Mark Hargreaves

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Let’s see – where shall we begin our tale? Life’s a pretty tough thing, and so are beginnings, really. My name’s Mark, in case you didn’t read the little icon over to your left. That’s me in the picture, too, about a year ago, playing my guitar out in the woods. It’s a favorite pastime and one of my great stress relievers. I’m a social worker by trade, and anyone who’s done work in human services knows what a mess of stress that can be. It’s hard to maintain professional distance when you see someone who could be your grandparents every single day. There are rewards too, of course. Not monetary, but they are there.

 

So, we’ll pick up our story in July 2014. A Thursday, I think, because Thursdays are generally pretty average days. On this particular Thursday, I was weighing in at a solid 287 lbs., BMI 40.1. Asthmatic, my entire life. Multi-seasonal allergies, ditto. Severe depression, which I picked up with all the cool teens in high school. Severe obstructive sleep apnea – sometime last year, snoring so badly folks rooms down complain, which led to a helpful but much reviled CPAP. Borderline hypertensive (140/90) – which is generous. 10 years ago they would have just called it hypertension, but it’s so common now, that I have been getting away as borderline, and haven’t started meds. Likely pre-diabetic, though I don’t have a test results to verify that one, but I certainly had the sugar crashes and the poor circulation. There’s probably more still besides, but that about covers the major stuff.

 

So, if the fact that living life that way, just unto itself, wasn’t hard enough, and miserable enough on its own, well, things got even more complicated. Work stress went through the roof as we prepared for a new data system and finished our first year (of two). My usual morning consisted of a couple candy granola bars and a large coffee. It was enough to last me the whole day. I’d come home, exhausted. Fall asleep in my chair for an hour or so, wake up, deal with dinner, chores, drag myself into bed between 11pm and midnight, toss, turn, wake up 2 or 3 times during the night, and then wake up for good around 5am and do it all over again. I’m not sure how to feel about it all, now. I almost worry talking about it will resurrect the ghosts of poor decisions past.

 

Also, my family is doing a family group holiday cruise this year, and I’m really tired of the constant nagging from my mother (though it’s all good-intentioned), and snark from my grandmother (which seems less so) for a week. And my mom is right, there are bad genetics in the family, a long history of cardiac issues, especially on my dad’s side.  There were also the clothes that don’t fit – not just the work clothes, though that was embarrassing – I have a few costumes that aren’t replaceable, but also were becoming completely unwearable. I knew I needed to change.

 

I also knew that my previous attempts to change had been – well, less than successful. I’d cut soda out of my diet for 6 months and actually gained weight. More walks with the dog? Nothing – well, except a tired and happy dog and that’s something – so the walks would stay, or I’d have a sad puppy.

 

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Enter an old friend of mine – one time housemate, then a few miles down the street, and now on the other side of the country. We still chat and play video games together on occasion. Out of the blue he told me about being a few weeks into this new elimination diet program, which was doing wonders for him – weight loss, and more energy. And since it came up in a discussion about how poorly I sleep, I went ahead and had a look. The general theory intrigued me, as did his success – he wasn’t one to stick to these sorts of challenges, usually.

 

I was incredibly fortunate that one of my roommates agreed to join – he’s far more talented in the kitchen then I and handled more than his fair share of the food prep (in return I handled a good bit of the purchasing, so it evened out). I was surprised by the resistance I got from my other roommate – he’s the one considering gastric bypass in a few months, and I figured he’d jump at the chance to try a serious diet and maybe lose the weight and prevent the surgery. Instead I got incredible and at times angry resistance.  From him and others I heard that this was a fad diet, that it was unsupported by science, that’s others successes were at best flukes and at worst lies. All this for the idea of eating meat and veggies for a month, which simply hadn’t struck me as that revelatory of an idea.

 

The actual process, for my roommate and I, was very enlightening. The sugar cravings were truly intense at times, and especially my roommate, who ran his own hobby shop and had pizza and soda and Monsters as his staple diet for most every weekend, well, the sugar cravings were fierce. Our sugar dragon was a mighty and angry one indeed. We both found out how much we use sugar as a crutch to deal with stress (a lot, in both cases).  We also found out how much good food there was out there.

 

Never let anyone tell you there isn’t good food on the Whole30. We had good food in abundance, and that was mostly thanks to my roommate Fen. I can’t imagine doing this solo, honestly. It’s an enormous help to have someone with you that you can rely on, who can cover when you’re having a hangover day and make meals for you or with you.

 

As an aside, making my own meals was an experience, too; it is deeply and primaly empowering to eat food you know everything about. This ground beef came from a farm 20 miles away, then it came to me, went into this skillet and became basically the best ground beef it’d ever tasted. And it expanded my horizons, below one such meal – lamb (which I almost never ate before), grilled asparagus (ditto) and mashed potatoes (OK…those I ate, but we did cauliflower more often than not, just not this particular night)

 

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And as we muddled through the cravings, and the arguments with the other roommate (which also became quite fierce), things did, steadily, get better. Neither of us quit drinking coffee, but it became much less of a crutch, much more something to have and enjoy (because really, drinking water does get a little dull). It reached the point that my boss asked if I had given it up entirely, and I could say no, but that I really didn’t need it to get going in the mornings anymore.

 

The Whole30 community, especially GoJo09, Kmlynne, and Physibeth, was a tremendous support through it all – one of my goals, going forward, is to hang about the logs section and try to return some of the favor in kind. Thank you for your support, advice and encouragement. I’m not sure you’ll ever know how much the help meant, but I don’t know I would have made it through, even with Fen, if I hadn’t had your support.

 

With all the support, even during all the rough bits, things got better. About two weeks in I could feel my mood and energy levelling off. For me there was no switch and no giant jolt of energy as some people talk about, but there was, at least, a nice solid abiding energy to get me through the day. All the walking around the hospital that I did got easier. Dealing with the deep, constant stress of work got more manageable. Things began to roll off me instead of sending me into rages or panics.  I think I took lorazepam 2 or 3 times in the entire month.

 

Even more exciting, a few weeks into the program, I was able to ditch my CPAP. I am still snoring, but its light snoring, not room-quaking, sleep shattering, gasping apneic snoring. Folks can stay in the same room with me and sleep through the night, rarely waking at all. I’m awake and alert through the whole work day, not like before where a late afternoon meeting became a struggle against a late afternoon nap. I cut the use of my maintenance inhalers in half, and I can’t wait to see what my next set of PFTs look like. I’m barely using antihistamines, anymore, just on the very worst of days.

 

My resting heart rate is down in around 76 – it used to be in the mid 90s. Serum cholesterol is at 167, fasting glucose at 92.  There’s even simple, slightly embarrassing, almost ridiculous changes I’ve noticed – how much easier it is to bend over and tie my shoes.  That being from the trimming of my belly – I’m down to 260 pounds.

 

The biggest change – biggest success - is also the most difficult to quantify. I feel more in my own skin. More in control, more able to do, to feel, to function. Work or play, things are just easier, more achievable then they have been in a long time. I can only imagine where I’d be now if I wasn’t getting beaten down so much, day by day at work, but the fact that I’m still here at all is an amazing thing.

 

I like who I am on this side of the 30 days. I’m still me, but it’s a better me. And still improving. After all, that’s the only place we have to go from here.

 

Onward.

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