Tag Archives: managing arthritis

surgery for arthritis

Gentle Reader,

There comes a time when surgery for arthritis makes sense. I have reached that time. I began blogging at www.NoWheelchair.wordpress.com in 2004, to share strategies a person with arthritis could use to avoid taking medication or having surgery. My posts have been about my own journey to manage increasingly severe osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, and more recently a condition known as listhesis, or the collapsing of vertebra to the left and to the right. As my Feldenkrais practitioner keeps telling me, “You’ve got a complicated spine.”

It has been an interesting process to dedicate this year to a protocol of my own making. I have gone to a physical medicine specialist, Dr. Ren, at the Polyclinic who suggested physical therapy for eight sessions. The PT exercises did nothing to alleviate the weakness in my legs, nor the pain, lovely as it was to show up to the attention of admiring young men twice a week.

I decided to take Dr. Ren’s offer of an injection of steroids in L5 and L4 and I had a good four pain free weeks. With less pain, I was able to pay attention to my gait and realized I was so unstable on my right side that my right hip was swinging out with every step. I decided to go back to Becci Parsons, my Feldenkrais practitioner for help getting symmetrical again. Walking everywhere with hiking sticks helps with symmetry. My strong upper body lifts my weaker legs up and the hiking sticks keep me parallel. They are less for balance than for lifting weight off the collapsed vertebra.

Nerve pain came back after a short time. Dr. Ren thought I might be a good candidate for surgery. Becci has had two operations for very similar conditions so I went to her neurosurgeon, Dr.Peter Nora. Dr. Nora has twenty years of back surgery under his belt. When I met him, I looked at his hands which are small and delicate. A good sign. He put me through the diagnostic paces where you resist pressing your knees together and then apart; your feet in and then out; your knee lifting against pressure; all of which I passed with flying colors. It seemed obvious this 79 year old woman showed no sign of weakness. He tried one last diagnostic tool: I stood against the wall pressing my heals, my back and my head against it. The test: stand for ten minutes in that position. I lasted 5 seconds before my legs gave way.

I so appreciated Dr. Nora’s willingness to listen to my experience. When I stand around for a while, the right leg loses feeling and will not support my weight. Think about when standing around is what we do as humans: hanging out in the kitchen with family while we cook; looking at a painting in the museum; holding a drink at a cocktail party or reception; singing in the choir at church; waiting in line at Starbucks, at the airport, at the bank. All of these scenarios result in weakness and the sensation of getting ready to fall over. Dr. Nora heard me and kept trying moves so he could reproduce my experience in a controlled clinical setting. Thank goodness. I once had an orthopedist kick me out of his office after I told him I walked to Broadway and Madison from the 3rd Ave bus stop, a distance of about a mile, most of it up a steep hill. I was using my sticks so I could do it.

Dr. Nora explained the surgery by showing me the MRI of my spine from the bottom to the top as if you were looking up a tube in which the spinal cord runs. Between L3, L4 and L5, the poor spinal cord disappeared completely. He will carve off the bonein those areas to stop the pinching of the nerves. It could be a big change for the better. Since I have been avoiding surgery for so many years, there is no guarantee all the nerves will come back, but the pain should reduce considerably.

You would think I would get in for surgery for arthritis as quickly as possible. But my calendar is full this summer with harvesting the raspberries (bending, lifting and twisting), camping with family, traveling to Hawaii with a granddaughter and several graduations. The first stretch of time when I could commit to no bending, no twisting and no lifting for a month begins August 16th. So that is when the surgery is scheduled.

In the mean time, Dr. Ren’s Assistant, Diana Ferdana, who calls me pharmaceutically naive, meaning I have little experience with drugs, prescribed Gabapentin. This drug prevents seizures and also blocks nerve pain. Side effects bother me as I am a little loopy, a little sleepy, but the benefit of the smallest possible dose is considerable. I still take Shaklee’s Pain Relief Complex to keep other arthritis under control, like my thumbs and fingers and shoulder.  She also gave me an industrial sized back brace which I wear when picking raspberries, doing laundry, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor. You get the idea, bending, lifting and twisting.

I still go to the Xgym every week. My trainer has talked to Becci and together they have a workout plan that stabilizes my core while building upper body strength. These exercises don’t ask much from my weak legs other than stability although I am doing controlled lunges with hiking sticks. Staying fit is important when heading for major surgery. The guys at Xgym will help me get back on my feet when the surgery is over.

I am still walking most days although forty minutes to an hour is as long as I can go without sitting down to give my back relief. So no hiking with my group. This is the hardest loss for me as I have been in the wilderness nearly every week since 2004, summer and winter. Happily there are plenty of parks nearby with old growth forest and trails, but there is nothing like deep wilderness. I miss it and my hiking buddies.

