31 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 7: Must John Barleycorn Really Die?

"There were three men came out of the west, their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn must die"
-- First stanza of an early English folk tune, "John Barleycorn"
-- Tune reframed by Steve Winwood and Traffic:  Released in 1970 in 
the album, "John Barleycorn Must Die" (click on link above to hear
Steve Winwood sing the song)

The American Temperance Society was founded in the United States in 1826.  It was not the first group to attempt to either curtail or prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages.  Two small movements were underway in the colonies and shortly after the American Revolution. There were many temperance societies in countries around the world -- having various levels of success.  In the United States, there were three major periods of Temperance Society activity -- the third and final being from 1893-1933.  

In 1893, The Rev. Howard Hyde Russell founded the Anti-Saloon League (ASL).  Under various leaders, the ASL gained political traction.  With the motto, "The Church in action against the saloon," the ASL achieved massive support from most all religious groups in the United States.  The success of this effort paid off when, on 18 December 1917, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was passed by Congress.  With ratification by more than 3/4 of the states, Prohibition went into formal law on 16 January 1920.  Prohibition banned "the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States and its possessions." However, Prohibition did not outlaw the purchase or consumption of alcohol products.  The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment.  It is the only instance in United States history that a constitutional amendment was repealed.

[Sidebar here:  It is why I am so wearied by cries of losing 2nd Amendment rights.  An Amendment can only be repealed by an act of Congress with 3/4 of the states approving to be ratified into law.  I think it is time to give that old "protect my constitutional rites" gig a rest]

A lot of complicated things happened during the period of Prohibition.  All kinds of books and movies have been written and made exploring the societal struggles during the 1920s...leading to the Great Depression.  The emergence of organized crime in the scope of the Mafia (as only one example) made its mark by bootlegging alcoholic beverages and laundering both the product and the money.  This posting isn't about exploring all the nuances of Prohibition.  However, the effects of temperance movements and its legitimacy is of value in what follows.

I do not often refer to the "For Dummies" books that are published, but when I do, I refer to one that has some depth and summarizes current science and/or technology.  Such is the case with the website "How Your Body Processes Alcohol...for Dummies."  It is good reading and available at:                                                                                http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-your-body-processes-alcohol.html

This is not to infer, in any way, that anyone is a dummy.  Both history and physiology can get complicated.  It is sometimes good to have the material presented in a way that streamlines the technical language.  It becomes easier to digest the information (sorry, I couldn't resist) and make use of the facts.  
  • Alcohol is not a sugar, nor is it metabolized as a sugar.  Alcohol moves directly through the stomach walls into the circulatory system (blood).  
  • The body considers alcohol a toxin (poison) and sends it directly to the liver.  Here is where something really important happens.   Because it is a toxin, the liver stops enzymatic action on carbohydrates and other sugars in order to deal with the alcohol.  This process is slow.  It takes about an hour for the system to metabolize 1 oz. of alcohol (about 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of whiskey).  
  • While you are drinking alcohol, your blood sugar will actually drop for a while.  This is because of the metabolic action by the liver, cited above.
  • Eventually, alcohol is removed as ascetic acid.
  • Because it is free-flowing in our bloodstream before metabolizing, alcohol affects neuro-receptors in the brain, the heart and the lungs.  This is one reason a breathalyzer works so well.  
  • One gains weight with alcohol consumption, because the body "reads" the temporary reduction of glucose (due to suspended action of the liver) as needing more fuel.  We eat more.  In college, remember the beer parties with the Domino's Pizza deliveries following later that evening?   Come on...yes, you do.  
  • The more one drinks, the longer it takes to remove the alcohol.  It takes a long time for the liver enzymes to break it down.  Three beers, three glasses of wine, or 3.0 oz of standard 80 proof whiskey can take up to four hours to fully metabolize.  Food you have already eaten is not being processed (the glucose part).  The body craves more food, and one keeps eating until the body begins to register a new flow of glucose.   By the time that happens, there is an insulin spike that can be as much as five times normal.  If this happens often enough, the genetic disposition for Type II diabetes can be triggered.
  • Remember:  Alcohol is not the only thing in a drink of any kind.  Beer and a number of whiskeys contain barley.  Other major grains, like corn, rye and wheat, are used as a base for distilling alcohol.  So, there are also carbohydrates in what one is drinking.  These are, in fact, processed like all carbohydrates:  into blood sugar -- glucose.   The darker beers, for instance, contain up to four times more carbohydrates that "pale ales."  Blended Scots Whisky (Scotch to this side of the Pond) contains more carbohydrates than single malts.  
  • Also, we rarely drink straight anything -- except for beer and wine.  One must take into account the glycemic load of the mixer one is using.  Unless it is water or club soda, there is a whopping amount of fructose, sucrose and carbohydrate going down with that tequila in a margarita (as one example only).  True story:  I had a large margarita at a Mexican restaurant in Kansas City three years ago...just three days before seeing my endocrinology diabetes nurse.  My blood work showed a significant spike in both fasting blood sugar and triglycerides.  Yep, it was the margarita that did that...still showing up three days after consumption.
  • Alcohol does not make cirrhosis of the liver.  However, alcohol taxes the liver and actually "fatigues" it.  This leads to inflammation and subsequent scaring of the internal liver tissues.  This is cirrhosis.  Other things can cause cirrhosis as well, so be informed.
I will tell only one of three events in my younger years that is the kind of thing that can trigger a lot of problems:  binge drinking.  At the University of Florida, I lived in the Beaty Towers -- a "high rise" dorm for juniors through graduate studies students.  In 1972, a number of us living on the 8th floor of Beaty East (the men's dorm tower) were seniors.  In mid-May 1972, just about 3.5 weeks before graduation, we were entering our last period of final exams.  Us 8th floor guys decided to sponsor a senior party for us and some of our friends (that would ultimately mean about 70 of us).  One of my really good friends down the hall had access to Budweiser and Michelob products through his dad.  For next to nothing, we hauled three full kegs from Tampa to Gainesville -- along with a lot of complimentary 16 oz. plastic mugs.

On that fateful Saturday night in May, the grand party commenced.  Early on, one of my other good friends on the 8th floor got into a bantering conversation with me regarding our next chapter of life.  He was going into the Marine Corps, and I was going into the Navy.  Can you see where this is going?  

A bet was made.  Whichever of us could consume the most 16 oz. mugs of beer and remain standing would be declared the winner -- to the exaltation of his branch of service.  Being of Scots lineage, I could not let "my team" look bad.  I waded in.

One of the guys not drinking was the coordinator.  He filled each of our mugs and kept a record of what each of us consumed...on a board tacked onto the central hallway bulletin board.  I will not bother with the details of that evening.  It was, in many ways a great party.  I kept drinking.  Tim kept drinking.

At 12:35am -- four hours later, I consumed the last of my 22nd beer......seriously.  I did not realize that Tim had collapsed in a heap as he was just beginning his 22nd mug.  I had won.  I am telling this via what was told me.  I don't remember.  It is told that I threw my empty mug against the bulletin board and starting singing "Anchors Aweigh" in a loud baritone.  I fell down, and a group of my friends carried me to my room...and my bed.  During the remaining hours of that night, I got pretty sick.  My three roommates swear to this day that I was in the bathroom, moaning in my toxic stew and beseeching, "God, if you love me, kill me!"  I swear I do not remember this.

