Exercise, Weight Loss, and Chronic Illness

2020 has been a blur, hasn’t it? So much has happened and I can hardly believe it’s all been packed into five months! While our nation and the world is in all kinds of chaos, there are certain things that have not changed. Chronic illness stops for nothing. So, I will continue to support you by bringing you some new insights and information as I find them.

This month’s topic has been near and dear to my heart for over twenty years as I’ve struggled with my weight, diets, and exercise that all promised great results but delivered bupkis.

I’ve been steadily gaining weight since I had my son almost 21 years ago and I began my perimenopause journey. However, a little more than three years ago, I had a total hysterectomy and that’s when my body decided to make up for in width what I lacked in hight! Since I was mostly a healthy eater and had no issues with cravings, stress eating, or portion control, I was at a loss to find something that actually worked for me.

As I mentioned before, limiting calories to 1200/day had not worked AT ALL for me because left to my own devices, I was only eating 900 – 1000 calories/day. So, my attention next turned to exercise. BUT…there’s a HUGE problem with exercise for those of us with chronic illness. Here’s an excerpt from an article I found online:

It’s basic physiology—when you feel sluggish, unmotivated and fatigued, getting up and doing some exercise causes changes in your body that boost your energy. Exercise also releases endorphins in the brain, and endorphins are great pain killers. So when people say those of us with Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome would feel better if we got “more exercise,” there’s something to it, right? Actually, no. In normal, healthy people, yes—exercise creates energy. Problem is, we’re not normal and healthy.

And what are these endorphins people speak of? I’m pretty sure they don’t have those on my planet. My husband always told me that he feels GREAT after exercising and taking a shower. I never had enough energy after exercise TO take a shower. The best I felt after a “work out” was slightly more tired than you normally feel when you have the flu!

In my experience, even as a teen in high school (after eight months of doing two back to back 30-minute aerobics tv shows), I couldn’t get off the floor to take a shower and go to school. As I got older, it only got worse. In recent years, I have never gotten past two or three weeks of “gentle walking” on the treadmill without having a flare and giving up for a month…or several.

The dangers of exercise for chronic illness sufferers are flares and injury. Doing too much can cause a flare in your pain and/or fatigue and that flare can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or longer for some. Injury is a concern even for those who don’t have a chronic illness but don’t exercise regularly. After walking on the treadmill a while back for as much as three weeks, I injured my foot requiring six surgical procedures!

The most difficult part of this for me is knowing when is too much. I can have no problem for weeks and suddenly, in a matter of a few seconds, I’m done! I’m exhausted. No warning. Nothing telling me it was coming. Anyone have this? And further, when something is too much, I have no idea how long my recovery from a flare will be. Sometimes it’s a few hours. Sometimes it’s seven weeks.

I have no way of knowing, but some people can feel it coming on. Some can tell when they are going to need to stop and some know that doing X will likely cause Y amount of time to recover. Some know when it’s too much but have no idea of how long recovery might take. I have no indication of either.

If you can start slow, build slowly, and you can find what works for you, there are many benefits of exercise for chronic illness. For some, exercise is a way of feeling healthier or building strength or even easing some of their pain symptoms. For some, the goal was weight loss.

I was never able to exercise enough to contribute to any weight loss. I was way too fatigued to do enough of it to yield any weight loss results. After gaining 50% of my weight in FAT, I thought I’d never lose it.

Everyone gave me lots of ideas, but nothing worked for me. I heard about the Keto Diet but found it too complicated even for those who lost weight with it to explain it to me in four sentences or less. I had all but given up when I found a health coach that was able to tailor a plan just for me and tweak it along the way when things went sideways. And that’s how things work on my planet so that happened a LOT!

I think most of the issues we, as chronic illness folk, have with traditional programs of any kind are that we aren’t your typical, average person. We may not even be typical for whatever diagnoses we have! I know I’m not!

Just like I was blessed to find a doctor who not only understands my chronic illnesses but who is willing to listen and tweak my treatment, what made all the difference for me was my health coach. I found one that knows her stuff and also is open to listening to the issues I was having that weren’t normal. If someone had told me what the average person needs to do to lose weight and left me on my own to figure it out, I’d have quit after my second week!!

After losing 15 pounds, I finally began to notice an improvement in my fatigue, sleep, and a decrease in the number and severity of my flares. Fatigue is still the BIGGEST issue I deal with even more so than the pain. It’s no where near gone, but there is a noticeable improvement!

