Monday, October 26, 2009

Unseen University

I grew up in Berkeley, where the university was omnipresent. It wove in and out of the city, an integral part of the landscape, the social environment, and our lives. I rode around its edges on my daily bus trips to town, and walked through campus on my way to other places. It was part of our daily lives, our conversations, our awareness. It was always there, like the campanile, a constant presence.

When I entered the university as a student, it felt like going to the school across the street. My life didn't change in any appreciable way; my landscape didn't alter; I didn't enter a world that had been barred from me. I simply went to class in the bigger buildings on campus.

When I transferred to UCSC, however, the town/gown split was noticeable. I lived in Ben Lomond and then Santa Cruz. Any trip to UCSC was deliberate, a steep climb to our local City on a Hill. The town did not take the proprietary interest in campus that Berkeley did; the university was not casually called by the same name as the town; UCSC was called out separately, not “Santa Cruz” or “campus,” but always “UCSC,” that place up there, that-a-way, the redwood tower up the hill surrounded by the old Cowell cow pasture.

Going back to Berkeley, I go back to both town and gown, to the city of Berkeley and the university that calls itself both “Berkeley” and “California,” a place steeped in history and geography, a place where the boundaries all blur together, a place at once personal and commercial and intellectual.

My brother took a quiz on Berkeley slang and came out with the result “You live in Berkeley, don't you?” I took the same quiz and got the same results, even though it has been 30 years since I lived in Berkeley. It has, however, remained my hometown, and a strong sense of my identity. I am a Berkeley girl, and the local dialect has apparently not changed that much in those 30 years. I have asked other people, people who are Californians but not from Berkeley or Oakland, whether they know, for example, the meaning of the slang term “shorty,” but no one does.

The Santa Cruz mountains have been my home for most of the 30 years since I left Berkeley, and I have a strong connection with the San Lorenzo Valley, and with Santa Cruz, and also with its university. My degree is from UCSC, and my marriage was made there, and it also calls to my heart.

I don't get up to UCSC that often, though. Not every year, and then only for cultural events. The university seems closed to me in a way that Berkeley (my twin Berkeley!) never has. It has never been mine, nor I its, in the same way that Berkeley has been. My children have been to Berkeley's campus more often than they have been to UCSC even though they spend far more time in Santa Cruz than they do in Berkeley; every time we go to Berkeley, our path runs through the campus. In our daily lives, our paths almost never run to UCSC; it takes an effort and a purpose to get us to our local campus.

UCSC is hidden, tucked away, keeping its secrets shrouded in its redwood heart.

Malcolm and I went up there yesterday for the opening of an art exhibit. I had thrills of memory, winding up the long road to the art gallery. We viewed the exhibit, and chatted with various people we knew, and walked back slowly to our car.

I knew the university was all there, places that I knew, places I might visit with Malcolm, along the various paths that wind through the campus. All I could see were the redwoods and a few buildings, and the occasional banana slug.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I Am Not a Thermodynamic Black Box, part 76

Over the past 3 years, I lost 75 pounds by using the time-tested strategy of Counting Calories.

It's worked. Mostly. There are a number of other factors that seem to play into weight regulation, though, and it's been interesting learning about them. I seem to be sensitive to carbohydrates, for example, and I can only lose weight and feel good when my calorie intake is in a very narrow range.

Over the summer, my weight loss reversed. To be more accurate, my weight jumped up 3 pounds four times after a weekend where I ate a bit more than normal (but far less than the surplus 10,500 calories that would supposedly be necessary to accomplish this weight gain). To compensate for this gain, I cut my daily calorie intake down to 1400. I was able to re-lose some ground that way, but not much.

By the end of the summer, I was gaining weight if I consumed 1800 calories in a day. Theoretically, a person of my weight and activity level needs 2100-2200 calories a day to maintain her weight. I should not be gaining weight on 1800 calories a day, and I should not be holding steady at 1400.

But I was.

I mentioned this to a friend who is a nutritionist, and she told me I was in starvation mode, that I should up my calories to 2000 a day for a week to break this cycle. I immediately raised my calories to about 1600 for a couple of days, then decided to listen to my body and let it decide how much to eat for the next few weeks.

I dropped a pound over the next week.

Those sudden 3-pound gains still puzzled me. In each case, they happened after I ate one or more restaurant meals over a period of 1-3 days. They happened even though I was conscious of my calorie consumption in each case. In the last case, I had a 3-pound gain from a single slice of chocolate cake consumed at a local restaurant, even though I compensated for the calories in the cake by cutting other meal portions.

In general, I eat a very regular diet. A piece of toast with tahini and apple butter for breakfast, then dance, then a helping of fresh fruit followed by a meal of chicken, turkey, or fish, vegetables, and a small helping of grains. My next meal is another helping of lean protein and vegetables with either a little fruit or a little grain. Afternoon snack might be fruit and nuts or another light mini-meal with protein and a vegetable. Supper is again a lean protein, vegetables, and perhaps another small helping of grains. I eat very little processed food, and very little sugar. I don't add much fat (mostly olive oil and coconut milk), but I don't worry about avoiding nuts or the skin on chicken or other natural sources of fat in my diet.

Last night, I watched this Sugar: The Bitter Truth video put out by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.

Okay, I get it. I'm still not a thermodynamic black box, but a finely balanced biochemical instrument where what and how I eat matters as much as how much. And maybe it's not how much simple carbohydrate I eat that matters so much as which carbohydrates.

Maybe, maybe more than maybe, I have a body with a very low tolerance for fructose. Maybe when I eat sugar, my body converts all of it to fat, no matter how high a calorie deficit I'm running.

So, another couple weeks of calorie freewheeling (but no processed sugar) to convince my metabolism that there's food available, and then a return to the sensible 1600 calorie per day allowance that has worked so well for me in the past. And a look at my family's diet to see if we can reduce their consumption of processed sugar as well as mine.

And, today, I'm making chicken soup stock for two soups and pot pie, an apple pie with pippin apples, and london broil and potatoes and broccoli and delicious dry farm tomatoes with pesto for supper tonight.