I was 21 years old.  Yet, I was a fairly new Postulant for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church (the first official stage leading to seminary and ordination as a Priest).  As was my custom, I crawled out of bed at 9am, somehow got cleaned up and dressed.  I made it downtown to Trinity Episcopal Church in time for the 10am Eucharist.  The music and liturgical sounds caused my head to pound so that I thought my ears would explode.  I got to the rail to receive Communion and caught a scent of the consecrated wine.  I left immediately to find the restroom.  My intentions were good, but my body was in a terrible toxic mess.

I had a major paper to finish.  I had written it, but it needed to be typed.  I got back to my room and settled down at my desk and typewriter.  Every tap of the key was like a giant bass drum beating right beside me.  That Sunday was the worst day of my life.

Honestly, I am not at all proud of this.  It took nearly four days to start feeling like my old self again.  I have not, to this day, gotten drunk again.  

The English folk song, "John Barleycorn Must Die" personifies the the cereal crop, barley, that was essential in most alcoholic beverage production in early England and European continent.  It got picked up by temperance societies in many cultures and used as a rallying cry for "killing the evil spirits of alcohol."  All cultures seem to have a love-hate relationship with distilled and brewed beverages.  

Like most things, alcohol in itself is not evil.  In fact, there is strong medical evidence for benefits from moderate amounts ... especially wine (and red wine to be most specific).  It is how we use alcohol -- or any consumable -- and knowing our limitations.

It was a damned foolish thing I did at age 21.  It could have very easily become deadly with alcohol poisoning.  I was fortunate -- both to not get sicker than I was, and to recognize that danger for the future.  

For all of my adult life, an occasional beer, glass of wine or a good Scots Whisky on the rocks is a nice treat.  It simply does not interest me to have more than two or three of those events in a week...and not more than one drink.  There are weeks that go by where I consume nothing alcoholic.  I have done Fifth Step work for persons in Alcoholics Anonymous and know the addictive process.

However, that same addictive process (it is both genetic and in the neural receptor centers of the brain) holds us captive to sugar, modern wheat products and simple carbohydrates.  Those are also the things that trigger Type II Diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

St. Paul counseled his young faith communities to exercise moderation in all things.  Part of who we are and why we are here is to be stewards and to hold all things in balance -- most especially ourselves.  What we put in our mouths affects every part of our organic being.  How do we acknowledge and celebrate the gift we call life?

During the detox phase of this journey, no alcohol is allowed.  As I move into the next stages of lifestyle and food choice adjustments, it may be an option to have an occasional beverage.  My rule for this will be to reduce that day's intake of foods that could be processed as glucose.  By what amount, I don't yet know.  It is a conversation with my body that will yield the answer.  It will sound like, "if you want to enjoy that, leave out this..."

Today's numbers:

Fasting Blood Glucose:  88.  This is the fifth day of below 100
Weight: 233.  I lost the pound that came back yesterday.  Net loss, 7 lbs in seven days.
Blood Pressure:  134/72.  This is some indication of a lowering, though it is not much

This is beyond my expectations.  It may be that my detox time is ending, and I am ready to move to the next phase.  I have submitted my log to my mentor.  

Love and Blessings!


30 July 2013

A New Journey -- Supplement Part 6: Important Information

After completing the posting under the title, "Doris Gets Her Oats," I had a couple of questions arise about my exercise routine.  The scope of the questions indicated some supplemental information.

  1. I am not a doctor.  I have never played one on television.  I haven't stayed in a Holiday Inn Express in over a year.  The information I provide is what is working for me.  I am regularly in some kind of consultation with three medical professionals:  Primary Care Physician, Cardiologist, Orthopedic Surgeon.  They are also in touch with each other.  It is critical that one not begin a course of exercise or radically change one's lifestyle without consulting a medical professional.  
  2. If you are over 40 yrs old, it is strongly advised that you speak with a medical professional regarding a Stress EKG study.  This is a painless procedure that takes about 45 minutes.  You are hooked up to an EKG (Electrocardiogram) machine while on a treadmill.  This study observes your heart at various levels of stress as both the incline and speed of the treadmill increase over a given period of time -- usually no more than 15 minutes.  This is important especially if you have a family history of heart issues.
  3. This is not essential, but I have found it helpful to check in with an exercise physiologist as I begin a  new exercise routine.  This is especially true if you have a cardiac condition or orthopedic issues.  Some exercises and equipment are more suitable than others, if there are such issues.  Many gyms and health clubs do not have "floor specialists."  They are usually college or adult persons who do not have a specialization in techniques that prevent injury.  This is one reason I have spent just a tad more and enrolled in facilities that have personnel with degrees in exercise physiology or physical therapy.
  4. Pain is not your friend!  Take this one to the bank.  If what you are doing causes pain, don't do it.  Something isn't right.  It is common to feel a little sore or stiff in the early stages of a new exercise routine, but it should last no longer than a day following the exercise.  Once you are in a routine and conditioning begins, a slight soreness will be felt as you increase weights or resistance.  Do not "work through the pain."  It's a crock...and back away from anyone suggesting it.  It will save you from future injury.
Aerobic Training.  There are really only two things that are important here:  

  • Heart Rate:  How fast your heart is beating during an aerobic series.  Best advice is to consult the charts available that give age ranges and suggested target heart rates for extended periods.  Example:  Because I have a cardiac anomaly, my cardiologist do not want me to exceed 120 beats per minute (bpm) over an extended time.  Above that, the coronary arteries tend to no longer deliver oxygen to my heart efficiently.  Heart Rate is the key for any aerobic workout.
  • Time:  What is the most effective amount of time for aerobic training.  Really, less than sustained 20 minutes is only marginally effective for cardiac health.  Most professionals suggest 30 minutes.  Some suggest longer.  In my particular situation, the docs want an average of 40 to 50 minutes whenever possible and 30 minutes minimum.  
  • Forget the other number values.  How fast one is pedaling or moving, or how many calories one is burning is of no real concern.  Sustaining target heart rate for a set period of time that is good for you will yield the best health benefits.  That is advice I have heard from every credible exercise physiologist and cardiologist.  If you do those to values, metabolic efficiency is enhanced over time.
Weight Training.  This is a huge area
  • Go Slow.  If your goal is to be strong and lean, there is an entirely different method of working out than if your goal is to "bulk up."  From my military requirements to the present, it has never been either necessary or interesting for me to be bulked.  My body works best when the muscles are strong, tight and doing their work efficiently.  Being "in shape" really means having one's entire system working in harmony and being in balance.  Historically, I have been more efficient and capable than someone hugely bulked up.  Their range of motion and rate of response slows with over-development.  Still, it's an individual choice:  Brute strength, or Effective efficiency.
  • Free Weights.  Always have a person who will "spot" you as you lift -- especially lifting bars overhead or doing controlled squats with a bar on your shoulders.  I suffer permanent damage by getting in a hurry and sacrificing good judgement when doing a series of military press routines in 1974 (lifting a bar with weights from shoulder level to the full extension of arms overhead).  I went to a level of weight only ten pounds heavier than my usual.  I started losing control in mid lift.  There was no one behind me to grab the bar and stabilize my control.  I failed to simply throw the bar away in front of me.  I tried to control a "loose descent" and twisted my right should backward...dropping the bar behind me.  This was a very bad move.  I paid for that (in many ways) 36 years later.  Start light and work up slowly...only when you can do three sets of 12 reps each comfortably on three different workouts should you go to the next level by adding weight.  You don't need a spotter for "dumbells" (also called "hand weights").  The only place a spotter could be helpful is if you are on your back on a bench with a barbell positioned above your head to do a modified tricep exercise or upper pectoral extension.  Twice, I have seen someone lose the hand weight and have it smash into his face.  Broken noses and lost teeth don't need to happen.  Ask for an assist.  Good weight trainers are always happy to help.
  • Machine Weights.  By far the easiest and safest -- under most circumstances.  The trick with machines is cadence and having the moving parts set to the right adjustment for your height and build (i.e longer or shorter arms and legs).  A badly set machine can cause pain.  I always get a professional to walk me through the exercises I will be doing and adjusting each machine.  The absolute best is working out in a place that uses FitLinxx or similar computer enhancement.  The master server saves all your settings.  When you go to a particular machine, for which you have been set-up, and plug in your code, the screen will tell you the settings and the weight you have been using.  No need to try to remember all that.  I currently use seven machines on a FitLinxx system.  I just show up, log in, do some stretching and begin.  
Of course there are lots of ways to get good exercise.  This is my particular routine.  I also hike and swim.  I have been an avid canoeist, bicyclist and like kayaking.  I have played tennis, raquetball and golf.  However, in all of those, I have found that my gym training has improved my ability and skills in all those areas of interest.  Most of all, it has given me balance between internal metabolic function and external interaction with my environment.  If gym exercise/training is not for you, there are several good books that guide you through floor routines in your home.  For several years, I used a U.S. Army fitness book with various floor exercises and combined it with Hatha Yoga for stretching and strengthening joints.  It worked well.  But, heck, I'm just a gym rat.  Couldn't stay away.

