In November when I normally participate in the writing marathon NaNoWriMo, it was decided that my eldest daughter could move out of the assisted living home into her first ever flat that she wanted to share with her BFF. We agreed that she should be trained in budgeting and cooking until the two girls found a suitable flat. Of course considering the current limited market for flats, we thought we’d have three to four months to get everything sorted.
Surprise, surprise, by the second week of November, they had secured a newly renovated flat that lay in the budget (money-wise and size-wise) with four rooms, a big kitchen, a bath room and a separate toilet room. The girls were excited … me too until I realized how much trouble that spelled for me: bureaucracy. I filled in application after application, canceled living quarters here, ordered energy there … One day I took twenty-two letters to the post office, mostly applications for one thing or the other.
It seemed to take forever, but in early December, we got the go ahead and were able to finally sign the rental agreement. So the kids began to pack their things. In the excitement, they cycled box after box of stuff from their old living quarters to the new flat. Expecting to get most boxes out of the way easily, I drove to my daughter’s best friend’s 6th floor flat with my car to empty it out except for the furniture that would need a van (to be rented).
We worked from morning till nightfall, and there was still more (It wasn’t as bad as in the picture, though). So the kids used their bikes again the next day. Then, the flat’s neighbor attacked my daughter’s BFF with a picture on a canvas so badly that the BFF had a severe concussion. The police got involved which meant we had to go to the Police station to give our statements. Then, the landlord’s property manager set a tight deadline. Due to the holidays, the flat had to be empty by 4pm on the 28th, and the bedroom, which had been painted green by the previous inhabitant, had to be painted white (that was last Tuesday).
I alerted my family and friends, and great guys that they are, they came. In a concerted effort we emptied the flat, painted the room, carted all the furniture to the new flat (4th floor), put all the bulky waste on a trailer, and cleaned everything. Trust me, I’ve never been this tired in my life.
Therefore I’m hoping for a peaceful and quiet Christmas time. I will not write between the years even though I urgently need to. I’ll read and relax so I’ll be fit again for next year.
And I wish you the same.
I’m sorry for not writing any Christmas cards this year or for sending out presents too late. But as you can see, there weren’t enough hours in the day and not enough energy in my aging body. Hugs to everyone who things (s)he needs a hug. Those I’ve got plenty.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
We’ll see/read each other again in 2019 (I promise more blog posts about the road trip I took with my husband, and about my diabetes controlling efforts).
To get my weight down and become free from diabetes, I decided to start a second round of strict application of Dr. Fung’s recommendations. Since I love science (after all I’ve got a PhD in science), I decided to document my journey.
Therefore, I got my husband to wear one of my Freestyle Libre pads for a week as a first step. He is slim and non-diabetic, so I got a baseline I could aim for. In the picture on the left, you see the data for two typical days for me (and that’s already spectacular for a diabetic). On the right is a picture of the data of two typical days of my husband (the baseline I’m aiming for). You can increase the sze of the pictures by clicking on them (they’ll open in a new tab).
You can see that his measurements (the blue line) are nearly always (99%) inside the grey area that indicates good blood sugar levels. Also, his spikes are much more pointy, which means that even when his blood sugar spikes, it comes down fast. My blood sugar spikes are much more rounded which means it takes my body a lot longer to get it transported out of the blood stream. Also, on average, my blue line is higher than his and more of my spikes leave the grey area.
For better comparison, I accumulated data for one week for both of us (an option of my analytical program) into a graph of daily averages (see the next two graphs, mine is on the left, hubbys on the right).
Not only is my Median (that’s a special kind of average; if you’re into math, you can find an explanation here) much higher than his, the spread is much wider (meaning that there are more data points with much higher or lower values than the Median than in my husband’s data pool) and the nightly dips aren’t as pronounced.
So my goal is to get my weekly accumulated Median as close to his as possible over the next months. I’d be happy if you’d share my journey. If you decide to play along, please let me know if Dr. Fung’s advice works for you. Next week I’ll tell you more about my journey (mostly how I felt, how successful I was at keeping to Dr. Fung’s recommendations, and the changes to my weight and diabetic data).
