Weighing In

Glow little glow worm, glimmer, glimmer,
Someone’s getting thinner, thinner . . .

I’ve been losing weight. This is not intentional. Much as I’ve disliked the extra pounds I gained once I hit menopause about five years ago, all of which settled in my waist and hips, I’m still on the thin side.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that I could button a pair of old wool pants that had been too tight for years. Suddenly, they fit again. At first, I was delighted. Then I weighed myself and realized I’d dropped at least four pounds since the last time I had checked, maybe a month or so prior, and about eight pounds since last summer.

I mentioned this to my Boston Medical Center rheumatologist at a recent check-up. He said I didn’t show any evidence of an overactive thyroid—Graves’ Disease—which, among other things, makes you feel hot all the time. Certainly not the case. “Let’s keep an eye on it,” he counseled.

Teeth are crooked and her hair’s peroxide,
In the moonlight, she looks cross-eyed . . . 

Another week-and-a-half passed. I checked my weight again one morning and realized I’d lost another pound. This scared me. I called my local internist’s office to get an appointment.

“I’m not sure why I’m losing weight,” I explained to the nurse who answered my call. “Maybe it’s because of the extreme cold and my Raynaud’s? Maybe I’m burning a lot of extra calories?”

“I sure wish that would happen to me!” she exclaimed.

I didn’t know how to respond, even as I was expecting her comment. When I was in the active phase of scleroderma, decades ago, I could not keep weight on. Everyone I knew was jealous. No one was sympathetic.

But the reality is, maintaining weight can be as difficult a challenge as losing weight when your metabolism is messed up. And being too thin, especially with this disease, only chisels your face to an extreme caricature—and makes it even harder to stay warm.

My adult weight has fluctuated over time, like anyone else’s, to a high of 140 when I was pregnant, and a low of just under 100 when I was in the active phase of scleroderma and also dealing with lactose intolerance. Hovering around the 100 pound mark, I had to drink supplements to bulk up. They made my head and teeth buzz when insulin released into my system, and I hated it.

I’m nowhere near that low, now, but when the scale dipped to 113 ( I’ve been around 121 for longer than I can remember), an orange flag waved in my mind.

Bells on her petticoat tinkle in the breeze,
High above her bow-legged knees . . .

My doc ordered comprehensive blood work and a thyroid panel and instructed me to keep track of my food intake until our appointment. I complied, and when the labs came back (my local medical group offers patient access to select electronic medical records), I was relieved that all the results were in the normal range.

I went to see him the following week. As we reviewed the details, he confirmed that the blood work was fine, no indication of scary possibilities, like cancer.

But the mystery remained. Why have I lost this weight? Maybe my extreme cold weather theory is correct. Maybe it has to do with subtle diet changes—I’ve subbed low fat yogurt for instant pudding to coat my stomach when I take Ibuprofin twice a day. Or maybe I’m developing some intestinal malabsorption issues with my scleroderma.

The only way to find out? More tests. He enumerated the delightful options: More blood work! Stool sample! CT scan of my belly! A colonoscopy! And what difference would the findings make? Not clear. We looked at each other and agreed: Wait and continue to monitor.

All the things that people say,
Couldn’t keep us away!

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not worried as I was, before. My weight has stabilized for now. I feel fine, except for the fact that this winter is just too damn cold. Even as an old, nasty childhood ditty (thinner, thinner) seems stuck in my head, I’m just letting it roll. There are much better ways to occupy my mind, and listening to Bizet’s Carmen Suite as I write is a great place to start.

Meanwhile, if I feel like eating that extra Oreo, no harm done.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

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