March 2012 Archives

Reflections and Changes

Some ways back, when I was in grad school, we had a tradition of hazing my thesis adviser on his birthday.  It started on his fortieth birthday because he had promised everyone "when I turn 40, I'll mellow out".  For whatever reason, I specifically remember when we helped toast (or roast as the case may be) his 43rd birthday.  We gave him something framed with a list of good reasons to be 43.  I think we put his phone number on signs around campus. There was cake and probably an alcoholic beverage or two.  As a group whose average age was about 25 we thought we were pretty clever. 

What has made this particular even so memorable for me was at the time I really thought that your 40s must be both about getting older and about having some magical wisdom to impart to others.  It seemed like he knew everything and could get almost anything done. At any given time, the lab I worked in had 12-15 people employed at various levels of the scientific food chain, most working on independent projects that my thesis adviser had to impart both advice and funding for.  I was always impressed with the things he knew, the way he connected ideas, the network of resource he was connected to, the fact that he always had another idea or a way to test something ready to go. And I never felt that I would be able to make that leap from grad student who couldn't think her way out of a paper bag to someone mentoring others. 

Flash forward sixteen or seventeen years and I find myself in the position of celebrating my own 43rd birthday.  Even though I'm not running my own lab, I'm back at a university (a place I never thought I'd be again) and I'm managing a group that all told encompasses 12-15 people.  I'm the one sitting across the desk trying to help someone on my team work through an issue that they are stuck on or develop a plan of attack for something they are embarking on.  Or tapping into my network to find a resource or a tool.  

It is odd to think that there is nothing magical that got me to this place, and that the real thing you build up between your twenties and your forties is experience, confidence in your abilities and an overall better understanding of yourself. 

The past 6 months or so have been strange for me because at the same time that I've felt like I'm truly coming into my own, I've also had this realization that I am getting older.   I'm trying to grow and improve on those things that make me feel happy with who I am and at the same time, I'm trying to make significant change in those things that I know are weighing me down.

I can remember when I defended my thesis, that my adviser made a comment about the changeability of my hair.  At the time, I wasn't sure of what to make of that and didn't entirely take it in the humor with which it was meant.  But looking back now, it makes me laugh because it's true.  Whenever I need change, the first thing I do is attack my hair.   And what did I give myself for my 43rd birthday* this year?

20120303_RedHair.jpgYep.  Indeed.  Red hair.  I've always loved color in my crafting and I can't believe that it took me so long to realize that I could update me with a healthy dose of color, too.  To say that I like being a red head would be an understatement.   And what could be better than hearing from Z "Oh Momma!  I love your red hair!"

And the hair color is just the beginning. 

*this event is about a month old now... in a rare occurrence, it made it on Twitter and Facebook before the blog

Forty-three going on Twenty-five

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone reading her that I am a goal oriented person.  This fits with my very product focused approach to craft projects (I. Want. That. Sweater. NOW!) but it also bleeds over into most everything else I do.   And, truth be told, I'm pretty hard on myself (and others) when I don't accomplish exactly what I think it should be possible to do, even when my definition of possible borders on the unrealistic.

One of the other consequences of hitting my mid-40s is that it's brought me face to face with the reality that I am not getting any younger and that there are some things, if I want to do them, I have to do them now.

A big chunk of those focus on health and body image.  I've decided that in my ideal world, I'd have my 43 year old brain in a 25 year old body. 

Not long after John and I got married, we embarked on a personal crusade to get in shape and get to body weights that were good for us.  I knew when I started trying to get pregnant that I wasn't going to hold that weight, but I never thought it was going to be challenging to get back there, either.    I didn't sweat it too much after we first had Zosia because I was certain we would have another child and I didn't see the point.  But after it became clear that she was gong to be our one and only I found that it wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be.  There were always extra kid snacks around, we didn't walk around the neighborhood or take long walks as much as we once did, our stress levels were high and a child in pre-school meant that I spent a lot of time sharing viruses and feeling sick.  It was easy for me to justify all sorts of sweet treats and low activity.

