Fat Memes during COVID-19

Weight Gurus black bathroom scale on wood floor

I have noticed a lot of postings on Social Media joking about how overweight we will all be once we are through with our self-isolation/quarantining. To put it bluntly: not funny.

First, there are many people who struggle with their weight and their overall fitness all the time–not just during this unique period. My guess is that these are NOT the people posting these jokes and pictures; are they posted by “skinny” folks who feel safe because they know they are not really talking about themselves?

Second, how is it that in polite company and in social media it is not okay to joke about someone’s ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and yet fat-shaming is still acceptable? As a personal trainer, I know that many people at the gym are keenly aware of this inconsistency. It is part of the reason why many with weight issues avoid the gym: fear of being judged or, even worse, ridiculed.

Third, there also folks out there who have genuine eating disorders. Eating properly and healthy are a daily battle for them. Can we even imagine what being stuck in a house full of food is like? It is a matter of mental and physical health…but, hey, if it gets a chuckle let’s post it on Facebook or Twitter!

Joking about someone’s physical condition should never be acceptable. During this difficult COVID-19 period, we should be especially sensitive to those who struggle with their health and their weight. It is hard enough for the rest of us to try to maintain proper diets while we are stuck at home or having to order take-out…let’s not make light of what for many is a very serious issue.

There is plenty of other funny stuff out there to joke about. I hear that cats are funny…

Two Weeks After Bicep Tendon Surgery

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Today was liberating. I got to ditch the sling and was also able to drive. Today was also my first day back at the gym training clients in person. Of course, it will be another 4-5 weeks before I can lift anything heavier than 1 pound with my right arm, but it feels great to be getting back to a normal routine.

It’s been 14 days since the Bicep Tenodesis surgery and I feel like we’ve made some good progress.

The last week was up and down. The stitches came out 2 days ago and I good a report from the doctor. The assistant showed me the pictures that the arthroscope took (they actually sent me home with a set but I really couldn’t interpret them). She explained what I was seeing, where the problem had been, and how it was corrected. The good news was that the rotator cuff is looking awesome and there didn’t seem to be any other issues. She did say that the area that was causing the discomfort that led me to PT and eventually surgery was not actually that bad, but that they could see where the issue was.

Was the surgery unnecessary then? No. This was not going to get better and would probably have gotten worse. Taking care of it now just means an easier recovery and less time dealing with the mobility and pain issues. It’s kind of like when your check engine light comes on; you can go right to the dealer/mechanic and it won’t usually be such a bad problem…or you can drive on it for another couple of months and then find out that you’ve got a serious repair that will cost a lot more. I’d rather be proactive.

There were times over the past seven days when my arm felt fairly pain-free and others when the it was a little more intense. One night it even woke me up in the middle of the night twice; I fell back asleep with an ice pack on. Yesterday at PT, the therapist told me that this is actually quite normal. She said to expect it to continue for a while; I may even want to ice each time I do my PT exercises at home and before bed. So far, that hasn’t been necessary but we’ll see how things proceed.

The actual process of PT is changing as well. For the first 10 days or so almost everything I did was passive or assisted. Now that we’re past the two-week mark, we will begin to build up the muscle while continuing to work on mobility. I am happy about this even though I know that I might experience some aches and pains. I looked in the mirror yesterday and saw that my right bicep is definitely looking sad compared to my other arm. The rebuilding process will be a long one, but I have lots of reasons to want to get myself back in tip-top shape.

Next report when we hit the one-month mark. In the meantime, it is great to be back to doing the things I enjoy…within limits!

That’s what You Get for Exercising

Emergency Sling Demonstration (AMM 721) National Museum of Health and Medicine

I was on a Zoom call on Thursday when someone noticed that I was wearing a sling. I explained that I had bicep surgery and she said something along the lines of “that’s what you get for exercising.” I politely (but firmly responded) that I had overdone it at some point which is probably how I got injured, but that I would take exercising regularly over sitting on the couch any day as a strategy for healthy living.

