This year started out very differently than how it is ending, and I wanted to jot down as many of my thoughts as possible before I get busy with the new year's energy. I want to share an overview of my current health, how it has changed over the last year, and what it means for me going into the next year.
A Retrospective on 30 Years of a Mildly Healthy Lifestyle
I am lucky to have lived for over 30 years with no major health issues, eating a moderately healthy diet, and exercising at a below-average rate. Surprisingly, this lifestyle served me well, but that's all changing now. Being active was easy when I lived in San Francisco, where riding my bike, walking around, and going on short hikes helped keep my heart healthy and my weight under control. For most people, gaining weight is not just easy but inevitable. I have been blessed with a combination of genes that has prevented me from gaining weight, even during times when I wanted to. Not having excess weight helped keep my body functioning healthily, but I think it also created a blind spot for me. I didn't see my unhealthy habits, like eating too much greasy food or going a whole day without any food. During the pandemic, my health became less of a priority, as working from home required a lot less physical activity, and fear of catching COVID-19 limited my outdoor activities.
A Change Long Overdue
Over the last 5 years or so, I had been experiencing minor stomach pains, often attributing them to unhealthy eating or suspecting undercooked or contaminated food. It turns out, these factors were not the main issue. Underneath it all, I was developing ulcerative colitis (UC), an autoimmune disease with complex, not fully understood causes, involving genetic predisposition and environmental factors. You can read more about UC on Wikipedia.
How Did This Happen?
I wish there was an easy answer. The past decade of my life has been full of stress, changes, life events, and many unpredictable things, as most people's lives are. With all these variables, it's hard to pinpoint a specific cause for my UC. Unhealthy eating habits, stress from work, excessive coffee consumption, and irregular eating patterns certainly didn't help, but it's impossible to single out one thing as the definitive cause. In September, I started to have very strong stomach pains and it led me to spend a lot of time on the toilet too and this became a concern that first took me to urgent care and eventually to the ER. A few days in the ER revealed that I indeed did have UC and need to start addressing it.
Today, End of 2023
It's December 29th, with just two days left in the year, so I wanted to capture what I'm feeling and what my next steps will be. Today, I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor, who gave me extensive details on how ulcerative colitis will affect my life and what I should and shouldn't do. I was prescribed a new medication, mesalamine, which hopefully will help with the colon inflammation. For the past few weeks, I have been following a low FODMAP diet to avoid irritating my gut. It wasn't showing significant changes but was helpful in identifying foods that irritated me. From the various blood and stool tests I've had over the last few months, here are a few things I know to be true:
- I don't have celiac disease. Eating gluten and wheat products should be safe for me.
- Dairy does not negatively affect my gut. Eating a balanced amount is advisable.
- I'm low in iron and vitamin D3, and high in calcium.
Almost 5 years ago, a 23andMe test suggested that I might have a genetic disorder called thalassemia minor, which was later confirmed through blood tests. This minor disorder has been a challenging part of my life, causing extreme fatigue and occasional lethargy. With recent hospital visits, I was advised to take iron supplements and vitamin D3 to help with my energy levels, under medical supervision to avoid complications associated with thalassemia. About a week into taking these supplements and eating more regularly, my energy levels have been some of the best I've remembered in recent years.
What's Next for 2024
I'm looking at the new year with hope and positivity. First, I want to focus on improving my habits, health metrics, and lifestyle. Habits like exercising and being mindful, which were secondary to my daily life, are now primary activities I need to engage in every day. To measure and improve these aspects, I'm noting my current metrics and aiming to enhance them over the next 12 months.
The main health metric I want to improve, as it has taken a downturn, is my heart rate. The best overall metric I've found to measure this is my resting heart rate (RHR), which had an average of 65 BPM over 2023. It has been increasing over the last few months, mainly due to reduced activity, increased stress, weight loss, and dehydration. I'm ending the year with an average RHR of 72 BPM, which is higher than last year's average of 61 BPM. I'm aiming to lower my RHR below 60 BPM in 2024. This will be a challenging goal, but with the right steps and consistency, I believe I can achieve it. Improving my heart health will be the biggest benefit to my overall well-being, as it's a crucial aspect of health that cannot be ignored.
My weight has gone down from 140 lbs in September to 123 as of a few days ago. This has been due to the UC symptoms and dehydration. My goal for 2024 will be 150 lbs and that's going to be a stretch in all cases but I want to push hard and see if I can attain that.
Please note, the content in this post reflects my personal experiences and should not be taken as medical advice. Always consult with healthcare professionals for advice tailored to your individual health needs.