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Health | Manolo for the Big Girl
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Wait… I’ve Got WHAT???

Well day-um!

In light of Miss Plummy’s diagnosis of cholera, of all things(!) I find myself wondering what bizarre ailments other folks have found themselves to have.

My weirdest? Well, about three or four years ago, I had a cold that lingered, and lingered, and lingered… and lingered. Eventually I broke down and went to a doctor only to discover that what I had thought was a cold was actually pertussis, otherwise known as whooping cough. Whooping cough! I’d never even known anyone who had had whooping cough! I thought it was nearly mythic by that point. Little did I know it was on the rise.

Now I see PSAs on TV all the time reminding adults to get the pertussis vaccine.

Still, that ain’t nothing to cholera. The closest I’ve ever gotten to knowing anyone who had that was when I read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett as a child. The heroine, Mary, loses both her parents to cholera in India and is shipped off back to England and her reclusive uncle… and, well, I enjoyed it when I was ten. It still appeals to the part of me that goes back once in a blue moon to re-read Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter.

But back to surprising illnesses.

What is the most surprising diagnosis you’ve ever gotten? Had you ever known anyone who had suffered from the same thing?

And Plummy? Feel better soonest.

Blog in the Time of Cholera

First of all, yes, I had Actual Cholera and yes, it’s about as much fun as it sounds.

While cholera has pretty much been eradicated in the US, it’s still alive and kicking in the developing world and kills a whole mess of people each year. It really shouldn’t be fatal, but unfortunately the places where you’re most likely to get cholera are also the places least likely to be able to provide clean drinking water and medical care.

Also, fun fact, the Cholera vaccine we American and European travelers take with our various stabs and jabs before a trip? About 50% effective. Even the superfancypants vaccine in Vietnam drops to about 60% after a few weeks. Yeah, sorta wish I’d known that before I dropped seventy bucks at the pharmacy.

The culprit in my case were some perfectly fresh, perfectly harmless (well, perfectly fresh anyway) Manila clams from the famous Ensenada open air fish market, known to the locals as El Mercado Negro.

No, I don’t know why it’s called the black market, and neither does anyone else I’ve asked. Sure it was on Shark Week last year for selling ground up great white shark as taco meat, but that hardly qualifies it for such a shady title.

Having spent many a formative weekend of my youth visiting the fish markets of Annapolis with my beloved grandfather, I’m a dab hand at seafood selection so I picked a kilo of gloriously meaty smoked marlin, some shrimp for the now-mandatory shrimp and grits (I made the mistake of making it for Hot Latin Boy and friends and now they come around my kitchen with sad faces and empty bowls like little Latino Oliver Twists) and two kilos of happy looking, tightly shut clams, plucked out of the sand just a few hours earlier.

What I wish I’d known earlier was no matter how tightly shut or happy those clams look, eating warm water Pacific bivalves in the spring after an unusually hot winter is Very Dangerous Indeed.

The naturally-occurring cholera bacteria blooms and grows –you’re welcome for that Edelweiss earworm– in a big way in the algae, so those delicious little clams and oysters can’t filter it all and become briny little bacteria bombs destined for your delicate GI tract.

So what does this have to do with being fat?

When I first ventured out of the house after two weeks of atrocities committed on and around my colon, I’d lost a considerable amount of weight and even though vanity forbade me from leaving the house until I was entirely in the pink and camera-ready, both Dona Lupe, the twinkly-eyed little abuela who overcharges me at the fruit market (but not as much as she used to) and Senora Chavez, the stentorian grand dame who sells the best butter in Baja looked at me aghast and said I’d lost weight.


Clearly it would take a lot more than two weeks of high-impact food poisoning to make me look anything close to underweight, but it was surprising and somewhat refreshing to have dropped a dress size through illness and get clucks of concern instead of congratulations.

It all goes back to the Western conditioning that weight loss = good and thin = healthy. Being taken out of that, even momentarily, is jarring.