It amazes me the “excuses” people come up with for not taking better care of themselves. Can you imagine someone having accidentally burned the dinner they were preparing at home and then declaring, “that is why I always get fast food?” (Actually, I can.) Ruining a meal is bound to happen once in a while; we either misread a recipe or get distracted and forget that something is on the stove top or in the oven, etc. Most of us just chalk it up to a learning experience and figure out what to make instead. The alternative–eating out all the time (even pre-Covid-19)–is simply not healthy or sustainable.

The same is true with exercising. It is true that those who workout/run/bike do get the occasional injury, and that many of us more susceptible as we age. Even so, the alternative of becoming sedentary is not an acceptable option. Sports injuries are usually repairable. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other maladies associated with a sedentary lifestyle are much more difficult to correct. As we live longer, it is all the more important to not only have quantity of life, but quality of life as well.

A large part of my “business” as a personal trainer is working with older adults. These are often those who are most afraid of injury, and rightly so. My clients understand, however, that being active (cardio, resistance, and mobility training) is a recipe for more energy and greater independence. Being able to keep up with grandchildren, hiking the Galapagos Islands, and staying in their own homes are “what they get for exercising.”

Looking at my should in a sling, one could correctly state: “that’s what you get for exercising,” but that misses the point. The fact that I am 57 and am able to run, bike, hike, and pretty much engage in whatever physical activities I desire (once I am recovered from my surgery) is also “what I get for exercising.” I’ll take my calculated risks knowing that in the long run the payoff is worth it.

One Week after Bicep Tendon Surgery

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It’s been a whole week since my surgery. Here’s the update!

This surgery has been a lot less difficult than I feared. Last year, when I had foot/leg surgery it ended up being a much bigger deal than I expected. I haven’t taken any painkillers since Sunday…which isn’t to say that I haven’t had pain. Rather, it is not severe enough to warrant taking something that has an addiction risk.

A few annoyances that I can live with: It is hard to find a comfortable way to sleep while wearing a sling so my sleep patterns are off. The support hose I have to wear to prevent blood clots are not the least bit attractive; not going to be wearing any shorts for another week. The sling and restricted mobility in my arm are an inconvenience, making it hard to brush teeth, eat, write, use a keyboard, etc. These are all things that will go away (God willing) in a week and, in the meantime, are not life altering.

I started PT on Monday and have been doing a number of exercises twice daily: pendulum circles, assisted lateral arm extensions, assisted forward arm extensions, assisted eccentric lateral rotations, assisted forearm extensions and hand-pumps. The “assisted” means that it is either supported by my arm or a prop like a table or cane. Not too taxing and I definitely can tell the difference; things are not nearly as stiff as they were. I will be going to PT twice weekly for the next five weeks.

The big news was that I went back to Personal Training today–virtually. Just one client, but it is a good way to get back into it. Tomorrow, I’ve got two clients and then–after clearance from my doctor–I should be able to start in-person training with some limitations next week. I still cannot lift anything heavier than a coffee cup with my right arm, so any demonstrating I do will have to be with my left arm. (My client today kept starting single-arm exercises and I had to reminder that she needed to use both arms; in other words, do as I say, not as I do!).

The other encouraging news is that I’ve communicated with a few other people who had the same surgery and who were really pleased with the results. The are working out, have rebuilt the muscle, and have no limitations. I don’t pretend that I’ll be there in a couple of months, but it is good to know that there don’t seem to be any long-term negative effects.

Next week, I’ll go back to some regular posts, but we’ll also have a 14-day update. Thanks for all the good wishes in the meantime!

72 Hours after Bicep Tendon Surgery

Gaia Zoo Skunk

Well, it is 72 hours after my surgery, and today I was finally able to take a shower. It was with great joy that I was finally able to bathe but the effort definitely wiped me out for most of the afternoon. I have had a few surgeries over the years, and I always forget how much effort and energy it takes to heal.

As you may recall from my previous post, the anesthesiologist went above and beyond. In fact, it wasn’t until Friday evening that I actually had the opportunity to ask my wife what the surgeon said about the procedure and what he found when he finally got in there. Of course, all of this had been explained to me earlier, but I was too high to either process it or remember it. The good news is that my case was somewhat rare for a good reason; the surgeon explained that it is quite unlikely that the MRI gives a complete picture of what will be found once they get inside. Often there are little surprises that pop up during the procedure. In my case, however, the MRI did an excellent job of predicting exactly what was going on. This meant that the surgery was rather “ordinary.”