The "keyboard biologist" name for this blog comes from a colleague that I worked with when I was working at a genomics company.  I was making the transition from bench immunologist to informaticist and it felt like the right descriptor.  I've always been interested in genetics and using genetic information to help make good health decisions.  So it should be no surprise that when my husband found a good deal on 23&Me personal genomic services, that I jumped on the chance to get screened and see what my genes could tell me about my health potential*.

A couple of things stood out to me in my results.  I have an elevated risk for both Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes as well as Celiac Disease**.  There's a lot of high blood pressure in my family, so I've always known that I have some potential for cardiovascular disease.  As a woman who had her child in her late 30s and wants to live as long and healthy life as I can, this seemed like an obvious signal that I needed to think about improving my health and changing my diet.  So my personal goal is to get back to my pre-baby weight and to be more physically fit. 

I can do nothing, it seems, without a reliance on electronic toys, so to help me watch my diet, I've been tracking my calories in MyFitnessPal through an App that I have on both my iPhone and iPad.  I've done Weight Watchers before, but it's a lot easier to track calories than points (and it more or less amounts to the same thing) and this app has a great food database to help you figure things out -- combined with the ability to scan food package barcodes.  If you tell it how much you want to lose and how much per week, it will help you identify a good calorie target.  It  also has a mechanism for you to track your exercise.  And, of course, you can track your weight loss progress as well as your waist line and hip dimensions.  So not only does this help me keep honest about what I'm eating, it satisfies my inner data junkie as well.  And there are a number of studies that correlate weight loss with regular and honest food journaling.  And, it has a social dimension.  So if you're embarking on this journey too and would like a pal, let me know!

On the exercise side, I've been focusing mostly on aerobic activity and improving my abdominal muscles. 

Finally, as I mentioned in a previous post, I've been toying with gluten-free and John and I have been reducing the wheat gluten load in our diet.  It would be hard for me to say at this point that there's been any results to this, but it's a lot easier to do than I would have thought when you have access to a good grocery store.  And it's been fun taste testing.  I think the best outcome from this is that it reminds me to think about the value of the carbs I'm getting. 

For the aerobic piece, I turn to my elliptical.  I've tried gyms, but the truth is that unless I can do it at home, it just isn't going to happen regularly.  I upgraded from my ancient HealthRider e370 (or some such)  to a LifeFitness X1 which uses wireless technology so that you can optimize your work out by heart rate.  All I can say is wow!  The machine is amazing and the heart rate monitor has me so captivated that I haven't even wanted to read a book on my machine. 

For the abdominals...Again, there's an App for that!  I'm a big fan of "Ab Workout" and the series of other apps that go with it.  They have very clear videos of the exercise and come with workout plans or randomized workouts.  You can choose the length of time for the workout as well.  With the paid version you can create your own customized workout from all the available exercises as well.  They are not particularly high tech, but they are easy to follow. 

So far, I'm pleased with my current trajectory.  When I started in the middle of February, I was about 15 pounds over my ideal weight.  Now I'm about 10***.   I'm hoping to hit my target in June or so, at which point I plant to treat myself to some new and flattering swim wear. 

And that brings us to clothes....I've been doing a great deal of thinking about those, too.

* I really encourage anyone who can afford it to do this... you'll learn something about yourself, something about human biology and a little bit about probability as well.  Genes are not everything, environment also plays a role, but genes set the foundation for many things, and being aware of what your genes set the stage for is important.  That said, understanding your genetic potential can have an impact on a lot of things and not everyone likes to have a glimpse at the potential future.  Read carefully and make sure you're comfortable with what could show up in the results.

** When it comes to evaluating results from genetic screens, elevated risk Does NOT equal "going to get it" -- what it means is that your genetics increase the potential that this could present in the future, but that environment and personal habits can still have an impact.  How much impact depends on the gene, some are more deterministic than others, but most chronic illnesses rely on more than one gene or mutation and a particular set of triggers.  And in most cases we don't really understand all the genes or all the triggers.

*** This sounds more impressive than it really is since my first measurements occurred at a bloatier time of the month.


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