Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Some quick food/budgeting notes

August 22nd, 2009 by Reinder

This week's groceries expenses were €35 - they'll be €37 when I get the peanut butter, which I forgot. Most of my groceries were bought at the farmer's market, and because I brought a list and stuck to it, I did not splurge on expensive cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes.
Last week's groceries expenses were €27; the week before it was €70 because I was re-stocking after my trip to the US (and got tempted by said expensive yum-yums). Numbers not exact because I don't always get receipts and I don't always keep them when I do. Even this week, I am still buying a lot of stuff to replace what was in the pantry before I left for the US; when I get the peanut butter, re-stocking will be complete though.

This week, my meal plan will be based on the How Low Can You Go meals Trent has posted on The Simple Dollar; specifically, meals will include Potato-peanut curry and Moorish-style chickpea and spinach stew. I will also have Fish curry and Sweet potato and lentil curry. Yes, it's a week of mostly curry, and mostly vegetarian food. Going (mostly) veg for a while after 2 1/2 months on a meat-heavy American diet with large portions has helped me fit into my pants better already. It's not a lifestyle for the long term for me but I can do it for a few weeks.

The recipes on The Simple Dollar are pretty much the first bit of food advice from any frugality blog that I'm taking action on. Most of the food-related advice from frugality blogs is either stuff that I figured out for myself ("dried legumes are cheap!") or things that I've been doing all my life, i.e. box up your lunches, make your own coffee, cook from scratch. In fact it is fair to say that frugality blogs have introduced me to a lifestyle of wanton profligacy: until I started reading them, I was not aware that there were people on average, middle-class incomes who ate out for lunch and drank coffee at Starbucks every day. To me, boxing up my lunch and making my own coffee is not something I call "frugal", it's something I call "normal" - one of those unquestioned assumptions about my life in comparison to other people's.
Advice like that, advice that tells me to do things I already consider normal, annoys me, especially when it's repeated over and over again. Of course, to a person who regards eating a nine-dollar lunch every day as normal, these repeated messages count as counter-marketing: they need the repeated messages telling them to consume less just to counter the endless bombardment of media messages telling them to consume more.
(Another one that irritates me but is probably useful for many people is the one telling people to turn off their TV and use the time saved to do other, more productive or interesting things. I haven't had a TV in the house since 1995, apart from a few months when I borrowed one, but most people do and waste a lot of time on it)

Anyway. I'm glad that there is some advice there that I can actually follow and it does look like I'll be eating very well on a budget this week. I may be ready to move onto frugality-related material that takes more of a "guerilla" approach like the old Tightwad Gazette used to do, or that questions fundamental assumptions more, such as Early Retirement Extreme.

Update: Thirty bucks a week may come in handy for bringing my budget down further.

Swine flu preparedness

April 27th, 2009 by Reinder

Jim Macdonald at Making Light has a good clearing-house post of All You Need To Know Generally About Flu: what it does to the body and how to prepare.

The Scienceblog Effect Measure gives more detail about the public policy aspects and the swine flu outbreak's progress.

People in the Netherlands planning to travel to the United States in the next few weeks, such as yours truly, need to keep an eye on the Dutch foreign ministry's travel advisory (in Dutch), which still has no official word on the epidemic. While I'm at it, here's the the one for Mexico.

On a personal note, I REALLY hope that this isn't the Big One. I was kinda planning to get married next year and would like to be alive to experience that.

Running, exercise and joint pains

January 30th, 2009 by Reinder

Since my last physical peak in October, I've kept up with running but let other forms of exercise fall by the wayside a bit. I've not been to the gym since back then. As a result, I've lost a bit of muscle strength and gained a bit of belly fat. This is not the end of the world, except that I'm too cheap to buy a set of wider pants.

What has been bothering me, though, is that over the past two weeks, I've had to deal with joint pains that flare up a day or two after training with my running club, which are bad enough to make it hard for me to walk for a day to a day and a half. I don't think these are directly caused by running; rather, they're a seasonal, temperature-related inflammation. I've had to deal with these before though I've previously only had them in my hands. The pains, in different locations each time so far, do flare up after running and sometimes last long enough to make it impossible to go to the next training.

So instead of running last Wednesday, I went to the gym today for a light workout - cycling, elliptical trainer, some easy weight training, nothing that strains the joints. I've also made an appointment for next Tuesday at six o'clock to discuss how to train during a flare-up. I expect I know what the answer is going to be: short, easy and frequent workouts with low impact, maybe 45 minutes every day at a level that doesn't require recovery. But we'll see. To be continued...

While we’re on the subject of Flixotide…

October 27th, 2008 by Reinder

While looking for places to link to for my post on weaning myself off Flixotide/Flovent, I came across a patients' forum in which many people posted a number of behaviour-altering/psychoactive side effects for the drug, which I hadn't come across in any of the official documentation for it. Reported side effects, mostly in young children but also in adults, include irritability, trouble concentrating, sleep problems and anxiety - all of them problems I've suffered from myself.