So far, the pain has been less than I expected. It has been mostly controlled with prescription strength ibuprofen and acetaminophen. On Friday, I took a short walk and found that my stamina was pretty good. Later in the day I took another walk and discovered the same thing. I was pleasantly surprised until the pain block wore off. Since then I’ve had to back off quite a bit.

Tomorrow, I will begin physical therapy. My post-surgery instructions already have me doing pendulum swings with my right arm, but I am sure that new exercises will be added. In the meantime, it is quite an adventure learning to do things with my non-dominant arm like brushing teeth, eating, and opening and closing doors. I have a lot more respect for folks who are missing a limb or are in some other way limited in their use of an upper extremity. And for the record, this voice recognition program is not as helpful as I would have hoped.

Overall, I am grateful that I am doing as well as I am. These inconveniences are only temporary. I will keep you posted on my progress.

24 Hours after Bicep Tendon Surgery

Structure of the Shoulder 2

Yesterday I finally had my bicep tendon surgery. After 18 months of on and off physical therapy and 4 cortisone shots, this was the next step. As I wrote in a previous post, I see this procedure as regular maintenance–just as I would do for a car. As long as I take care of my body, I hope that it will last me a long time.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll talk to you about my progress so it might be of some use to others who may be in need of similar surgery.

On Wednesday, I got a phone call to arrive at the surgery center at 11 AM. I would estimate that surgery actually began around 12:30. Once the anesthesiologist got involved, there isn’t a whole lot that I remember. The last thing I can recall is getting some Versed, after which the doctor began to do an ultrasound of my neck to figure out the right spot in which to do the nerve block. I remember eating some graham crackers in recovery; I remember getting into a wheelchair to be wheeled out to the car; I have zero recollection of the ride home or how I changed into my pajamas or how I got into my bed… Which is, frankly, how I prefer it.

I will admit that I am not exactly sure what the procedure entailed. It is called bicep tenodesis. I tried to watch a video on YouTube, but after about 20 seconds, I decided it was probably a better idea to just let the doctor do his thing. What I do know is that my rotator cuff was in good condition and required no attention.

And now, the recovery. I have a sling that I have to wear for 2 weeks; on top of that sling is an ice pack that I will need to use for the next 24 hours or so. I have to wear compression hose for 2 weeks to prevent blood clots; let me assure you, it is quite a look. No shower until Sunday morning (ugh!). On Monday afternoon, I have physical therapy with my favorite therapist, Megan, at the Cleveland Clinic. Originally I thought I would be missing one week of work, although now it appears it could be 2 weeks. I won’t be able to do any lifting with that arm with anything heavier than a coffee cup for the next 6 weeks.

The real challenge is learning to do the things that are necessary for daily living with my left hand when I am righty. Believe it or not, I found a way to dictate text on my laptop and that is how I wrote this blog post.

Of course, this is not the best way to spend my summer, but I am confident that in the long run, the pain will be worth the gain. I would rather have this taken care of now so that I can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle and be the best personal trainer that I can be.

In the mean time, wishing everybody Shabbat Shalom, and a good weekend! I will keep you posted on my progress.

Losing Track of Time During the Pandemic

Please don't touch!

We have all seen the memes highlighting the difficulty in keeping days of the week and months of the year straight during this pandemic. For most of us, our regular routines (often decades-long) have been interrupted and each day seems the same as the one before sitting in front of a laptop at home. Others have been luckier (?) and have jobs that require them to be out of the house which may provide more of a rhythm. Even so, the almost non-existent Memorial Day weekend and July 4 celebrations downplayed these markers in our annual calendar. What day is it anyway?

In Chapter 41 of the Book of Genesis when Pharaoh was searching for someone to interpret his dreams, his cup-bearer says “Today I mention my sins.” The cup-bearer remembered that there was a man, Joseph, he had met in prison who was good at interpreting dreams. The only way the cup-bearer could bring this up, though, was to remind Pharaoh that at one time the King of Egypt had put him in the slammer. Today, this is an idiomatic expression in Hebrew used when someone must admit as part of a conversation something unpleasant that they had done earlier.