Find a time that is good for you and do something.  Yoga and Tai Chi are also good...as is aerobic dancing.  The secret is doing something long enough to build cardiac efficiency and work out the largest number of muscles.

This covers the questions I have been asked, I think.  PLEASE, don't take my thoughts on personal wellness and simply go start something.  Even if you don't like allopathic medicine, getting a metabolic panel done and a stress ekg will give you a personal baseline that will meet your needs.  There is no "one way" to do this.



A New Journey -- Part 6: Doris Gets Her Oats

"I Dig a Pygmy, by Charles Hawtry and the Deaf Aids.
  Phase one in which Doris gets her oats."
-- John Lennon, the opening monologue to the song, "Two of Us"
 (Song written by Paul McCartney, first released on the 1969 album, "Let It Be")

I was in the gym on this past Friday morning.  It was around 9 am, and folks were arriving who either receive physical therapy or are part of a cardiac rehab class.  A man and woman were talking rather heatedly to a physical therapist near where I was stretching.  The complaint went something like this, "But we come here almost every day to exercise...using the aerobic machine and the works.  We are both still gaining weight!"  

The physical therapist -- a young woman probably in her late twenties -- remained poised and circumspect.  "Perhaps it is what you are eating that is causing you to gain the weight," she said rather thoughtfully (so it sounded).  The woman shot back quickly, "Such crap!  That's just your way of saying you folks don't know your job."  The physical therapist -- still retaining professional composure -- simply said, "If that's how you feel about what we are doing, it may be best that you talk to the department director."  The three walked into the enclosed area of the physical therapy department and disappeared.  

I have no idea what happened to the couple.  The physical therapist is someone I see moving about with patients on a regular basis, and she was busy with someone yesterday (Monday).  So, I guess she is doing well enough.

I relate this scenario, because it is a great example of the common rejoinder for someone in denial:  "Yes, but..."  Think of all the times that an observation has been made that you know, somewhere deep inside, has merit and truth, but just can't bring yourself to own it.  There is this internal mad scramble for something that will justify a response that counters the observation.  More than any other opening, we will start by saying, "Yes, but...."  or the slang "Yeah, but..."  It is a slick way to try to dodge the uncomfortably obvious.

Over the years, I have lost track of the number of times I have been in a pastorally sensitive situation that denied the obvious.  My role, as a priest giving counsel, is not to provide answers but to make observations, provide insights and guide the individual or group to form workable ways of moving forward with their dilemma.  In so many of those situations, I would lay out information and and data that was so obvious that it did everything but physically solve the issue.  Because the information meant owning a behavior, action or belief that was integral to their sense of identity, the respondent(s) would find all kinds of ways to blame it on others, fault the system or simply deny the truth of the observation altogether.  "Yes, but...."

I began with a scenario of being "in the gym."  That is not quite an accurate name for where I exercise.  Its full title:  Sarasota Memorial Hospital HealthFit Center.  Sarasota Memorial Hospital (SMH) is one of several medical centers in the Bradenton-Sarasota metroplex.  It is, I believe, the largest.  It has a number of satellite centers that focus on specific health issues.  The HealtFit Center is located near where we live...in the southeast part of Sarasota...and it has facilities for neuro and cardiac rehab as well as a children's center across the street.  I can walk there from our house in less than 10 minutes.

The main exercise room of the Healthfit Center has a lot of "state-of-the-art" cardio-vascular equipment and machine weight equipment.  It also has a free-weight and universal gym area.  A separate area on one side of the room is specific to physical therapy.  On the opposite side is the cardiac rehab room.  Nurses and therapists both have patients who use the main room as part of their programs.  The building also has two pools, a jacuzzi, as steam room, an all-purpose court (basketball and other sports) and two aerobic rooms.  You want to do it, HealthFit has it.  The cost to belong is reasonable as well.

I am not an exercise nut, but I am enthusiastic about it.  This relationship with fitness began with Navy training.  It included a lot of "road work" and weight training.  For a number of years (after the two year break in seminary, mentioned in an earlier posting), my routine was 5 days of running 5-8 miles and three days of strength training with free-weights.  I used Hatha Yoga for stretching and staying limber.  I would vary the routine and mostly used the U.S. Army fitness guide as a platform.

My enthusiasm was sometimes strong enough that I did damage.  In 1974, I did the first injury to my right shoulder.  It set in motion the trouble that would happen that caused the replacement saga in 2010 and 2012. I also did some damage to the left shoulder with a different kind of lifting exercise.  It could become problematic.  I have blown out both knees in distance running accidents (a pothole and an uneven sidewalk) -- resulting in arthroscopic surgeries and arthritis.  Two foot injuries leading to surgeries.  Finally, a lower back compression due to a fall during a half marathon.  Two-thirds of those could have been prevented with proper "spotters" in the weight room (I failed to have someone spot...meaning be present to handle the weight if I lost control of a lift); or, by looking down a little more often on the road.

I no longer run.  My last official road/treadmill run was in summer 2000.  I no longer lift free-weights. That stopped in 2006.  I swam for a while, but the business with the shoulder has curtailed free-style swimming strokes.  

For the past few years, I have developed a program/routine that is still the 5/3 formula (five days aerobic/three days weight training).  Aerobic work is a combination of bike, stairmaster and elliptical rider.  I use a treadmill to warm up.  At my best, it is a 50 minute routine.  I am currently not at my best.  It is a 35 minute routine.

The weight training is now almost all machine.  If done properly, they provide accurate isolation of muscle groups and good control for both exertion and release.  I still use free-weights for bicep and tricep focus...or a universal gym (which is a bar-pulley system).  There have been some radical alterations with a prosthetic shoulder joint.  A year after the last replacement surgery (20 March 2012), I am able to do bicep and tricep work and upper back work.  I am not allowed to work the deltoid muscles yet, for fear (doctor's) of damaging the still growing bone in the joint.  

