Saturday, March 3, 2012


You probably know there is an obesity epidemic in this country. You likely also know that obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and lots of other potentially preventable diseases. Do you know why our country is so overweight and out of shape?

There are several reason. For one, our foods have changed. Most of the food we consumed is highly processed and barren of the good nutrients we used to get. The meat we eat is higher in saturated fat. The convenience foods that allow us to work 50 hour weeks are hell on our bodies.

That brings up the next issue: work. I rarely see people who are able to balance work and life. Usually the WORK side of the see-saw sends poor LIFE flying off the other end into the sandbox. Long hours, no time for exercise, eating the convenience foods, and add high stress with no release, and you have yourself a recipe for poor health. The average person who started off healthy and happy ends up with a progressively larger waistline, higher insulin levels, less energy, decreased flexibility, and a worse quality of life. I see this as a snowball effect that happens quite insidiously.

It begins with a little weight gain from overeating and not exercising. Then add a little sleep apnea. There may be no symptoms other than daytime fatigue and maybe some snoring, but every night there are repeated bursts of epinephrine and cortisol. This causes a nice round middle and an increase in weight. Now the sleep apnea is worse and the fatigue is worse, the person is just fighting to make it through the day, never mind trying to eat a healthy diet (which takes planning and energy) or hitting the gym on the way home.

By the time I see this poor soul, who has been working so hard to get ahead in life, the snowball has gotten so big and gained so much momentum that it seems there is no way to turn it around. The patient asks me why they feel so bad, and why they can't lose weight. Even if you embark on a wonderful diet of whole foods and start working with a personal trainer, it still seems hopeless. At this point, the sleep apnea needs to be treated for the snowball to go back up the hill.

This is where the conversation becomes serious. "There is no way I can wear a mask to bed." "I am claustrophobic." At this point, like Lucy, I have some splainin' to do. I give the example of a close friend's husband who was full-on a Frosty the Snowman. He finally got his sleep apnea treated and now, a few years later, he has lost 100 pounds and just ran his first Marathon. He has lost so much weight that he no longer needs his CPAP to treat his sleep apnea. (This is why some people call it Fat Apnea- it tends to go away when you lose weight.)

So if you finally get off your hamster wheel, and wonder how to become the happy, healthy person you once were, please see your doctor and be open to evaluation for sleep apnea. It can cause uncontrolled hypertension, sudden cardiac death and diabetes, among other things. And it is relatively easy to treat. If you don't believe me, just ask Frosty.

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