My Colonoscopy: Not a Pain in the A$$

ColonoscopySomeECard

Today was my biennial (every other year) colonoscopy. For some people, this is a major event; for me it is as well, but not for the reasons you might think.

During my early adolescence, I started to become ill. I had stomach cramps, diarrhea, and weight loss. My parents took me to our family doctor (this was out of the league of my pediatrician) who sent me to the hospital. By December 1975, when I was 12, I had spent weeks in the hospital, missed school, given countless viles of blood, and nothing seemed to help. When I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the end of the year I weighed less than 60 pounds. I started medications and slowly began to make progress, but my no means was the disease under control. I had a stint in the hospital again between my junior and senior years of high school, and over the years have had changes in medications as advances in pharmaceuticals made that possible. The condition finally began to recede about 20 years ago, and in the last five years I would say that my symptoms are no different than those of someone who does not have an inflammatory bowel disease.

And through it all, there have been the regular colonoscopies–sometimes as often as every year.

Never more than three years between tests (even in my 20s), this test has been a part of my life. Most people dread a colonoscopy…I LOVE IT!

Here is why:

  1. The prep is much better than it used to be. It used to be chugging over a gallon of goopy, salty stuff. Now, depending on your doctor’s preference, the taste may be barely noticeable. The “cleansing” process is not a walk on the beach (in fact, DO NOT go for a walk on the beach if you are doing prep), but expensive spas offer colon cleanses that cost a whole lot more. I find that lemonade is a great chaser; the tang gets rid of the taste.
  2. It is a great way to jump start your weight loss! The day of your prep you are on a liquid diet. It is not so bad as long as you keep hydrated. Flavored gelatin and ices are allowed and they help with the hunger too. There is something almost cathartic about cleaning things out.
  3. They give you really good drugs. I remember my first colonoscopy and being awake for the last part of the process. It was unbearably painful and I remember begging the doctors to put me out again–which they did not do since we were close to the end (pun intended). Today, much more attention is given to patient comfort. I love to watch the clock in procedure room as the sedative is introduced through the IV; one clock, two clock, three clock, four…next thing you know you’re out the door!
  4. The rest of the day you are not allowed to make any important decisions, drive or go to work. Awwww. Boo-hoo. Don’t we all need a staycation every now and again? Oh yes, Dr. Phil and Price Is Right…I am coming for you!
  5. THE BEST PART–as uncomfortable as a colonoscopy may seem, it is nothing compared to colon cancer. I know people who have gone through that and I will GLADLY have a colonoscopy if it means catching the disease early or having the peace of mind to know that I am healthy.

Tomorrow, it is back to work, driving, regular diet, etc., but it is good to know that I am doing the right things to take care of myself.

And in two years when it is time for my next colonoscopy, I will say: LET’S DO THIS!

Talk to your doctor (especially if you are over 50) and find out if and when you need your first/next colonoscopy.

All You Need is Love…

Love Heart

Thought for Shabbat

“When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s Amore!”  Did you see that full moon last night?  It turns out it was about “amore;” today is Tu B’Av, the 15th Day of the Hebrew month of Av.  Tu B’Av is the Jewish cognate of Valentine’s Day.  According to tradition, this date was the beginning of the grape harvest that ended on Yom Kippur; on both these dates, the unmarried young women of Jerusalem would go out to the vineyards to dance.  It thus became a day for matchmaking.

Today, the main way we observe Tu B’Av is that we do not recite Tachanun (the penitential prayers said at Shacharit and Mincha).  In Israel, it is a day for gifts and romanticism for love partners.

Although the focus is on love between human beings, Judaism talks a great deal about the love relationship between the Jewish People and God.  Traditionally, this is how the Song of Songs in interpreted; it is a book of love poems that highlight the love God has for us, and us for God.  We are forever grateful for the love the Lord has shown us.

As we head into Shabbat on this Tu B’Av, let’s focus on our romantic partners and appreciate the ways they have impacted our lives and our hearts.  Judaism emphasizes more what we do more than what we say or think, so use this as an opportunity to show your loved one how you feel.  For those who do not have a partner, this is a great time to show friends, family and God how grateful we much we appreciate the relationship. 

It is never too late to say, “I love you,” and it can never be said too often.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B’Av!

Rabbi Michael Ungar

The Ten Commandments of the Gym (if Thou Wishest Not to Piss Off Thy Neighbor)

Moses

I have been a gym-goer for over 20 years and worked in a Fitness Center for a year now. Here is my take on the 10 Things gym-goers should observe to avoid the most common pet peeves.