One of the shops we visited was a smithy. I was surprised by the tiny size of the fireplace (that’s the little gridiron in the middle of the red painted wall). I think in winter, it must have been quite cold for those people who didn’t have floor heating. After all, Germany was colder, wetter, and all in all less comfortable that Italy. I’m sure many of the inhabitants wished they’d stayed in Rome.
The smithy worked with silver if I remember correctly. For an iron forge, the furnace is too small. Not too far from the recreated houses were the remains of a iron forge, and it had three furnaces and ground heating. However, it hadn’t been reconstructed, so one had to use one’s imagination.
Everyone who owned a little shop worked and sold their wares from home (on the other side of the bellows, outside the picture, is the room-wide wooden counter for selling wares; the whole front of the room could be opened to the street). There was no separation between small and medium sized businesses and the owner’s living quarters. They were mostly in the same house. Only big industries (like the dockyards, farming, or stone masonry) had their work-spaces outside the city.
Romans loved luxury, and those who could afford it, wanted to celebrate like in Rome. So there were restaurants with bed-sofas. Each of the little rooms (see picture) could hold nine men (no women allowed there unless they were whores). It surprised me to learn that Romans didn’t always lie down for eating. That was only done for feasting. At home, they had wooden tables with chairs or stools. The children often stood while eating.
Romans also insisted on cleanliness. Bath houses were spread throughout the city so every citizen had access. There was a really big one for the higher classes near the town center, but the park’s owners had built the museum on top of it. Still, there were enough foundations to understand the basic layout. Also, they had reconstructed on of the bath houses.
The genders bathed in different facilities. The first room a customer entered was a cold room for undressing. The next one was already quite warm and had basins with warm and cold water. It as often used for shaving and washing before one went on to the last room. Upon one’s return it also served for cooling down slowly. It was heated extremely well and the water was as warm as it is in one of today’s bathtubs. The main point of this room was relaxation (and surely talking business as well). The big bathhouse had some smaller rooms at the side for massages or whoring or simply for resting, but the reconstructed bathhouse didn’t have those.
I was most delighted by the colorful designs of the houses. The archeologists used historical finds from other areas to recreate the rooms, and they were much more colorful than what I’d anticipated.
In a nutshell, Dr. Fung recommends to eat more fat and less carbohydrates (because those are responsible for high insulin levels that trigger weight gain and diabetes) and condense the times you eat into as small a time window as you can stand. The minimum time between the last meal of the day and the first meal of the next day should be 16 hours or more. That is called intermittent fasting.
The first time I followed Dr. Fung’s method, I ate once a day from Monday to Friday and kept carbohydrates (see picture on the left) to a minimum. On Saturday or Sunday, I allowed myself to eat bread (the one craving I had) and ate three times a day (late breakfast, normal lunch, early dinner; keep in mind that Germans usually eat a cooked lunch and bread for dinner). I did not touch any alcohol.
What surprised me most was that I did not feel tired and that I did not crave food all the time. My energy levels were up, I was alert and felt well rested even if I slept too little. My blood pressure and heart rate went down too (I kept measuring those because I also have high blood pressure). At the end of my first time (taken out of context that phrase suggests something completely different, grin), I’d lost 10kg/22lbs without a struggle and all of the health parameters I’m controlling improved.
But why? Well, the reason is insulin.
With the constant availability of food, sweetened drinks, and alcohol, people started eating more than 3 times a day and increased the average intake of sweet drinks and alcohol. That forced the body to produce insulin 24/7. The bad thing about insulin is that as long as it’s there, the body cells will get less and less receptive to it. An insulin resistance develops = Diabetes II!
Also, insulin is responsible for the storage of energy. The more insulin a body produces and the longer it’s in the blood, the more energy will get stored in your fat cells: weight gain!