Pertaining to the opening of this post, I, too, was one of those who was exercising hard and still gaining weight.  I was even watching the amount of food intake.  Still the weight crept upward.  One of my primary care physicians suggested that I was simply "getting thicker, because you are getting older" (my 60th birthday physical).  

Truth:  I was gaining weight because I was, functionally, getting sick.  Fructose was getting stored in my liver and turned into triglycerides.  High triglycerides can indicate a metabolic syndrome -- the first stage of a diabetes diagnosis (mine were near 900 in 2007).  Sucrose was getting stored as glycogen in muscles cells that normally store fat.  So, I was eating a low fat diet and exercising 5 days/week -- and still slowly gaining weight.

By the time I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in May 2010, I was taking five medications to control cholesterol, triglycerides and the diabetes.  I was on two medications to deal with the coronary ectasia and attendant blood pressure issues.  I had all kinds of advice...most of which ended up being a chorus of: take your medications, exercise and behave yourself eating.

I just finished reading a pivotal article in the latest edition of National Geographic.  It's about sugar, and it tells the whole story.  I commend this article to you.  It is well worth the time and information.

One can exercise and still gain weight.  One can exercise, be on a low-fat diet and still gain weight.  One can exercise, be on a low-fat diet and eat minimal meals and probably lose weight...at least for a while.  I did the latter in 2001 and did pretty well for about three years.  Then it started coming back...the weight that is.  It just started.  And, for sure, I did the "Yes, but..." routine.

Now, it's about turning the dial on my metabolic activity.  It's about breaking old patterns and habits.  It's about reclaiming what my body is designed to utilize for optimal function.  It's about the synthesis of activity, fuel and being centered on True Self.  

Today's metabolic data:

  • Weight:  234.4.  I gained about a pound, but am told that it is an adjustment.  My net loss is still six pounds in as many days.
  • Fasting Blood Glucose:  97.  Still within the 85-100 range necessary for control.  I ate a snack pack before bed (a mix of raw almonds and walnuts).
  • Blood Pressure:  134/76.  It is modulating
Off to HealthFit.
[Note:  The opening quote is spoken by John Lennon before the song "Two of Us" begins.  There was a real John Hawtry (1914-1988) who did a lot of television, radio and stage acting...largely comic.  It was the image I got when I began thinking about this post.  Go figure]

Love and Blessings,


29 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 5: Praying Shapes Believing

"Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now."
-- Lyrics by Bob Dylan, 1964, "My Back Pages" (Album:  "Another Side of Bob Dylan)
-- The Byrds, 1967 (Album:  "Younger Than Yesterday")

The title of this posting is not totally accurate to the text that will follow.  There is some of this, and the title, itself, is from one of my favorite books, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer, (1985) by the Rev. Dr. Leonel L. Mitchell.  There is some history here, in terms of my own journey.

My mentor and spiritual adviser in seminary was the Rev. Dr. Louis Weil.  Fr. Weil was professor of Liturgics and Sacramental Theology.  Louis Weil, Charles Price, Leonel Mitchell and Marion Hatchett were the most influential scholars in sacramental theology and worship in the Episcopal Church during the 20th Century.  There were others, but anyone from an accredited theological institution in the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches knew of these four -- and their works were required reading at all of our seminaries.  If they weren't, then I would say it's like calling a blood pressure of 140/90 "normal."  It isn't.
Dr. Louis Weil, 1975

My passion for good liturgy, my deep love for sacramental theology and its impact on daily spiritual life, and my own life of prayer came in great measure from my time with Louis Weil.  It was he who impacted Nashotah students from around 1973 until 1988.  Louis Weil spent his years from 1989 until retirement, a few years ago, at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, CA -- one of our seminaries.  CDSP is part of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley:  a  consortium of nine independent theological schools clustered around a major library and academic research center.  It was founded in 1962.  

When I became Dean of St. James Cathedral, South Bend, IN on 1 January 1993, I was wonderfully surprised to find that the Rev. Dr. Leonel Mitchell, who was then the Professor of Liturgics and Sacramental Theology at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Chicago, was an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral and would be retiring within a couple of years and moving back to South Bend.
Dr. Lee Mitchell, 2012

After his retirement, Lee Mitchell did return to a home they already owned in South Bend (he had been on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame for a number of years).  He became an adjunct on my staff, and we became very close friends.  His counsel, advice and creative energy allowed us to do some wonderful liturgical events at the Cathedral.  When I left the cathedral 11 years later, I had become much wiser in crafting liturgy.   It was a very sad moment for me to learn of Lee's death in 2012 during the time I was immobilized after replacement of my right shoulder joint at Mayo.  

The impact of these two priest scholars, and the others I mentioned, upon the modern Church came out of the discovery of a huge number of early Church documents and materials shortly after World War II.  These were the folks who were the designers of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and our formal move from a medieval piety in the Church to a re-discovery of the joy and life-giving worship of those early centuries after Jesus.

Yesterday, the Gospel narrative included Jesus responding to the Disciples' request, "Teach us to Pray."  Jesus' response was the basis of what we now call "The Lord's Prayer."  It is no doubt the best known and recited prayers in Christendom -- and beyond.   At every liturgy in the Episcopal Church, this prayer is said by the congregation after the Eucharistic Prayer.  It is also said in all of the Daily Offices of the Church.  I have long been concerned as to whether we know what we are really doing when we say this prayer.

The Lord's Prayer, itself, is a model.  Break it down into its components, on one immediately sees a pattern that is universal in its implications for a conversation with God.   This came home to me yesterday, when the Rector of St. Boniface asked a question in his sermon, "Do our prayers shape us; or, do we use prayer to try to shape the world in our image?"

For the past three evenings at home, we have been watching a compilation series from the BBC (on DVD) entitled, "The Barchester Chronicles"  based on the novels of Anthony Trollope.  Trollope wrote in the 19th Century and parodied life in the Church of England during the Victorian Era.

I mention the Trollope stories, because it reminds me so very much of the machinations of both religious and secular organizations to influence culture and manipulate circumstances for their own best interests.  It reminded me that, during our Civil War, people on both sides prayed fervently that God would prevail on their particular side.  Same prayers -- opposing outcomes.  Who is right?

Ultimately, we need to realize that our attempts to change others by our own actions and by believing we have some kind of Divine mandate due to our "prayers" is probably the greatest of all sins....that of hubris...spiritual pride.

In Louis Weil's teaching and Leonel Mitchell's book, it was stressed continuously that the role of community worship is not to manipulate or impose our will upon those gathered, but to create a sustained community that can experience God's love and allow that to work deep within each person...for the sake of wholeness.

In our current milieu, there are politicians, journalists and religious leaders attempting to re-craft culture into a "God-fearing Nation" under a divine law that is mostly a projection of ego and looks very little like anything truly spiritual.  Besides, "God-fearing" is a medieval projection to act as an authoritarian control.  It leaves out "God is Love; and, Perfect Love Casts Out Fear," as well as Jesus' own prayer that "as I have loved you, love one another."  

In my own particular momentary circumstances, which is all for which I have been given ultimate responsibility, being fed up with diabetes and what orbits that condition is not enough in itself.  Trying to shape what my world should look like on a daily basis did not do any good.  When I finally, four weeks ago, simply entered into that silent space and asked what I needed to do to be all that I can be, it came to me that the journey would take a particular course.  I would have what I needed for the journey.  I simply had to take the first step.  All that I have related, the the previous postings, up to now began showing itself.  But, I had my part to do.