I’m not going to pretend Mexico is free from societal pressures of thinness, although the models in Mexican Vogue are generally bigger, and the mannequins here all have big juicy J-Lo butts, but it’s nice to see at least two grandmas would still rather see a young(ish) woman fat and healthy than thin and sickly.

She still overcharged me for my mangoes though.

When In Doubt, Blame Mom

Okay, I know Joan Crawford isn’t up for Mother of the Century, and I’m down with that.


Last week Liz asked me to share my thoughts about the recent study that claimed to link autism to maternal obesity, and I don’t even have to go very far in depth with the study to have an opinion. There are a lot of people out there who have taken the study apart, pointed out that what was found was a weak correlative link rather than any sort of causal mechanics, and questioned every possible aspect of the study.

I’m not going to deal with the specifics of this particular study. Do a Google search, find an article or three.

What I’m going to discuss here today is not one single study that may or may not hold a clue to one potential health question… or may be a steaming pile of cassowary refuse.

What I want to talk about today is the assumption that when something is ‘wrong’ with a child, it’s the mother’s fault.

Five Great: (Very) Personal Care Products Under $12

Aside from Catherine Zit-a Jones, my monthly pimple pal, I’ve had relatively unearned luck when it comes to the body’s largest organ.

It seems along with her pointy chin and penchant for morning martinis, my grandmother –who subscribes to the Keith Richards school of nicotine and alcohol consumption and looks a full twenty years younger than she is (which is forty years younger than she has the right to)– bestowed upon me her preternaturally good skin.

Unfortunately, stress and a complete environmental change have let slip the dogs of clogged pores and your previously porcelain pal Plummy has found herself in need of some serious skin care.

So too has Hot Latin Boy, whose flawless smoldering face has gone all Vesuvius.

He insists he never had so much as a blemish before he met me.

I assured him it was probably a result of his hormones going into hyperdrive from all the sweet, sweet lovin’ he’s been getting and the best course of action would be to cut way back on the international relations. He backpaddled so hard he nearly tripped over my dog.

Despite evidence to the contrary –last night I plucked an unusual yellow fruit the size of a jumbo olive from a neighbor’s tree and blithely popped it in my mouth before realizing I had no idea what that particular morsel was or whether in fact it was edible– I’m not much of a risk-taker when it comes to my health so I opted to order from drugstore.com where I knew my potions would be approved under the boring-but-important FD&C and FPLA (Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, respectively).

For all I know, Mexico could be just as strict as the US when it comes to their equivalent of the FDA, but I don’t especially want to take that risk quite yet.

Nivea Creme Travel Tin

I think I’ve mentioned these pocket-sized wonders before, but they deserve all the praise my freshly moisturized hands can throw at them.

I buy them by the dozen and stash them everywhere.

There’s at least one in every handbag, in all of my coats, a few in the car and one by my bed. What makes them so brilliant is their portability. They’re slim enough to keep in your pocket or bag without taking up much room, and since it’s a tin and not a tube, it’s virtually leak proof.

Recently I’ve been using it when I go to the beach to protect my face against chapping in the wind and to replenish the moisture lost in my hands from all the salt air. They’re also dead handy to have around when I want to partake in street food and either have to use my own disinfectant wipes (harsh) or the combination powdered hand and dish soap (harsher) provided by the taco joint in question.

That way I can have clean hands and still enjoy my taco without my cuticles painfully turning into papyrus. Plus they’re dead cheap and seemingly last forever. What’s not to love?

Desert Essence Tea Tree Oil Facial Cleansing Pads

I’m a little sensitive to both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, two of the most common active ingredients in OTC acne treatments. Nothing especially terrible happens, I don’t develop leprosy or break out in hives, just a little peeling, but I still try to avoid them when possible.

Tea tree oil has always been good to me as has witch hazel; these little astringent pads contain both.

They are outstanding.

