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This Far, No Further

There are two large scars near the crook of my elbow on my left arm. My fourteen-year-old step-son asked me straight up where I got them, and I told him straight up: They’re self-inflicted. From a very difficult time in my life. (He reeled back; he does not yet understand my views on the value of honesty or how desperately I want to live in a more honest world.)

I wrote extensively about this once upon a time, trying to process the difficulties of that year (2012, for the curious). I’ve thought about them consistently since, given that they serve as their own reminder. I’ve applied ointments and patches trying to diminish them, but I haven’t been consistent enough to see a real impact. But lately, I’ve thought more and more about making them a landmark on my body. Embracing that this was a place I was, something I grew from.

Tattooing your own self-inflicted injuries is not entirely uncommon, and it would serve this purpose. The question then becomes what tattoo would appropriately mark those painful memories. I’ve thought of a few things. A dragonfly, maybe. Or the roots of a tree. But in the end, I think I would opt for a Star Trek quote.

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Emotional Floods of Stretching, Zumba

Whether it’s because of my gluten-free experiment or some other element of the current equation, I am doing more self-care — exercise, meditation, conscious eating — than I have in several months. Since before my wedding and the madness that planning that wedding entailed. Meditation has long been a staple of my mental health, and it’s been a relief to get back to it.

I also did yoga for the first time in … oh … months, again. My legs have been aching, the ankles and calves tight with the knees suffering as a result. So I spent 20 minutes doing yoga positions to help, then another 10 doing some of my other favorite positions (that don’t put weight on the shoulder). I was surprised — and it’s not the first time I’ve been surprised by this — by how stretching seems to release pent-up emotions into the body.

Along with the stretching, the pain of it, the pushing through the tautness of muscles and the pain, there were surges of sadness, of emotions something like grief. Grief for what I’m not sure I’ll ever place. The frustration of these last months, or the pains of these last years, or some other thing entirely. But when I stretch, when I push through and hold, it relieves the tension. It uncages the emotions. It can be overwhelming, and there is a sweetness that remains after. A relief.

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Observations on the First Gluten-Free Week

So, my weight has been all over the place this last week. The exact weight impact was something that I wanted to check out, because (as I mentioned) when I did a month gluten-free last year I lost 16 pounds. That time also happened to correspond with when I started a powerful amphetamine medication. I’ve blamed the amphetamines for the weight loss in its entirely, but I’m partially testing if the gluten-free thing had any impact. So the answer is: maybe?

My average weight during the week was almost 2.5 pounds less than the average of the week prior. But it also bounced between extremes, with 282.4 as a high and 289.4 as a high. Such a wide spread is unusual, and not all of the highs were congregating at the beginning of the week. In conclusion, then, I have no damn idea. I’ll get a better sense as I see the average progress.

How about energy? Here, I think I’m doing better than average, though this is again difficult to say for certain. Having more fresh, non-processed foods — especially in the fruit and vegg category — seems to have given my energy a notable boost. I’m also massively caffeine dependent right now, so it’s hard to separate out what the exact caffeine dose is doing and what is due to other elements. But in contrast with a similar dependency on caffeine in the week prior, my energy did seem to be up.

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I Come Bearing Questions

As you can probably tell, a lot of this stuff is just me free-writing. Talking helps me think, and it feels more orderly and useful if I can do it with an “audience,” even if I recognize that audience is purely hypothetical. And I like to think that maybe, just maybe, someone else will be able to learn from my struggles and skip forward a few steps. Maybe others are asking the same questions I am, and the way I approach those questions can help others with their own process.

I’ve thought about making this its own website. Reasons I’m not doing that are plentiful. It would mean having no audience. It would mean setup time for a project that I may just abandon. Instead, I’m just changing the site’s architecture a bit, so that the health stuff will now be on robbieblair.com/req/.

So, Rob’s Epic Quest for Health and Sanity continues. I come with very few answers, trying my best to question my own opinions. What I have in plenty are my questions. I hope they’re of some use to you.

My Wheat-Free Experiment

I do not have celiac’s disease. Or anyway, I don’t think I do. I have a couple symptoms that crop up from time to time, and others in my family have it, so maybe I’ve got an undiagnosed case. But on the overall, I’ve never found it likely enough to have it checked.