Each one of us has to find what works for our individual needs. My coach, Mary, has been such a blessing! At the time I’m writing this, I’ve lost 15 lbs and 17 inches so far. If you’ve had a tough time losing, check her out. She’ll talk to you about how she can help with no obligation whatsoever! If you do, tell her JoJo says hello!

What diet, eating program, or exercise have you found works for you?

Make sure you check back next week when I’ll be sharing some insights I found about food that has proven very interesting to combat fatigue!

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JoJo: A Space Oddity

I probably have over 2001 ways in which my life is odd. If the previous blog posts on how things work on my planet and living the weird life haven’t convinced you, I have three more areas of my life in which to express, JoJo: A Space Oddity, and it’s on the topics of exercise, parenting, and my testimony.

Again, my intention is to let you all know that it’s ok not to be like everyone else. It’s ok if your chronic issue doesn’t manifest itself in the same way as most others or you have a different way of dealing with it because you are a unique child of God. It’s ok to be you, even if most people don’t understand!

Exercise Weirdness:
One of the things that has always gotten in the way of my losing weight is what I came to find is called Exercise Intolerance. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t like to exercise but I don’t. Almost nobody does. What I’m talking about is the weird reaction of my body that even if I start slow and build slower, instead of the exercise getting easier (because my body adjusts or gets used to it or gets more in shape), the way it works on my planet is that it gets harder and harder for me to complete until I can no longer do what was fairly easy for me at the beginning.

Now, I know this makes no sense whatsoever, but it is true. I’ve tried it many times in my life. And lest you think this is something that is a result of years of a sedentary lifestyle, I have to tell you that the first time I noticed this was when I was about 17 years old and a senior in high school. Yup, you read that right. At the age of 17 walking about a mile or so to school and back, I would come home from school and be absolutely exhausted. It never got better.

During this time, as I mentioned previously, I was put on The Pill and gained 30lbs in a month. I decided to do two back-to-back aerobics tv shows before school in an attempt to lose that weight. It started out ok. I was able to finish the workout and felt alright afterward, but by the eighth month, I couldn’t get up off the floor to take a shower and get to school. That’s when I had to quit…and I never lost an ounce!

In the following forty years, I tried countless exercise routines that all resulted in the same pattern. It was a bit difficult at the start, but as time went on, I found the very same exercise more and more exhausting until I was forced to quit. After reading a few articles on Fibro, I found the term Exercise Intolerance associated with some Fibro patients. Most of the Fibro folks I know don’t have this, but they do understand having days when working out or even walking was too much.

Parenting Oddities:
This area of my life is what my father would call “wackadinghoy” and is actually three parts of the parenting equation. To be fair, two of them are much more unusual than the third, but the third is still not mainstream.

Parenting begins with birth and what describes both of mine is, of course, the word weird. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was expecting everything to go according to plan and, for the most part, the pregnancy was nothing that deviated from my expectations. However, the birth was slightly more dramatic than I was anticipating.

I was told my first child would be marked by my body’s unfamiliarity with the birth process and so a slow, long (maybe 18-20 hour) labor was expected. I got to the hospital when my contractions were getting closer but they were never five minutes apart. They went from more “occasional” to two minutes apart. When I got there, I was told that the doctor was called and was on her way. However, my expected 20 hours of labor turned out to be only nine hours long. When it came time for my daughter’s arrival, the doctor hadn’t arrived yet. The nurse had left the room and told my husband to call her when I felt the urge to push.

Well, as soon as she disappeared down the hall, I felt that urge only the nurse didn’t believe my husband when he told her. I reiterated my feelings with a bit more force than I had the first time and she came back in the room to find I was dilated and almost ready to go. Long story short, the doctor arrived JUST in time to do her part and catch my daughter on the way into the world.

For several years thereafter, I was certain I was pregnant several times only to find that I probably had a miscarriage. Five years after my daughter, I had a horrible miscarriage. I won’t go into the details here, but it was my only confirmed miscarriage and the details of that miscarriage were odd in ways I don’t want to go into in print.

When I was pregnant with my son, I began having similar symptoms as with my miscarriage and was ordered bed rest for several weeks. I prayed that this child would be born healthy. I was washing up one day looking into the mirror and noticed something different about what the doctors called a “birthmark” on my right cheek.