What they’re not, however, are cleansing pads. I always think of cleansing pads as something to replace your face wash. These are more like Oxy pads for grown ups, and I’d use them in place of a toner or astringent.

I really like the pads themselves, which are just scratchy enough to feel like you’re getting a good rigorous bit of exfoliation, and although the witch hazel/denatured alcohol/tea tree oil does tingle, it feels reassuringly strident without making my skin peel or go red, even if I forget to moisturize after.

It’s pretty good bang for your buck too, 50 pads will set you back just over five smackeroos and they can be used as middle-of-the-day skin refreshers too.

Alpha Hydrox AHA Enhanced Anti-Wrinkle Creme

Man this is great stuff.

I remember back in the day you could go to Walgreen’s for your middle-of-the-night PMS run (spice drops, Coca Cola and beef jerky) and get a nice-sized vat of Alpha Hydrox creme for like six bucks on sale.

I would slather it all over my body and then do a dry brush/salt scrub whenever I was feeling particularly crusty and gross.

It worked like gangbusters and I’d emerge from my bath looking just as fresh and pink as a pig in buttermilk.

They’ve either discontinued or reformulated that particular product, but this moisturizer with 10% pure Glycolic Acid –an alpha hydroxy acid naturally found in sugar cane– holds its own when it comes to gently reducing fine lines, spots and improving the tone and texture of your skin, even on delicate petals like me.

HLB has been using this in combination with the tea tree wipes for two weeks and his complexion has almost completely cleared, plus the dark spots blemishes leave behind for a month after a breakout have faded considerably.

I’ve mostly noticed an improvement of tone in my skin and the few fine lines that appear in my forehead whenever I’m particularly stressed or dehydrated have vanished.

I’ve put these last two products behind the jump because they’re a bit intimate in nature, but I get a surprising number of emails about products like these, so here we go.


Newsflash: Eating Only One Food for Fifteen Years Isn’t Healthy

Many of you may have read this article from Yahoo Health that went up two days ago. It’s the sad tale of British teen Stacey Irvine who collapsed and was rushed to the hospital with severe breathing problems.

Turns out what was wrong with her was that since she was two years old – that’s fifteen years, folks – Irvine has subsisted on a diet of Chicken McNuggets meals. That’s pretty much it. Just incredibly processed, deep-fried chicken nuggets and fries, with an occasional slice of toast or handful of potato chips to mix things up. No leafy greens, no root veggies that aren’t fried potatoes, no fruit, no fish, no red meat, no pulses: nada else.

As a result, Irvine suffers from anemia and swollen veins in her tongue. Clearly what she was doing was not good for her health.

But what interests me is the fact that the article seems to focus on the badness of Chicken McNuggets as opposed to what was really wrong with Irvine’s diet: she was eating only one thing and had done so for fifteen years.

In many ways, what shocks me the most about this story isn’t that eating nothing but Chicken McNuggets is bad for you, but the fact that she managed to get along on that and so very little else for so freaking long.

Even proponents of fad diets based around a single food, such as grapefruit or cabbage soup, only recommend you stay on them for roughly a week at a time and then stop for at least a couple weeks. For my money, that’s a great big flashing red warning sign to stay away from that diet. After all, if it were healthy to eat nothing but grapefruit, you wouldn’t have to stop so quickly or give it as long a rest, would you?

In a more nuanced article at CBS News, it’s pointed out that even if what Irvine had been eating every day to the exclusion of all other foods had been something generally recognized as healthy, such as carrots, she would still be suffering ill effects on her health because no single food item can fulfill all of a person’s nutritional needs.

So if you like McNuggets, eat the freaking McNuggets. Just make sure you eat something else once in a while, too. And if you like carrots, eat the freaking carrots… and make sure you eat something else once in a while, too.

It’s not what food you eat that makes it unhealthy: it’s eating only one food.

Variety isn’t just the spice of life. It’s also good for you.