In today’s blog post, I mention my sins. Yesterday, Wednesday, was Rosh Chodesh Av–the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Av. And I completely forgot about it. It wasn’t until after sunset last night that I realized that they entire day had passed without me noticing. Not such a big deal, right? Actually, the day is marked with special prayers (Ya’aleh v’Yavo, Hallel, Musaf, Psalm 104) and I said my daily prayers (all three times) in the regular fashion. This hasn’t happened since I began doing thrice daily prayers over 30 years ago.

How did this happen? Typically, the New Moon is announced in synagogue the Shabbat morning beforehand. A Torah Scroll is held, everyone rises, and the prayer leader recites the special prayer including the name of the month and when it will begin. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my synagogue has not had in-person Saturday morning services, so the prayer was not recited. Even so, I still knew it was on Wednesday but I simply forgot. I’ll blame it on the pandemic.

It seems to me that a similar thing happens with our fitness regimen. Many of us before the pandemic were in the habit of going to the gym on certain days of the week. Certain days might be lifting days and others cardio. Regular gym-goers have a routine, a rhythm…and I have seen that erode with many of my clients. Not wanting to come into the gym, and not excited about a virtual workout time passes. It may seem like it’s only been a few days or maybe a couple of weeks without a workout…but for many it has been since mid-March–over 4 months!

I am working on a strategy so that I don’t miss Rosh Chodesh next month (the following month is Rosh Hashanah so I won’t miss that!). I am also encouraging my clients to form plans to get them in that fitness routine that means so much. It won’t be easy. This pandemic has really messed with us.

Time is too precious. It is holy. Let’s make a commitment to not lose track of it.

The Power of Negativity

Plus-minus Sign Plus And Minus Signs Symbol Mathematical Notation ...

And the results are in….NEGATIVE!

Yesterday I had to take a COVID-19 test in preparation for a surgical procedure on Thursday. I was pretty sure I’d be negative. I’ve had no fever, have worn my mask, maintained 6′, etc., but you never know.

I think for many of us over the last few months, even a sniffle or a tickle in the throat is cause for worry. Is it allergies or the plague? Do I need a ventilator or a Ricola? There is a pervasive anxiety that only a test can allay.

It is nice to know that I do not have the virus, but I realize that the test yesterday is only one snapshot in time. I could be exposed today (God forbid) and not even know it. The anxiety does not disappear. What is the case to be made for repeated testing?

As I said, although I expected it to come back negative, it is still a relief. Here’s hoping that many more of us follow the CDC recommendations so that we can turn this thing around. Let’s hope for as much negativity as possible!

My COVID-19 Test

Michigan National Guard conducts COVID-19 testing in Marquette

Today I had to get a COVID-19 test in preparation for a surgical procedure on Thursday. So what was it like?

The picture above pretty much sums it up. I had my test at the Cleveland Clinic main campus and somehow thought I would be going inside to do it. My GPS brought me to the main campus and as I was close to the address that they had given me I began to see signs by the side of the street pointing to the testing site. It was around one corner, around another, around another and then I saw the line of cars in a parking lot. “Not too bad,” I thought. Maybe 6 or 7 cars in front of me. A Cleveland Clinic Traffic Police Officer directed 3 cars at a time into a parking garage so I thought this would be relatively quick. I also realized that the test would be done while I was still in my car. I was finally directed into the parking garage and (as happens at Disney parks), there was another line inside. This line was for check-in. Once check-in was completed, there was another line. Finally, three cars were called ahead to three spaces inside the garage where I finally got the test.

It literally took about 5 seconds. It was not enjoyable. I felt like I wanted to sneeze, but it was not the least bit painful. It happened so quickly that there wasn’t enough time to process it.

20 or so minutes in line for a 5 second test. Given everything that is going on in our country and how the numbers are spiking in Ohio, I am grateful that it was this easy. I know that there are places in our nation where accessibility is a much greater issue.

Now I wait for 24-48 hours for my results. I am symptom-free and I have to get my temperature taken every time I walk into the building to work–so far without any issues. I expect that my result will be negative, but it is altogether possible that I have the virus and am simply asymptomatic. I am hoping for the best, and thankful that a test exists.