I share all this personal experience with the hope that you or someone you know will take heart in their own struggle with arthritis. Don’t give up and sit down. We have to keep moving to avoid further damage and disability. At this point for me, I can do damage by over-doing so I have to learn to listen to the signals that say, enough. Most days at least a mile of walking works. I begin each day with tiny Feldenkrais movements to activate the core, the psoas and the multifidae that go up and down my spine to stabilize it. Just half an hour of that careful “exploration”, as Becci calls it, makes the difference for movement all day.

So, Be well, Do well and Keep Moving.
Feel free to share this. And don’t forget to like me on Face book.

Comments and questions are encouraged.


206 933 1889

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Yoga for Arthritis

Gentle Reader,
I have a diagnosis of arthritis, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis. I gave up yoga for arthritis about 6 years ago, as it seemed to exacerbate the pain in my hips and spine. However, when my youngest daughter Ruth raved about her 6 a.m. yoga class and the teacher, I took notice. She convinced me that Laura could instruct me in a way that would build from the core so that I would not hurt myself. Furthermore, Laura and Beattie, her partner, were conducting a yoga retreat at the hot springs retreat center in Oregon called Breitenbush. I have always wanted to go. It would be wonderful to spend a weekend with my daughter. I signed up.

Have you ever enrolled in a program only to have buyer’s remorse? My thoughts raced around my head: I can’t do yoga for arthritis. I’ll hurt myself again. How will I spend my days with no internet or telephone? (That’s right. No connectivity at Breitenbush.) I planned to take a book, attend the first hour and bow out politely.

With the right yoga instructor, yoga for arthritis is not only possible but builds strength, stamina and flexibility. That is an all-important caveat: the right yoga instructor.
I not only lasted the first hour-and-a-half session on Thursday night, but the morning two hours on Friday as well. I took the Friday afternoon session off. By 10 a.m. on Saturday morning, Ruth and I had soaked in the hot springs pools four times. I was ready to try again. Not only was I able to practice with the other 12 participants for two hours on Saturday, but again that afternoon.

And, Ruth and I took a spectacular 4 ½-mile hike through the emerald green forest surrounding the Breitenbush site. Sunday morning’s two-hour session was beautiful. I did not try handstands or back bends, but everything leading up to those poses was restorative and strong.

How do you choose a yoga instructor that will help and not hurt your arthritic joints? If you are serious about including yoga for arthritis management, I recommend you visit studios and sit in on the session labeled hatha yoga, slow-moving emphasis on arriving at the pose from a core-strengthened place. I found of the various yoga practices. If you have arthritis, I would not recommend the fast moving practices. Participate as best you can, stopping short of anything that twists or hurts.

If you are a Type A competitive person used to high achievement goals (that would be me), you need to monitor your progress in a class very carefully so as to not over do. The personal triumph of the weekend retreat at Breitenbush was to opt out of the Friday afternoon class without feeling like a failure. I needed to rest my body in order to benefit from the rest of the weekend.

Open heartedness and acceptance are two attitudes to cultivate as you find a yoga practice for arthritis. Leave your judgments at the door and listen to your body.

I have posted information about Peggy Cappy many times before. She is a Public Television personality and yoga teacher who works with older people. Her videos and especially her CD mediation for healing the arthritic back are part of my daily routine.

The joy of practicing in a room full of other people over the weekend reminded me how much I have missed breathing, moving and meditating with others. I loved the group experience so much, I have been to one of Laura’s and Beattie’s Seattle classes and I plan to incorporate their practice in my week.

Do not settle for less than a careful, hands-on instructor if you want to use yoga for arthritis. It could get you into trouble. I wish you luck in finding a good instructor. Let me know how it goes with yoga if you already incorporate this modality in your arthritis or other health management.
Be well, Do well and Keep Moving
206 933 1889

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Vitamin D may prevent Diabetes II

Gentle Reader,

Vitamin D, seems to be the miracle supplement as research turns up more benefits. In my recent travels, along the Inside Passage in Alaska, I worried about the many “round” people from the cruise ships.  They may not have gotten a diagnosis of diabetes from their doctor.  But they may, like many of us, walk around leading what seems like normal lives with pre-diabetes.

Dr. Steve Chaney describes the condition in his recent newsletter.  [To read the whole letter, go to Resources: Diabetes is a deadly scourge.]  He says that when we become overweight our tissues become insulin resistant. Initially our pancreas responds by pumping out more insulin to keep our blood sugar levels near normal. It also starts releasing fatty acids into the bloodstream.

At this stage our blood sugar levels are pretty well under control, but our blood levels of insulin and fatty acids are higher than normal. We are asymptomatic for the most part, so many of us never realize that we have a problem.

And lots of us are pre-diabetic!

