Fasting to lose weight and gain health

The job I had before I retired involved food. Lots of it. Not only did I work with restaurant owners, managers, and chefs to promote energy efficiency in commercial food service, my office was located in an educational facility that regularly provided catered food to those attending our workshops. If there wasn’t something fabulous cooking in the kitchen, there was probably something yummy being served in one of the seminar rooms. I tried to avoid temptation as much as possible, but I’m only human. A little bit here, a little bit there adds up to a lot of bits… and a few more pounds than I was comfortable carrying.

Like a lot of people, I have periodically put on – then tried to lose – five or ten pounds throughout my adult life. I’ve been on various fad diets, unhealthy extreme diets, and mainstream programs like Weight Watchers. They all worked for a while but none offered a long-term solution that I was able to maintain. What I wanted was a healthy way of eating that I could stick with and not feel too deprived.

Enter Public Television. I realize that it’s an unusual place to get diet advice, but it happened when my husband and I watched a three-part BBC series on how the body works and improving ones health. One episode was titled The Truth About Exercise, one was Guts (how our stomachs work), and the third one was Eat, Fast, and Live Longer. The first two were fascinating, but the third one really caught my attention.

In that episode, the series’ host, Dr. Michael Mosley, shared own health journey. He was overweight and had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and high cholesterol and was looking for a path back to health that didn’t involve drugs. His research led him to the concept of intermittent fasting (IF). After testing different forms of IF, he developed what he called the 5:2 diet, which required him to restrict his calories two days a week and eat normally the other five days.

What interested me about the premise of IF as a weight-loss/weight-management program was two-fold: I felt that it was a regime I could follow over a long period of time and there appeared to be some real health benefits beyond just the weight loss. Scientific trials have shown that intermittent fasting could reduce the risk of a range of diseases from diabetes to heart disease and cancer. Other studies indicate it might even protect against strokes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

It’s now been three years since I began fasting weekly. At first I fasted two days a week and slowly lost the ten pounds that I had gained. Once I reached my desired weight, I settled into a one-day-a-week maintenance routine.

Broths and other soups are a big part of my fasting days
Broths and other soups are a big part of my fasting days

When I retired, I wondered if I could stay with the regime but it hasn’t been a problem at all. I typically fast on my busiest day each week so I have plenty of distractions and I never choose a day when an event or a party would make me feel deprived. If I’m traveling or have another reason I can’t fast one week, I don’t. But, out of the 52 weeks each year, there are probably only two or three in which I don’t fast. If I see my weight creeping up, I return to fasting two days a week until it comes off.

There is a lot of information – both pluses and minuses – regarding intermittent fasting and the 5:2 diet. A recent New York Times article, Fasting Diets Are Gaining Acceptance, outlined the history and science of IF and highlighted different ways it can be done. The three-part PBS/BBC series that started me going is fascinating and can be found online. Dr. Mosley has written several books based on his findings, including the best-selling FastDiet and a few about managing diabetes.

I realize that IF is not for everyone. I’m not the most disciplined person in the world, but it works for me. I think knowing it is just one day (or two, when I want to lose a few), and that I’ll go back to my normal eating the next day, makes the fasting day doable. I don’t have to eat weird food, I don’t have to keep track of points, and, best of all, I don’t have to say “no” every day… just the day that I choose to fast. The weight loss and easy maintenance is great, but the possible health benefits make this lifestyle choice a good one for me.

May I have this dance?

I remember the moment that I decided that I must learn how to dance. I was out to dinner with my boyfriend and, while waiting for a table, we were seated next to a large, nearly empty dance floor. I don’t remember the type of music being played, but my attention was grabbed by a lone couple gliding across the floor in seemingly perfect harmony with each other. After watching the dancers for a while, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I need to be able to do that.”

The next day I researched local dance class options, and signed the two of us up for jitterbug and swing lessons. As I remember, my boyfriend was less than thrilled but he was nice enough to humor me.

From the beginning, I was hooked. I loved the music, the moves, the exercise, and the community. Even though it was a challenge to learn the steps, I had a clear vision of where I wanted to end up: I longed to be able to dance like that couple.

The boyfriend didn’t last, but my love of dancing did and, to this day, it is one of my favorite things to do.

I was reminded of my first dance epiphany when I read a recent post by Donna on her blog Retirement Reflections, in which she wrote about a retired friend who was learning how to dance. Because this friend enjoyed dancing at her high school reunion so much, she decided to sign up for lessons. Much like me, she discovered – then embraced – a hidden passion.