  1. Thou Shall Not Talk Loudly on Thy Phone. This is annoying anywhere, but particularly vexing at the gym. Whatever business you have, take care of it elsewhere; we don’t care about your carpool schedule, feud with the cable company, or your plans for later in the day. Do not initiate a phone call unless it is urgent; if it’s urgent, why are you on the stair-climber? If someone calls you and it’s urgent, get off the machine and deal with it. If it’s not urgent, recite the following: “I’m working out right now, can I call you later?”
  2. Thou Shall Clean Up after Thyself. If you have left bodily fluids on a machine, CLEAN IT UP! There is a reason why there are cleaning rags or wipes in the gym. Not only is this an issue of health (which is presumably why we came to the gym in the first place), it is just a matter of common decency. While we’re at it: RE-RACK YOUR WEIGHTS. We’re all impressed (not!) that you can pack a ton of 45s on the leg press…we’re more impressed when you put the plates back. Think about the next person who may not be able to lift those 45s…that was you once. Do not leave your towels on the ground in the gym or in the locker room; your mommy and daddy will not be coming by to clean it up and the hard-working staff shouldn’t have to clean up our towels when the bin is probably just a few steps away.
  3. Thou Shall Not Sojourn on the Same Piece of Equipment. Some gyms have multiples of many pieces of equipment (usually cardio), but that may not be the case on resistance/weight equipment. Be considerate; do not be a hog. If you see someone “hovering,” offer to let them work in a set. By all means, DO NOT read a book, take selfies, update social media status while on a piece of equipment; I have seen it all. Just rude.
  4. Thou Shall Not Grunt Overly Much. Ugh. This may be the number one reason why newbies get scared away from the gym. To you it may be a way to advertise just how hard you are working, to the rest of us you look like the posterior end of an equine beast and you sound the same too.
  5. Thou Shall Wear Proper Attire. It goes without saying that athletic footwear and workout gear should be worn in the gym, but one still sees jeans, sandals/flip-flops, street shoes and bathing suits on the fitness floor. Proper footwear is especially an issue for adequate support and protection. Here are some other no-nos: men’s t-shirts with the arms cut out almost to the waist (you have nipples, we get it), women wearing a sports bra as a top (is it ok if I just wear a jock strap and no shorts?), shorts or shirts that are too tight, shorts that are too short (the only balls we want to see at the gym are medicine balls), t-shirts or other clothing with foul language.
  6. Thou Shall Not “Hit On” the Other Gym Members. This is related to number 8 below. The gym is not a pickup bar. People come to work out and they need to do so in a safe and secure environment. No one wants to be harassed anywhere, but especially not in a gym where so many of us feel vulnerable.
  7. Thou Shall Not Take Pictures or Videos that Include Others. Unless you have their permission, this is just an invasion of privacy. If you are taking a selfie, make sure no one else is in the frame. Under no circumstances should you take videos or photos of others without their knowledge no matter how funny you think their form looks. I’ve seen adults almost come to blows over this. Again, gym-goers want to feel safe and secure. Use discretion please.
  8. Thou Shall Not Talk Incessantly. You know the type. Instead of a quick hello, they stand next to you and yak, yak, yak. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “well, I really need to get back to my workout,” or walk to another piece of equipment, or put your headphones on, they do not get the clue. People are at the gym to work out; most of us do not have a lot of time and we want to make the most out of whatever time we do have. Keep it brief and watch for visual and auditory clues that you have overstayed your welcome. BTW, “go away,” is a good sign that you should move on. Just sayin’
  9. Thou Shall Not Change the TV Channel without Checking with Others. In some gyms this becomes a real issue. Many gyms have monitors on every piece of cardio, but others do not. A whole crowd could be tuned into just a handful of screens, so don’t just assume that you can switch off “Murder, She Wrote” and others won’t care. Some gyms are careful to have a variety of news stations on; DO NOT change them all to CNN, Fox or MSNBC. You only need one TV to get your news.
  10. Thou Shall Not Sing Out Loud to What is on Thy Earbuds. Um, we can hear you, and to paraphrase Simon Cowell, “that was absolutely horrible.” Unless it’s Earth, Wind and Fire…

There. I feel better now. Now go forth and observe, and verily thou shall be a righteous dude or dudette at the gym!

Fasting and Intermittent Fasting

empty plate

Today on the Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av; it is a 25-hour fast that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Ancient Jerusalem. Aside from Yom Kippur, it is the only full fast (others just go from sunrise to sunset)…and I’ve got about 6 hours to go.

The goal of the fast (which is the case on Yom Kippur too) is not to lose weight or to suffer greatly, but rather to focus less on the physical and more on the metaphysical. Tisha B’Av causes those who observe it to reflect on the history of the Jewish people: the enemies who have arisen against us from the outside, as well as the enemies from within. Not having to think about eating (which isn’t easy), allows the day to be mostly spiritual, and also gives us a small taste of the suffering of our ancestors.

Interestingly, fasting has been a hot trend in the diet/fitness world the last several years. In particular, a lot of attention has been paid to Intermittent Fasting.

