Thursday, November 25, 2010

Body Weight, BMI, and Body Composition

Nutrition is a hot topic.  There is so much misinformation out there that trying to make heads and tails of it is almost impossible.  So, this is my attempt to give you all a starting point when considering a nutrition or fitness program by helping demystify some common measures of health.

Body Weight

Most people are aiming to "lose weight" without thinking about what that actually means!

Think about it, if I told you Mike weights 230lbs and Jim weighs 180lbs, what does this tell you?  Nothing.  Mike might be a 6'7 basketball player, and Jim might be an obese 8yr old.

Put it this way, would you buy a steak from the supermarket by weight alone?  No way.  You'd want to see if it is mostly fat, or if it was a good lean cut.  Body weight is, by itself, a useless measure of health.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

The BMI is simply a ratio of height to weight.  While this does provide one more piece of information, it is equally useless.  Think of the steak example again.  Two boxes are both marked Sirloin: 2lbs, 8in.  Do you think the two are the same?  Not likely.

Body Composition

Body composition is a measure of the relative proportions of fat, muscle, bone, etc. that make up an individual's total mass.  Imagine the steak example again, but this time the following info is provided:

Sirloin A:  2lbs, 60% Fat, 30% Lean, 10% other
Sirloin B:  2lbs, 15% Fat, 70% Lean, 15% other

Although you'd still like to see the cuts (nobody wants green meat), you now have enough information to make a wise nutritional decision.


If you are looking to get healthier, throw your scale out the window.  It is a dirty liar, and it will only make you feel horrible about yourself.

You should be concerned about FAT LOSS not WEIGHT LOSS.  Find yourself a cheap pair of fat calipers... they don't have to be expensive or particularly accurate.  You just want to establish a trend in your measurements... hopefully, a downward one.

Also, find a pair of jeans that are 1-2 sizes smaller than your current size.  Try them on once every other week.  You will be surprised to find how much progress you are making even though you don't FEEL like your losing much.

Making the decision to get healthy is hard enough.  Don't let your scale mislead or derail you.  You can do it!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Drumroll please...

All grades are posted, and I made all A's this semester!!

As usual, my neuroticism was completely unfounded.  I ended up with a class high, 103 on my Organic Chemistry final.  Needless to say, I am pretty proud of that.

So, with Microbio and O-chem I behind me, it's on to Anatomy & Physiology and O-chem part deux.  I just confirmed with my advisor that I am on track to graduate in the Spring with a BS in Biology w/ a Chemistry minor.

On a completely unrelated note, I am taking Spanish.  I only mention this because I found out something interesting as I perused the online book.  Since I took this class in high school, two letters of the Spanish alphabet have been omitted... the "ch" and the "ll."

A fundamental change in a world language has taken place since I was in high school... now I REALLY feel old.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Parkinson's vs. Essential Tremor

My wife's grandmother has been experiencing what we all assumed to be the beginnings of Parkinson's for about 3-4 years now.  However, after a recent study of Shingles in my Microbiology class, I was curious if nerve damage during her bouts of this disease could be causing her tremor symptoms.

My professor agreed that it could indeed be responsible, so I did a bit more digging.  Apparently, there is a disease called Essential Tremor.  This disease, while 10 times more common than Parkinson's, is frequently overlooked and is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's.

So, what piqued my curiosity?  First, it struck me that her symptoms had not progressed much since we first noticed them.  Then, the symptoms themselves are not consistent with Parkinson's.  Usually, Parkinson's sufferers experience tremors while at rest.  The most obvious is the tell-tale "pill rolling" motion in the hands.  Her hands are quite still at rest.  Further, the tremor that is most obvious is a rhythmic, "no no" shaking of the head.  This is atypical of Parkinson's as well.

Her symptoms seem much more characteristic of essential tremor, particulary something called Postural Tremor, or tremors that occur as a result of opposition to gravity.  Her hands exhibit some trembling, but not at rest.  So far, I have not mentioned my suspicions to her because I don't want to prematurely negate her doctor's opinion.  However, given my research into the subject so far, I am inclined to bring it up and see if she will allow me to observe some specific actions that may confirm my suspicions.

First, the manner in which the hand tremors manifest themselves is important.  Adduction and abduction of the digits are characteristic of Essential Tremor, while supination/pronation is not.  Imagine holding an imaginary glass of water in your hand out in front of your body.  If the hands tremor in a way that is similar to turning a doorknob back and forth, it is characteristic of Parkinson's.

Now imagine holding your hand out flat (palm down and parallel with the floor) in front of you, and spreading your fingers out slightly.  If the fingers tend to be "jumpy/jittery" as they oscillate toward and away from each other (think of the scissor motion in rock-paper-scissors), this is characteristic of Essential Tremor.

Anyway, I will let you know how it goes.

FYI:  I have linked the relevant diseases here to the MayoClinic website for more info.  Also, the following video is a great starting point for understanding the subtle differences between Parkinson's and Essential Tremor:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Well, finals week is upon me yet again.  I felt ultra-prepared for Microbio this morning until I ran into 5 questions regarding our lab.  He NEVER gives questions about lab, so I never even reviewed it!  Oh, well.  I think I did excellent aside from that.