Therefore insulin is responsible for obesity and diabetes type II. Dr. Fung’s recommendation to eat more fat (which triggers a much lower discharge of insulin) and less often (reducing insulin levels to zero between meals) helps in both cases.
At the end of the summer, after being completely certain that his method is the solution to both of my problems, I decided to go about this a little more scientifically. I’ll tell you all about it next week.
Truly spectacular was the reconstructed housing complex. The new houses were built over the foundations of the original Roman houses but with a security layer so the originals wouldn’t get harmed in any way. The whole complex was surrounded by roof covered sidewalks. The ground of the sidewalks differed from one property to the next since every home owner had their preference. They were allowed to use different sorts of paving or stamped earth.
Visiting the houses brought to life the way humans have lived so long ago. Each house had a little garden with a shed or another small building on it. The outhouses usually contained the toilet and rooms for the slaves, equipment, and provisions. In the main house the family rooms were on the first floor. The ground floor consisted mostly in a shop that was open to the paved road outside. Only a wooden counter separated the shop from the sidewalk.
The houses were built of tamped loam and decorated prettily with bright colors. The roofs were mostly tiled, only a few of the sheds were shingled. An interesting fact is that none of the houses had chimneys, even though every room had a small fire place, and the houses of the richer people had floor heating. The view from a rear window or balcony resembles those of a serial house today: long, narrow garden, walls (today it’s fences) between the properties, and grass (often with a few bushes) on the ground.
The rooms of the family on the first floor were beautifully decorated but sparsely furnished. Romans were very fond of bright colors and regular patterns. The room in the picture would have been the bedroom of a whole biological family (there was a crib in the other corner but it didn’t fit into the picture and I didn’t dare move it), most likely the home owner’s. The parents would sleep in the double bed, the children in the spare bed, and the baby in the crib. Servants slept on the same floor in rooms with less decoration. Everyone owned a trunk for their belongings.
Only the slaves did not stay in the houses over night. They had a separate platform above important equipment and/or provisions. All slaves slept on the platform in bedrolls.
I found it surprising how much comfort the Romans already had. Their lifestyle wasn’t all that different from ours. When one thinks of the Iron Age, one doesn’t expect this kind of lifestyle. The recreated houses impressed on me how much the Germans missed out on when Arminius defeated the Romans. True, they weren’t exactly easy masters, and freedom is important. However, the kind of civilization they would have brought might have changed my home country in a way that would still matter today.
When I kept to the dietary recommendations of the doctors I’d been talking to, I hated every minute of loosing weight (although I was happy with the result). The constant hunger made me think of food all the time, and the added sport ate into my writing time until I began to loathe it. Enter Holly Lisle, writing coach extraordinaire. She’d been battling tongue cancer and beginning diabetes successfully and recommended two books by Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist (specialist for kidneys) who had decided it would be better to battle diabetes than handling the fallout (kidney failure with dialyses).
Like all other doctors I’d consulted, he recommends weight loss to battle diabetes. However, he said that reducing fat and carbohydrates was the wrong strategy. And the reason—how surprising—is the body’s reaction to such a diet: the permanent craving of food. His solution is as simple as it is logical.
Reducing fat and carbohydrates forces the body to live on proteins, and they do not provide enough energy. Since carbohydrates are what’s causing the biggest insulin problems (I’ll talk about that next week), the amount of fat in the diet needs to go up.
When I was studying in Scotland (about x years ago), I was always pressed for time. So my main dish was bread with fried cheese and some cress or salad. Naturally the bread dripped with fat. I lost a lot of weight back then, an unforeseen but welcome effect. Unfortunately I drew the wrong conclusions thinking the weight loss a result to the stress at university, especially when it came back after returning to Germany. With Dr. Fung’s finds, I finally got the right perspective.
Dr. Fung also said that the time a person eats has a significant influence on how the body reacts to food (read the books for proof). Since that was exactly what I found when I monitored my diabetes, my initial skepticism melted away and I set out to see if his method truly worked.