What is Intermittent Fasting? There are several versions. One way to do it is to restrict eating to only certain times of the day (generally an 8-hour period). Others fast one or two days out of the week. Others choose 1-3 days to eat a very restricted calorie count (say around 500 KCals) during the week, and eat normally the rest of the week. The science behind it is that during the fasting periods, the body is required to burn fat in order to maintain its regular functions; in particular, this kind of fasting seems to target belly fat. Other health benefits may include better control of insulin and cholesterol levels.

Why this is appealing to many is that you don’t have to think about calories or only eating certain kinds of food. The process is very simple: eat during certain times and not during others. This can also simplify the dieting process: no need for extensive reading of labels, less meals to plan , etc. Of course, one shouldn’t assume that during non-fasting times root beer floats, corned beef sandwiches and tubs of whipped topping should be the staples of the diet. As always, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish and less-processed foods are recommended.

I started doing Intermittent Fasting many years ago not really knowing that it was a “thing.” I noticed that I grazed a LOT after dinner, and it added up to hundreds of calories. I made a rule for myself that I still follow pretty closely: after dinner, no eating! I can drink calorie-free liquids, but that is it. (I do make exceptions for special occasions but don’t go crazy). I found that it helps me control my weight and that my cravings for after-dinner snacks quickly subsided.

There is admittedly a big difference between the kind of religious fasting to which many of us are accustomed (Ramadan, Yom Kippur, etc.), but there is a commonality as well. While one focuses on a physiological goal and the other on a more spiritual goal, both require self-control and self-sacrifice. Both also are means to an end: either greater physical health or greater spiritual awareness.

Readers, I would be interested to know how many of you have tried Intermittent Fasting, or if you currently practice it now. What are the challenges and what are the advantages? What are the results you have seen?

I am a believer–as long as it is done in moderation. Before jumping into Intermittent Fasting, though, do some research and talk to your physician. Be safe and be healthy.

There are many articles on the topic on-line, but a good introduction is: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-guide .

Wishing those observing Tisha B’Av a meaningful fast.

Editing my Life Speech

This coming Shabbat morning we begin our reading of the Book of Deuteronomy, the final book of the Torah.  Although many biblical scholars assert that this book was written at a much later time, traditionally it is viewed as Moses’ final words (a lot of them) to the Israelites as they were about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  Moses would not be joining them, so he repeats many of the previous laws and clarifies others, much in the way that a parent might remind his/her children before they head off to school, camp, a date, etc.

Deuteronomy plays like a kind of “greatest hits,” bringing us the Shema as well as a second recitation of the Ten Commandments.  Ritual regulations are discussed, but there is a particular emphasis on what would be necessary for the people to create a just and peaceful society in their new homeland.  There is also a strong sense of Moses’ own personal reflections and emotional state as he reaches the end of his tenure as prophet and leader.

The Book of Deuteronomy comes as a signal that the High Holidays are not that far away.  In several weeks we will be at Elul…and we all know what comes after that.  We approach a time of reflection—not unlike what I imagine Moses must have done as he approached the end of his life.  We wonder how we have done, what it was all about, how we will be remembered.

There are times when I ask myself if I were delivering my final address, what would I say?  What have I accomplished?  What meaning has there been in my life?  How will others remember me?  What would I want my descendants to know?  The truth is that we write this speech every day through our thoughts, words and actions.  As we dive into the Book of Deuteronomy, let us answer those questions…and if we do not like the responses, it is never too late to begin editing our lives.

Mental Health and Exercise

DSC_8612

A lot has been discussed in the past several days since the mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton regarding mental health.

I am always bothered when mental health gets dragged gratuitously into discussions about gun violence. Mental illness occurs all over the world, and yet we still have a terrible record in the United States when it comes to gun violence and mass shootings. Additionally, the same elected officials who focus on the role of mental illness in our violent culture are often the same ones who have worked to provided greater access to mental health services. (End of that sermon).

As a personal trainer and a rabbi, I am by no means an expert in mental health. I do have some background in pastoral counseling, but I also know when the issue at hand is beyond my training and capabilities; then I refer to a professional. I have also dealt with mental health issues in my family–who hasn’t? A lifetime of living tells me that there are no easy answers, that you cannot just “get over it.” Depression, anxiety, panic disorders, etc., are real and they can be debilitating. The good news is that most mental illnesses are treatable, and success rates are highest with early intervention–which is why it is so important for all of us to work toward de-stigmatizing mental illness.

My own fitness journey really intensified about 11 years ago after my mother passed away. It was not that long after my divorce and after the end of an engagement that did not lead to marriage. I was not at my best. For several years, I had periods when I would go to the gym more regularly and others when I would not. After my mom passed away, a fellow mourner at synagogue services gave me some advice (I have mentioned this in a previous post): “take good care of yourself, this will be harder than you think.” I resolved from that moment to take good care of myself; I made visits to the gym a regular thing and was more careful with my diet. Those decisions–along with the support of family and friends–made a difference. Mourning for a parent was harder than I thought it would be, and taking care of myself was an important part of getting through it. I have stuck with it ever since and it has helped me through emotionally trying times.

