Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eating Less

As a culture, we eat too much.  WAY TOO MUCH!!!

I’m not pointing any fingers.  Maybe you think you eat the perfect amount. Hey, I would have said the same thing about myself until about six months ago. I was recently inspired to begin experimenting with the concept of “LESS” throughout many aspects of my life.

I have improved my mindset and increased my strength and agility by breathing less. (I wrote about that in a different blog post.)  I have also increased my sensitivity and my enjoyment of life by slowing down the rate at which I walk.  (I was living in New York City, among some of the fastest walkers in the world, so it wasn’t easy. But it was totally worth it.) And I've increased my energy level and improved the look and feel of my body by reducing the amount that I ate.

I focused on eating smaller meals and on not just reacting immediately to the hunger feeling.  But I found that living with the feeling of hunger for just a couple of hours made a HUGE difference in my energy and my physique. 

Using hunger properly, I was able to improve the tone of my body, which was already lean and muscular, and found a new level of energy I didn’t even know existed!

Here are some tips to help you, if you’re interested in experimenting with eating less...
A word of caution first.  Please don’t starve. It seems that whenever I tell someone something is good, they assume that more of it is better.  The hunger is only meant to be with you for a few hours each day, not constantly.  And the whole point is that when you do have a meal, all you do is make that feeling go away for about four to six hours.  You don't want to get full. If you find that you’re full, you’ve eaten too much. But on the other hand, if you find that you’re hungry again in two hours, then you didn’t eat enough. Finding your groove may take some experimenting.  Please feel free to let me know what sort of experiences you have with this. And to ask me any questions you have.


1. Protein suppress appetite better than any other macronutrient. Meats, beans, nuts and seeds are good sources. A study from the University of Washington School of Medicine found that a meal containing 30% protein was best for satiety and weight loss. A study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands reported that having casein protein makes you feel fuller. Those are the proteins found in dairy products.

2. Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast is a major contributor to late day bingeing. People who eat breakfast are far less likely to experience an eating disorder called “night eating syndrome.”

3. Don't cut all the fat out of your diet. Fat is a crucially important nutrient and if you don’t eat it, you will crave it.  If you ignore those cravings and continue to avoid fat, you will become sick. Low-fat diets don't curb hunger as well as those focused on lean protein. Dietary fat provides psychological satiety and satisfaction, as it adds flavor and texture to a food or meal.

4. Eat fiber. Experts say to have 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories of caloric intake. But I honestly don’t know how much that is. Do you? What a crazy thing to say, right?  But you can get fiber by thinking veggies. I have two vegetables with every meal. I also have fruit (NOT NOT NOT fruit juice!!) twice a day. There is also a high amount of fiber in whole grains and legumes.

5. Water isn't necessarily a strong appetite suppressant, but it does fill up your stomach and satisfy a psychological need to consume something. I often use carbonated water because it makes me feel more full. Also, many times we think what we are experiencing is a hunger sensation, when actually we’re just thirsty.  Often a glass of water will curb the ‘hunger’ for another few hours.

6. Some foods make you feel much fuller than others. Most people say that oatmeal gets them extremely full, while a boxed cereal like wheat flakes leaves them hungry.  You need to experiment to find what works best for you. Keeping a food journal will help immensely. Eat a food or meal, and then take note of hunger and how you feel immediately afterwards and for the three hour period afterwards. This type of food/hunger journal will reveal a LOT to you.

7. Give yourself a break.  Don’t stress over any of this, or you’ll be undoing any good benefits. Allow yourself a bite of cake at the office party or feel free to eat the fattening meal your grandmother made.  This is life.  Live it and love it. You’ll be much healthier if you don’t stress about these things, and in the end, when you’re unstressed, it will be much more likely that your body will be at its correct weight.

8.  SLEEP! Oh my gosh this one gets abused and ignored so much, I should have made it number 1.  Research from the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin has conclusively proven that sleep deprivation increases hunger hormones and leads to more inadvertent snacking during the day. DON'T IGNORE THIS ONE! It is a bigger culprit than you think.

