I, like many women of “a certain age,” have been struggling to manage my weight. I noticed a peculiar pattern a long time ago and wondered if there was a medical cause. Namely, I would bravely embark on some sort of weight loss regime usually involving a work-out program combined with a diet. I would begin losing weight. After about six weeks, however, I would begin gaining weight while still strictly maintaining my regime. Also, I would feel worse and worse, eventually falling off the wagon because I was simply too tired to cook or work out.
My doctors agreed this was strange and ran all sorts of tests to check the usual things: thyroid, diabetes, etc. No ginger.
Except for being overweight, I appeared healthy as a horse. I gave up on progress until an allert allergist figured out the problem.
Here’s what happened: About a year ago, we built the Rio Arriba Health Commons and three agencies including mine began moving in staff. One of the providers in the building offered free weight management classes and I joined. As part of the class I was asked to log everything I ate, all my workouts, and how I felt before and after.
I joined Curves and began working out on a daily basis. And I continued logging albeit in fits and starts. I immediately lost ten pounds, felt great, and noticed my strength steadily building on the Curves machines.
Then, after a few months, the pattern reversed. My strength on the machines began dropping for no apparent reason. Workouts become difficult and I no longer enjoyed them. I woke up tired in the mornings. I began falling asleep at my desk, colors did not appear vivid, and I was too exhausted to cook. After quitting coffee, I began guzzling it which only made the problem worse. I started snacking on sugary things to help me keep my eyes open at work. I couldn’t drive more than 30 minutes without growing dangerously drowsy.
When the time came for my monthly weigh-in at Curves, I had regained my entire ten pounds in a single month! I hadn’t binged or stopped working out despite feeling tired, and the sugary candies I’d been sucking on didn’t seem sufficient to have caused such a precipitous weight gain. The manager decided that the employee who had weighed me the previous month had made an error. I got mad at the poor lady and avoided her for days!
I had no idea what was wrong. I assumed it was either age or perhaps depression. I went to a Bar Mitzvah celebration, got up to dance but had to sit down after five minutes because I was out of breath. I told my friends I needed to use the ladies room and snuck away.
A few days later, I dragged myself to my allergist for a regular check-up. He happened to be training a new nurse. He gave me the usual stuff to blow into (all of which caused me to cough uncontrollably) and asked me how I felt.
I was chalking up the exhaustion to age and eyestrain, and the snacking to willpower so I said, “Fine.” After all, I hadn’t had any sudden, overt asthma attacks.
Dr. Honsinger turned to the nurse. “Lesson one,” he said. “Never trust anybody with asthma when they tell you how they feel. They’ll put up with anything.” Then he turned to me. “I’d be surprised if you felt fine,” he explained, “because your lung capacity is down to 50%. Are you wheezing at night or having trouble catching your breath?”
I was surprised. I hadn’t realized asthma could creep up on you. I’d always associated it with a sudden constriction of the airways. The only reason anyone ever realized I suffered from asthma was that I had developed bronchitis that wouldn’t go away. I thought that once the bronchitis was licked, the symptoms of asthma had also disappeared.
I stopped to think. “Well…” I answered. “I’m not wheezing that I know of but I wake up tired. I’m tired all day, come to think of it. And the other day I tried to dance and couldn’t. I thought it was my age or because I haven’t been working out enough.”
“No,” he answered. “It has nothing to do with your age or level of fitness. It’s because you have asthma.” He gave me albuterol and some other thing called QVar for me to inhale a few times a day and told me to come back in a month.
I went home and read my food and exercise logs. At first, I had reported feeling a burst of energy after exercise. But when I hit that magic six week mark, I began reporting feeling tired with increasing frequency. Coffee started popping up, then little candies. I reported difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and foggy thinking all day long. After awhile, visits to the gym became more sporadic. I stopped cooking. The willpower issue appeared to coincide with the onset of exercise-induced asthma.
I started snorting the QVar. After a few days, my strength began building on the machines and calories burned during workouts increased. I stopped feeling sleepy during the day and began waking up feeling refreshed. Colors look vibrant again.
Looking back I realize I have probably suffered from exercise-induced asthma my entire life. We moved around so much and my mother was ill so there was no-one to notice. As a child, I could never sprint without becoming so short of breath that I would slow down and weave across the field. I often taper off or drop out of a beloved exercise regime after two months because suddenly, it stops being enjoyable.
Yesterday, I went back to my allergist to see if the QVar was helping.
I had lost five pounds.