When the normal range goes to pre-diabetic and beyond.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was diabetic.  He was a Swede-Finn, emigrating to New York City in around 1900 and joining the dock builders union.  He worked hard, driving piles, helping construct the Brooklyn Bridge and the piers along New York’s maritime harbor.  Then he sat down.  His knees hurt.  His hands hurt. His back hurt.  He had arthritis and moving his body hurt.  Then he developed diabetes.

My mother was never diagnosed with diabetes.  I suspected her of being very close to slipping from pre-diabetic to diabetes in the last 10 years of her life.  Her shoulders hurt.  Her hands hurt.  She had old age arthritis at 55 and began taking Motrin.  I remember her and my father both taking drugs for their aches and pains when I was in high school. They both slowed down, walking less and less.  She was never diagnosed with diabetes.  She died of pancreatic cancer.

This family history is a major driver for me to stay slim and active in spite of major arthritis.

Dr. Chaney points out that there are several published clinical studies showing that lifestyle changes (weight loss, exercise and a healthy diet supplying all of the essential nutrients) can significantly reduce the progression of
pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes.


Supplement with Vitamin D3 by Shaklee

This is a blog about managing arthritis.  See how stiff joints, slowing down, mild and more severe osteo-arthritis, the kind that comes with aging, can be part of the pre-diabetic cluster of conditions?  The primary focus of Dr. Chaney’s article is the research about the benefit of Vitamin D on keeping the pancreas healthy.  Make no mistake, however, Vitamin D by itself will not prevent diabetes.  

Do not let your aches and pains keep you from moving.  Keep those joints active to the maximum extent of their flexibility.

Take Vitamin D if you are over weight and suspect you are pre-diabetic.  But there is no magic bullet.

I was talking with a young woman today who says she doesn’t want to take pills.  I’m all for avoiding medicines if possible.  It was a major challenge for me to understand vitamins are food supplements, foodlets, if you will.  Yes, they are in pill form.  I seldom refer to my vitamins as pills.  They are my supplements.  I take them to fill in the gaps and to compensate for the sluggish utilization of nutrients that comes with age.  We do not make Vitamin D from the sun the way we did when we were 10.

We are going into the winter months when those of us in the north will get less and less sun exposure.  Why not supplement with Vitamin D3?  Especially if you are little round in the middle.  Then, by all means, consider the 180 Turnaround program for losing those extra pounds.  You’ll be thrilled with how much easier it is to move with even 10 pounds less to carry around.

To your good health,

Be well, Do well and Keep moving,


206 933 1889

PS If you would like to comment or ask a question, please email me at betsy@hihohealth.com.  I’ve had too many spammy comments and have limited access to the comment section, but I would still love to hear from you.




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Manage Arthritis: Hip labral tear

Gentle Reader,

One of the strong older ladies I ski and hike with just wrote that she had a hip replacement.  I was stunned to hear the news and asked more about it.  She had a sudden tear called a labral tear, something I had never heard of.  Intrigued, I thought I’d share what I learned.

According to the Mayo Clinic web site,

“A hip labral tear involves the ring of soft elastic tissue, called the labrum, that follows the outside rim of the socket of your hip joint. The labrum acts like a socket to hold the ball at the top of your thighbone (femur) in place.

“Athletes who participate in such sports as ice hockey, soccer, football, golf and ballet are at higher risk of developing a hip labral tear. Structural abnormalities of the hip also can lead to a hip labral tear.

“Symptoms include hip pain or a “catching” sensation in your hip joint. Initial treatment may include pain relievers and physical therapy. Using arthroscopic techniques, surgeons can remove loose fragments from within the joint and trim or repair the hip labral tear.”

My friend had had no symptoms whatsoever until the sudden onset of acute pain.

The Mayo Clinic site does mention some symptoms

Many hip labral tears cause no signs or symptoms. Occasionally, however, you may experience one or more of the following:

  • A locking, clicking or catching sensation in your hip joint
  • Pain in your hip or groin
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion in your hip joint

Here’s the part that interests me and you, my readers.  Causes.  We want to avoid the causes of arthritis if possible.  We want to manage arthritis when it develops if possible.

  • Trauma. Injury to or dislocation of the hip joint — which can occur during car accidents or from playing contact sports such as football or hockey — can cause a hip labral tear.
  • Structural abnormalities. Some people are born with hip problems that can accelerate wear and tear of the joint and eventually cause a hip labral tear.
  • Repetitive motions. Sports-related and other physical activities — including the sudden twisting or pivoting motions common in golf or hockey — can lead to joint wear and tear that ultimately results in a hip labral tear.

Without knowing all the details, I’d guess my friend, like so many of the rest of us who hike every week and ski in the winter, the repetitive motions and wear and tear can go on a long time without any sign of arthritis at all.  Then the sudden move, often one we’ve been doing forever, can set the whole thing on fire.