Asking and expecting God to cure my diabetes wasn't the route.  Offering the condition and asking what I need to accomplish to bring my health back into balance was the route.  That prayer seems to be shaping my life...on several levels...not just the physical.

Regardless of your tradition or background, how do you pray?  Is it like wielding a hammer; or is it with a desire to be reshaped?

Today's statistics are very interesting to me:

  • Weight:  233.6 -- exactly seven pounds lighter than I was when I began Wednesday morning last week.  Pulling glycogen out of those liver and muscle cells.
  • Fasting Blood Glucose:  87 -- a new record!  I have not registered a fasting glucose level this low since before I was diagnosed with diabetes.  Yesterday, it was 96.  Normal is 85-100
  • Blood Pressure:  130/73 -- still being a booger.  Optimal for me will be 120/70.  This may have something to do with the medication that controls my coronary ectasia.  We'll see.
Food intake is still following the detox phase of purging glycogen stores and resetting my body's metabolic routine.  Just keep watching.

Love and Blessings,


27 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 4: The Pork Club

They say every man needs protection
They say that every man must fall
Yet I swear I see my reflection
Somewhere so high above this wall. 
I see my light come shinin'
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released.
--Lyrics by Bob Dylan (1967)
--Sung by The Band, 1968 album, Music From Big Pink

U.S. Navy, 1974, On Assignment
When we were preparing to move from Lee's Summit, MO to Sarasota, FL in 2012, we were going through a lot of materials collected over our lifetimes...and those of our two, now adult, daughters.  I found the picture posted to the right.  I was 23 years old and in the U.S. Navy Submarine Corps, Atlantic Fleet.  I was stationed at our advance submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland -- from early January 1973 to early February 1975 -- and on the staff of Submarine Squadron 14.  

My official work was handling personnel and transportation for the Commodore (senior Captain...not yet an Admiral).  I also had "unofficial duties."  Those adventures and experiences still remain mostly classified.  This picture was taken by a staff colleague as we crossed the Clyde River from Gourock to Dunoon on one of those "adventure" assignments.  Looks casual enough -- exactly as it was supposed to look.  Both my colleague and I looked Scottish, so we could have been young business men.  Note my hair was longer than military standards...for a reason.

I weighed 195 lbs in that photograph.  I remember this, because we had to stay at a certain level of physical readiness -- as well as have a keen alertness and ability to move quickly...very quickly.  So, I carried quite a bit of extra muscle in those days.

After three years of active duty, I began a program of active reserve duty that would allow me to attend a "professional graduate school."  The Navy defined such schools as: "A graduate school of medicine, dentistry, theology or veterinary medicine."  In August 1975, I began graduate studies in theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, Wisconsin-- one of the Episcopal Church's seminaries.

My lifestyle changed rather radically, I was either in class, at the library, in the chapel or at my desk in my room.  During those long days, there were meals, snacks and occasional get-togethers (read:  parties or cook-outs).  I began to gain weight, largely due to the shift in activity and the institutional diet high in carbohydrates and sugars.  By the end of my second year of the three year degree program, I had gained 35 lbs.  I do not have a picture of those particular days, but you can guess.  It wasn't muscle (most of the muscle mass I carried on active duty had diminished to that of a fairly sedentary lifestyle).

As we began our final year of academic studies, a group of us decided we were tired of being heavy and out of shape.  Several of us in the group had come out of the military straight into seminary.  Others had come from more active civilian lifestyles.  All of us were unhappy with how we looked and felt.  Bob Dylan's words spoke to us.

After consulting the Dean, we received permission to have the chef in our Refectory prepare special meals for us...along the guidelines of Weight Watchers.  We also made a pact to gather five mornings a week for a 3 mile run around West Nashotah Lake (the seminary sat on two lakes, West and East Nashotah Lakes.  Nashotah is a Menominee word meaning, "twin lakes).

In September 1977, seven of us began this program.  We wanted to support each other, and the Dean said he would permit the special meals as long as we were enrolled in a program.  We chose Weight Watchers, because there was a group that met fairly close to the seminary, in Oconomowoc, and we could do our weekly weigh-in on Friday evenings.

It was a hoot!  We ate our meals together and placed a sign in the middle of a table in the Refectory we had designated as "our spot."  The sign in the middle of the table simply read, The Pork Club:  Meeting Thrice Daily by Invitation.  Funny, no one seemed to want to sit with us.  

Tuesday through Saturday mornings, we gathered near the cemetery at the west end of the seminary property...along Mission Road...and, like a troop of recruits, we jogged around the lake.  First it was a slow pace.  We had gotten seriously out of shape over two years.  It gets cold early in Wisconsin.  As the ice and snow began, our running shoes could not well handle the icy roads.  A former Marine member of our group decided we should wear strap-on cleats.  This worked okay, but, as one professor told us (who lived near the lake), "You guys sound like the German Gestapo double-timing when you go by my house."  We tended to get into a cadenced rhythm, and the crack of the cleats on the icy surface did make a snappy racket.

The other bit of fun we had was at the Friday evening "weigh-in."  Seven of us relatively tall guys would enter the Weight Watchers building in the shopping plaza at 7:00pm.  Also in attendance were probably 25 folks -- a number of them being older women (50 and older...please remember we were in our mid twenties...The oldest of us being 29).  Every one of us would lose between 2.5 and 4 lbs each week...without fail.  We would proceed to high five one another, give some jaunty words of "attaboy" and then (almost with one voice) call out, "Off to Pizza Hut for cheat night."  We would leave about 25 folks looking after us with faces reflecting everything from jealous admiration to downright contempt.  

At the end of May 1978, we graduated with our Master's Degrees in Theology (M.Div.--a professional degree).  I was 35 lbs lighter...exactly what I was when I entered seminary three years earlier.  All but one of us achieved very similar results.  The Pork Club Rules!!
Ordination as a Priest 12/29/1978

By the time I was ordained a priest (December 1978), I weighed 190 lbs.  It was lower than my active military weight by five pounds, but I was also carrying less muscle.  I had substituted my military workout with a daily yoga/floor exercise routine and 5-8 mile run (5x/week).  My ordination photo appears at the left.

My best "fighting weight" as an older adult is 215 lbs.  It seems to be where I end up with a combination of cardio exercise and weight bearing exercise.  The time between December 2012 and April of this year (2013) have been tough.  Two major surgeries and literal immobilization for about five months in 2012 and foot surgery in February of this year kept me out of the gym.  My road running days are over -- blowouts on both knees and arthroscopic surgeries in 1996 and 2000.  Over the past year, I gained 18 lbs with relative inactivity.  

As I engage this new lifestyle "conversation" with diabetes, I am also cleared to re-engage my former level of physical fitness -- with modifications to protect my prosthetic right shoulder.  This has been a good first week.

Today's numbers (7/27/13):

  • Weight -- 235.4 (total of 5.2 lbs lost in three days...whacking those glycogen stores)
  • Blood Pressure -- 124/72
  • Fasting Blood Glucose -- 101 (this, with weight, is the critical number.  Remember, I averaged 128.  That range was 123 to 135.  Two days at 99 and 101 consecutively is great news).
  • Pedometer readings (new) -- on 7/26 -- 6,034 steps, covering 2.97 miles, burning 2,380 calories.
Love and Blessings!


