Thursday, December 29, 2011

Over the hump

I'm pleased to report the worst time of year (in my existential experience) is done, finished:

1. Winter solstice has come and gone.
2. Christmas, that annoying, overly-social, intrusive sensory event, is over.
It drives me nuts, every year - but this year the place I've been going to daily to work out played loud Christmas music, mostly Kelley Pickler, country music singer who was an American Idol contestant a few years ago. That, plus all the usual - TV ads selling stuff, news reports about retailers feeling anxious, sparkly glittered-up bling all over everything, light displays - all of it made me deeply empathize with autistic kids who don't deal well with over-stimulation. Uck. 
3. My birthday, which was yesterday, passed by uneventfully and non-socially, and is now over with! Yay!

Anyway, back to point 2. for a moment; sensory overload got so bad at that little gym that I decided to skip last week. Plus I indulged in Truffles, eggnog, and Bailey's. Oh, and an omelette with cheese, tomato, and buttered toast. And I ate some delicious dates. Plus other holiday food, like stuffing. And I did not exercise, at all, for a week. Up by a few pounds. Back at the elliptical  this week. My stamina has increased - up to an hour on that thing - probably had to do with being able to watch uninterrupted, Australia, with Nicole Kidman, Hugh JackmanBrandon Walters. It's not just interesting, it's well done, and a lot longer than most Hollywood movies. So, it has kept me going all week. I've watched large chunks of it for three days, and there are still parts I've yet to see.

Speaking of movies and cognitive distraction, I saw this awhile ago, How muscle fatigue originates in the head. Rather than blame the mesoderm (muscles) for fatigue, researchers are starting to look elsewhere, and have noticed how the nervous system inhibits muscle at various levels. In the brain, interruption occurs when the thalamus and insular cortex decide they have had enough. I seem to be able to shut out the din my thalamus and insular cortex try to mount, by watching 'Australia'. At least for a little while. Then I will need another movie I've not seen before.

From yesterday, The Fat Trap: It seems a bit depressing, but before I started all this business 3 and a half years and 40 pounds ago, I knew it meant:
1. I could never eat (completely) unconsciously ever again as long as I lived
2. I'd have to move a lot more, learn to sweat, learn to get my heart rate up, learn to like it. Somehow.

I had a long plateau in there, a couple years where my weight went up by ten, down by ten, but never went completely out of control. It was always around this time of the year, this nadir time. So, I'm pretty sure I can reach old age in fairly good shape, plus all the exercise is not just for weight loss but is good for a bunch of other stuff that has to do with health, brain function, etc.etc. Nowadays, I'm on the other side of the year's nadir, and (even with my dive off the wagon for a week) my weight is still lower than it has been in 15 years. I take heart from that.

I'm pretty sure, that like pain, obesity is biopsychosocial. It's not strictly a fault in character, or strictly about genes, or hormones, or strictly about bad habits (see picture). A calorie is a nebulous thing depending on what kind of human organism ingests it, what sort of food it comes in, and why it is being consumed. Everything exists in a multiply-leveled context, including a conceptual entity known as a calorie.

This notion, Fat may put the Hypothalamus on the Fritz, needs more work I think. It suggests that ingesting fat "causes" inflammation in the neurons around the hypothalamus, but Harriet Hall says, inflammation isn't always a bad thing.  Gumming up Appetite to treat Obesity proposes that special hormone-laced gum should be helpful. But I doubt there will ever be any kind of easy answer.

If I were to pick a single brain region to target, to investigate, to spin a theory around, it would be the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). In fact, I already did. It has to do with sleep, with light levels, circadian rhythms, depression, hypothalamus, all sorts of things that are regulatory. The pituitary, part of hypothalamus, has to do with thyroid, which has to do with a bunch of hormonal and metabolically important outputs. I moved myself physically back to where my own humanantigravitysuit, myself as a human organism, grew up. Environmentally, climactically, photonically, my brain feels better here. This is what it remembers from its youth. The long slow dawns and dusks, bright fiercely blue skies, brilliant reflective surfaces, deep blue shadow. Sensorially, and socially, the surroundings are kinda dull, but frankly, I don't much care about lack of sensory or social stimulation; I'm used to it again; furthermore, I like to be by myself anyway, except on the internet, which is where I live, mentally, most of the time, so it doesn't matter. (Plus, I lucked out joining a weight-loss outfit that happens to suit me to a tee, and happens to ALSO be the only one of its kind - in the whole of Canada so far - imagine, humble little old Weyburn, Sask. has a one-of-a-kind thing that suits me to a tee, and I just happen to live here where it is. Amazing happy co-ink-a-dink.)

But back to causes of things, no one thing causes obesity, and everything combined causes obesity. Actually, the pursuit of "cause" in science (pharmaceutical science at any rate) seems to be a bit endangered in and of itself, according to Jonah Lehrer.

So, what then is "obesity"? Well, I would ask, what is a relationship that an organism of any mammalian multi-cellular sort has with its whole bio-psycho-social environment? What is stress? What is pain? What is learned helplessness? What is failure to move one's physicality sufficiently? All these things are "caused" by everything simultaneously, often overlap by a lot, and all influence each other. Mostly, we are biologically active bundles of multitudes of proteins without distinct boundary (other than those we dream up then feel compelled to defend fiercely), with a big microbiota with a big microbiome (especially in the gut tube) that tends to run our lives more than we care to admit, probably... all the single-cell critters of which evolve, have lives, reproduce and die according to what they get (what we give them) - to eat. It seems likely that they might have evolved ways of trying to harness us, their big vehicles that lumber forth to get groceries, so that they might get what they need in order to keep going. Not that we are obliged to feed them endlessly.. just knowing that the mammalian multi-cellular organism is more an ecosystem than it is a discrete entity gives me hope that I can explore, map, cultivate and tame my own - in the end, it's all I've got.  I live on a little mountain-top in there with a pretty good view. At least, my "I"-illusion does. It's a welcome bit of conceptual structure; another bit is provided by the idea, that biochemically their lives are completely controlled, attracted to, or repelled by chemical gradients, described in pretty good detail in Into the Cool. This knowledge makes me feel powerful, or at least, enough of an independent, detachable agent to be able to manage my own small corner of the universe, my body, to my own liking.

There is a psychological aspect to all this that must be mentioned - eating consciously means tracking what's ingested, counting calories, including those sweated off, and attending daily to all of it. This could lead to either OCD, or anorexia, or both. Yet, those are cognitive-behavioural constellations one must approach in order to lose weight/become healthier. What I've learned is that you can learn how to dance with these two things, but you must always be in the lead, never the one who follows. It's kinda goes against dance training in general, for females, but I seriously recommend remaining in complete control of everything, including short breaks like the one I just took.

Now I must go and drown my microbiota yet again in a whole bunch of vegetable matter, which I know it doesn't like much, and which will likely kill off some more of it, making evolutionary space for new kinds that might actually like vegetables. (AHHHHGH! Hulk destroy bad microbiota!)

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