The Mayo Clinic goes on to say that anyone who is over-using a joint could have this result.  My question is, what is over-use?  How to find the balance between keeping moving and over-use?  I know my friend paid close attention to her body and stretched before and after the activities I was part of.  She was often by herself stretching outside the ski bus before the ride home.

So what’s a person to do?  Why of course, Keep moving.  Listen to your body.  Be glad you are a healthy active person when something like a labral tear occurs because you will bounce back quickly.  She’ll be on the slopes with us next winter.  She’s unaware of any other arthritis that needs managing.  Nothing is showing up yet.



Be well, Do well and Keep Moving.

Leave a comment or pass along to your friends.

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Out of the exercise habit: bad for arthritis pain

Gentle Reader,

Funny how you can be diligent with your daily back health exercises and stretches when you are traveling, IMG_0520but get too busy at the desk to do them when you get back home.  Then suddenly the pain shows up.  I do know what to do:

1.  Get to bed earlier so rest can heal.

2.  Walk every day, no matter what

3.  Weight lifting and other core strengthening exercises are a must

4.  Get back to the sugar and gluten-free diet

New York was a blast with Ellie. Here are some pictures.

Ellie and I hung out in Times Square’s hustle and bustle visiting the Disney store, Toy R Us where we rode the ferris wheel, the M&M store with irresistible branded items from coffee mugs to bed linens (she bought an M&M covered basket ball!).  We sat on the bleachers and watched the flashing lights from every building and all the people speaking every language on Earth.  She got herself on the big screen for a few seconds. IMG_0457 Madame Tussaud’s wax museum is a history/pop culture lesson.  For her, American giants from George Washington and Lincoln to the Obama’s came alive.  For me, she introduced me to the TV stars, singers and comedians who perform today (and I never watch).

We went to see Annie on Broadway, her first such production.  Fabulous.IMG_0453

A friend of mine who volunteers as a Big Apple Greeter toured us around China town, but the real thrill for this girl who has been exposed to Mandarin in her elementary school since she was in kindergarten, was recognizing the spoken language as we waited in line for the New York Harbor tour.  In her extreme shyness, she managed to say a phrase in Mandarin to the young woman who just graduated from a US university and her parents who came from Shanghai to witness this big event.  They were thrilled and I think she was, too.   IMG_0555

Central Park and the Museum of Natural History were walking distance away from my friend’s Riverside Drive apartment and the IMG_0451weather was wonderful for strolling.  Probably the most exciting thing Ellie did was make a Muppet at FAO Schwartz.

Our host, Mary Ann, has two lovely cats which Ellie befriended.  One afternoon several writing friends came to “write with Ellie” whose teacher often had the 5th grade students write on topic, never lifting the pen until the time is up.IMG_0542

A highlight for me was our trip with Mary Ann and her friend Jan to Brooklyn for brunch in a funky restaurant that had been completely under water during the hurricane and served the best breakfast we’d ever eaten out.  We also visited the Brooklyn Art Museum where we spent time with the extraordinary women IMG_0523depicted in Judy Chicago’s famous Dinner Party.  On our last day there we went out to Saint John the Devine.  Blue-gowned graduates of Columbia Teachers’ College were just leaving the Cathedral and their ceremony.  Proud parents and grand parents took pictures as we sat on the steps.  Later when I asked Ellie if she would ever come back to New York, she said maybe she’d go there to college.

Ellie is the next to the last child to take on a trip.  Charles Grant Finney is 10 so it will be a couple of years.  Perhaps her older sister will decide she’d like to take a trip with Grandma, but so far it hasn’t seemed like a good idea to her.  What a glorious series of adventures it has been.  Sixteen children altogether; 13 trips so far.  I am one lucky grandma. For more pictures, click here.

My hope for you is that you, too, will be able to keep moving into your 70s.  Don’t let your busy-ness distract you from those exercises that keep your core strong so your back and joints don’t have to do all the work.  Our bones and joints get tired and worn out, but the capacity of our muscles depends on our diligence.  We keep them supple and strong or let them get flabby.

Take a moment to leave a comment about travel and managing your arthritis when you are on the move.  Or about anything else you care to share.