26 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 3: Assimilation

"Behold what you are; become what you receive."
-- St. Augustine of Hippo (born 354 CE, died 430 CE)
 Bishop of Hippo Regius, Numidia (modern Annaba, Algeria)

The leading quote for this reflection comes from one of the best known of the scholars of the Patristic Period of the Christian Church's life.  This is roughly the first five hundred years of Christianity that followed the New Testament Period (roughly the first century).  This time frame included the six Ecumenical Councils that shaped the theological foundations of what we now know as "the Christian Faith."  We have morphed quite a lot since that period, but the marriage of experiences of God in Jesus with Greek philosophical structures provided the vehicle we call "systematic theology."  The Patristic scholars gave the Church a formulary for putting experience into a language that would have consistency.

This is not a theology reflection per se; nor is it a history lesson.  There are elements of both in most things I write.  This blog post is actually about eating.  The title is something of a double entendre.  Assimilation:

1.  To take in or incorporate as one's own (i.e. to absorb)
2.  To bring into conformity -- as with customs or attitudes

Food and eating are fundamental to sustaining life.  There is nothing special about that.  All living organisms have to take in a form of sustenance in order to survive/thrive.  It is a combination of nutrients and water.  I remember the first "food lecture" I had as a child, because our teacher compared our bodies to an engine.  "Food is fuel...it makes your body work like an engine."  Hey, this was the 1950s, and the analogy worked for a second grader.  I even remember our teacher, Mrs. Goodrich, drawing on the chalk board as she explained the principles of food.  

While eating is fundamental, our comprehension of metabolic activity has not been so great.  It has been not so much evolutionary as it has been a type of morphology.  The form, structure and transformation of foods, cultural "tastes" and intake capabilities of what we eat and how we eat it is my concern here.

I have already provided a lot of statistics about Diabetes and other disorders that are growing crises in not only our culture but in most "modern" world societies.

I have also used the Native American people as an example of modern diet and its affects (and effects).  Here is a direct story from a conversation in June.

1.  Daryl No Heart.  17 June 2013.  Daryl is  a 67 year old Lakota man, who is an artist, teacher and spiritual leader in the Lakota Nation.  Like most Lakota males, he is tall, affable and strongly built.  His family name, No Heart, comes from his great, great grandfather, who literally froze to death in a blizzard and, as he was being prepared for burial, resuscitated...recounting a near death experience.  In Lakota language, one who has died but returns has spent time in the place of "no heart" (i.e. no beating heart).  He was given that name.

Daryl and I had a two hour conversation about Lakota spiritual traditions and the contemporary life of the Lakota people on a rainy afternoon, 17 June, sitting at his dining table over coffee.  During that special time of revelation (for me), Daryl began to speak of food.  The leading cause of death among the Lakota people is a combination of heart disease and diabetes.  Prior to 1900, there was no evidence of either condition leading to deaths among the Lakota.  Daryl's words (slightly paraphrased due to note-taking):  When our people lived on the plains and hunted the buffalo, 60% of our diet was from the buffalo and other game (deer and elk mostly).  The rest came from berries, root vegetables and a variety of naturally growing fruits.  When the reservation sequestration began, our diet became what was given to us by the US government and other agencies...essentially a western European diet heavy in carbohydrates, grains and sugars.  In our restriction, we could no longer be active in our traditional way.  We got fat, like our overseers...and we began dying younger. 

Then he said the most important thing:  When we could eat in a sacred manner...what Wakan Tanka (God) provided us, we were healthy.  We were conscious of the sacredness of our food.  Western food had no sacred depth.  It helped break the Great Hoop.

Here is one more reflection from a conversation just a week ago:

3.  David Goodrich.  19 July 2013.  David is 85 yrs old, a retired psychologist and neuro-science specialist.  I got to know him through St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where we both worship.  He still does work with local neuro-science specialists at Roskamp Institute here in Sarasota.  We generally have breakfast together with a group on Friday mornings.  A week ago, as we sat together at breakfast, he had this to say:  Did you know that one slice of whole wheat bread affects the same center in your brain that responds to cocaine and heroin?  One can become addicted to the ingredients in bread to the same extent as addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Did you know that you could eat two of the large Snicker bars and get less sugar load in the blood stream than eating one slice of standard whole wheat bread.  It seems to me that our pattern of assimilating food into our bodies has created a food processing industry that is ultimately attuned to having us addicted to the point that we simply must have what our bodies do not need.  And they say GMO is not a crime.  We don't need street drugs.  Just go buy a loaf of bread.  There is no longer a spirituality that balances who we are with what we assimilate into our bodies.

These conversations were unsolicited and not, in any way, related to my decision to embark on a new journey.  These conversations were "gifts along the way" from men of two very distinct ethnicities living in two very different parts of the country.  And, I was actually looking for other information.

As early as the fourth century, we hear about food as a sacred part of our lives.  Augustine understood it deeply enough to incorporate into his teaching about the Eucharist in Christian tradition.  Assimilating--absorbing into our being--the character of Jesus.

In 1863, Ludwig Feuerback said, "man is what he eats," in his book, Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism.  He basically sacramentalized food in his work.

Victor Lindlahr, in 1942, published, You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet.  He was a researcher ahead of his time.

Daryl and David speak of dietary food as being taken in "in a sacred manner."  This is to say that what we eat does more than drive our metabolism.  Food becomes part of our being and wholeness.  What cultures have largely done in our time is to "conform" themselves to attitudes and behaviors that feel good, because of taste, emotional and physical appeal and, most of all, because we crave what has become addictive.  Manufacturers will produce it, because it sells.  And, even though we are getting sicker -- literally -- we must have what everyone else is having, and manufacturers tell us is just so good for us.  In this regard, we are assimilating ourselves to death.

For me, it is a mold out of which I am working to break myself.  This journey, for me, is not just "another crazy fad."  It is literally about life, wellness and wholeness.  If the body is the temple of the Spirit, why treat it like an outhouse?  It's that fundamental.

Food can be sacred.  Eating can be sacred.  Having a relationship with our environment that honors what it provides and functions to keep that environment sacred in itself, is truly what we are placed here to do.  We are the stewards of creation.  I think we have forgotten this.

My statistics this morning:  Weight -- 236.4.  Blood Pressure -- 122/69.  Fasting Glucose -- 99.  The last number is critical.  It is the first time in three years of having diabetes that my fasting blood glucose has been under 100.  It has averaged 128.  Normal is 85-100.  Just keep watching.  Something is shifting.

Love and Blessings,


25 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 2: The First 24

"You know I'm free, free now baby
I'm free from your spell
Oh I'm free, free, free now
I'm free from your spell
And now that it's all over
All I can do is wish you well"
-- "The Thrill is Gone," Lyrics by Roy Hawkins & Rick Darnell, 1951
--Sung by B.B. King, 1969 album, "Completely Well"

I stopped smoking cigarettes on Ash Wednesday, 1979.  I began smoking during the fall quarter of my junior year at The University of Florida.  I was about to take my first ever oral exam in an embryology course lab section.  I was going to be identifying microscope slide specimens.  One of my dorm suite mates smoked, and, for whatever reason, I bummed one of his non-filtered Camel cigarettes.  'Just one,' I thought -- you know, they say it calms the nerves.  I sure got a rush!  Within two weeks, I was smoking about 10 cigarettes a day; but I switched to filtered Camels.  A little healthier, right?  Mindset is all relative.  