Right before the summer holidays, I followed his recommendations for six weeks and lost 10kg/22lbs without feeling hungry once. During the holidays, with the kids at home, it was impossible to keep this up, but I did manage to keep my food intake to two low carbohydrate meals a day. I did not gain a singe gram over the summer (something I normally find very hard to do). Next week I’ll tell you more about the method and why it works.
Eventually we came to the reconstructed houses and the part that interested my husband a lot: the toilets (after all, he’s head of a waste water disposal facility). As we already knew from books, the Romans used toilets with more than one seat and no separations between (see photo). They often met in toilets to talk business. Below the wooden (or sometimes stone) seats, there was running water that took the feces away. The Romans used sticks with a cloth wrapped end that they dipped into the water to clean their private parts.
No one was offended by using a toilet with other people. There were toilets for men and for women but also toilets where men and women went together. As our guide said, toilets were a favorite place for whores to hang around.
Interesting enough, the proverb ‘money does not stink’ (pecunia non olet) does not come from a tax on multi-people toilets as I’d thought. It is ascribed to the Roman emperor Vespasian who put a tax on the distribution of urine from public urinals (the Roman lower classes urinated into amphorae which were emptied into cesspools). The urine collected from public urinals was sold as an ingredient for tanning, for laundry, and for cleaning and whitening woolen togas.
The Romans also knew that waste water for more than a handful of people needed to be taken care of (after all there were ca. 5,000 people living in that town). Therefore, they build a deep, covered canal (the Cloaca Maxima, see photo) with sidearms to every block of houses. Smaller canals came from the individual houses to these sidearms. The water that ran constantly through the toilets flushed the Cloaca Maxima and the feces ended up in the Rhine that took them away.
In some places there were access hatches indicating that there were people who took care that the Cloaca Maxima didn’t get clogged. Imagine the stink in the tight place there (the height of the Cloaca Maxima in Xanthen was barely 1.5 m), and you know how miserable a person had to be (or how high the pay) to take that job. 😀
Clean drinking water did not come from the Rhine (and for very good reasons, imho) but from a spring in the nearby mountains. An aqueduct brought it directly into the city where it was distributed to the houses, to the bath houses, and especially to the toilets. However, for washing and other water-consuming tasks, Romans often used rainwater collected in cisterns. In other towns there were also water supply wells but not here.
So, by the end of the first year I’d had about enough, especially of my inability to really tell how the sugar in my blood reacted throughout the day and for the different kinds of food.
Grinding my teeth at the price, I got myself a Freestyle Libre system (which isn’t paid for by German health insurance unless the diabetic is already using insulin) around Christmas 2016. It consists of a reading gadget (or an app for a mobile phone, only the most up to date kind, that they developed recently) and the pads (that’s the expensive part since each pad costs 60€ and has to be replaced every two weeks).
The gadget measures the sugar in the liquid in the subcutis tissue continuously. Setting the pad into my upper arm was easy and hurt me very little. Wearing it is no bother. However, I’ve had to learn to keep the arm on the side I’m wearing it away from door frames and other obstacles at arm height. Bumping into one can result in ripping out the pad. That doesn’t hurt much but empties your wallet pretty fast.
With the first pad put in place and activated, I began to experiment right away. I found a couple of patterns that helped me a lot in adjusting my everyday eating habits. I found that for me, eating a late breakfast (past 9am) led to less pronounced spikes of blood sugar than an early breakfast (6am) even though I ate exactly the same things. My body processes rice better than pasta. And taking Metformin after a meal helped me better than before a meal.
Of course those finds will differ from person to person, so it’s not too helpful for you. Still, it was a big improvement to be able to see how my blood sugar reacted when I ate. With the gadget I managed to keep my long term blood sugar HbA1c between 7.7% and 7.3%, but I did not lose another g/lbs of weight.
Then came chaos and stress (health issues in my whole family) and my blood sugar shot up. I was running around so much at that time that I did not gain weight again, but my long term blood sugar rose to 8.4% and my doctor wanted to put me on insulin.