Fondly, Betsy

Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving

206 933 1889

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Oh, my aching hamstrings

Gentle Reader,

What a ski season it is here in the Northwest.  The snow conditions surprise us every Wednesday as my band of 16-24 friends head up to the pass on a big bus (potty included).  It’s a good thing to use this bus company for January and February when the road conditions are dicey and icy.  The bus drivers have gotten stuck twice!  The ladies who ski are mostly over 65.  Yesterday I learned that one companion, a tall, slim brunette with impeccable make up and style is 80.  We are still climbing logging roads and snow plowing down, but we have become partial to the groomed Nordic tracks, of which there are a few.  One of oldest members skis with the blind across the US and Canada.  We do have a special club here with a pair of set tracks for the blind skier and her companion guide.  We often see dog teams, although mid-week is a quiet time to ski.  People-watching happens on Saturday and Sunday.  Yesterday the only viable skiing was on the reclaimed rail road track which snakes its way up from Seattle, through the pass and on East.  Long ago this track was pulled up and remaining bed has become a favorite mountain bike and Nordic ski trail.John Wayne track

Pushing and gliding for 3 hours and 8 miles along this relatively flat track awakened muscles I had not used so strenuously.  This morning I have been on the floor getting the creaks and groans out of my joints-back and hip and knee pain are no fun, nor are arthritis flare-ups.  Several techniques work well.


1.  tie a strong flexible tubing around your thighs, squat and walk to the left 20 steps and then to the right. In the picture, the tubing is around the ankles.  I find the tubing stays put better at the thigh.squat walking with tube







2.  Lying on your side with your knees pulls up part way, lift one knee up and then back down in a clam-shell move.  Several reps on each side.Clam shell exercise








3.  Put one end of the flexible tubing in the door jam and loop the other around your foot.  Stand side ways to the door and take the outside foot, lifting straight legged 10 reps.  Turn and draw the foot away from the door across the body.  This is a classic standing Pilates move.  Change legs and repeat.  Years ago I bought a heavy steel foot stool off Ebay to use for this exercise as it works better if you are standing a few inches off the floor.  Gyms have portable durable plastic steps that can be used.  Personally, my little upholstered foot stool would never be taken for an exercise prop as it sits by the front door.  This is the best picture I could find.  Imagine the end of the theraband as a knotted tube in the door jab, the bottom around your shoe.Hip-abd-with-TB-finish

4.  face the door and, with the foot in the loop of the tubing, push it away from the door while standing erect, in perfect posture, on the other foot.  Several reps on both legs will help.



I am glad I climb stairs every week (200), going up and down sideways with the grape vine step.  I found yesterday that straight way skiing tired the knees.  Most women have slightly knock-knees and prolonged straight walking, hiking or skiing stressed them.  Whenever you have the opportunity to go up or down stairs side-ways, one foot behind, then in front, do it.  Your knees will not stress on the straight-away as much. I am going to get someone to film me doing this.  There are no pictures on the web that I can find.

Avoiding arthritis pain in the knees, back and hips can be challenging, and fun.  Get out there and enjoy the winter weather if you are lucky enough to have snow.  Don’t let the diagnosis of osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis keep you from moving.  Browse the techniques I have offered in my blog postings and try some of them.  Better still, leave a comment about the techniques you have found work well.


Be Well, Do Well, Keep Moving


Injured at 52. Diagnosed and sentenced to a wheelchair at 55.  Hiking, skiing, dancing and walking at 75.  Read my story

206 933 1889  betsy@HiHoHealth.com   www.GrandmaBetsyBell.com


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Is it Woo-Woo?

Gentle Reader,

Climbing up a long snowy track on cross country skis yesterday, my companions and I talked about little miracles, ‘woo-woo’ magic, the unexplained healing that sometimes occurs.  The husband of one friend has suffered from arthritis in both ankles for about 5 years, so bad that he could barely walk.  He is in his late 50’s.  The friend herself worked a stressful tech job that required her to bend over patients.  She suffered from excruciating pain from her head down her neck, along her shoulders and down her arms.  In time the pain reached down her back.

The man, slim, fit, an avid cyclist who couldn’t walk without extreme pain, got one of his ankles fused, a newish operation for arthritis.  They chose the more painful of the two to work on.  The operated ankle no longer hurts.  The ‘woo-woo’ miracle is that the other ankle no longer hurts. He can walk 5 miles.  The x-rays indicated that both ankles were equally damaged by the disease.  Hum. . . . . .

The friend with the pain from bending over at work?  Her doctor’s diagnosed fibromyalgia and offered drug therapy.  After much consideration, she retired from her job.  All the pain has vanished.

Were the x-rays wrong?  Were the doctors missing something?

In my own case, I hurt my back badly at age 52.  By the age of 55, I was diagnosed with a severe condition that my doctor said would put me in a wheel chair.  At age 75, I am pretty much pain free.  I haven’t had any of the operations they suggested.  A check up with more pictures at age 65, the doc said, “If I didn’t know you, I’d say you should be in a wheel chair.”

What’s going on here?  These three stories, my friend with diagnosed fibromyalgia, her husband with arthritic ankles and me with a back condition so bad I should be in a wheel chair all have to do with pain and the skeletal structure, nerves and pain messaging.  Compelling research has been done with thought, intention and cancer.  Here is a short video about this healing work. Do Thoughts Have the Power to Heal? Could similar healing happen with skeletal and nerve problems?  Even if you don’t direct intention to the condition such as with my friend’s husband?  He’s not interesting in discussing the ‘miracle’ healing of the second ankle.