What I do have is a strong tendency to opt for highly processed simple carbs for the majority of my daily caloric intake. Extremes like donuts and cookies, but also other accessible foods like danishes, bagels, and sandwiches. Wheat products are easy to get, they’re cheap, and they don’t seem to satiate me.

Satiety is the first big question mark here. I want to eat according to my appetite, but is my body really able to “understand” the calories from highly processed wheat products? I seem to feel more full with far fewer calories if I opt for non-wheat items instead. Even just going for oatmeal instead of a danish, for example, shows that I get more out of fewer calories. What if — and this is still just a question at this point — but what if my body wants to gravitate toward a lower weight, but my tendency toward highly processed wheat products is making it almost impossible for my body to accurately gauge caloric intake?

I believe in intuition and communication with the body as a key to being healthy, be it regarding weight or in the broader sense of the term. So that is the first question I hope to answer: Does processed wheat products interfere with my body’s ability to feel satisfied with the appropriate amount of nourishment? And, connected to that, do non-wheat products inherently offer my body more satiation?

The reasons why could be manifold. Maybe I really do have undiagnosed celiacs, at one extreme. Or maybe human evolution hasn’t caught up to the amount of processed wheat we now have in our diets. Or maybe it’s just my genetic code. Or maybe it’s just that the idea of intuitive eating must walk hand in hand with less processed foods, because the same things that “process” the foods also cause a disconnect with our bodies. Or maybe it’s just this whole other thing related to the second question:

Does veering away from wheat products lead me to better health, regardless of the relationship to satiety? Maybe there’s nothing about wheat itself that’s particularly bad, but there is something good about a diet that’s mostly made up of plant-based carbs and proteins. Maybe it’s not that avoiding wheat is at all important, but that getting a ton more fruits and veggies is a key to improving my health.

Saying “no wheat” is way, way easier for me than saying “only eat wheat products in moderation and have at least 70% of daily caloric intake from plant-based sources or complex, unprocessed grains,” for example. Changing a complex and potentially imprecise algorithm (“when hungry, if percent of caloric intake thus far is above X, then opt for any product including wheat; else select non-wheat product”) to a binary (“when hungry, select non-wheat product”) makes things simpler. It takes less willpower. It’s not that I’m arguing it would necessarily be better than wheat in moderation. It’s just that it’s way, way easier.

Maybe that’s a personal shortcoming, you know? But I’ve seen it elsewhere, in others. With meat, for example. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian for 14 years now, and I’ve plenty of other people try vegetarianism. Often, they decide they want a compromise. They will start eating meat again, but they’ll make sure it’s ethically sourced. Except they don’t actually do that. They just eat meat again. Once it’s not off the table, it’s way too easy to make other exceptions, to not apply the complex “is it ethically sourced” series of questions and decisions. A simple binary makes my life easier. And I’m not actually arguing that this is ethically superior to eating the right kind of meat. Arguably, giving ethical meat products your money increases their market share and has the potential to shift our cultural perspective on factory farming, etc., more quickly than just opting out of meat entirely. It’s just way, way harder to do this than to just opt out. Which is why most former vegetarians I know who chose to just go for ethically sourced wound up becoming, basically, your standard meat-eaters. And it’s why I’m going totally without wheat.

I’m doing this for a month, at least to start. I went gluten-free before. It was back when I was doing the whole vegan shtick, too. But it was also when I was starting on medication. And it was when I decided to take three fitness classes as part of my college schedule. When I lost 16 pounds the first month, I blamed it all on the medication — which was, admittedly, a crazy bit of medication. But I never isolated the variables, never checked to see if opting out of wheat might have been a larger portion of the equation than I’d credited it for.

Maybe it’s the fulcrum I need. Maybe it will connect me more to my body, give me more energy, help motivate me to exercise, get me enough results on my weight that I recover from the backslide and am motivated to make the further changes necessary for sustainable health.

I’m done being in the shape I’m in. I’m done struggling with the complex social and philosophical elements. I just want to be thinner. I don’t want to have to worry about buying a second airplane seat or whether I’ll be able to find pants in my size or whether other people are perceiving me largely as my weight. I want freedom of movement in the world, freedom from the stigma of obesity. I’m just done, you know? I’m just done. And if this experiment might help, then that’s where I’ll go first.