Now, I've followed the thimoserol scare over the years - the anti-vaccination hysteria caused by claims that an ingredient in common childhood vaccines caused or contributed to autism. The scientific evidence for that is non-existent and the movement that spawned from the hysteria is an anti-scientific mob that I really don't have anything good to say about. This could be like that. It could be a case of people, especially parents of young children, wanting to blame something for behavioral/mental problems that would have occurred anyway, with the groupthink that inevitably shows up on those sites making a tenuous link seem much stronger than it really is. On the other hand, I could also see how a drug that mimics the action of a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland could influence a person's emotional balance, so this particular link doesn't seem implausible on the face of it. I wonder if there've been any serious clinical studies done into psychological, emotional and behavioral side effects of inhaled corticosteroids. Does anyone reading this know?

Weaning myself off flixotide

October 27th, 2008 by Reinder

For the past 10 years or so, I have used the synthetic corticosteroid Flixotide (sold in the US as Flovent) for long-term asthma control. It does a pretty good job at preventing asthma symptoms, but I've been wary for some time about depending on any particular drug for too long.

Last summer, while staying in Tennessee with Aggie, I cut my dosage in half, from two inhalations of 100 micrograms a day to one. I had a slight wheeze for a day or two, then functioned normally again. Last week, again while staying in Tennessee with Aggie, I cut it in half again, to an inhalation every two days. The same thing happened: minor wheeze for a short time, then normal functioning. Aggie has a dog and a cat in the house and I've been diagnosed as being allergic to both - she did vacuum the house before I came though. Whether it's the Tennessee air that's doing it, the changes in my lifestyle since 2006 or the beneficial effect of all the love and attention from Aggie while I'm over there, I don't know, but I don't seem to need it as much as I used to. Of course, now that I'm home in the Dutch climate and feeling stressful from separation and the need to go back to work, I'm not doing all that well. It could be a combination of factors.

In any case, I should talk to my doctor about switching to a lower (but preferably twice-daily) dose formally, or even switching to milder meds.

What I do to stave off depression

October 8th, 2008 by Reinder

A lot of my friends suffer from moderate to severe depression. Myself, I tend towards depressiveness and have a personality evaluation to prove it - I'm pretty normal except for tendencies towards anxiety and depression. The avalanche of bad economic news has been triggering both tendencies hard. So here, as a mental note to myself and hopefully a useful hint to people who have the same problem, here's what I do to keep depression and the need for Prozac at bay:

Exercise. Specifically, I run, do circuit training at the gym and occasionally swim. This goes to the top of my list because I do it a lot and it has immediate effect. Stress-relief and a general sense of well-being lasts for several hours after exercise, until I get sore. This is a small price to pay. It also gives me a feeling of control over my body - I can measure the performance improvements, and see and feel that it's "improving" by the measures I've chosen. When I get sore, I may be bad-tempered the next day, but that's better than feeling depressed.

St. John's Wort. A friend who works as a therapist recommended it to me. It's not all it's cracked up to be - one problem with natural medicines that work is that they do have side-effects, just like regular meds produced in a chemist's lab. In my case, my headaches have increased in frequency since I started taking it, though the extra headaches are mild. But it's available without a prescription, and doesn't overregulate your emotional life like prescription antidepressants. It appears to be more potent when drunk as a tea than when taken in pill form, but the downside to that is that you don't necessarily know how much of the active ingredients are in the tea.

Vitamin D. I live in a northern climate and am pretty dark-skinned for a white man. When I spend all daylight hours in the office or at home, I get a nasty case of Seasonal Affective Disorder which peaks in February/March, because that's when the stores of vitamin D in the body run out. So I take a supplement (and if I can find one that doesn't come with calcium, I'll switch to that), occasionally use a tanning bed starting October, and try to get out of the house on sunny weekend days.

Avoid busywork and overcommitment and strive to do work that actually delivers the goods. This is difficult at work, but doable in my spare time. Avoiding overcommitment is the main reason why I am making so little progress on the comic - but I do try to make time to work on it. When this doesn't work, I try to draw things I can finish in a shorter time, or write blog posts.

Declutter, organize, economize. I've been talking a lot about these things. Aside from being directly beneficial to my life, they also give me a feeling of control and accomplishment. Progress is slow, but it does work.

Generally, try to accomplish something every day. Even if it's just a drawing or a blog post. Or a good meal. Create something that wasn't there before.

Get informed. Facing the things that worry me is a double-edged sword. Until now, though, being able to talk meaningfully about the financial crisis and other things that worry me, and figuring out what I can and cannot do about them, still helps me more than it hurts me. I can imagine taking a news and media fast in the very near future, though.

Things I'm not doing so well at:
Getting out of the house. I need to remind myself to leave the house outside work hours/errands and see my friends. Part of this is of course due to being in a very-long-distance relationship where we only get to have any kind of contact at all during those hours that most people go out for drinks.

Getting enough sleep. This is something I've always been bad at. I'm an evening person, but I have to get up early in the morning to work. So I get about six hours during the working week.

Those two things are still good depression management tips if you can actually do them, though. What do you do to shake off the blues?