WW Active: The Good, the Bad, and the WTH?

So. Yesterday in my inbox, I found an announcement of Woman Within’s new WW Active line. It’s a collection of activewear, exercise equipment, and blog for fat… er… plus sized women. So far the blog only has two entries, so I can’t say much about it other than it’s got cheerful graphics of straight-sized women and has not yet specifically mentioned weight loss.

While I haven’t seen the clothes up close and personal, I did take a bit of a gander at the offerings on tap to see what I thought of them. Overall, they look practical and comfortable. Most of the pieces do include polyester and/or spandex, but I did find a couple all-cotton shirts, which is nice. Let’s encourage more of that, shall we? And most of the pieces in the collection do seem to include some cotton along with the synthetics.

Most pieces offer color choices, some of them a positively dizzying number, which pleased me to no end. For instance, those yoga pants shown above? come with your choice of twelve color combinations. Okay, all that changes on these is the color of the stripe down the leg, but many pieces come in eight, twelve, even sixteen completely different colors.

Speaking of choices, most of the pants come in petite sizes as well as regular, and quite a few also come in tall. And while the largest size I found among the pieces I actually looked at was 6x – and I only found a couple of those – the size chart tops out at 7x. I have high hopes that that means we’ll soon see attractive, reasonably priced activewear for women up to size 46w/48w. Most of the pieces in the collection seem to go up to 5x, though I did find a couple pantsuits that only went up to 1x. Still, if you’re super sized, there’s a good chance you can find something to wear in this collection. And chances are it will come in a pretty color. I even found athletic shoes up to a 13xww!

Another thing I appreciated was the fact that the line includes exercise equipment. On the downside, nearly half the section is made up of scales and juicers, with only a couple actual pieces of exercise equipment. On the very upside is the unfortunately named Love Handles Exerciser.

What do I think is so great about this machine? Well, basically it consists of two handles which, according to the write up on the site can be attached to nearly any chair or wheelchair. Yes, this site is actually willing to acknowledge that an inability to walk doesn’t necessarily mean you have no interest in fitness.

On the downside of the fitness equipment is the constant talk in the write ups about fat burning, which, I know, is to be expected, but still disappoints my little activist soul. On the even more downside, many pieces of equipment are designed to hold no more than 250ibs. and the treadmill is only rated up to 225lbs. I hope that more equipment for the super sized will become available as time moves on. As things stand, I would break the treadmill, since I’m somewhere in the 240 range.

So yes, there are some downsides. But compared to what has been available for the larger athlete (aka: virtually nothing), Woman Within has done a pretty darn good job, and I applaud them for it.

Oh, and right now? Most of the items in the catalog are on sale. Plus, to sweeten the pot, WW is offering a 20% discount on your entire WW Active order with sales code WWActive20 until 2/28/12.

Let’s support a good effort, and keep our criticisms constructive.

Take Care of Yourself for the Holidays

Ah, the winter holiday season! There’s a crisp snap in the air, homes are filled with the aromas of peppermint and ginger, the malls are potentially lethal, a very few people recall that there are holidays other than Christmas being celebrated, and the world is awash in body shame.

I can’t turn on my computer or television without being assaulted by messages that I’m going to gain gigantic amounts of weight this winter if I don’t stop being so greedy at the same table I’m supposed to fill with homemade goodies until the legs give out. Every ladymag in the universe has a picture of the perfect pie, cake, or souffle I’m supposed to make, alongside a reminder that gaining a single ounce from eating it means I will die well before my time, alone and unmourned as Scrooge in the vision shown him of his potential future. Every year some fanatic out there starts a campaign to make Santa skinny so that he can use his role model status to shame those who carry more meat on their bones.

But you know what? We can opt out of the insanity. We can spend this special time of year failing to hate ourselves. We don’t need to create the false dichotomy of too much food  that we are not allowed to eat. You know what we can do?

We can take care of ourselves.


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