Category Archives: Tough (self) love

26 bulletproof reasons why NOT to go to the gym: from A to Z

Do you like Scattergories? I love it. If you aren’t familiar with the game, the point is to come up with words or phrases that begin with a certain letter (as determined by a die roll) and that fit into various categories on a list. One of my favorite categories is “reasons to be late for school or work,” because there are a million reasons—from “attacked by rabid squirrels” to “zephyr carried me away”—to be running late.

Another category I think I’d excel at, if it existed, is “reasons to skip the gym in the morning.” Once upon a time, I was almost machinelike in my adherence to the six-a-week workout schedule. But these days, despite knowing that exercise is an important part of staying healthy, even (or perhaps especially) for us chronic types, I truly manage to find an excuse for every letter of the alphabet.

Like so:

  • After all, tomorrow is another day
  • Bed’s too warm
  • Can’t find sneakers
  • Dreamed about going (close enough)
  • Eating breakfast sounds better
  • Fitness is overrated
  • Gotta write a blog post
  • Have a chronic disease
  • It’s [snowing/raining/sleeting/windy/dark/cold/hot] outside
  • Just don’t wanna
  • Kept hitting snooze; now it’s too late
  • Lots to do
  • My stomach hurts
  • No energy
  • Over it
  • Playlist is stale
  • Quit caffeine
  • Rest days are important, too
  • Sick (see: H)
  • Toe cramp (see: J)
  • Up too late on Twitter
  • Vile thing, that elliptical
  • Whatever, I look fine
  • Xercise, schmXercise
  • Yeah, yeah, I’ll go in a minute
  • Zzzzzzzzzzz…

gymEvery morning, one must win.

Photos © Allie HolzmanJoint Base Lewis McChord (Flickr)


Do you make excuses? What’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

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On time management

To-do lists are great. In fact, 96 percent of people who keep them say their lives are better with to-do lists. (Go figure.) I think I’m part of that 96 percent, but I’m certainly among the 50 percent who write down tasks they’ve already done just to be able to cross them off. I can’t help it; it’s thrilling.

Herewith, then, my most recent list.

Today I:

checked2Looked up my latest symptoms on WebMD

checked2Learned more than I remotely wanted to know about “pulsatile tinnitus

checked2Cross-examined self for evidence of hypochondria

checked2Decided symptoms actually exist

checked2Complained about symptoms

checked2Blogged about symptoms

checked2Tweeted about symptoms

checked2Googled autoimmune diseases associated with celiac diseases

checked2Remembered a few other symptoms and Googled those, too

checked2Tried to determine whether my hair is thinning

checked2Decided it’s too soon to tell

checked2Worried anyway

checked2Searched insurance database for PCP in my new neighborhood

checked2Got discouraged with system and switched to Google

checked2Bemoaned lack of reliable Yelplike system for finding new doctors

checked2Got discouraged again and gave up for the day

Tomorrow I’ll:

unchecked box

Actually do something about it.

Despite appearances, this post was not sponsored by Google. Do you spend more hours Googling things than solving them? If not, how do you manage your time (and self-care)? Do you keep a to-do list? Check anything good off lately?

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Congrats, grad! And a “needs improvement” grade for me.

My little sister graduated this weekend. The same little sister who used to agreeably complete the activity books I made for her, who walked to school with me in elementary school and shared several of my high school teachers, is now a college graduate—cum laude—with a degree in neuroscience! She never would have made it there without my activity books.

The proud siblings!

The proud siblings! Nice of them to provide spotlights.

Seriously, though, my sister is right up there among the smartest people I know, and I’m glad she’ll be using her own brain to learn more about the most complex structure in the universe (even if she does have to dissect a few songbirds to do it…poor songbirds). She’s going to be doing research related to the brain–gut axis, for the next couple of years at least, which I think is awesome. Why study one brain when you can study two?

Not only did little sis graduate with honors, but she also picked up some very nice compliments from some of her teachers who we met over the course of the weekend. “One of my best students ever”; “Personal impact on my own life”—yep, those things were said. Go Althea!

While my sister came out top of her class this weekend, I failed the main test before me, which was to navigate the weekend’s catered meals in a way that left me feeling safe and unstressed. Although I did call in advance to ask what the meals would be like, I called while walking to the subway on my way to work, rather than sitting down somewhere quiet with a list of questions to ask. My reception was spotty, the background noise was probably annoying, and I was in a rush. First mistake.

In response to my question about whether gluten-free (and vegetarian) options would be available, she said they would, but that there was no special ticket for gluten-free meals (unlike for vegetarian). She said I’d just need to speak up at the event and they’d be able to accommodate me. That should have been my cue to ask more about just how they’d accommodate me, but instead I thanked her and hung up. Second mistake.

In fact, it was a buffet (in a tent outside in the drizzly cold weather—thankfully the graduation was indoors, apparently for the first time since ’86, before Althea’s birth or mine). Everything was listed as gluten-free except for the rolls, cornbread, and desserts. Still, I was concerned that people were reaching over the buffet to grab the bread (and possibly spilling crumbs into the cole slaw on the way), and that the utensils being used to serve the entrees were brushing up against the bread on people’s plates and perhaps picking up gluten that way.

When I expressed these concerns—falteringly, apologetically, well on my way to tears—the head chef personally brought me a meal from the back. Everyone was accommodating and polite, even in the mob scene that was the tent full of several hundred starving graduates and their families, but I have absolutely no idea whether the food I wound up eating was really safe.

Because I didn’t ask. In advance or at the tent, where I shook the head chef’s hand. I didn’t ask, “What are the ingredients in the marinade?” or “Were the vegetables prepped on clean cutting boards that have not also been used for bread?” or “Was the cornbread made at the same time and in the same place as other components of the meal?” or “Did everyone change gloves between handling the rolls and touching the potatoes?”

