COVID-19

Packing on the pandemic pounds

Chicago Theater
Wet streets in the theater district

On one of our weekend getaways in Chicago, my wife and I got caught in a sudden heavy rain and were soaked through. We had tickets to the theater for that evening but no suitable dry clothes to wear. Still dripping, we popped into the Old Navy right there in the theater district and bought clothes that would do. They had chinos on a very good sale, and I ended up buying four pair. I chose the slim fit. They were a bit snug, but it was a good look on me.

I started putting on weight almost immediately when I started working from home in March. For a long time I’d hovered around 180 pounds on my six foot frame. It’s a healthy weight, but slightly heavier than I like. I look and feel better at 175 pounds, but in middle age I find that weight harder and harder to maintain. Thanks to pandemic stress and other life stress, I was eating and drinking more. It doesn’t help that my refrigerator is five feet from my home desk. I’ve also been less active — it’s remarkable how much walking I do when I go to the office. I felt my pants becoming tight, uncomfortably so.

In April I started using a calorie tracker to help me moderate my intake. It did help me overeat less, but I still struggled to hit my calorie targets. This is one reason I took so many walks and bike rides all summer, but as you can see in the chart below, they didn’t help. I slowly and steadily put on weight anyway. My weight gain only accelerated after the bike rides ended with the cold weather in October. Then I decided to let my guard down and enjoy as much holiday food as I wanted. As the weather grew even colder, I took fewer and fewer walks. Unsurprisingly, I quickly found myself pushing 190 pounds. Most of my slacks and jeans are now far too tight to wear, especially those slim-fit chinos.

Gaining weight during the pandemic

Historically, whenever I’ve eaten less and moved more I’ve easily shed pounds. A moderate reduction in calorie intake and a moderate increase in exercise would normally lead me back to about 180 pounds within a few months.

But there’s a possible monkey wrench in these works. In the last couple years I’ve developed Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid disorder. As I understand it, my immune system is attacking my thyroid, leading to its inflammation. I’ve had an underactive thyroid for 20 years, although past tests for Hashimoto’s always came back negative. I’ve taken the usual medication all these years, and it worked great for a long time. My labs show thyroid hormone levels within the acceptable range. Thyroid issues can be a culprit in weight gain — also in other symptoms I’m experiencing, including sluggishness and hair loss. But heavy stress, such as pandemic stress, can also explain all of these symptoms. So I’m not sure what the real root cause is.

My doctor and I have tried some dietary changes and a couple supplements aimed at reducing inflammation to see if they might reverse the Hashimoto’s. They helped a little. Now we’re trying a medication off label that has been known to help autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s. We’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, I’m doubling down on limiting how much I eat and drink, and stepping up my steps outside the house. I’m forcing myself to walk two miles each weekday before I start work, cold weather be damned. I will look for another chance to walk two miles in each day, at lunch if I can, and after work if I must. If I can get back to 185 pounds, where my pants all fit, I’ll be happy enough until I’m able to go back to the office and resume my pre-pandemic level of natural activity.

But today I ordered a few new pairs of chinos — same waist size, just in a roomier cut. They ought to be not uncomfortable at my current weight. I think I’m done with snug fits. Those slim-fit chinos are in our box of stuff to donate. It’s too bad, because those chinos had such a fun memory attached to them!

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COVID-19, Personal

Walking in the cold

I’ve regained all the weight I lost over the summer and am again 15 pounds over my ideal weight. I say that hesitantly, because it’s not like I have a weight problem. I’m only four pounds into the overweight category, according to this BMI calculator. Until I turned 40 I had a blast-furnace metabolism and could eat anything I wanted. Now, in my 50s, to keep my weight where I want it I need to limit calories and exercise a little. A thirty minute walk four or five times a week is all it takes.

Before COVID-19 sent knowledge workers everywhere to their home offices, I used to walk a fair amount just going about my day — between 2,000 and 4,000 steps, according to my iPhone’s step tracker. But now that I’m home all the time I am lucky to walk 500 steps in a day — unless I deliberately leave the house to take a walk.

Side street
I walk this road a lot. Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Agfa APX100 (x/7-98)

Trouble is, it’s cold. I hate the cold!

Over the summer, I couldn’t wait to get on my bike every day. I preferred the bike to walking, but that’s not to say a good walk didn’t have its own pleasures. But now? I have no desire whatsoever to be outside.

I’m starting to force myself. I put on a long overcoat and my earmuffs, and pull one of my COVID masks across my face. In middle age my teeth have become sensitive — they’ll ache for a couple hours if I walk thirty minutes in freezing temperatures. I know I can wrap a scarf around my face, but a COVID mask works just as well for this purpose and is a lot easier to manage.

We haven’t even hit the coldest part of the year yet. It’ll come, later this month or early next. We’ll see some days well below freezing, even below zero Fahrenheit. I’m ready. Since I was in high school I’ve owned a Korean War era Army topcoat. It hangs well below my knees, and it has a stout wool liner inside. It has repelled every cold nature has ever tried to throw at it. It’s Army green, so it’s hardly a fashion statement. But when it’s that cold, who cares?

I don’t mention it here much but I have a bum left foot. Bunion surgery in 2014 was supposed to alleviate the pain. It did, but it left me with a new and different pain. The ball of my foot and my big toe would both ache and go numb. My original podiatrist kept telling me it would heal in time, but it didn’t.

Healing up after the surgery

I found that I could walk nearly pain-free in Birkenstock sandals, which I wear whenever it’s warm enough. But that doesn’t work in the winter. After considerable trial and error I found an over-the-counter insert and a wool metatarsal pad that, together, made walking less uncomfortable. But long walks still irritated my foot.

I finally went to a different podiatrist this fall. He was awesome. He told me that either I had some scar tissue in there that was irritating a long nerve that runs along the big toe, or the original podiatrist nicked that nerve during the surgery. If it was scar tissue, he said, he could probably restore my foot to normal with a short course of steroid shots. But the only thing he could do for a damaged nerve would be surgery to cut it off entirely. He said he really didn’t want to do that as the end of my foot would permanently go fully numb.

He did some clever diagnostic work that, unfortunately, ruled out the scar tissue. It had to be a damaged nerve. “But all is not lost,” he said. He fashioned an insert for my left shoe that takes most of the pressure off the ball of my foot as I walk. It is almost as good as my Birkenstock sandals! At least foot pain isn’t a barrier to me walking anymore.

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