9. Keep alcohol to a minimum. In addition to adding excess calories, alcohol distorts your body's perception of hunger, satiety and fullness.  The correlation between drinking alcohol and body fat gain is stronger in men in almost all of the studies.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

River's First Bath

Today was the eighth day after River’s surgery.  The clinic nurse told me that I shouldn’t let him get wet while the wound was healing, but that after eight days I could finally bathe him.  
And he needed it. When the shelter takes in a stray dog, they have a five day waiting period before they are officially documented and checked in.  During that waiting period, they get their basic shots, but no baths or surgeries or walks. 
So River had the stink of whatever he had gotten himself into before being picked up, and then the kennel smell, and then eight more days of unbathed activity.  He was a stinky pup.
So today was the day I was looking forward to.   Bath day.  I wasn’t sure how well he was going to behave or if he’d cooperate at all or if he was going to hate it.
I decided, first to go outside without him and play with the bucket and the hose and the cloths.  I let him watch me from inside for a few minutes.  Then I went back inside, just for a moment. I wanted him to get a sense for how happy I was and how much fun I was having.  I told him, “this is fun!” and I went back outside to play some more, again leaving him inside to watch. 
Then, I went inside and I invited him to come outdoors with me. I kept him on his leash, but let him wander around me, to the extent that his leash allowed, while I continued to gently splash the water, squeeze the cloths and squirt the hose.
When he was curious enough, he came by to investigate. I started rubbing his body with my hands like he enjoys.  At that moment he became completely involved and offered up his body.  So I added a wet soapy cloth to my hands as I continued to rub him all over.  
I’m sure he noticed that he was wet, but he took it in stride. I made sure that the focus of the event was not getting him as clean as possible, but instead my focus was to give him a pleasant experience of being washed; even if it meant he wasn’t washed all that well. 
But he was more than happy for me to scrub him all over with a soapy wet cloth.  And he didn’t care when I re-submerged it into the bucket and reapplied it to him dripping wet. He even let me clean his ears and his paws.  
I made a point not to move quickly or to rub roughly, but I kept it soothing and loving. 
Once he was all washed, I switched to the big towel and started drying him.  I used motions for drying similar to those that I use for the ‘wrestling without biting’ game, so he was very familiar with it, and he used the opportunity to practice playing without his teeth. 
To my surprise, he sat comfortably and allowed me to wash and dry his paws and his haunches, which he typically tends to be more protective of. 
I ended the bath by bringing him inside and brushing him with a rubber brush while I dried off any remaining damp areas. 
He had a great experience, and I don’t think I’ll get any resistance to doing it again next week. His coat is so soft and bright now, and he smells a lot better.
What’s really funny is, after the bath, I took him to his crate so he could chill, and he sniffed the blanket that was in there.  He tried to move it, or adjust it with his mouth, but eventually, he saw the futility and just plopped down on it. Something about his energy told me he was unhappy.
Then it hit me.  Could he be telling me he didn’t want to lay his clean body on that same dirty old blanket?  I took one that was freshly washed and put it in the crate next to him.  He took one sniff of it, and then immediately used his paws to pull that blanket under him.  He kept pulling until the blanket was under him enough that he could plop his head down and his nose was only near the clean blanket.  Later that day, when he had finished his nap and left the crate, I took the old blanket out and flattened out the clean one. 
It’s nice to know that River has some class.
Clean Doggie

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Playing with River

River has fully recovered from his respiratory infection and now is back to his good old self.  

