On the Verge of Normal

Bringing a solutionary practice to reverse bone loss

Posted Jul 07, 2019

As a 98 lb. white woman with small bones, I am a poster child for osteoporosis. Plus, I have a family history of the condition.

My mother had a spontaneous sacral fracture at age 83 (spontaneous meaning that she was doing absolutely nothing, and her sacrum broke). In excruciating pain, and after surgery and two months in a hospital, she finally returned home – with three alternating aides ensuring her care 24/7 and giving her daily injections of a drug to prevent future fractures. 

When I was thirty-nine years old, I told my doctor I wanted a bone scan. That was an unusual request, because thirty-nine-year-old women aren’t at risk for osteoporosis – unless they’ve gone through chemotherapy or have had surgery that puts them into early menopause. But I had already begun losing height (which, when your peak height is 5’1½” on a good morning, is a particular drag).

The spinal scan revealed that I was in the middle range of osteopenia – the diagnosis between ‘normal’ and ‘osteoporosis’ that indicates bone loss, but not sufficient enough loss to make fractures likely.

I was active, but not super active, so I began practicing Aikido, a martial art in which we do lots of rolls and breakfalls. I felt confident that all that impact on my spine would keep me from losing more bone mass. I also upped my hiking regime and ran periodically, having read that high impact exercise was one of the keys to avoiding osteoporosis.

'Zoe Weil'
On the verge of osteoporosis
Source: 'Zoe Weil'

A couple of years later I had another bone scan. There was a modicum of (statistically insignificant) improvement, which I took as good enough news. I continued what I was doing, assuming that in this manner I would permanently stave off osteoporosis.

But after my mother’s fracture, by which time I was 54 years old and had gone through menopause, I thought I had better get another bone scan just to be sure.

The results shocked and terrified me. I had lost more than 10% of my bone mass in 12 years and was on the verge of osteoporosis.

I knew that if I dipped into osteoporosis levels, my active lifestyle would be risky. What would happen when I fell ice skating – as I do on bumpy frozen rivers and lakes during Maine winters? What would happen if I slipped on wet, lichen-covered rocks in Acadia National Park – another frequent occurrence?

'Edwin Barkdoll'
Source: 'Edwin Barkdoll'

Doctors suggested various medications, but osteoporosis meds have side effects, and they aren’t a cure. So I decided to be a solutionary as I confronted my diagnosis. I didn’t just want to remain on the verge of osteoporosis; I wanted to reverse the condition, even though I was led to believe this wasn’t possible.

I read about the importance not just of high impact exercise (which I’d been doing), but also weight-bearing exercise (which I hadn’t), and so I joined a CrossFit gym. There would be no shortage of weightlifting there.

I suspected that just a little weightlifting would be insufficient to achieve my reversal goal, so I went all in, five days a week. My attitude was, “Bring on those weights, baby.” So what if I initially hated weightlifting and could barely lift a thing compared to everyone else. It turned out the coaches and members all had my back, literally and figuratively, and feelings can change, especially when one’s quality of life and future are at stake.

One year later, I had another bone scan. Amazingly, I’d regained almost all the mass I’d lost during the previous twelve years.

Two more years and hundreds of CrossFit classes later, I had another bone scan.

I was on the verge of normal.

'Zoe Weil'
'On the verge of normal'
Source: 'Zoe Weil'

I’m pretty sure I hugged the technician, over whose shoulder I was peering as she printed out the results of the scan.

My doctors were delighted. Even though there was no need to keep my appointment with my endocrinologist after the first follow up scan, I did so anyway. I wanted to be her poster child for rebuilding bone so that she would use me as an example when she counseled other patients.

She applauded my tenacity but told me that while she was thrilled with my results, she didn’t think her other patients would be so disciplined and willing to do the work required to regain their bone mass.

Personally, I didn’t feel like I’d done anything special. I’d simply put my solutionary practice to use.

Solutionaries are dedicated to doing research and acquiring factual information. We use critical, systems, strategic, and creative thinking to solve problems while avoiding unintended negative consequences. And we commit to making responsible choices that do the most good and least harm.

The results of a solutionary practice can be life-changing and world-changing.

When I joined CrossFit Acadia, I thought of it as medicine. Little did I know that I would grow to love weightlifting; relish getting stronger and fitter; find an incredibly supportive community, and make one of the most important friendships of my life.

 'Jamie Jean Harding'
'Doing one of twenty 55lb overhead squats'
Source: 'Jamie Jean Harding'

Nor could I have imagined that the political and religious diversity of the CrossFit community would make me learn important lessons that have convinced me of the power of solutionary practice to bridge what too many believe are unbridgeable divides between people –- divides that keep us polarized and blame-focused instead of solutionary-focused.

While most of what I write about is how to bring solutionary thinking and action to local and global problems, it’s important to remember that we can also bring a solutionary practice to our own personal challenges.

Imagine what would happen if we made that the norm.