You can read my story and what I’ve done to be pain free today in past blog posts.  Perhaps the most important thing is hope, belief and action, in that order.  I seldom miss my morning routine to limber everything up.  I listen to a CD meditation that declares night after night that my cells have all the right nutrients to recreate themselves new and healthy, even the ones in my back that are supposed to be all messed up.

Miracles of healing?  As the doctor says, “whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”  And so I do.  How about you?


Be Well, Do Well, Keep Moving


Injured at 52. Diagnosed and sentenced to a wheel chair at 55 and 65.  Hiking, skiing, dancing and walking at 75.  Read my story.  

206 933 1889  www.GrandmaBetsyBell.com   Betsy@HiHoHealth.com


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Help! Gotta have chocolate now!

Gentle reader,

How are you doing with those plans to take a few inches off?  Are you starving yet?  Are cravings getting the better of your will power?  What’s this got to do with arthritis and joint pain, anyway?

The research has been done and is conclusive beyond a doubt that losing even 15 pounds (you may have 50 to 100 to lose) in any body will make a difference in the joints.  Even people with severe osteoarthritis will experience relief from joint pain with the loss of 15 pounds.  You may have lost that much and noticed.  You may have put it back on again, and noticed an increase in arthritis pain.

A recent article in our Seattle based natural market, Puget Consumer Coop gives us a good understanding of cravings and why they are so difficult to eliminate.  We are hard-wired as humans from the beginning of time to go for high-calorie food for our survival.  When a bee hive was discovered in a high tree, no attempt was made to save it for tomorrow.  The whole tribe ate all the honey they could harvest until it was gone.  Just like that plate of cookies sitting on the counter.  Or that pint of Ben and Jerry’s we were going to split into at least 5 servings spaced out over the next two and a half weeks.  Gone in one sitting.

Then we beat ourselves up for lack of self control.  Blame it on our chemistry.  Salt, fat and sugar were scarce.  We love eating them because they increase the feel good chemicals in our brain.  For example, dopamine is neurotransmitter that high-fat foods increase regulating our reward and pleasure centers and making us happy.  Who wouldn’t want that? Bring on the ice cream and the French fries.

Or maybe it’s the theobromine (found in chocolate) that gives us a pick me up when our brain and tail drag around 3 in the afternoon.  That mocha latte is just the thing delivering caffeine, sugar and chocolate all in one gulp—feel good and get energized.  I used to advise clients to eat a magnesium supplement to supply what chocolate cravings demand.  The scientific thinking a few years ago was that cravings indicated a nutritional or emotional deficiency and something less unhealthy could be substituted for the same results.

You’re in luck, and so am I.  Turns out it is wiser not to deprive yourself completely of these craved for foods.  The more you deprive yourself, the more you crave.  Once you give in to the craving, you can’t stop until the plate is empty. You may even head for the store to get a refill, more cookie dough that you might not even bother baking, or, let’s just pick up a gallon of that Rocky Road ice cream.  I know a guy who holds back with great effort from eating peanut butter and then gives up with a great sign and is face down in the Adams jar with two cereal spoons.  OMG I’ve been there and done that.

They even found that people who practice severe and rigid dietary restraint are more likely to be obese.  That’s a yo-yo from deprivation to over-consumption.

<———————————–The Hunger Scale——————————->
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Empty Ravenous Over hungry Hunger pangs Hunger Awakens Neutral Just Satisfied Completely satisfied Full Stuffed Sick

Thanks to Kelly Morrow, MS, RD, registered dietitian and Associate Professor in the School of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University for much of this information and the Hunger Chart.  and 2 equate to excess hunger and 9 and 10 are excess fullness.  Start eating around 3 or 4 and stop when at a 7-8.

Two strategies can make a big difference in how these cravings get handled.

1. Ease up.  Have a taste.  Savor it.  Before the cravings are so great they can’t be handled without an all-out binge.  Be gentle with yourself and eat small portions of your comfort food.

2.  Keep a food diary so you can really understand how moods, physical location, memories influence the desperate need for comfort foods.  Once you have a clearer understanding of your body’s response to certain trigger situations, you can plan ways to disarm your craving, like take a walk.

My sugar craving was severe and the results caused me so much misery.  I could not stay awake in an important lecture or concert any time of the day or evening after eating sweet rolls, cookies, muffins, toast and jelly.  I would get up during a talk and walk around the back of the room to stay alert after a couple Costco bran muffins put me sound asleep.  To this day when I go to an all day meeting or conference and they serve sweet bread-y things with juice and coffee, I don’t touch any of it.  Instead I mix a protein smoothie in my room and drink it before showing up for the pre-event sugary snacks.  They still tempt me.  They look so good.  But I’m not hungry because I have taken in a high protein drink and it’s easier to resist what I know will keep me from being alert to the content I want so much to hear.