He's got a lot of energy. It’s obvious that he needs a lot of exercise. If he doesn’t expend all the energy that’s coursing through his body, he becomes frustrated and takes it out on those around him.  Not in an unhappy or aggressive way, but he’ll jump and play and challenge you to a wrestling match.  He doesn’t bark, but he does sometimes use his mouth and play-bite.  He’s basically just a big, dopey guy.  And while his jumping doesn’t necessarily hurt me, it’s not a good practice and it could easily hurt someone smaller than me.
Clearly this is not something you want a full grown, muscle-bound pit bull getting into the habit of, so the answer is to give him lots of exercise and to train him that using his mouth when playing with humans is not acceptable. 
For the first week I had him, he was recovering from his neutering surgery and I was told he couldn’t do any exercise for a week, or he could tear his wound open.  So that week, while he was healing, was a rough one.  He didn’t know what to do with all of his pent-up energy.
To his credit, he actually did very well considering he knew nothing about the rules of this house and I knew nothing about him and how his life was before he was discovered tied to that stairwell downtown.  And without the ability to expend his energy, he was definitely wound up.  So we had to forgive him for being rambunctious and just keep telling ourselves, once he can exercise, we’ll have a much better-behaved dog.
During this week of healing, I was able to observe that he definitely wants to run and he loves it. Even during his recovery, I was unable to keep him from running. I mean, of course, I could have prevented him or given him no opportunities to run, but what I mean is I wasn’t into completely stifling all of his energy.  I was struggling with my own desire to let him run versus the advice of the doctor to keep him mellow. Partially because I want him to have all the joys of living a happy, fulfilled life, and partly because I knew if I brought him back into the house without running some of his energy, he’d be a little terror all night. 
But after a few days, I started to run him for about half a block at a time. I kept an eye on his wound and it seemed fine.  Day by day I added a bit more running.  I started a little game called “Go! Stop!” that goes like this:

We’d be walking along, and I’d give him the signal to stop walking, which he obeys beautifully. And then I’d have him wait for a bit so he was relaxed.  And when he was calmly looking around, I’d say to him, “river...” which got his attention, and then “GO!” and as soon as I said go, I’d take off running down the sidewalk.  He would follow. I would only go a few yards and then I’d powerfully shout “STOP!” and I’d immediately stop running and stand perfectly still.   It took him two tries to get the idea.  The first two times, I had to signal with the leash for him to stop, but after those two, he was stopping when I said “STOP.”  And then he would look at me for instructions on what was next. 
There was an upside and a downside to this game. A couple of upsides, actually:  First, he was able to get some exercise, which is good. And the other good news is that he has learned the command, “STOP” which I can now apply to anything he’s doing. (I just command “STOP” and he freezes in his tracks.) But the downside of this game was that he began to misinterpret it.  The running sessions slowly started to morph into him trying to catch me.  He would start nipping at my hands and legs as we were running, and then after doing it a few times, he’d be so excited that even after we had stopped he’d jump around and nip at me.  He was playing, but just playing too rough for my tastes.
It got worse and worse and finally escalated to the point where he was no longer just nipping, but biting and holding onto my hands and drawing blood from my fingers. At that point I tried to ignore him which sends the signal, “if you play this way, I’m not playing.”  But, whereas, that usually will work when he’s less excited, he didn’t relent this time. He just kept going for my hands and the leash.  In the end, I had to pull him down to the ground and hold him down until he fully relaxed. I reassured him the whole time that I wasn’t intending to hurt him and I was pointing out how he was in no danger or discomfort, but that I was simply controlling him.  He relaxed very quickly and we walked home peacefully, albeit with one of us injured.
So I knew I’d have to come up with a new game.

