Five or six months ago my doctor (nurse practitioner, actually) told me I had high cholesterol.  Not like “Your arteries are completely clogged and you will die in 20 minutes” kind of high, but just elevated to a level to cause concern.  She was particularly concerned because she knows I am fairly active and eat relatively healthy.  I’m not a health nut or anything but I eat better than many of my peers.  This, she told me, is the result of genetics.  Of course I knew this.  I have been watching my family medical history play out my whole life.  That history is my future.  I know, for example, that if I take no deliberate steps to guard my health, I will become obese and diabetic (diabetic at the very least), with all the accompanying health problems.  And I will live, feeling horrible, for decades and – barring some sort of accident – will die of a stroke in my 80s.  That is my future.  The odds are so overwhelming in favor of that outcome I would willingly take my Baptist self to Vegas.

But in 8th grade I made a conscious decision.  That will NOT be me, I decided.  Health is not all genetics – your choices play a huge part in that.  I can change this, I thought.  And I diligently began exercising 5 or 6 days a week, running.  I ate very, very healthy foods – shredded wheat and bran for breakfast (I will admit to you now that it tasted worse than the box it came in, but back then I pretended I liked it), nothing greasy (pretended I didn’t like pizza), and dessert only very rarely and even then just a tiny piece, just enough to taste.  I backed off the stringent restrictions a bit somewhere during college but still ate pretty healthy…and I will admit that during the past 2 years I haven’t been exercising quite as diligently, but still several times a week.  I was shocked to find myself, at 25, staring down the barrel at a future that came to call early.

I started exercising more.  I quit eating red meat (I have it occasionally, usually when we eat at someone else’s house).  I started eating more fruits & vegetables.  I don’t eat much dessert anymore, and when I do it is usually a small piece of dark, dark chocolate.  I started taking niacin, which is a B vitamin that helps your body produce good cholesterol and remove the bad.  I went back for testing last week and the results: cholesterol is back down in the normal range!  It is still on the high end so I still want to work on it, but I’m not going to die from it any time soon.  But, she told me, your triglycerides are high.  And what are triglycerides, you ask?  Well, they are fats in your blood.  And how do you lower them?  Well, you drink a lot of water (check), you exercise (check), you stay away from obviously fatty foods (check), you eat fruits and vegetables (check), you eat high-fiber foods (check), you limit sugar and alcohol intake (check), you get omega-3s (check).  So, what can I do to lower them?  I can up my intake of fruits and vegetables but that’s it.  Nothing left.  No supplement to take or change to make.  Oh wait, my mom said I can cut out dairy completely – except that I have to use milk to eat my high-fiber oats in various cereals each morning, and I LOVE cheese.  After that I’m stuck with whatever I have.

I am really, really irritated about this.  And maybe a little angry.  I mean it’s not like I sit around eating Fritos all day…but I would like to enjoy them occasionally.  It’s not fair.  You can’t choose your genes but I thought I was on track to defeat them.  I thought I had about 10 years and maybe a couple of kids to go before I had to cave into things like low-fat salad dressing and checking my weight.  I feel like I’ve been robbed, looking forlornly at cakes and pies that need a good home, robbed of 10 years when all that was required was casual attention and maintenance.  But I have to always, always have my guard up, because that future is like the bogeyman, always hiding just around a corner, waiting to jump out and claim me as a victim too.  I thought I could fool him but he found me anyway.

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