It originally made its appearance when I was pregnant with my daughter and was supposed to have disappeared after she was born, but it never did. The one on my left cheek was much smaller (I think because that child miscarried and it didn’t have enough time to grow larger as the pregnancy progressed). What hit me was that the one on the right was MUCH bigger than it had been before.

I felt God speak peace to me that day. I felt that the right side was the RIGHT side. The children whose mark was on the right side were to live and I had a peace come over me knowing that somehow this child would be okay.

My son was born more than nine years after my daughter. As a second time mom that far apart, I was told that my body wouldn’t remember what to do and it was more than likely that I would be in labor for about 20 hours. This time, though, we lived quite a ways from the hospital and in rush hour traffic that translated to my son almost being born on the freeway.

I got into my gown and the hospital bed just when he was about to make his arrival, but there was no available doctor in the entire hospital. Fortunately, nurses are amazing! He was born only halfway when labor just stopped. They found baby’s first poop all over his face, in his mouth and nose. This meant that, if he was born the rest of the way and began to take a breath, he would likely either be sickly all his life or could even die.

Nurses worked quickly to get all of it out of his mouth and nose before the Lord saw fit to have his other half delivered and he took his first breath. And he’s amazingly healthy to this day! He was the talk of the hospital on our way out as my entire labor with him was three hours and fifteen minutes!

Having two only-children is somewhat odd. I’d arrive with my daughter, nine, and my son, newborn, and people would automatically think that this was my child from a second marriage or that I had other children at home. When my daughter would hold him for me, she was met with stares and one particular woman who felt the need to chastise her for being an unwed mother! …She was NINE!

Another rather unusual parental discussion we made was about vaccinations. Our daughter was vaccinated because we didn’t feel we had enough information to decide not to do so at the time (though she didn’t have any booster shots). We did more research and felt strongly that we shouldn’t vaccinate our son. Talking about this subject usually requires a bit of explanation because of the next part of our childrens’ stories.

Both of our children are exceptionally bright. Our daughter learned to read quite young and used to read the dictionary for fun. Our son taught himself to read at the age of three using Jump Start Third Grade on the computer. While my daughter’s intelligence manifested as having different interests than most of her friends, my son’s intelligence was tempered with several sensory issues that we later found was due to a form of Autism that used to be called Asperger’s.

Another parental issue we dealt with was a direct result of the intelligence of our kids. We chose to homeschool my daughter after her 4th-grade year in a private school in order to better teach to her advanced educational needs. Later we found that our son’s educational needs included movement that wouldn’t work in a traditional classroom.

I have so many funny and poignant stories about our homeschooling experiences, but I would love to share a short story of a time when we lived in California and a cable guy came who didn’t believe homeschooling was legal or a real choice. His wife was a public school teacher and he began quizzing my daughter. He fired questions at her and she answered each one with ease and a tad of smugness until the third question or so when she fired back the answer to a math question that even he didn’t know the answer to!

My Testimony:
One last way in which my life is a bit odd is the way in which I came to the saving knowledge of Jesus. Mine is another long story, but here’s the reader’s digest version: I was born to Atheist parents of Jewish heritage, but I never believed there was no God. I married a nonpracticing Catholic and became a non-denominational Christian due, in part, to some Amway meetings and a Jehovah’s Witness that came to my door.

I always thought everyone had a Come to Jesus moment and that it happened like this: Bob was a drug addict and reached his lowest point when someone told him about Jesus. Light from heaven came down upon him, God spoke, and, in the blink of an eye: BAM! Bob’s life was changed! That’s the way it seemed to happen in the movies anyway.

I was more of a goody-two-shoes. I never did drugs, didn’t drink, didn’t skip school. I just always felt there was more to life. Even before I was told about Jesus, I always felt there was someone watching over me. I couldn’t really explain it and I never really told anyone, but I did ask everyone I knew what they believed about God and why.

One day Grace came to my door and asked me about life after this world. I was intrigued and she kept coming back. One day she asked me if she could come in and talk and I said sure. That went on for weeks or months until she asked me to come to her Kingdom Hall. I declined as some of what she believed made sense to me but other things didn’t.

As I began to share this with my husband, we decided to attend a Calvery Chappel church in our area that was pastored by Raul Reis, and, in a short time, both of us accepted Jesus as our personal Savoir.

Anyone else relate to my any of this? Any other unusual birth stories? Homeschool stories? Do you have an unusual Come to Jesus Moment? If you didn’t find something you related to so far, I have some more weirdities coming your way next week!

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