Getting to this place was an arduous process for me.  I had to eliminate all sugars, even fruit, for a while.  Grapes still set me off as though I were eating Sugar Pops or M & M’s.  Once I thoroughly re-programmed my craving buttons, I just don’t think about those trigger foods.  I was just in Mexico for a couple weeks.  One of the great pleasures all those years visiting at my parents’ lovely beach house in Manzanillo was the morning “pan dulce” delivery.  Mother would buy several little cakes for each person.  They were heavy with lard, flour and sugar, almonds and icing.  This Christmas holiday spent in Puerto Vallarta, someone in our party bought a half dozen for the group. I had one small mouthful and remembered the pleasure of the past family gatherings AND the sluggish, heavy feeling those cakes produce.  One bite was enough.

Another strategy I try to follow is eat by the clock and not by my hunger.  Eating with cravings as the signal for meals can be difficult for a person devoid of normal hunger pangs.  I can go for hours after breakfast and suddenly realize my brain is not functioning.  I’m getting crabby.  I must have something to eat RIGHT NOW.  Keeping a nutritional protein bar in my purse or planning lunch as I finish breakfast is the best way I know to stay comfortably on the path of good eating.

Was the chocolate cake and flan in the Botanical Garden restaurant ever good!  Sharing one serving with my sister-in-law was all I wanted.  We ate steak fajitas before the desert.

I know many of you readers will have your own stories about how you have managed a healthy balance of sugar, fatty, salty foods in your life without becoming fanatic or over powered.  Tell us your strategies.  I have shared mine.  They are not universal.  We’d like to hear yours.  The comment place is just below.

If this has been useful, feel free to share.

BTW I am having a brunch at my house in West Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 19th at 10:30-12n. and would be happy to have you join us.  We’ll be presenting the 180 Turnaround weight management program.  Better yet, we’ll be tasting the Smoothies, the bars, the tea and describing all the support material available to help you end the  grip cravings have on your brain and consequently your health.  A program that helps you feel satiety while your are changing your food habits can make a world of different in whether or not you are successful.  I’d be glad to do the brunch vitually.  Call me and we’ll set it up.  Thanks in advance for your comments.

Fondly, Betsy

Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving

BetsyBell’s Health4u


206 933 1889  1 888 283 2077



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Blue Christmas

Gentle Reader,

Does the over whelming need to be cheerful this season get you down?  Perhaps you are like me and Christmas brings memories, and some of them are not go wonderful.  It feels like an emergency.  I have to figure something out or I will go down in a wash of self pity.

The first session with my personal trainer, daughter Priscilla Bell was a positive step and the floor exercises for strengthening the abs feel as though they are making my back less vulnerable.  Arthritis pain is less and less.  There were some tweaks as the exercises took their measure of my joints.

Christmas still felt blue.  I am digging through old papers and came across the Christmas letter from 1993, the first communication to my friends since my first husband, Don Bell died the previous November.  The letter begins “Who’s going to dry my tears?  Who’s going to listen to my day?  Who’s going to plot the future with me now that Don Bell is dead?”  What misery!

The letter ends with gratitude for you, my friends who are there for me to dry my tears and hear about my day.

Five years later, I married our good friend Chuck Finney, widowed the same time I was.  Now it is five years since our last Christmas together.  He died Epiphany 2008.  Hard to realize I’ve been alone this long.  Most of the time it is good.  I have you, my family and my community at Saint Mark’s to sustain me.   But.  Christmas feels blue.

I went back to Priscilla for more training.  Action, in my world, leads to mental health as well as physical health.  This week she gave me weight bearing exercises with 5 pound weights.  OMG.  Much harder than the ones I was already doing on my own.  She noticed, rightly, that my shoulders are getting rounded from sitting too much and not standing tall.  This happens with age and if we want to keep going into our 90’s, we have to work on building those larger upper back muscles.  When strengthened they will open the chest and hold us tall.  The added benefit for the person with osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, or any joint pain, is that a stronger upper back relieves the stress on the lower back.  She told me I was working my lower back way too much.

Two close and dear friends are suffering from terrible arthritis pain these days.  One visited her naturopath who recommended the Paleo Diet:  all vegetables and protein.  No grains or dairy (including cheese.  Yep, you got that right.)  You can read my post http://nowheelchair.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/it-comes-down-to-what-we-eat/ and watch the TED talk there by the amazing woman who was in a wheelchair when she changed her diet to this Paleo thing and is now healthy.

Does that plunge you into another low Blue Christmas?  Thinking about that kind of diet when you just went out and bought those beautiful cheeses and crackers, cream and butter for the feasts you are preparing?  Yes.

