Last updated on August 5th, 2011
Yesterday I was talking shop with one of my department colleagues when she suddenly switched the topic: “How much have you lost?” she asked. “Twenty-five or thirty pounds?”
I told her it was more like thirty-five or forty, but who was counting.
She asked how I was doing it, and I said “low-carb,” but before I could elaborate, she added: “It’s very important for your back.”
I gathered that by “your back” she actually meant her own back. I haven’t had any back pain for years, but the conversation got me thinking about my original motivations for dropping serious poundage.
In the beginning, I wasn’t focused on the typical consequences of obesity: type-2 diabetes, high-blood pressure and heart disease. These were potential problems, but other problems had already manifested themselves. Structural problems.
In the last decade or so, I have on three occasions suffered structural breakdowns related to being over-weight.
One time was in the late winter of 2001: an accident known in family lore as “The Slippers of Doom.” I was wearing said slippers, which had a slick leather sole, and coming down our carpeted stairs carrying an armful of what-not when my right foot flew out from under me. I came crashing down on my left ankle.
This hurt a great deal.
The spiral fracture was not as serious as the massive soft-tissue damage. Examining the x-rays, my doctor shook his head and said, “You had a lot of weight falling on that ankle.”
I’m not sure how he concluded that from a picture of my ankle. He seemed to like the observation, though, and repeated it a few times.
“A lot of weight!”
I suppose he had a point. I weighed around 240 pounds back then. That’s 20 pounds short of my maximum, but still too much. Even at a lower body weight, I would have injured the ankle and surrounding tissues, but probably not to the same degree.
Interestingly, while struggling to get around campus on crutches for a few weeks, I lost ten pounds. At the time, I attributed this temporary loss to the extra expenditure of energy. Even a trip from my office to the men’s room was a major expedition.
But it could be that I cut out optional trips to the snack bar and the vending machines — and even down the hall to the cookie jar on the secretary’s desk.
(A key detail to this story is that the “Slippers of Doom” had been given to me by my mother-in-law. I accused her of trying to kill me. I was perhaps unfair. I’d like to apologize to her, but since she died last December, that’s impossible. And for the record, she never explicitly denied the accusation, so who knows? But I do miss you, Irene.)
The other two incidents involved ruptured intervertebral discs, one in my lower back and one in my neck. The ruptured discs both pressed on nerves. In the first case, I lost some sensation in my left leg and was in danger of having a dragging foot. In the second case, I had pain, tingling and a loss of strength in my right arm. Both the discs were repaired with surgery. The surgeons and the PTs all said the same thing: “You need to lose weight.”
Three years ago, by the time of the second disc surgery (which inserted a titanium cage into my cervical vertebrae), I weighed close to 260 pounds — a good 70 pounds more than I should. That’s like a person of a healthy weight lugging around four men’s bowling balls all the time. It’s bound to do structural damage.
Joint damage is another example. In the last couple of years, I’ve started having pain in my right knee when climbing the stairs.
So I obviously need to lose weight to take a load off my discs, joints and bones. Of course, aging will continue, and some wear and tear is inevitable. But maybe I can slow down the breakdown.
After the neck surgery, I was required to wear a cervical collar for eight weeks, and that slowed and inhibited my eating. So I lost a few pounds. Of course, after ditching the collar, I quickly regained those pounds and a few more. (I got to remove the collar a week before Christmas, not the best timing.)
When I told my doctor about losing weight with the cast on my leg and the collar around my neck, he said, “You see, you can do it!” He stopped short of prescribing a new cast-and-collar, though.
That’s OK. Eating low-carb has turned out to be a more effective way of losing weight and easing the structural load.
I still have a bowling ball or two left to lose.
At least now there is hope.