I was in my late twenties when I took my first dance lessons. At first it was just jitterbug and swing, but soon I was also learning to waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, tango, and even to do the hustle (remember that??). I was never what anyone would call a gifted student, but I enjoyed the challenge and loved learning different dance styles.

Jitterbugging at a 50s party 26 years ago
Jitterbugging at a 50s party 26 years ago

 

Learning to dance has introduced a lot of positive aspects to my life and I often encourage others to give it a try. Many classes don’t require having a partner – in fact you will become a better dancer when you dance with a variety of partners. You can pick just one type of dance, or branch out as your skills and interest develop.

Here are some other reasons to consider learning to dance:

  • It’s a great way to get exercise while having fun
  • You’ll enjoy a sense of accomplishment as you master a new skill
  • It’s social – you can meet people you may not otherwise encounter and it is a great excuse to get out of the house and go
  • It’s challenging – crowded dance floors require timing, balance, and mental focus
  • Music is a language used all over the world; learn it and you have learned an almost universal language
  • You can take your dance skills with you on all your trips and it takes up zero space in your luggage
  • If you are looking, taking dance lessons can be a great way to meet someone special. I met my husband 26 years ago in a jitterbug class and dancing became our early connection.

Although my husband and I haven’t taken lessons for years and the opportunities to go dancing don’t present themselves as often as they used to, we still enjoy getting out on the dance floor when we can. Our moves are a little rusty and we sometimes struggle to get in rhythm with each other again, but soon, the muscle memory returns and we start to glide across the floor just like that couple did so many years ago.

Why, yes, I do look like an aged zombie

When my husband and I recently traveled to Mexico, our passports were six months away from expiring. We were a little nervous because we had read that some countries require passports to have more than six months left before their expiration date, but we didn’t have enough time to renew. Fortunately, we passed through the border check with no issues at all.

Almost as soon as we returned from our trip, we began the process of renewing our passports. We hope to travel outside the country later this year so we wanted to ensure adequate turnaround time without having to pay the $60 expedited service fee.

Our first order of business was to have updated photos taken.

The hair! The make-up! The lips that say, "damn, I look good."
The hair! The make-up! The lips that say, “damn, I look good.”

You probably have seen – or at least have heard about – Prince’s new passport photo. He was so proud of it, he tweeted it out to his followers. And, it truly is a thing of beauty:

Since Prince’s private make-up artist and photographer were busy, my husband and I decided to get our photos taken at Costco. This would be the same Costco that manages to make me look like a shrunken pinhead each time they take my photo for my membership card. For some reason, we thought this was a good idea.

My prior passport photo was taken just after I turned fifty. It wasn’t great, but I was happy that my Farrah Fawcett winged bangs on my 1970s-era passport were a thing of the past. Fifty-year-old-me had a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look, but it wasn’t too bad.

To be fair, the young man who took my photo this time did his best. He offered to take it again but I was pretty sure it wasn’t his skill as a photographer that was the problem. It was me. I was in a hurry that morning and didn’t take the time to fix my hair or put on makeup. I was in full retirement mode and didn’t think that it was important. I hadn’t considered that I will have this photo in my passport for the next ten years (at which time, I’ll be 70 years old and, I promise you, no better looking than I am now).

A close approximation of my actual photo, which, I assure you, won’t be tweeted to my followers
A close approximation of my actual photo, which, I assure you, won’t be tweeted to my followers

It wasn’t until after we mailed off our photos and passport renewal paperwork that I truly grasped the gravity of my mistake. I realized that I was going to cringe every time I had to present my passport to tour operators, border agents, and hotel clerks. What if it is so awful they don’t believe it is truly me? Even worse, what does it mean if they think it looks exactly like me?

Doing some online research after the fact, I found this 2014 Vogue Magazine article that provides five helpful tips for preparing for a passport photo shoot. Even though the tips are geared towards women, men also might find it helpful and even consider borrowing – and discreetly applying – a little makeup too (after all, Prince did it, why can’t you).

It’s too late for me, but there may be hope for you if your passport needs updating soon. Why look like a zombie when you could look like royalty?

The heART of La Paz

La Paz was not a destination that had been on my radar screen. There are several other locations in Mexico that we plan to visit, but when some friends asked if we’d like to join them in southern Baja for a week, we said “yes” (“yes” being our favorite word now that we’ve retired).

La Paz Map

Although we were headed for a resort a few miles from the city, I knew that my husband and I wouldn’t be satisfied staying in the cocoon of the compound. We wanted to explore the surrounding area, especially the city of La Paz.