At the height of the nine years of cigarette addiction, I smoked about a pack daily.  I was also running 5 to 8 miles, five days a week.  Now, one would think enough sense could be had to see that these two activities do not go well together.  Again, mindset is relative.  Science and religion are a lot alike that way:  1) We can read and research the same material, yet come up with different conclusions; 2) We can always find data and material to justify the way we want to think or believe; 3) If we are really uncomfortable with what we find, we can ignore it or go into a place of denial.  Regarding my smoking addiction, I was pretty much in the #3 camp.  I already knew this was an unhealthy habit.  I justified its continuance, because I actually could run 5-8 miles daily without any (seeming) problem.

There was a kicker here.  One day each week, I ran with my primary care physician.  He was about five years older than me (at this time I was not yet 29 years old).  He could observe things that I denied.  Also, over the three, or so, years prior to this, I had suffered numerous bouts of bronchial pneumonia.  It was after one of those episodes that Dr. Hrnicek and I were running one Friday afternoon.  He had treated two episodes of bronchial pneumonia since becoming his patient in July 1978 (I was newly ordained and the Associate at Christ Church, Springfield, MO.  Dr. Hrnicek was a parishioner).  He simply said to me, "You know, if you don't quit smoking I just might be attending your funeral before you finish your time at Christ Church."

A week later, we made a pact.  I would stop smoking on Ash Wednesday.  If I could remain cigarette free through Easter the following year (1980), he would treat me to the best dinner at a place of my choosing.  If I lost, the dinner was on me.  

The first days of not smoking were problematic.  Headaches, nervous sensations, a kind of listlessness and unspecified crankiness ran through the first week or so.  Somewhere after that, those experiences ceased altogether, and I did not want to smoke.  The only time in the 34 years I have tried it again was after our mom's death in 1987.  It made me sick.  It was  very short-lived.  Oh, and I got that dinner promised by Dr. Hrnicek in late spring 1980.

I made some statements in yesterday's blog posting about the genetics of both diabetes and celiac disease.  Both are, in origin, genetic disorders.  Some folks questioned my use of "intolerance" in speaking of response to wheat and other grains.  

First, I am not a geneticist.  I have done a great deal of reading in ancestral genetics over the past decade or so.  I have also researched a lot about diabetes in general and specifically with Type II Diabetes (there is a difference).  All of my research comes from the National Institute of Health, the Harvard Institute of Public Health, Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Research).  I am not big on self-help material -- unless they are referenced by studies as viable options for sustained lifestyle.  Fads are not good for one's health.

Second, if one has a gene that will trigger a certain condition, it will be something either in the environment or in diet that will "push" that gene into activation.  Example:  Most Native Americans have a gene that will activate Type II Diabetes.  It was not until their diet radically shifted that the affects of that genetic predisposition were activated.  Boom....diabetes.  The same is true for celiac or other disorders.  Identical twins can carry the same gene marker, one will develop symptoms and the other never will.  

Third, in 1900, diabetes of both types was diagnosed and treated in only about 3% of the American population.  In 2010, 33% of the general American population was being treated for both types of diabetes.  The National Institute of Health estimates that this could grow to nearly 50% of the population by 2025!   None of those folks simply "got" or "caught" diabetes.  The gene has been there for a very long time in human history.  The same is true for most of our disorders.

A side note:  Whatever predisposed the genetic disorder of coronary ectasia (I mentioned this yesterday...it is a heart condition that I have), it was there from my birth.  It is quite likely the reason that I could not run track successfully in high school.  Coach Bill Duncan, at Winter Haven High School, would yell and scream at me to "speed up" and "beat the clock."  I was a "horse" in his words.  I could run long and steady.  When I ran fast, I hit the wall soon and would drop back to a slower pace.  It was not until 1995, that the genetic disorder truly showed itself with heart attack-like symptoms.  Go figure.  Until my knees began to be problematic, I could run a 9 minute mile for 12 to 15 miles.  It's all about how to live with what you got.

I just completed the first 24 hours of this radical shift in lifestyle that I shared in Part 1.  To answer a couple of questions:
1)  No, I am not on a "starvation" diet.  Think of it as an elimination diet...the kind one uses to determine food allergies.  I have dropped all grains and foods containing extracts of grains.  I have ceased consuming all sugars and foods containing sugar or sugar substitutes.  I have limited vegetables to a narrow range that are low on the glycemic index.  I am eating six ounces of protein at each of three meals.  I am eating two "snack bags" -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon -- containing a mix of raw almonds and walnuts (ten of each).  I can drink coffee or black/green tea (no flavored teas).  I can drink club soda.

2)  Yes, everything containing anything I mentioned above is gone from the house.  We do have a few items that will be added after the detox phase.  

3)  I am not hungry much...just when it seems to be time to eat the next meal.  Breakfast today was satisfying:  Okinawa fish soup, which I made from scratch in the crock pot yesterday -- enough for about two meals each for the two of us.  Last night, we had baked salmon and a salad with mixed greens, tomato, onion and bell pepper...with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dressing.  Filled me up.  Cravings:  I have a low-grade headache today...a symptom of systemic addiction to sugar (grain products/carbohydrates are metabolized as sugars).  I dropped by the grocery store yesterday afternoon to get the fresh fish for the Okinawa soup.  I purposely walked down the cookie, baked goods and chip aisles.  Yep, I did find myself really wanting something.  Nope I didn't get anything. I am not of the mind that one needs to avoid being around that stuff.  For me, it simply drills down on my resolve.

3)  How will I know when the detox phase is complete?  I must have three straight days of fasting blood sugar below 100.  To get the most reliable metabolic data, I have to do three things when I arise in the morning:  weight, blood pressure and fasting glucose (blood sugar).  So, I get up, take my blood pressure, hit the scale and pad downstairs with the dog.  I put the coffee on, take the dog out and, immediately after bringing her in, I do the "diabetic stick routine" -- it's a monitor kit about the size of a wallet that I keep in the kitchen, or in my briefcase when I travel.

Today's numbers:  Weight 237.6.  Blood Pressure 126/72.  Blood Glucose 122.  Compare this with yesterday at weight 240.6.  Blood Pressure 134/82.  Blood Glucose 123.

Weight change means I am burning stored glycogen.  Less internal pressure.  Blood Glucose change means I am moving less glucose through my system.  Something is working here.  Just keep watching.

Love and Blessings,


24 July 2013

A New Journey: Part 1 -- Background

"I pulled in to Nazareth; I was feelin' about a half past dead."
-- The Band ("The Weight," or "Take a Load off Annie)
from the album "Stage Fright"

I have Type II Diabetes.  That's the raw fact.  I was diagnosed with this condition officially in May 2010.  It was not a total surprise to me.  In 2007, my cardiologist was stunned to find that my triglycerides were at nearly 900 and my cholesterol was getting close to 400.  These are wicked numbers.  My doc and I were both shocked into silence.

"Do you know how much sugar and fats you would have to consume to get to this point?" he finally asked.  I had no idea.  Turns out, I would have had to be a total "RC Cola and Moon Pie" addict with a constant intake of Original Recipe of Kentucky Fried Chicken to get those numbers. Since I worked out fairly regularly and weighed about 230 lbs, the numbers did not make much sense.  

Yep, I was overweight, but I am a big guy at 6'3" tall with a "big boned" build.  I also carry a bit of muscle -- due to both exercise and activity choices.  Yet, here I was.  Short version:  I worked for three years to get those numbers down.  I am resistant (allergic) to statin drugs, so a formula of pharmaceutical grade niacin, omega 3s and a non-statin drug (Niaspan, Lovaza and Fenofibrate respectively) was finally attained that helped bring those numbers into some place of at least borderline normal -- still higher than desired.