Although this is the kind of question to which I routinely subject my family and friends, when faced with strangers, I didn’t ask. The time to do it was in advance, when I could have decided I felt uncomfortable and packed food instead. But I didn’t. And then when I had a second chance, I still didn’t.

Here's the family in the food tent. Do I look stressed?

Here’s the whole family in the food tent. Do I look stressed?

My sister assured me the staff is good about cross-contamination concerns, but it’s hard to be good about cross-contamination when preparing food for a crowd in the thousands. There were packaged Udi’s cookies and bread at the desserts station, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything else was done correctly.

As much as I’d studied up on the right way to eat out (by which I mean reading many, many fantastic blog posts on the subject), when it came time to put it into practice, I choked—like a college student who pulls an all-nighter to cram, then shows up at the test and blanks, or sleeps through it entirely. Not only do I not feel confident I didn’t accidentally eat gluten, but I didn’t enjoy myself as much as I could have, had I been better prepared.

Next time—which will not be for a long time because I am once again, dear readers, committing myself to eating only what is made in my very own home until I’m better—I’ll go about this the right way. Mindful of how miserable I was when I did it the wrong way, I’ll ask the appropriate questions in advance, and opt for the meal tickets if and only if I feel assured they’ll pull out all the celiac stops. I’ll show up with more than a KIND bar in my pocket in case the situation seems different on the ground and I decide not to chance it. I’ll have a nice time, I’ll be able to focus on the real reason I’m there, and I’ll eat food that I’m sure won’t eat me back.

Next time, like my sister, I’ll ace it.

Check out these posts for more on eating out gluten-free: Amanda’s set of posts advising restaurant pros, Jess’s “When ‘Gluten-Free’ Does Not Mean ‘Free of Gluten,'” and “Top 10 Questions to Ask When Dining Out Gluten-Free” at Thriving With Celiac. 

For a happier sprue story, I’ll tell you all about the graduation party soon. Do you have any graduations to attend this season?

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A revised hygiene hypothesis (with tips for the hypothetical slob)

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Photo © pfly | Flickr Creative Commons

Researchers, as you likely know, are eager to learn why food allergies, gluten intolerance, and celiac disease appear to be on the rise. Many are fond of the hygiene hypothesis, which states, in a nutshell, that decreased early exposure to bacteria—i.e., being too clean as babies—predisposes us to all kinds of autoimmune and allergic BS.

I’m fond of this hypothesis, too. I’ve been known to turn down offers of hand sanitizer, citing it as my reason. Still, I propose that it is incomplete. The full hypothesis should read:

Good hygiene may cause celiac disease, but bad hygiene keeps it strong. 

We all know this on a basic level, and some people don’t even seem all that blown away by it. I’ll mention, shuddering, that having this disease means I’ll need to wipe down countertops for the rest of my life, and they stare at me as though wiping down countertops were something they’d always done. People diagnosed with celiac disease who know how to wield a sponge are lucky; they’re one step closer to good health. But those diagnosees who trend toward the slovenly side must cultivate a neat streak, and (as you may recall from my ode to mess) it’s a heavy leaf to overturn in a day! I would contend that a leading cause for a lack of response to a gluten-free diet, right up there with non-adherence, is poor hygiene.

Sloppy sufferers who have spent weeks on a strict diet and still feel ill may need to look beyond the standard “sneaky gluten” hiding places. For these hypothetical sufferers, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of additional warnings. Please keep in mind that the below suggestions are intended to address a strictly hypothetical celiac patient.

  • If you bite your nails or put your hands to your mouth, you may be picking up traces of gluten. This is especially likely if you don’t tend to make a specific point of cleaning under your fingernails.
  • If you were accustomed to eating breakfast at your computer before diagnosis and if you ever dropped a Cheerio (or several) onto your keyboard, you might be picking up cereal residue every time you touch said keyboard. If you then put your hands to your mouth—say, if you have continued to eat breakfast at your computer—you might be ingesting particles of gluten.
  • If you are a green type who carries your groceries home in a tote bag, and if you have also eaten a hunk of apple cake out of said tote bag on the subway, and if you happen to have not washed that tote bag since before diagnosis, you might be ingesting cake crumbs that are stuck to your potatoes (if you aren’t the most finicky ever about washing your produce).
  • If you have been known to wipe your hands on your jeans when no napkin was available, and if you happen to have not washed those jeans since before diagnosis, and if you continue to use said jeans as a napkin and then put your hands in your mouth, you might be ingesting traces of—really, who knows what at this point.
  • If you are partial to eating in bed, and if you don’t fret too much over dropping crumbs in said bed, and if you haven’t washed your sheets since before diagnosis, and if you bite your nails or put your hands to your mouth in your sleep, your dream about eating cookies may not be so far off from reality.
  • If you drop a fork on the floor and if you decide to use it anyway without washing it first, and if you haven’t swept your floor since—charitably speaking—before diagnosis, you may be consuming forkfuls of gluten.
  • If you have always been an unrepentant slob, and if you haven’t yet changed your ways, and if you still feel sick as a dog, you might want to think about quitting your nail biting and doing a few loads of laundry. One way or another, it’ll probably do you good.

Like I said, this post is all about hypotheses and hypotheticals. The above list is not even a little connected to my personal life. However, you may be interested to know that I did recently quit biting my nails and do a few loads of laundry. Before sitting back down at the computer to eat breakfast.

If you have more hygiene suggestions or tough love for the aforementioned hypothetical celiac patient, feel free to include them in your comments!

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