The bit of research we did before our trip told us:

  • La Paz, which translates to “The Peace,” is located close to the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. With about 250,000 inhabitants, La Paz is the capital of the state of Baja California Sur.
  • Because it is located on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, La Paz is known for water-centric activities like swimming fishing, sailing, snorkeling, diving, whale-watching, and kayaking.
  • The city of La Paz has a nostalgic and provincial atmosphere, with a laid-back lifestyle, friendly residents, and wonderful cuisine.

What my research didn’t tell me about was La Paz’s rich and ubiquitous art scene. As I walked around the city, I was thrilled to find richly colorful murals, whimsical sculptures, and small pocket parks that not only offered quiet places to relax in the shade, but also beautiful and thoughtful design.

The weather was perfect, the sea a tranquil mixture of turquoise and deep blues, and the resort where we stayed was gorgeous, but it’s the city of La Paz and its art that will bring me back some day.

(I’ll show more art in my next post. Apparently WordPress has a limit.)

Mural 2

Mural 1Mural 3Mural 5

U.S. National Parks on sale!

There are a lot of opportunities to save a few dollars here and there when we pass certain age milestones. Some businesses offer deals for customers as young as 50, but most of these “senior discounts” don’t kick in until we reach age 55, 60, or older. Many restaurants, hotels, airlines, rental car agencies, and retail shops try to attract our money by offering a dollar amount or percentage off… but often only if you ask (so, ask). Some of the deals are good, but many require the customer to purchase something they may not have wanted in the first place.

Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah should be on everyone's bucket list.
Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah should be on everyone’s bucket list.

The very best senior discount opportunity I know of is the one offered by the National Park Service. For just $10, plus a $10 processing fee, any U.S. citizen or permanent resident age 62 or over can purchase this lifetime pass to over 2,000 recreation sites. Senior Passes can be purchased online, by mail, or in person and will admit up to four adults (any age) in one non-commercial vehicle for free. How flipping great is that??!!

I have been anticipating the day my husband turned 62 so we can purchase a Senior Pass and, now, I am so excited to get my his hands on it! The National Park Service turns 100 in 2016 and we look forward to using the heck out of it to explore this amazing resource we are so fortunate to have in the United States (you can read my previous post about the National Park Service here).

If you aren’t yet 62 (I’m so sorry for you), there are other discount passes available, including one for current members of the military, people with disabilities, and 4th graders (I assume I don’t have any 4th graders reading my blog but some of you may have children or grandchildren who qualify). The $80 Annual Pass is available to anyone and is a great deal if you plan to visit more than one or two participating parks during a calendar year.

To learn more about the National Park Service and their discount passes, visit their website (nps.gov), or go straight to: nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.

So little, yet so mighty!
So little, yet so mighty!

Then, get out and explore!

GratiTuesday: Public Libraries

I spent a lot of time in my neighborhood library as I was growing up. I remember going with my mother at least once a week to check out books; usually borrowing two or three at a time. When I got older, I’d meet my friends there and we’d often do our homework sitting at the wooden desks they had scattered around. It was always kind of a magical place: not only did they have what seemed to be a never-ending supply of FREE books, but the building felt safe and familiar and the librarians were always a helpful source of information.

IMG_3777

For some reason, I stopped going to public libraries in my young adulthood. I never stopped reading, but my books mostly came from bookstores, yard sales, or were passed on to me by friends. Later, of course, I also started purchasing books from online sources.

After my husband retired two years before I did, he became a library devotee. Each time he visited our local branch, he’d came home with four or five books. Then about a week later, he’d return to drop off what he had read and get a new supply.

When I retired one of the first acts of my new-found freedom was to get my very own library card. That day I learned that a lot had changed during the many years of my absence (not that I was surprised, it had been a long time). The only downside is that I had to come up with YET ANOTHER username and password because so much can be done online now. I can research books, order them, and renew them all on my computer. How great is that?

I am now happily rediscovering the magic of the public library. We have a beautiful, brand new, main library downtown, but there is something so special about the local neighborhood branches. Familiar faces can usually be found staffing the front desk and they are always pleased to recommend a title or two based on our individual tastes.

Some people have questioned the need for public libraries in our modern world. Just about everything can be found online, they argue. Maintaining brick and mortar buildings housing books made from paper is an expensive anachronism. I wish those people would visit my local library sometime. I think they’d be amazed at what they’d see and would understand the need for this great resource.

Our latest finds, including a book by my newest favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver.
Our latest finds, including a book by my newest favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver.

Budget shortfalls often hit our public libraries hard. Hours are curtailed, staffing is reduced, and services are cut. Even though the public often gives their libraries higher ratings for effectiveness than other local services such as parks and police, they are mostly unaware of financial difficulties facing them.