I refused vehemently. Something had to change. Just monitoring the disease wasn’t enough. That was at the beginning of this year, and a book recommendation of my mentor Holly Lisle changed my life. With the preliminaries out of the way, I’ll tell you more about that next week.
Already filled to the brim with interesting facts and marvelous sights, hubby and I traveled onward to Xanthen. The medieval part of that little town is fascinating. It even has two windmills, one directly in the town, the other a bit outside. However, the crowning jewel is the archeological park with the partly reconstructed Roman buildings. Right after entering, there’s a three-dimensional map that shows the reconstructed buildings in dark grey and the areas that still need to be examined in light grey. In the Photo, I colored the Rhine in blue so you can see how close it was to the city. These days. the bank is a lot wider since the river has moved in the last 1500 years.
Xanthen was founded as a Colonia, which means it was a civilian city with a lot of privileges. It was designed by (or more likely the design was approved by) Emperor Traian. It was destroyed around 275 and abandoned. There also was a permanent military fort nearby, but that wasn’t the focus in the museum park.
Naturally the town had everything a Colonia had to have: a Colosseum, temples, bathhouses, houses for living, houses for governing, waste water disposal, fresh water pipelines and so on.
My husband and I were particularly fascinated by the partially reconstructed Colosseum. Look how symmetric the supports were. It was absolutely great to see that the original supports were still partially visible after more than 1500 years when most of the stones from the other buildings had been taken away and used for building the new town in the Middle Ages.
It wasn’t a particularly big Colosseum but there was room enough for all the people in town (roughly 1500 Romans). The sandy arena was big enough to watch wild boar and bear fights as well as Gladiator fights. It was not big enough for horse and cart races.
Although Gladiators were mostly slaves, they were often the center of a lot of admiration. Sometimes they were set free for being really good in the arena. There were strict rules as how the “game” had to be “played” with the armament dictated down to the last buckle. Also, there were rules as to who could fight whom (sorry about the quality of that photo. It was pretty dark where I took it and brightening it up dissolved the descriptions. But you can find more information about gladiators here).
They also had several display dummies arming up as Gladiators. But I think they didn’t proportion them well. Gladiators must have had a lot of muscles because their equipment was pretty heavy AND they were training and fighting on sand (have you ever run on a beach? Then you’ll know how exhausting that is). The average fight lasted only a few minutes, said our guide.
Two years ago, my doctor diagnosed me with diabetes. Like all early patients, I got metformin pills to subdue the high peaks of blood sugar, and a measuring system that forced me to prick my fingers regularly. I hated it. The metformin gave me stomach cramps and diarrhea, and the pricking made it hard to type my novels because my fingertips were too sensitive.
So I began my search for alternatives. The first step was to change the metformin pill supplier. There’s an alternate one in Germany that sells the same active ingredient but with different filler components. That helped somewhat although I still had diarrhea sometimes.
Next, I began educating myself on diabetes and what one can do about it. The general consensus at that time seemed to be: ‘Once caught you’ll never get rid of it’ and ‘you cannot avoid getting fatter as soon as you start insulin therapy so try not to get to that point.’ However, advise of how to stay away from insulin treatment was scarce. It basically amounted to ‘do not eat sugar’ and ‘lose weight.’
Well, as anyone can tell you who’s ever tried to lose weight or to avoid sugar, both is nearly impossible. Still, in the year after the diagnosis, I managed to lose 10kg (22lbs) through regular exercise and reduced food intake. I was able to keep the weight through constantly monitoring what I ate, how much I ate, and keeping up the exercise.
Let me assure you, it was a nightmare. I kept thinking about nothing but food the whole time. I had no fun doing sports and fought grumpiness most of the time. Also, my blood sugar levels did not show any sign of improving. The long term sugar was still too high and morning base sugar levels too.
Over the next weeks I’ll tell you some more about the actions I took to get to where I am now (with reasonably good blood sugar levels and another weight loss). After that I’ll share my achievements and setbacks until I am free of diabetes. I’d love to know you at my side.