In Search of a Fulcrum Point

For those few of you who have been paying attention to these posts, a hearty hello. Yes, I clearly abandoned my last experiment, though the reasons are as much about my circumstances as they are about the experiment itself. I went in for surgery on July 18th, and it’s been a real challenge keeping up on my health goals since. The stress of recovery and the inability to make use of the better of my established habits (e.g., biking to work), in addition to the depression that set in due to this struggle, led to some notable back-sliding.

I’m at a stage in my health where I’m more or less tossing my hands into the air and saying, “I don’t know a damn thing.” I’ve tried taking various philosophical and even oddly sociological approaches, diving at self-acceptance and intuitive eating. I’ve tried the opposite end, with meticulous tracking and self-shaming. These things haven’t worked in a sustainable way, but life is always so damn complex that it’s hard to really hone in on why.

I want to make changes, and I’ve had moderate success with that over these last couple of years. My main fulcrum point was getting into cycling, which helped connect me to my body and built exercise into my days. Now that I can’t bike (estimated opportunity to re-commence biking is currently April 2018), I feel like the machine is broken. No other exercise routine that I’ve found serves the same functions. Biking was joyful, purposeful, malleable, connected me to the world outside, and so on and so forth. I’m eager to get back to it.

In the meantime, I’ve thought through other fulcrum possibilities, and I’ve more or less settled on the next experiment: a radical nourishment change as a hopeful fulcrum. If I can’t get into exercise readily, nourishment is still accessible. I’ve not used it successfully as a fulcrum point for my health before, but I’m hoping that I can find a way to do so. It is far less conditional, after all, and if I’m able to figure out something that works, it could serve as an important long-term asset.

Braving the Scale

It wasn’t so much fear of the scale that prevented me from using it. It was that I hadn’t dug it out of the mess in the garage. Not digging it out of the mess in the garage? That was out of so much fear of knowing that, once I dug it out, I would be weighing myself again. And I was freaked out.

I knew I’d gained weight. I knew that I wasn’t using my two tightest belt loops. I knew that pants that fit comfortably before all this were now snug, and I couldn’t just blame it on laundry done with hot water.

Logic said I probably gained about 10 pounds from the last time I’d weighed in. Fear said it was a whole lot more. It was worried to find out.

The good news? I gained about 6 pounds. A little more. Of course, I’d also gained some weight prior to my previous weigh-in. Major stress related to the wedding started in early April, and I started to fall behind on several goals. In all, from my lowest recent weigh-in (back in April), I’ve gained 10 pounds.

On the one hand, I get it. Let’s say a friend of mine walked up to me and said, “Hey, I just went through three months of stress for planning a wedding, taking care of a fiance who had pneumonia right before said wedding, and going to a grad school residency. And beyond that, I went really lax in eating and activity goals during the wedding itself and the subsequent honeymoon. Now I’ve gained 10 pounds.” My reply would be something like, “Well, yeah.” Maybe some empathy and stuff too, but mostly just that shrugging acceptance. Because that just seems like a reasonable situation in which to gain some weight. Three and a half pounds a month in that context doesn’t seem absurd.

But also, I’ve been working hard at this for a long while now. And feeling like I’m now set back to the weight I was at the beginning of March is disheartening. There are things I feel like I won’t get “access” to until I’m in better shape. The ability to do some more active things without holding others back. The ability to go on certain types of trips or do certain types of activities. That sort of deal.

Whatever. It’s good to know where I’m at. It’s good that it’s not what I expected (280). It’s good that it’s not worse than I feared. It’s good that I’m looking at the situation and re-focusing.

Plus, there’s this thing some Tarot cards told me tonight. (Long-ish explanation there, so I’m just skipping to the conclusion.) That, while it’s important and practical to focus on goals, this can lead to an unproductive sense of loss. What really matters in keeping in mind how I want to feel and behave and be kind to myself each day. That, while swift change is good, a focus on the goals without the core sense of actually wanting and being invested in the process (getting joy out of treating my body better, that is), I can easily work myself into a sense of helplessness.

So, yeah. I’m trying to pay attention to that, among other things. And I am, in fact, feeling pretty re-focused. (Did that liquid cleanse, followed by a mini liquid cleanse to soft reset after the sillyness of July 4th).