptors for cortisol, a major stress hormone. Cortisol is a fight or flight hormone and is stocked by your body in your VAT because this is your emergency fat; the I’m being chased by a dinosaur fat that is more readily available in the event of a famine or having to outrun a T-rex.
But I also call cortisol the Fat Belly hormone. It’s levels rise and fall throughout the day but when you are stressed out, like when you are running late and stuck driving behind the drop-off bus, or someone blocked you into your parking space and you are already late, your cortisol level remains elevated. When you have consistently high levels of this hormone in your blood stream, something Jillian Jones would consider terrible happens: more fat is deposited in the abdominal area because there are more cortisol receptors in your abdominal wall than anywhere else in the body. So stress can indeed make you fat and not just fat all over but especially fat in your belly.
Another switch that is triggered when we are under stress is the there is a higher Ph level in the bloodstream. This acidic level leaches calcium from our bones. It is not a far reach to suggest that stress-reducing activities, like meditation and yoga and even deep-breathing can help prevent osteoporosis. Who knew that lying silently on the floor could make your bones stronger- and your body thinner?
If we can reduce our stress levels, we can maintain a more alkaline level in our blood stream, which also helps protect our bones.
So reduce your stress by adding meditation or tai chi. It will help your metabolism work better so that your bones can remain strong so that if you fall, nothing will break. It will also reduce the fat-belly hormone so that you won’t get VAT.
July 3, 2011
Fitness-wise, I can’t think of anything to write about except my sister-in-law, Dori. She’s been my personal trainer this week. I visited her in Atlanta these last few days and she’s helped me discover muscles I never knew I had.
I got the call a month ago. Chemo to the brain, my brother told me. Put her on the phone I asked. When she came on the line she complained that she was bored and wanted to get up and walk the hospital corridors. How do you feel, I asked. I need to get home and get back to my walks, she said. She’s always called them “my” walks, which I hadn’t noticed until now. “Time for my morning walk.” or “Oh, I missed my walk today!”
People who walk for exercise call it “a” walk. People who hate to walk just…. walk. But people like Dori who are passionate about moving their body claim them as their own, a part of who they are.
I hung up and immediately turned to Google, who, like a mean girlfriend, always has a way of telling me information in a harsher way than necessary.
Hema Onc is the nickname for her treatment, cruely cute-sounding—it stands for Hematology-Oncology, the AK-47 of chemotherapy. I booked the flight, not knowing that I was so out of shape for what she had in mind for me.
Dori is the new 53. She looks a decade younger and has always been in great shape–watching her weight, eating healthy even before it was fashionable. She was one of those women who prepared cut-up carrots for her toddlers before baby carrots were invented. And before her romance with walking, she was a runner. She never smoked and doesn’t drink. She takes ginko biloba and other new-agey supplements–organic, of course.
She ran a 5K this past Mother’s Day and won her age division and had her picture taken on the podium with the Chik-Filet mascot.
After the race she had a blinding headache which she dismissed as an after-effect of the heat at the race. After a few days, the headache was still there and she called her doctor. The breast cancer she’d conquered a decade ago didn’t really cross her mind.
Two days, dozens of tests and a lifetime later, they put a shunt in her skull and her new life began.
It must be like stepping off a cliff—when you do everything right and damned if something bad doesn’t happen anyway. It’s as basic and terrifying as that. Except. Except that Dori has faith.
Author Barbara Winter said “When you come to the edge of all the light that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.”
Faith, for Dori, is not just something she believes in her head but now it is something she is experiencing in her body. It’s Faith in motion.
The morning after I arrived, she was knocking on my door at 6am, telling me I had seven minutes, if I wanted to go on her walk with her. We had to beat the heat of Atlanta she said. And beating the heat seems to be how Dori is living her life now. It would be so easy to lose your cool in her shoes. Instead, she seems more awake to life than ever. She’s always liked to garden and has kept her bird feeders full, but now, she was filled with a new, deeper appreciation for the simplest of pleasures—the squirrels and hummingbirds– in her own backyard. Seeing these animals through her eyes became amazing, like I was seeing these simple creatures for the first time. I’m almost fifty years old and to think, I’d never stopped to watch the magic of a hummingbird drink at his feeder.
I asked her about her attitude of optimism. She told me she used to be negative, back in the early days of her marriage to my brother, but that she learned that she needed to become more positive if she wanted her kids and her husband- and herself to be happy. She taught herself, she said. Also, over and over, she described her faith in God and what I recognized in her, from my years of talking about it in yoga classes, although I’d never seen it in a person, was enlightenment. She was enlightened.
I watched her closely because I’ve always been impatient with living like that–merely normally–and here she was showing me what a gift it is to live exactly like that—living the everyday life, with all it’s ho-humness and regularity so that each moment takes on a vertical dimension of depth; so that a bird at the feeder becomes a miracle.
When we were due at one of the radiology appointments this week, she’d mention it like we were going to the gym. As she opened the door to her back porch, she’d say, “Hi Guys” to the squirrels that did not dart away.
We talked a lot although I noticed that the small talk seemed too small and the big talk felt too gigantic to mention. Her daily examples of grace and presence to the small gifts each moment presented felt like a new calisthenic, challenging a deconditioned muscle in my heart—not my anatomical heart, but my emotional heart. She had some new moves to show me that I will never learn in Zumba class.
It occurred to me that Dori knows instinctively how to be courageous. Acts of courage don’t always take place near burning buildings, you know. This week they are taking place in Madison, Georgia, in her heart and soul and on her back porch. Dori has her ear to the ground to pick up the soft sound of Divine direction, rather than the confusing, sometimes blinding message from Hema Onc.
I’m back home today, but not without having learned a few new moves from my new trainer Dori. And like her, I’ll keep taking my vitamins—I’ll keep trying to do everything right. And if something bad happens anyway, I’ll try to beat the heat like Dori and remember the hard reality that cancer can come bearing gifts. It can change your life for better by teaching you what’s important. You get your priorities straight. You stop wasting time. You hug more. You tell your people you love them. If it wasn’t for the bad part, having cancer would be the best thing and everyone would want some.
And that is so true.
Except for the bad part.