I will keep you posted. In the meantime, stay safe–distance yourself, wear your mask, and wash your hands!

Exploring Weight Bias

Scales

Over the past few months, our nation has been have a much-needed reckoning with the place of racism, bias, inequality and prejudice in our society. Many have come to realize that the issue is much deeper than we had imagined–perhaps because we are shielded from it–and that it is built into our society. Although we may not see ourselves as prejudiced, we participate in a system that has perpetuated injustice for centuries.

With all the awareness around the challenges (a euphemism to be sure) faced by people of color and members of the GLBTQ+ community, there are still others who are targets of bigoted behavior. Some of it is subtle and other expressions are much more explicit.

The most recent issue of IDEA Fitness Journal featured an article on Weight Bias. The article by Cassandra Padgett and Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, entitled “Weight Bias in the Health and Fitness Industry” focuses on what this means for us in the business of helping people to become more healthy, but it also explores the ways in which society views people who are overweight or obese. The article draws upon research that shows that “People who have a higher body weight are vulnerable to stereotypes, bias, bullying, and discrimination in our society.” [The Rudd Center, 2020]

Many of us will recognize this if we think about it. It is not okay to judge based on skin color, religion, sexual identity and orientation, country of origin, etc., but when it comes to weight somehow we get really judgmental. This is a problem in society in general, but this bias has greater impact in the fitness industry. The article notes that the bias can be explicit; in other words, there is conscious discrimination against people with higher body weights. There can also be implicit bias; it is often automatic and outside of our awareness. It often results from the “collective ideology of the fitness industry, stereotypes, or lack of personal experience or understanding of the complex etiology of obesity.”

Padgett and Digate Muth address the ways in which the industry can begin to remediate these issues. They also challenge personal trainers and related professional trainers to rethink how we address weight and its overall effect on total health. Reasons for obesity are complex and are influenced by a number of factors beyond just calories eaten. A person’s weight is not a reflection of their character or what they can contribute.

It is good that our society is beginning to sensitize itself to the ways that the “ins” treat the “outs.” This starts with a realization that there are “ins” and “outs.” There is lots of work to do out there. We can do much better as a nation than we are. I know that I have participated in a system (our society but more particularly the fitness industry) that has stigmatized those with higher body weights. While I cannot change the past, I can alter the way I approach people with higher weights and obesity. Rather than being an obstacle to better health, I hope that I can create a welcoming and affirming space for everyone regardless of their body fat percentage.

This is just one more facet of our national movement toward a more just, kind and healthy society.

The President Needs to Be a Bigger A$$hole

Donald Trump

It has been stated that leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand. [John Ortberg]

This means that being a leader isn’t about being like necessarily, or making others happy. Being a leader often means having to make difficult decisions that will disappoint others. The key is knowing how to do that and when to do that.

Disappointing others often means being an asshole. Let me explain. We’ve all been in that situation when we were about to do something stupid–maybe with a group of friends–and there is that one asshole who tells us how wrong it is, gets us to understand the long-term repercussions, and eventually talks us out of it. At the time, we are disappointed, but eventually we are grateful that they saved us from what could have been a tragic situation. They have disappointed us, but at a pace we can stand.

What we need now is for President Trump to be that asshole with COVID-19. Right now all the states are doing their own thing. Things are a mess and it is out of control. There is no one leader at the top telling us all the right thing to do; on the contrary, for a variety of reasons the President has avoiding doing this all along. It may be because he is afraid that he’ll appear weak or, more likely, because he does not want to disappoint American citizens by making us do something unpopular…like enforcing the wearing of masks, social distancing, and closing establishments that cannot guarantee a reasonable level of safety. Nobody wants to be an asshole, but often it is the asshole who saves our asses.

President Trump, we need you now–more than ever–to be that asshole. We need you to disappoint us by telling us we cannot do whatever we want. We need you to disappoint us by telling us that freedom also comes with responsibility. We need you to disappoint us by demanding that we all do what is necessary to control the spread of this virus before it wreaks further havoc on our health and our livelihoods.

Mr. Trump, we need you to be an asshole. I’m pretty sure you’re up to the task; you’ve been one before. More, now than ever, we need you to disappoint us. Please be the leading asshole in nation.