The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Weight Loss

Sometimes good things come along with some bad things attached. I can say with some certainty that I am proof of that.

For those of you who perhaps have never had the pleasure of meeting me in person, let me explain: for most of my adult life, I have been what dietitians and medical types like to call "obese". Generally, my Body Mass Index was always somewhere in the mid to high 30's, which isn't all that great. It didn't matter much to me, of course, until I started getting over the age of 35. Slowly, I found myself taking more and more medication – Diovan HT, a blood pressure pill; Crestor for high cholesterol. I was even using a CPAP machine because I was having sleep issues related to being overweight.

At about this time last year, I had ballooned up to about 260 pounds, and my doctor noticed that my A1C numbers were coming back relatively high. A1C is short for Hemoglobin A1C, a count of the average blood sugar in your body over the last 90 days (the average lifespan of blood cells). Mine was over 7, which is considered to be in the "pre-diabetic" range.

I saw a dietitian, and with her help (and a little bit of diabetes counseling from some various sources) I started monitoring portion sizes, calories, fat and carbs. I got pretty good at it, keeping my food diary on – what else – some Excel spreadsheets.

Right before Thanksgiving, I started a weekly weight check-in on the website At that point, I had dropped down to 208 lbs., which was lower than I'd been in years. At my last weigh-in on Tuesday the 26th of June, I was down to 165 lbs. Conservatively, I have lost about 90 lbs. since this time last year. Most significantly, I am currently at a weight that I probably have not been since perhaps the Carter administration. If memory serves, I'm also lighter than I was listed on my very first driver's license back in 1983.

There are a lot of positives to this large amount of weight change. First of all, I am a much healthier person than I've been at any time in the recent past. I have stopped using my CPAP machine, and have not needed to use the Nasonex that I was taking along with it because my nasal passages were being irritated constantly. I am no longer taking Crestor, and have been taking a reduced dose of Diovan. I'm walking an average of five miles a day, five days a week (actually, it's more timed than distance, but it averages out). I'm actually able to ride my bike for relatively long enough distances again – and actually rode it to a doctor's appointment a few weeks ago.

Because I've been doing this over a graduated period of time, I've noticed that I don't eat as much as I used to. Yeah, I made a couple of big goofs around Thanksgiving and Christmas time, and I do get a bit concerned when I'm not able to easily record what I eat, or when I'm trying something of which I know none of the nutritional info. But, I can't (and generally won't) sit down and just pig out like I used to. Once, I could down an entire large Pizza Hut pan pizza. Today, I couldn't even see myself eating a single slice. Of course, I know to avoid pizza like the plague, but that's just me.

It's not all balloons and seashells, as Al McGuire may have put it. I have donated more used clothing to Goodwill in the past six months than I've probably done in the six years previous. I would be willing to guess that over half of the stuff I have in my closet and drawers don't fit me – as in, they are way too big. I actually had to go out and buy a new belt, because I was wrapping the old one around the waist a few times. Okay, maybe not quite, but when you go from wearing a 46 waist to a 38 (and starting to squeeze into a 36, by the way), you're gonna need a new belt anyways. When I was recently in for a hearing test, the administrator commented how large my shirt looked on me, and that it almost looked more like a dress than a shirt.

I've also noticed that I've had to re-adjust some of the hats that I have accumulated over the years, since my head size has shrunk. (Those of you who've seen me in the past and recently can attest to this.) This is actually a good thing, because I have some older baseball caps that never quite fit me in the past because of various reasons – poor construction, incorrect sizing, shrinkage by the elements or overuse – suddenly are quite comfortable to wear.

There is one unexpected downside to all this weight loss, and I didn't find out about it until this week. I'd been having issues with what I thought something to do with my nasal passages. I noticed that whenever I was in a cold or cooler environment, I would start to get an echo in my right ear. The echo was something like if you put you hand up over your ear – you can hear yourself talk or breathe, but you can't hear anything externally. I thought it was just sinuses until I had a really bad earache and wax buildup back in mid-March. I went in to urgent care to have my ears cleaned out, and they did a hearing test on me to make sure I wasn't having issues. My hearing came back fine, but the doctor thought that perhaps I had some sort of issue with my Eustachian tube (the little drainage tube that extends from the throat behind the tonsils to the middle ear).

Since hearing loss is in my family history (my maternal grandparents back to my great-great-grandfather Christian Mertens were all nearly stone deaf), I was really concerned about this. When I talked to the ENT specialist, though, she noted that I had lost a lot of weight, and told me what was going on – essentially, I was having "excess tissue" problems. The muscles and other tissues around my Eustachian tube had contracted because there wasn't as much fat tissue there as there once was. And, because of this, my Eustachian tube was occasionally closing up – which caused the "echo" effect, like if you put the open-end of a glass over your ear.

The ENT suggested placing a drainage tube in my ear, a surgery that I'm in the process of considering (experts in the field, please feel free to comment in private if you wish). I do think that something of this nature may be a small price to pay for such a large amount of weight loss.

Oh, one last thing – you may have heard some things about large amounts of weight loss in males. Something along the lines of those Enzyte commercials. And I will vouch for the fact that it's true. And as Forrest Gump would say – that's all I gotta say about that.

Follow up: The proper term for my ear problem is Patulous Eustachian Tube, or pET. Basically, the valve is stuck in the "open" position which causes the echo effect. There's a great article from Dr. Alpen A. Patel at Web MD's eMedicine website.