Lipoprotein(a)

Blood test extract

Whenever a medico talks to you about heart disease, they put you through a risk factor calculator. A key factor is family history of cardiac problems. This has bothered me because you might merely inherit your parent’s bad diet/exercise/smoking habits, rather than possess a genetic problem handed down.

Well, I’m a bit wiser now. My first bloods since the August scare included, on the insistence of Dr Mackay, my “second doctor,” something called Lp(a). Lipoprotein(a), that is. I had no clue what it meant until he wised me up. 10-20% of the population has this marker, which indicates the presence in arteries of another sticky protein like “bad” LDL. It’s genetic and can’t be “fixed” with diet/exercise/etc. or with any pills.

As Dr Mackay put it, once you know you have a high Lp(a), you need to “tick all the boxes”: keep yourself lean; lower your blood pressure; exercise; avoid dairy/eggs (let alone meat); and get your LDL down to below 2 mmol/L. This new WFPB diet is an attempt to do just that.

The psychic pressure of blood pressure

Blood pressure monitor

One of the reasons I’m trying out a Whole-Food Plant-Based diet is that I bought a blood pressure monitor after my heart scare in winter. I had never paid any attention to my blood pressure. Why should I? I was fit and healthy! Whenever a GP took my blood pressure as part of an examination, I forgot the funny numbers immediately. Even when, more recently, I began to be told that I on the “high end of normal blood pressure,” I blocked out the message.

In July I could not reel off the numbers at all, so I bought a cheap machine in September and began recording daily numbers. What a wake-up call! Essentially I was at 140/95, sometimes at 150/100.

Five months into the diet, the numbers vacillate but the trend is definitely downhill. I’m recording under 130/80 and last week’s average was 150/85. Pam is at 110/something. Is there any hope of me eventually getting down to that level?

Health Big Year: at last I can begin

Whole Foods Plant Based Diet image

I’ve been silent on this blog but not for lack of daily attention to that core existential issue of health and energy. Let me recap for my own benefit. At the start of August an angiogram seemed at first to be a blessed relief. One artery is 30-40% blocked … no stents, no bypass. But by the end of the month, it dawned on me that I now have a “heart condition” and will be prescribed statins/aspirin for the rest of my life, It seemed illogical to just grin and bear the diagnosis and drugs.

My local GP is incredibly supportive but has minimal grounding on nutrition, so I went and saw Dr Malcolm Mackay, Australia’s leading proponent of preventative/curative medicine through a dietary regime called WFPB (Whole Foods Plant Based). i tried it for three days, regressed, then, five weeks ago, adopted the diet on an experimental basis. “I’ll try it for a while,” I told the world and myself, “and see if it makes any difference.”

WFPB sounds benign. After all, we’re all trying to eat more veggies, right? And we all know we should resist highly processed foods. But in reality, WFPB is veganism plus eliminating all oils (trying to get fats down to 10% to 15% of what you eat) plus saying no to all processed foods. With one step into the unknown, you become someone who only goes into supermarkets to buy vegetables, fruits, lentils, beans, and a few nuts. Plus selected low-fat vegan foods. On top of that, it turned out I have high blood pressure, who knew? That means reducing salt intake to a minimum. Believe me, this last stricture is one of the toughest.

I’ve had to learn a whole new way of eating and preparing/cooking foods. At book group meetings, I can now only eat carrot sticks and a bit of hummus (if it’s low-fat and low-salt). I’ve spent the last five weeks obsessively reading up on the diet (and its opponents and alternatives, for there is much controversy), sourcing the strictly regimented ingredients, tracking precisely what goes into my mouth (via an app, for how else can I come to grips with what to eat in a day and how much?), stocking the pantry and freezer with items, and cooking new things and in a new way.

Five weeks isn’t long enough to settle the experiment, but it is enough to settle down into it, and to stop being obsessed. And my first blood test results since August confirm that the diet is very friendly to my body. I’ve lost six kilograms, my cholesterol is way down (partly, of course, due to the fricking statins), my blood pressure has ticked down a bit, and I feel great.

So … I’m back in action as a writer. I’ll blog on this health experiment going forward, mostly to sort out in my mind whether it is in fact worth doing. After five weeks, I can now relax into the world and see where I end up.

Daily in Darwin

Lucky Bat cafe

Grandparenting in Darwin (what greater pleasure could there be?), I aimed to work full days on eight of my twelve days, amounting to around sixty hours. I came with material from three earlier chapters.

