Making healthy choices

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As an Aspie (that is to say that I “have” Asperger Syndrome), I often experience challenges with executive function.

Executive function is a family of skills that includes planning, sequencing, decision-making, critical thinking, and others.

Critical thinking, for me, is no problem.  Sequencing and planning take a little more cognitive work.  Decision-making can be really difficult.

Another characteristic of Asperger’s is the tendency to feel most comfortable when adhering to a routine.  This is a double-edged sword; if my routine is a beneficial one, then, well, great!  But if it’s a not-so-beneficial one, that can be an issue.  Incorporating new tasks or concepts into this routine takes time for anyone (whether they’re on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum or not), but it’s even more challenging for people who are Aspie/autistic.

So….when I cultivated healthier lifestyle habits, life was grand.  I was healthy.  I was energetic.  I effortlessly maintained my ideal weight.  I looked and (more importantly) felt healthy, inside and out.  Yay me!

But then, something happened.  I started to cut corners.  I’m not sure it was laziness, so much as it was a desire to eliminate what I thought might be superfluous habits in favor of working more, harder, longer, and with less effort toward those “unnecessary” habits such as eating well, getting enough sleep, getting regular exercise, and the like.

At first, I skated on my previous healthy efforts.  The slow-down didn’t seem to affect me.  I still felt and looked OK.

And then, something else happened.  It all started catching up with me.  And it kept catching up with me.  Finally, I looked at myself in the mirror.  My waistline, my teeth, my hair…had all gone to hell.  What is this? I wondered.  Who is this??  I didn’t know anymore.  It wasn’t me, that’s for sure.  I compared my current reflection with pictures taken just a couple years ago (even one year ago) and barely recognized myself; you couldn’t really tell they were the same person.

I definitely knew that some changes were in order.  I didn’t have energy anymore.  I grunted every time I hoisted myself into my truck (which had been an effortless movement before).  I struggled to walk quickly up a steep incline.  I struggled to get my old jeans on, finally caving and buying new–bigger–jeans.  They were physically more comfortable, but I was physically less comfortable.

I’m not into body-shaming.  I confess, I did it to myself…for about a year.  But I don’t shame myself anymore, nor do I shame anyone else.  That’s not fair, and it’s not even accurate.  I’m also taking great mental care not to pin all of my worth on my body weight; body weight is not everything.  For me, my body is sensitive, and its weight is simply one metric.  It’s a barometer that tells me that something’s wrong–very wrong–deeper inside.  (This may not be true for everyone, but it’s true for me.)

And it’s the “something wrong deeper inside” that I’m the most concerned about.  Outward symptoms are simply clues to long-term body dysfunction.  The trouble is, there are about 40 different physiological reasons that I’ve counted thus far that manifest this way.  Only two of them have to do with excess calorie intake or insufficient calorie expenditure.

And of course, weight isn’t the only symptom I’ve been having.  My teeth, my hair, my skin, my brain, and my energy levels have all taken a serious nosedive in an alarmingly short period of time.  These are just as concerning…and have almost as many possible root causes behind them.

Solving the problem requires that I uncover the root cause(s), whatever it/they may be.

That takes digging.  And digging takes money.

What do you do if you don’t have money?

I can dig on my own.  As a doctor (yep, a doctor without much money–go figure–we do exist, even if rarely), I can experiment and monitor myself.  I can work through my own symptoms and do my own differential diagnosis based on the training I have.  (I know there’s a saying that a fool uses themselves as their own doctor and all that, but 1) sometimes that’s all we’ve got; 2) it’s not a life-threatening issue, at least at present; and 3) as an Aspie, I tend to think a bit differently than the “average” doctor. 🙂 )

I can take my own history (who knows my history better than myself?) and look at what I’ve been eating, especially compared to how I was eating when I felt better.  After all, “garbage-in, garbage-out”, right?  So, I sat down with myself for a nice hot cup of Reality Check.  Yep, a bit too much chocolate and a bit too little protein.  I had also cut back on my fruit and vegetable smoothies, sometimes slacking on the weekends, and if it was an extended weekend, that meant going three or four days in a row without said smoothie.  D’oh!

I also walk less, and I don’t work out at all; I had been doing both of those activities back when I felt better.  I had also taken B-vitamin supplements and Magnesium in the past; I should probably do that again!  I had also been drinking various herbal teas (selected for different goals I wanted to reach or functions I wanted to support, like brain, stress management, sleep, or immune-boosting) – I can do more of that, too!

So at least, I can start with that, and see where it goes.

OK, baby steps…

First, I hit the grocery store.  Protein in the morning is definitely something I’d been doing back in my Healthy Days that I had not done in the past couple of years, and that lack of morning protein has probably contributed to my physiological and cosmetic demise.  Easy fix there – I picked up some organic string cheese (cheddar) and some organic packaged deli meat, with no additives or hormones (hormones only make my skin and weight gain worse, so getting “normal” meat would’ve been completely counter-productive).

I figured, let’s do a little less rice and a little more stir-fry.  So, I reached for the fresh vegetables instead of the rice boxes.

I’m now a few days into this (I think I began on Monday; it’s now Wednesday).  On Monday, I hadn’t obtained my morning protein sources, but at least I made sure to take my smoothie with me, and when the chocolate cravings hit earlier in the morning on Monday and Tuesday, I resisted them, waiting until it was lunchtime to eat my regular gluten-free sunflower-seed-butter sandwich instead.

And on Monday and Tuesday nights, I did not have my usual organic dark chocolate peanut butter cups.  They’re extremely tasty and satisfying, but I tend to eat too many of them; they’re a too-convenient and too-satisfying snack.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve averaged 2-3 packs of two, per day.  Time to change that, too.  It’s not like I’m going to bar myself from ever having them again, but I’m not going to have several two-packs daily like I have been.

I’ve always walked a few times per day, but it’s always been very short distances; I’ve doubled my distance.  It’s still not very long, but it’s twice what it was before.  I started my morning protein this morning.  I refused (Monday, Tuesday, and today) to bring any chocolate (or other processed) snacks with me to work, which regulates my eating and makes me wait until regular mealtimes instead.  I’ve gotten some carbonated waters that are flavored only with natural essences of fruits, but don’t contain any sugar themselves.  I’ll drink those instead of the SoBe LifeWaters; the SoBe waters are wonderful, and most don’t contain any sugar, but because they’re sweet (naturally-sweetened), I think they may be tricking my brain into craving actual sugar.  I remember reading somewhere that even the natural sugar-free sweeteners trick your brain into thinking it’s gotten sugar….except that it hasn’t….so now it craves the real thing, and  you’re more likely to end up eating more carbs/sugar anyway.  (Can’t win!)

Every meal is a chance to make a healthy food choice and opt for organic meats and vegetables.  Every between-meal time when my stomach is just starting to growl is a chance to “just say no” to the quick processed carbohydrate-rich snack and wait another 30 minutes until mealtime, when I’ll eat a healthy meal.  Every errand I run is a chance to park a little further away from the door so that I can build in some more walking time.  Every ache or pain I feel is another chance to decide to do some stretches.  Every time I feel stiff is another chance to either stretch or get up and move.  Every lunchtime I have at the office is another chance to get an acupuncture treatment at the same time.  Every time I look at the bottles of supplements in my bag or on my work table is another chance to decide to go ahead with the action to actually take them.

We’re the product of those little choices we make throughout the day (plus our genetic tendencies, of course; heavily suspecting that I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or EDS, does make life a little tougher, if that’s what it is that I have).

But I can so do this.  I’m not just going to.  I’m doing.

We’ll see where it takes me. 🙂

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