My next idea was to take him to a grassy section of the park and throw a tennis ball for him to chase and see if he could be taught to retrieve. That game didn’t work out at all. I would throw the ball and he would run to the end of his leash and be stopped.  Ooops. I know that as a pit bull, he’s not supposed to be off leash.  Ok, so then I would throw the ball and run behind him so he could chase the ball, without being limited by the shortness of the lead, but he was totally distracted by my chasing him and lost interest in the ball. He thought we were reverting back to the old “Attack Jason” game. So I scrapped the ball. 
I had once seen Cesar Millan using a toy that looked like a stuffed animal on a fishing pole, and I thought that might be just the thing. We went to River’s favorite pet supply store and I asked about them. As the clerk was showing them to me, I noticed that River had already chosen which of them he wanted.  He was very interested in the one that looked like a brown weasel, or a ferret, or maybe a squirrel.  But it was some long, thin rodent.
We took that to the park, but I quickly realized the same problem was that my leash was too short.  I had to keep him so close to me, that I was still a integral part of the game in his mind.
Back to the pet store, where I got a 20 foot leash.  Back to the park.  When we got there, I switched his leash for the long one and got out my squirrel. I was careful to let him see the toy in my hands. I held it nearby and shook it a little. But when he tried to go for it, I said ‘no’ and showed him how the toy was mine, not his. He understood.  He laid down and watched me. I set the toy on the grass in front of him and let him smell it.  He stayed relaxed and acted disinterested, though I knew he was very interested. I set him up by saying his name and made sure he was looking at the squirrel when I simultaneously said “CATCH IT!” as I suddenly made the toy spring away. 
He took off after that thing with such vigor! It was easy to keep it just a foot or so in front of him and quickly change directions and make it jump in the air.  He was chasing it and having a ball!  I was delighted to see him playing, using up his energy, and not directly any of it towards me.  The new leash was long enough that he could run freely and yet I was secure in knowing that I had him restrained. 
The toy is actually called a “CHASE IT” but I thought it sounded too much like “JASON” and I didn’t want to create a confusion that might cause him to start running after something whenever someone calls my name.  So I decided that his cue to start playing with the toy is “CATCH IT”
When he did finally catch it, he attempted to kill it. And in fact, if it were a living creature, I’m quite certain it would be dead very quickly. He shook it roughly a few times and then held it between his paws while he chewed on it.  I think we were both surprised when it started squeaking as if protesting every bite he took on it.  It was really a sight. 

Then I thought, “how am I going to end this game?”  I certainly don’t want to get involved with what’s going on by reaching my scab-covered hands into the foray to remove the toy, but I know I have a responsibility to bring the game to an end before he gets tired of it and ends it himself. I knew also, that taking a toy from a dog’s mouth isn’t a good idea.  It doesn’t teach good manners, and it sets up a challenge or a confrontation between what are supposed to be comrades. 
My light bulb moment was when I realized, “this is when I teach him how to DROP”
I walked up to him with a treat in my hand and let him smell the treat.  As he got the scent I started with my command, “DROP it”  “DROP it”  I only got in a few repetitions before he took the treat and as he took it, I casually picked up the toy.  He watched me take it as he chewed his treat.  When it was gone he tried to take the squirrel back from me, but when I told him “NO” he relented. I placed it on the ground in front of me where he could reach it, but I didn’t allow him to take it.  When he relaxed I knew he understood that it was mine, so I waited about another minute and we did the whole game over again.
Using the CATCH IT method of play, he was able to run off a LOT of energy (he was exhausted by the time we were done and very well behaved the rest of the day) and I was able to extract myself from being the focus of the game. My fingers are healing up nicely and he is so happily tired after using his body so much. 
To end the game, after his last successful DROP it, and after, of course, him actively ignoring the squirrel by my request, I let him watch me calmly put it back in the bag to end our play session. I switched his leash back to the short, walking leash, gave him a drink from his water bottle and we made our way back home.
I’m so happy that I was able to discover this game while I still had all my fingers. 

I'm also thinking, now that I have that long leash, maybe i can try the ball again.  I guess we have a plan for tomorrow.
bye for now