After nine days, my records indicate that I’ve never managed to do a full day, but have managed to be selfish enough to work each and every day, five hours on average. If I keep at it, I’ll come to 90% of my target. Mostly I’ve worked at this same spot at Lucky Bat, looking out at a blue sky.

And the quality of the work (always an issue)? Not bad at all. One chapter moves slower than hoped, another was whipped into shape gratifyingly quickly, and the third task just needs a day toward the end of my Darwin stay. Overall, at least on the work front, I can feel pleased with myself. And I don’t often say that.

We are mysteries to ourselves

Plot cards

I’m currently redrafting a fascinating and soundly plotted, but really messy, chapter. I last tackled it a while back, quite a long time ago. I found amongst my physical “stuff” collected during the previous draft a set of 64 “mini plot cards,” terse narrative instructions set in a particular year and focusing on one or two events. In the past, I clearly went through all my notes and thought it a good idea to structure the chapter with 64 narrative waypoints. Well, it seems the existing draft doesn’t follow those plot cards at all, indeed it is structured completely differently as five big blocks of narrative storytelling. I can find no evidence I ever used the plot cards and have no memory of constructing them. Nor does there seem any point in now doing anything with them.

I decide to copy them for a soft-copy record, file them, and move on. A mystery…

Cardio

Stationary bikes

I can find no exercise “rhythm.” When I was jogging 10 kms four times a week, employing different street routes, it felt like my life revolved around this wonderful and beneficial discipline. I also tried to get to the gym on the other three days, but in some ways, it never mattered if I didn’t. As long as I stuck to the jogging routine, I was happy and blooming.

Now that jogging is tough, with 3 kms an ordeal, with an overweight body huffing and puffing, with semi-regular tiny injuries always popping up, there is no discipline at all. I do manage to achieve some regularity with gym sessions, but where is the intrinsic joy in that?

But a few friends and family have suggested I add stationary bike sessions to my jogging ordeals. I’m exploring using a heart rate monitor and have found that sticking to Zone 2, around 60-70% of my maximum heart rate, while pumping the legs, is readily doable and produces something of the inner glow I used to get on longer runs. Perhaps this is the answer, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. The trick is to find an immutable schedule, whereby I “just do it,” mixing puffing jogs and steady indoor cycling. When I return from Darwin, this will be a daily focus.

Update

WA mountain

This Publication Big Year forges onwards, not as an unstoppable wave (wouldn’t that be marvelous?) but as disjointed periods of grinding attack followed by a regrouping onto new chapters. Each time I regroup, it feels like I’m ascending a path into hazy clouds. Who knows what is ahead?

Cutting the nexus

Two spheres

My thinking is convoluted at the moment but it makes sense to me. I’ve realized I struggle huge tensions between my mental/physical health and focusing on the book work. When one sphere disappoints, I blame the other sphere of attention, and my mind rolls around and around and around.

Well, today I can see a way forward. I have my work (one sphere) and my life’s energy (the other sphere). They’re both important but I don’t entangle them. They float in space, if you like, bumping rarely. I try and fit my workday into the main part of the day, and during that I don’t worry about what I’m doing to be healthy and mentally grounded. Early in the morning, I do the exercise I need (but if I miss out, for example by sleeping in, well, I wait until tomorrow), and I have flexible rules on what I can and can’t eat, and the period from late afternoon until bedtime is when I I mop up the day and look after myself.

Sounds silly? It does, even to me. But I’ll try it.

The numbers

Numbers

Over the last four weeks, I took two days off a week, so had five workdays each week. I’m very much trying to make every workday just a drafting day, rather than branching off into research, reviewing, other projects, etc., but didn’t do too well, spending a day and a half each week on such fun but ultimately unproductive work. I’m currently working on two chapters and they each got around nearly two days a week. One was bureaucratic reference stocktaking, the other stunned me with how long it took to advance an incoherent draft to the next stage (still rather incoherent, I must say).

All in all, the first month or so of this Publication Big Year disappoints greatly. If I’d kept my eye on the ball more, if I’d worked with more applied energy day in and day out, I think I’d have reached my current status a fortnight ago. This cannot continue, I rage to myself.

I have taken actions, most especially stripping out most of my beloved book reading for the next period. The next fortnight is crucial.