One further back event helped start this journey.  In January 1995, I collapsed in chest pain one day at the cathedral, where I was the Dean.  A cardiac catheterization procedure found that I have a fairly rare and unusual coronary construction.  It is genetic.  The coronary arteries are 2.5x larger than normal; and the inner walls of the arteries are wavy instead of straight and smooth.  It is called Coronary Ectasia.  Cardiac medicine has only come to grips with this condition since the 1980s.  It may have contributed to my father's untimely death at age 54 (in 1968).  This is controlled by medication that "tenses" the arteries and makes them more efficient.  The medication creates a problem with high blood pressure, so it is joined with a medication to deal with that.  I have almost no plaque in my coronary arteries.  I started this trip of strange eruptions 18 years ago.

Diabetes also runs in our family.  My maternal grandfather was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes when he was 56 and had a sudden heart attack.  He lived to age 82 by taking care of himself and remaining active.  He is the one who was an entomologist/naturalist who taught me to hunt, fish and navigate by celestial orientation.

In short, when my diagnosis of Type II Diabetes was announced, I was not surprised.  However, I was both disappointed and very concerned about how things might go forward.

Some folks, who know me, are aware that I don't sit around worrying about this kind of stuff very much at all.  In fact, I have been called "cavalier" by close in family members, when it comes to appropriate life adjustments.  

Then, something changed.

While I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota for two weeks in June, I was suddenly struck with the reality that I live on a lot of medications -- a lot for me, at least.  In my work with the Lakota people, I have become extremely sensitive to their evolutionary plight.  First Nations people had almost no incidents of heart disease or diabetes in their lives -- until after 1900.  

What changed?  It was their diet.  It went from one of largely protein supplemented by berries, fruits and various kinds of vegetables.  The only sugar came from those sources.  The only "grains" consumed were "seed sourced" and natural to their environment.

Fact:  Among the Lakota people, the leading cause of illness and death at present are diabetes and coronary disease -- in that order.  When they were forced into reservations and forced to consume a western European (read:  Immigrant American) diet, their bodies got sick.  

What has happened to us immigrant Americans?  Since the early 1900s, our diet has steadily increased in carbohydrate and sugar consumption.  Those food sources now comprise better than 70% of our diet.  

I did an informal Facebook study of what friends post concerning foods, recipes and prepared dishes over the past six months.  Ready?  Eighty-five percent of the postings were desserts or foods consisting of refined flour, simple carbohydrates and sugars of several varieties.  I am not astounded by this.  It is reflective of the typical American diet at large.  While in South Dakota, all this hit me in a very big way, because I had time to reflect and was asking for insights.

Michial Seamus

Yep, he is Irish -- born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He was a Roman Catholic seminarian when the "unpleasantness" erupted in that country.  He ended up leaving his homeland and found his way to the United States, where he became a citizen about 25 years ago.  He settled in Sarasota and owns a small construction company.

Five years ago, he was told he needed a hip replacement.  However, he flunked the pre-op cardiac EKG.  He was sent immediately to a cardiologist, where he flunked the more comprehensive stress EKG testing.  Turns out, he had a badly blocked descending aortic coronary artery:  the one known as the "widow maker."  He was literally days or weeks from a massive, fatal heart attack.

While in the hospital recovering from the stent procedure to save his life, he learned he had Type II Diabetes in an advanced form.  He was placed on insulin right away.  His blood pressure was way too high.  More medication.  At the end of his recovery process -- when he finally got his new hip -- he was on seven medications.

Michial's wife has severe Celiac Disease.  This is also a "modern" condition where the body builds an intolerance to foods containing gluten (most modern grains are very high in gluten).  Michial became very despondent in this newly diagnosed conditions (he had not been to a doctor in about a decade prior to the orthopedic surgeon).  Not being one to sit long in despondency, he took a break from his work and began doing intensive research.  He spent time at NIH and at the Harvard Institute of Public Health.  He consulted all manner of medical practitioners.  He determined that what he was eating was killing him.  (Note:  his cardiologist told him he probably had only about five to seven years of life left).  

Mic got radical.  He removed all grain products and foods containing wheat, corn or barley from his diet.  He removed all foods that contained any kind of sugar and limited his sugar intake to whole fruits and certain root vegetables in moderation.  The only natural sweetener he used was a tablespoon (total) of raw, unprocessed honey in his tea.  He removed all milk products, except heavy whipping cream (has no sugar, believe it or not), butter from grass-fed cattle and natural cheese (no processed brands).  He boosted his protein intake to about 65% of total daily intake -- protein from only fresh or frozen meats (preferably organic), poultry and fish.

Mic did this three years ago.  Today, he is 45 lbs lighter.  His blood pressure is textbook.  He no longer uses insulin, and his fasting glucose is stable at 5.0% (textbook).  His blood chemistry is all totally within normal range.  His cardiologist recently told him she changed her mind.  She thinks he could live well into his 90s.  The only medication he currently takes is the ONE pill that "keeps his coronary stent clean."  His diet?  More like the Native American diet prior to westernization.


I had long since grown weary of reading about the latest pill, formula, process or routine that would guarantee a "diabetes cure."  ALL of that is crap!  Diabetes is not curable.  Diabetes can, however, be controlled to the point that it is in a kind of remission.  I also had gotten weary of people who claim they can help -- but at a rather steep and constant price.  I do not want my health to be their living.  This is not to say that nutritionists and health counselors are not useful.  Lots of folks need that kind of accountability -- paying for someone to guide them.  I have never worked well with that kind of accountability relationship.  So, I was stuck.

Then I met Michial.  Just happened that my annual physical was scheduled for the day after my return from South Dakota.  I poured all my thoughts and concerns out to my primary care physician.  He is a 40ish guy who keeps up with research, is extremely attentive to detail and is not afraid to consider treatments that are beyond "allopathic boundaries."  

My doc knew that I was not happy with the diabetes folks I had consulted shortly after arriving here.  It was the same old routine, and it simply meant, "stay on your medicine; eat this way to maintain yourself."  He is the one that suggested the support group that Michial leads.

I went to meet Michial and learned of his journey.  It requires a radical lifestyle change.  He likens it to being an alcoholic:  Once you start the journey, there is no going back.  Going back means a return to the condition you are leaving.  This shift begins with a detoxification process.  It is ten days long, and I began this journey today, 24 July 2013.

Stripped Clean

Yesterday, Denise and I "cleaned house."  We removed every food that listed sugar in its ingredients.  We removed all pastas and wheat products.  In fact, all grain products except old fashioned oats.  All processed meats and cheeses are gone.  We ended up with four and a half large grocery bags -- heavy with boxes, cans, bottles and packages.  The garbage sack got filled as well...before the garbage man came yesterday afternoon.  All of it now gone from this house.  We are done with it.

This morning, I rolled out of bed at 6:00 am and began a new way of living and eating.  This first ten days is like an elimination diet....only certain things will be eaten...and in certain quantities.  No fruits (except a few blueberries).  No vegetables outside of a small prescribed selection that creates either a soup or a salad.  Fresh protein sources, eggs and one kind of cheese will be allowed.

My blog will be a journal for the coming days...during the detox.   I awoke this morning and took the first measurements:  Fasting Glucose = 123.  Blood Pressure 134/82.  Weight 240.6 lbs.  All high.  Just watch this space.  Just watch.

Love and Blessings,