Anecdotal evidence aside, there is a firm basis in science for the effect that exercise can have on our mental health. We know about the benefits to our cardio-vascular system, brain health, and musculo-skeletal system, but we do not often talk about what it does for our mental well-being. There are several good articles out there on this topic, and google will be your friend if you want more info.

A few points worth mentioning. Exercising releases chemicals in our bodies that create a greater sense of well-being–in particular, endorphins. The latest research also indicates that increased blood flow, nutrients, and oxygen to the brain as a result of exercise can aid in neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) in the hippocampus–the part of the brain that helps regulate memory and emotions. For more on this topic, go to: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-works-and-why/201803/how-your-mental-health-reaps-the-benefits-exercise.

Additionally, depending on the exercise we are doing, we can develop greater capacity for mind calming (running, swimming, yoga). Small group classes can help build a supportive community. A personal trainer can create a plan to help us reach our physical fitness goals; many of my clients talk about the emotional well-being they feel as a result of the experience as well.

Exercise will not solve the mental health care crisis in our nation. Exercise will also not put an end to violence and mass murder in our society. Exercise is, however, one piece of the puzzle–not just to improving physical health, but mental health as well.

The world we live in is difficult–harder than we think. The advice I pass along: take good care of yourself. Exercise is one way to do that.

I Try Not to Get Political on this Blog, but…

Black and White Candle

I am heartbroken by the events in our nation, but particularly by the never-ending stream of mass shootings. It is a nearly daily occurrence and there seems to be no end in sight. I got sick of thoughts and prayers a LONG time ago. When Congress did NOTHING after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, my understanding of what I thought this country stood for was destroyed.

In the Jewish community there has been a lot of talk about security–in general, but especially after the Pittsburgh massacre. Judaism teaches us that we have certain obligations: ritual and ethical (and that these often go hand in hand). Among our obligations are a number of commandments that instruct us to go out of our way to ensure that we prevent unnecessary injury or (God forbid) death. There is a law in the Torah that tells us that when we build a home, a parapet must be put on the roof lest someone on the roof accidentally fall off. Another law tells us that when we dig a pit, it must be marked off or cordoned off lest a person or an animal wander in and be injured. Jewish law over the centuries expanded on this idea, exhorting us to take all necessary steps to prevent bloodshed. We must ask ourselves whether we are taking the necessary precautions to prevent gun violence. (As if the daily news feed does not tell us already).

I know that a lot of folks place the blame for what is happening now on the person who occupies the Oval Office; he certainly has not helped (and many argue that he has made it worse). The truth is that mass shootings in this country predate the Trump Administration; his administration–along with those of previous presidents–bear responsibility for not doing more.

I have been involved in the gun control movement for over 20 years, having served on the board of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence for much of that time. The executive branch is only part of the issue. Congress has it in its power to pass common-sense legislation that would carry out the spirit of Jewish law and the American ethos–namely to do whatever necessary to prevent bloodshed and violence. Congress has failed to do so–even when both houses were controlled by the same party. The NRA is a powerful force in ensuring that this remains the case. It is up to US, the voters, to let our elected officials know that we are a bigger threat than the NRA. The way we do that is by pushing this issue in town hall forums, debates, and in our communications. Facebook and Twitter are not enough. They do not vote NRA shills out of office–only WE can do that.

Of course, there is also an issue in our State Houses and Capitals. Gerrymandering has ensured that in many states there will also be no action on this issue. Ohio is a purple state. It is the swing state personified when it comes to national elections. On the state level, however, it is all red…year after year after year. Gerrymandering has made sure that the State House stays firmly in the control of one party even though the state is evenly split and the majorities should swing back and forth on a regular basis.

The ONLY way I see a change on a national level is by voting those who are in the pocket of the NRA out. On the state level, gerrymandering has to be dealt with. And if you don’t think that the US Supreme Court has contributed to the perpetuation of this problem, think again; there must be a serious examination of what responsibilities should accompany the Second Amendment.

Our work is cut out for us if we want to Make America Livable Again. IMHO, here is where to start:

–Get educated on the issue–especially in your state. What legislation is pending? Who is supporting it? Who is sponsoring? Who is blocking it?

–Support organizations that are helping to raise awareness and support political initiatives to end gun violence. There are dozens, and many websites can direct you to those that will use your donations wisely.

–Do more than send your thoughts and prayers: VOTE!!!

These are not Jewish imperatives, or even American imperatives…it is our human duty and it is literally a matter of life and death.