I am so grateful for those who ensure funding through taxes, local support, private philanthropy, and library “friends” efforts, so that our public libraries can be kept open and operating. They understand the value and the magic that books hold for all of us.

GratiTuesday: Lifelong learning opportunities

I’ve written several posts about the free or low-cost educational opportunities many communities offer to those who are 50+. I continue to be amazed at the breadth of subject matter and quality of instruction these classes, workshops, lectures, and field trips offered.

The OASIS Institute is just one of many learning opportunities that can be found in many communities.
The OASIS Institute is just one of many learning opportunities that can be found in many communities.

Last semester, among several classes my husband and I attended, were a couple of exceptional one-day workshops offered by our local OASIS Institute. Teaching them was a tenured professor of Philosophy and Humanities at a local college and a popular speaker at both OASIS and Osher. The depth of his knowledge was amazing and his skills as a lecturer quite impressive.

One of his workshops was titled Practicing Gratitude. By weaving religion, philosophy, poetry, culture, and modern-day challenges, the instructor was able to shine a light on why we are wired to react more strongly to negative events instead of positive ones and remember insults rather than praise. Even when positive experiences outnumber negative ones, we often will focus on the negative.

Our proclivity to look for threats and be hyper aware of potential negative outcomes was hard-wired into our prehistoric brains. Our early relatives wouldn’t have lived very long by assuming everything would turn out great if they just looked on the bright side of life. Their world was full of threats and their survival depended on being wary and watchful.

Fortunately in our modern world, embracing a positive outlook and practicing gratitude won’t get us eaten by a saber-toothed cat. That’s not to say we should turn a blind-eye to possible threats and naively expect that everyone has our best interests at heart. We still need to remain attentive and protect ourselves from harm. But, we can change the way we react to events and alter our perspective by proactively and consciously practicing gratitude. Even a negative experience can yield a positive outcome (if only a small nugget of one) if we train ourselves to look for it.

Many people have embraced the practice of gratitude and have found that by doing so, they have become calmer and feel happier. Suspicion and hyper-vigilance can be exhausting and depressing. In order to help them focus, some people keep a gratitude journal; others begin every day by making a mental list of people and things they are grateful for. Beginning on the first Tuesday after the new year, I started to write a weekly GratiTuesday post. I hope to keep it up throughout 2016 and beyond.

Today, I am so very grateful for the incredible lifelong learning opportunities available to me. The instructors, volunteers, sponsors, and donors work together to inspire and engage us so we never stop learning.

What are you grateful for?

GratiTuesday: So long, fifties, it was fun!

Tomorrow, I will no longer be in my fifties. A new year and a new decade of my life begins. I’m not even sure how long I can legitimately claim to be “middle-aged” anymore (although I suspect that I’ll cling to that designation until my dying breath).

60 cupcake

At least up until today, I’m not too freaked out about this milestone birthday. Tomorrow could be a whole different story, but right now I feel optimistic. At 59, I’m generally healthy and happy, and I have no reason to think this will change when my odometer clicks over to 60.

My fifties started out not with a bang, but a whimper… mine. On the day of my 50th birthday, I had a 4-hour meeting with a client that required a 3-hour drive each way. I felt sorry for myself the whole day and my mood was only slightly brightened when my husband greeted my return with a hug and a kiss and a homemade cake. Poor me.

Fortunately, that inauspicious start was not a harbinger of things to come over the next decade. I soon left that good but uninspiring job for a better one which allowed me to learn a lot of new skills, work with some amazing people who became much more than colleagues, and gave me a strong sense of career satisfaction. I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to work for a great company and with some outstanding individuals.

My fifties included quite a few travel adventures, including a trip to Cuba that I had dreamed about since I was in my thirties. I also got to explore parts of the United States that I hadn’t been to before, and re-visited other areas that warranted a second – or third – look. I am so grateful that my husband, traveling companion, and best friend are all wrapped up in the same package.

I took up a few new hobbies in my fifties, including blogging and photography. I am grateful for the generous help and encouragement I’ve received from others as I struggle to improve. I’m also grateful for the plethora of free, or nearly free, classes and seemingly limitless online resources that have helped to shorten my learning curve.

Of course, my fifties contained a few bumps and bruises along the way. Four years ago I lost my beloved 92-year-old father after many years of failing health. As sad as it was to say good-bye, I am so grateful that I had him in my life for so long. I, along with my brothers, had the privilege of caring for him as he declined and I am profoundly grateful that I was by his side to surround him with love as he slipped away.

My fifties is also the decade that I shut the door on the 8 – 5 world and opened the mystery door labeled “retirement.” Although it has been less than two years since I stepped over that threshold, I can’t say that I’ve ever had a second thought about that decision. I am grateful that I was able to leave work on my timetable and while young enough to experience the joys and take advantage of the opportunities retirement offers.