O-chem was more difficult.  I don't think the class is hard so much as the lecture doesn't really prepare you for the test.  I found myself questioning myself the whole way through.  However, I didn't need much to secure an A, so I'm sure that will turn out just fine.

Tomorrow, I finish up psychology and biology.  It's been a LONG semester.  With the job situation and everything, life has been quite stressful.  I hope the results of this term will be a testament to my commitment and ability.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Almost there

It's been a while since my last post, so there is much to catch up on.

I will be finishing up the Fall 2010 semester next week.  I have now completed 67 credit hours, and the majority of my pre-med requirements with all "A"s.  I have completed the MCAT (24Q) - not bad for not having had microbio or organic at the time!

I was invited to interview at UNMC last Friday and had a BLAST!  I have completed my secondary app for Creighton SOM, but haven't gotten an interview invite as of yet.  UNMC said they will be contacting applicants beginning in December, but notifications may be as late as March 2011.  I hope I won't have to wait that long.

I recently quit the railroad.  They were going to force me to work about 3.5hrs from Omaha, and I couldn't do it.  I'd never see my family, and school would be impossible.  So, my path has been chosen... there's no going back.

As I look back at where I began, I am even more proud of how far I have come.  God willing, all of the sacrifices I've made will pay off and around this time next year, I'll be describing my first year of medical school!

Monday, January 4, 2010


My job is unconventional.  Each day there are a fixed number of jobs that start at various times throughout the day (3 shifts).  Who gets each job is seniority based, so we have a "daily preference" form that they use to determine who to place where.

If someone with higher seniority gets a job that is higher up on your preference list and then lays off, they call you for a "ripple."  Basically, they give you the opportunity to work the job if it comes available.

Well, with my schedule at school, the time they choose to call happens to be when I am in class.  So, I called this morning and left a message with the caller to let her know that I would not be available when she called, but that I would like to accept the ripple if it becomes available.

Sure enough, the phone begins vibrating during class... a sure sign that she either 1) did not get my message, or 2) completed ignored it.  After class I called to see what she had done, and in a very snotty tone, she said "Yes, I got your message.  That's not how it works.  I call YOU, and if you don't answer, that's too bad.  I have to TALK to you. Click."

With the weather right now, the difference in the job that I will work and the job I COULD have worked today is about 7hrs outside in the snow.  I have to keep telling myself that this is exactly the reason why I'm back in school... I can't take 30 more years of this kind of arrogance/ignorance.

Of course, it's hard to speak to yourself when all you can think about is beating the living shit out of the person. 

Serenity now....

Sunday, January 3, 2010

If you knew you would fail...

I posted a response just now to ADoc2Be's blog posting, and decided that it was worthy of posting in it's own right. 

Many of us non-trads are burdened (sometimes overly so) by the pressures, fears, and concerns of life as an adult confronting major sacrifices to follow a dream.  Mine is to become a doctor, but that particular goal does not have the corner on all of the above.

So, if you are like us, and you find yourself wondering if you have the mettle to make your dream a reality, I say to you....

You know you will regret giving up (or giving in, out, etc.).

If you knew for sure you would fail in the end, would you give up the journey?

I woke up this morning to my oldest daughter (3) crying in her room with nightmares.  My wife (pregnant with #3) hasn't gotten a full night's sleep in 3 years.  No exaggeration.  I crawled into bed with her to calm her down.

At 6am I kissed her and told her I had to get ready for work.  It had snowed and additional 4 inches overnight, and was -4 as I swept snow from the car windows and started the engine.

By 7am this fine Sunday morning I was dressed head-to-toe in snow boots, heavy-duty coveralls, gloves, thinsulate mask, safety vest and a radio as I trudged through 3ft snow drifts to begin my day in the railroad yard.

In the few breaks I took to do jumping jacks (to get blood flowing back to my frozen fingers and toes) I thought about what I was doing to myself to "possibly" become a doctor.  I say possibly, because nothing is guaranteed.

Between full-time work and school I hardly see my wife (who really should be complaining much more than she does) and kids, I have to decide which bills I can pay each month and which ones get to call my wife endlessly for payments while I'm away, and I wonder "What the HELL are you doing?!?"

All for a chance... just a CHANCE that I could fulfill a dream.  A chance to really provide the life that my family deserves, a chance to really make a dent in the universe by helping others, and a chance to be an example to my kids that hard work and sacrifice are virtuous.

I could lead a decent life without MD at the end of my name. It would be much less stressful to quit school, get out of the railroad yard and work on the long-haul trains (in the comfort of the locomotive cab), and be the cool dad at career day who gets to drive trains all day.

But, I'm not ordinary.  I want to make a difference in the world - to be a pioneer, not a settler.  I want to cure cancer.  (That's not a typo, I really think I can.)

However, that dream is at the end of a very long and unforgiving road.  It doesn't care that I'm human, if I struggle or if I fail.  It only demands perseverance and bit of insanity.

If I knew now that I would fail... I would choose to fail in spectacular form, and know that I gave it my best shot.

Don't quit.