Be of good cheer.  January 2nd is coming.  Make a resolution to try the diet thing to rid yourself of pain.  If you want help with extra pounds, I’m your girl: the expert Turnaround Specialist.  Give yourself 90 days to get the new regimen into your system, watching the inches melt away and the joints behave themselves.  Then keep it up for another 90 days to cement the new eating and exercise habits.  This is the 180 turnaround we want for 2013.  Shaklee has a new program called 180 Turnaround.  Join me. I’m going to do it and will be glad to lead the way.


For now, be of good cheer without denying that this season can be tough.  Put on your rain gear and go outdoors.  The low lying hills are calling and the roads are clear.


Merry Christmas!  And keep moving.

Before you go, post a comment about your Blue Christmas.  Ask for kindness back to you.


Fondly, Betsy

Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving

BetsyBell’s Health4u


206 933 1889  1 888 283 2077





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Exercises for a bad back

Gentle Reader,

I began this blog to report on ways to manage osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis by reflecting on my own experience.  I have to tell you that I have no symptoms these days.  I’ve been trying to understand what I have done to reduce the chronic pain to this degree.  I practice all the suggestions I have written about in my posts and they helped but didn’t bring me to this place of comfort.  The one thing that I have consistently done recently is listen to Peggy Cappy’s CD called Healing Back Pain.  While you know me as enthusiastic, I am also questioning and doubtful about the effectiveness of new age remedies.  However, I am growing more and more convinced that her voice and her message in this CD are healing my chronic pain.  Please take a moment to go to her web site and order it.  Download it into your computer and put it on your I phone, or other media player and listen to it at night or during the day when you lie down.  If nothing else you will be profoundly relaxed from all stress in your life.

I promised you I’d let you know what exercises Priscilla Hard Core Mother of Four gave me to develop more abs strength and lose that little bit of belly fat.  Here they are:

Pilates 100.  Put your head down flat  This is the posture for a bad back.  Be sure you have a nice neutral curve in your back.  Don’t move your head or your shoulders as you lie on the floor.  Your legs can be all the way up.  Now spread your figures wide, hold your arms straight and pulse 5 x to an in breath and 5x to an out breath, counting to 100.  This warms up the hips, abs regions.


This is totally fun.  By tempo change, she means go slow with your pointed foot from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock and then zip around to 12.




Single leg circles with tempo change 5 one way then 5 the other way


Here you are making small circles with your toes in 1st position, legs zipped together, first in one direction and then the other.  Totally cool.



These roll up moves are challenging.  Do not do them with your legs out straight if you have back trouble.  Plant your feet on the floor and reach behind your thighs to pull yourself up.  The assist really helps.  By rep 7 I can just about do the roll up without the assist.  It’s getting easier every day.






Put your hands underneath your head and with your legs over head, point toes in 1st position and take them out to the side and back 10 x.  The higher over your body your legs are, the easier on your back.









Flex in frog, X10 For this exercise put your hands behind your head and you are drawing your feet in toward your face allowing your knees to go out to the sides like a frog.





Bridge clam X10/s

*I can’t find a picture of this one.  On your back lift your butt off the floor into a bridge. Your feet are planted on the floor about 8 inches beyond perpendicular. Both hands reach up to the ceiling as you drop one knee to the side for 10 repetitions. I cant go down very far without pain to the right and less far to the left without pain.  So listen to your body on this.


Prone: Before beginning prone exercises, always spend a little time in Child’s pose, resting your back.









Double kick extend up and back for 10/s.  You are lifting your kicking leg off the mat.  Do this slowly, lift the foot and then lift the leg an inch off the floor.  Drop the foot back down slowly and go to the other side.

Nose should face the floor so you are in neutral position. 


In this exercise, your head is still down.  Your legs are forming a triangle, knees out and feet together.  Lift both legs simultaneously and move your thighs together.  Rest.  Lift thighs and move knees out again.  10x total, 5 out and 5 in.





For this go outside or at the bottom of your stair case, take a bungee tube with handles (you’ve seen them in Big 5 sporting goods stores or on TV) instead of buckets of water.  Place the center of the tube under your right foot making sure there is no way it could escape and recoil into your face.  Bend standing knee slightly and bend the back leg slightly.  Then lift the back leg straight out behind you. Imagine your gluts.  Beautiful.  Weight should be on the leg that is on the step, not on the back leg.  Hopefully you get the idea.


You could also stand on the floor to make it easier.  Lift one leg off the floor straight back 5x and then switch.


OK, then.  Tell me how it goes for you.  Leave a comment for others and by all means, sign up to receive every post.


Fondly, Betsy

Be Well, Do Well and Keep Moving

BetsyBell’s Health4u


206 933 1889  1 888 283 2077




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