So, tomorrow I’ll celebrate the beginning of a new decade. I don’t know what it holds for me, but I’m grateful that I get to be here to say “hello, and welcome.”

Old perro, new tricks

Old-Dog-New-Tricks

I took Spanish in high school because I had to. Alternatively, I could have chosen French or German but I figured Spanish would be much more useful in my day-to-day world. I’ve never had a good ear for languages or accents, but, after three years of struggling, I ended up with a moderate grasp of conversational Spanish.

The problem with trying to learn anything only because it’s required is that, once the lessons are over, the motivation (in this case, a good grade) is gone and whatever knowledge managed to penetrate my cranium starts to fade away. Lessons learned in subjects I loved – English, social studies, history, art – are still with me for the most part. Algebra, chemistry, and Spanish… not so much.

I actually know a number of Spanish words and I can even put together a few complete sentences. But, since I live in a border city, I probably would have risen to this barely-literate level even without taking classes in high school. I’m fairly confident that the few swear words I have in my meager Spanish vocabulary weren’t taught to me in school, but instead from several helpful kitchen crews I worked with as I waitressed my way through college.

I have often regretted not building on my Spanish skills since I graduated from high school. I have had many co-workers and friends who were fluent speakers and I know they would have been happy to let me practice on them. A lot of my reluctance has been my insecurity with my accent and, frankly, not wanting to look – or sound – silly. Since most native Spanish speakers I interact with are also fluent in English, I’ve taken the lazy person’s way out and opted to converse in the language that is most comfortable for me.

On my long list of want-to-dos in retirement (or jubilación in Spanish – isn’t that a great word? It sounds like jubilation) is to take classes in subjects of interest to me. I’ve already taken several photography and photo editing classes and I’ve signed up for a few lectures on interesting topics. Between our local community college’s continuing education offerings, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute classes, and our local Oasis Institute, I could happily become a full-time student again.

Most recently, my husband and I have started taking a class in beginning Spanish. Not only do we want to better understand and converse in a language we hear just about every day, we are contemplating arranging for an extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico. Although we hope to take Spanish classes while we are there (in addition to cooking and art classes), we want to have at least some of the basics under our belts before we arrive. Right now, we could successfully ask where the bathroom (baño) is and order a beer (cerveza) – obviously both very important – but we would have trouble with anything more complicated.

So far, the class is very different from my high school experience. The teacher is fun and not at all intimidating, my fellow students are older and grayer, and the text book contains words and phrases that one might actually hear in the real world. The biggest difference is that we are there because we want to be. The only requirements are the ones we put on ourselves: listen, participate, practice, do our homework, and, most of all, enjoy the process of learning a new skill.

A most cherished object

This post was written for the Cherished Blogfest 2015, which is taking place July 24, 25, and 26. Each participant is to write about one of their most cherished objects. After considering writing about my cherished husband, health, and friends, I decided they weren’t really “objects.” What I chose instead is a both an object and an entree to adventures.

 

I have in my possession, a magical and powerful document. Held within its dark blue covers is my key to foreign lands and infinite experiences. It gives me the ability to not only travel freely around the world, but to return to the United States with few questions or concerns.

Written inside the front cover are the powerful words that confer this special status to me and that asks other nations to offer me reasonable freedom of movement and protection:

The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.

Passport

Although certainly not unique – after all, there are close to 150 million U.S. passports in circulation – my passport allows me to visit 174 counties, many of them without the additional requirement of a visa. The ease with which my passport allows me to travel from one country to the next is almost unparalleled. In fact, United States citizens’ travel freedom is ranked first, along with Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Finland.

My passport has taken me throughout Europe and it has accompanied me across our northern and southern borders into Canada and Mexico. Most recently, it traveled with me to Cuba. I’ve only had to present it when I’ve entered and departed each country, but having it in my possession along the way has given me a greater sense of comfort and safety.

The United States is not perfect and I know that we could do many (many) things better, but I also feel very lucky to be a citizen. The happenstance of my birth has offered me privileges that many people born elsewhere don’t have. My U.S. passport represents the strength of my nation and the relationships it has built over the decades with most other governments.

Despite all of its power, my cherished document is lacking something very important which I hope to resolve over the next several years: there far too few entry stamps. My husband and I are looking forward to years of adventures in our retirement and I hope that, over time, those pages will be filled with dozens of stamps as we travel the world.

 

To read more posts by Cherished Blogfest participants, please link to this page to visit other most cherished blogs.