Thursday, September 1, 2011

River's Medical Adventure

Last night after dinner, River took an unexpected turn.  He was sleeping a lot, which I attributed to him being kept active all day. And then, at one point, he raised his head and looked at me.  And I don’t know... I can’t explain how I knew, but he was trying to tell me he wasn’t doing well. 
He seemed very lethargic and borderline delirious and he started to convulse. I would call them convulsions, but Zeke was saying no, that it was more like shivering and not full on convulsions or seizures. 
But every few seconds, he would clench his whole body as if he were bracing against something. He did it most when he was laying down and relaxing.  If I put his leash on, he got up and stood at attention like he always does for his leash, although now a bit less enthusiastic.
When I took him for a short walk, he perked right up. Not to his usually bouncy excited self, but to a state seemingly without discomfort and fully present in the world.  So we went back in after doing some business and went back to chilling.  He laid at my feet while I tried to get back to my episode of Columbo. 
A bit later, as the ‘shivering’ seemed to be getting more and more intense, we thought, maybe this is a problem, and tried calling the vet.  The recording referred us to an all night clinic.  Upon calling them, I was told they couldn’t really evaluate the dog without seeing him, but that shivering and shaking could indicate a lot of different things, none of them good.
So, we deliberated for a while.  How bad is this? we wondered.  Are we being overprotective? Part of me wanted to say, ‘this will pass’ and another part wanted to jump in a cab and take him to the emergency room.  I was flashing on stories of people who did nothing and ended up with an undiagnosed problem than ultimately proved fatal, and I flashed on the story of my mother who rushed me, her first born son, to an emergency room when the little plastic lid to my in-sink baby bath accidentally closed and banged me on the head, and they basically told her to go home and relax.
Finally, when he was having trouble going downstairs, we decided to take him in.  We called a cab and started gathering all the items we’d need for the trip, including some towels and bags to wipe and pick up all of the mucus he was likely to cough up in the cab. 
When we got outside to wait for our ride, again River perked right up and you’d never know anything was wrong with him, unless you knew that he was usually running all over the place, and now he was standing still and looking around. We were perplexed.
Then the driver pulls up, rolls down his window and says, “Oh you have a dog!?”  Yes, I said. “Well I’m allergic, I can’t take him.  I’ll call you another driver.”  I believe very strongly that things happen for a reason.  So I took this as a sign that we didn’t need to go. I told him, never mind, I’ll call up and cancel the request, which I did.  I put him to sleep and he slept through the night, albeit with mild convulsions and vocal utterances of discomfort.
In the morning, he was basically the same.
I called our vet as soon as they were open and they were able to see us right away.
After an examination, she said that he basically has a bacterial infection, which is similar to a human cold.  His reaction is so physical because that’s how his breed handles everything; with full body involvement. She said he was basically bracing against the annoying persistent urge to cough because his throat and probably his whole body is simply fatigued from the coughing.
She gave me some antibiotics and some probiotics to give him, and gave him a prescription for opiated cough syrup so he can get some good rest.
She told me that the cold will run its course for a few more days.  In the meantime, he should be getting lots of sleep and water. She also told me to avoid using ‘soothing, calming’ tones which is interpreted as negative, and instead I should say positive encouraging things like “you’re so good!  Yes, resting and recovering, that’s a good boy!”  Makes sense to me.
She also congratulated us on not making the hasty decision to rush him to emergency for this kind of thing.
So now he’s resting.  I’m actually taking this opportunity to help him get over his separation anxiety.  By leaving him alone while he’s not in the mood to move, I can leave the house and come back, letting him get used to the idea that I always will come back, even if he doesn’t do anything while I’m gone.   Maybe I’m living in a fantasy, but I have hopes that this will impact on him and help balance that little behavioral issue.
Its so hard to watch him suffer.  Wow, I knew that dog ownership had its ups and downs. I’m no stranger to having dogs.  But I expected most of the downs at this point to be all about his struggles with his training.  I really wasn’t ready for this kind of medical situation for many more years. 
Well, as I’ve said, I always believe things happen for a reason.    And then, I knew it had to be this dog.  And I’m not sure what the lesson is here, but I’m ready to learn it. 
Of course, the thought that he’s not going to make it flashed through my mind more than once. I try not to linger on it, but I’m also prepared for that, should we find ourselves going down that road.
But my strongest, most prevailing thought is similar to what I was originally feeling last night, and which was supported by the lovely doctor at Broadway Veterinary Clinic; that he’s got a ‘little something’ that he’ll have to suffer through, but will come out the other end just like nothing ever happened. 
Right now, I have him in his crate, which is covered with a blanket to give him a ‘den’ feeling.  And I covered his body with the shirt I wore yesterday so he has my scent in there with him.  I go in and check on him every ten or fifteen minutes and tell him what a Good Boy he is.
Here’s to speedy, full recovery.
Cheers!  Salut! Sante! Prost!