Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Learning to Be Cool

Well, autumn temperatures have finally arrived in the Mile High City, and I'm on a new mission. This year I'm gonna be cool!

Seriously, I'm actually trying to see how long I can go without turning on the heat this year. While this may look like one of those environmental challenges you often hear about, or perhaps an attempt at even further frugality, honestly, my motivation is a bit more down to earth.

The thing is, I am ALWAYS cold. As a child, my best friend called me "frozen nose" and with good reason. I've always sorta blamed this on being born in the tropics (I was born in Hawaii). Like my internal thermostat got set at birth to think that 80 degrees is "average." Generally speaking, once the temperature falls below about 75 I'm reaching for extra layers.

But, about a month ago I read some very interesting new research about human fat cells and their role in keeping us warm. Apparently humans have 2 distinct kinds of fat... well, we may have more than that, but the stuff I was reading focused on the difference between brown fat (so-called "good" fat) and the more common white or yellow fat.

As it turns out, brown fat plays a different role in human metabolism than does white fat. While white fat can be burned to fuel muscles, it is brown fat, and brown fat alone that can be burned to keep us warm. It's sort of like the fuel for our internal furnaces.

Anyhow... babies generally have mostly brown fat, while adults have primarily the white variety. But the study I read suggested that this might not have always been the case throughout human history - like before we all lived in climate controlled environments.

The study basically had people volunteer to expose themselves to colder temperatures than they normally would - some by wearing light clothing in temperatures around 62 degrees for about 2 hours per day, and some by putting ice packs on fatty areas of the body for about 30 minutes a day.

The results were that routine exposure to chilly temperatures (by either method) converted some of the subjects' white fat to brown. Now, most of the articles I read were interested in this study for its weight loss implications, but my interest is more along the lines of trying to find a way to ignite my internal furnace so I'm not cold all the time!

You see, I'm always the coldest in the fall and spring... but when winter rolls around and the temperatures really dip low, somehow my internal thermostat kicks in and I stay reasonably warm.

Sooo... ironic though this might seem, it got me to thinking that perhaps the key to staying warmer and kick starting my internal furnace is to actually let myself be cooler!

At any rate, that's my long-winded explanation for what I'm trying to accomplish by keeping the furnace off. So far I have to say that the results have been nothing short of remarkable!

Being cooler takes some getting used to, but overall I'm finding that I'm able to tolerate temperatures in the mid-60's without extra layers of clothing... even with bare feet sometimes, and for me, this is absolutely remarkable. I've even found that I do better on bike rides in the 60's without any extra layers!

Now, CatMan has a completely different theory in regards to my new-found cool temperature tolerance.

I'm not sure if this has come through in my writing or not, but the past year has been a time of intense emotional upheaval for me, precipitated by my mother's death. It's not so much about grieving her loss, though there has certainly been some of that, it's more that her being gone has somehow allowed me to open up some long-shuttered emotional doors and start dealing with some of the crazy stuff from my childhood.

I don't know if anybody out there has ever done much emotional work, but the experience has been rather intense. I have spent hour upon hour sobbing, and hitting pillows, and confronting a whole host of seriously uncomfortable feelings that were lurking inside. And remarkable things have started to happen in my body.

Areas where I've perpetually held tension are starting to loosen up, and I can definitely tell that blood is flowing more freely. There are even times when I'll catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror and not recognize myself because the deep furrows across my forehead seem to be vanishing.

Don't know if any of you pay attention to this sort of thing, but recently Hollywood was in an uproar over the changed appearance of Renee Zellweger.

The general condenses is that she's had plastic surgery, but her response has been a bit mysterious.
I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows. My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things. People don’t know me in my 40s, perhaps I look different. Who doesn’t as they get older?! Ha. But I am different. I’m happy.
I dunno... perhaps it's too much to hope that such a transformation could come about through emotional honesty... especially in Hollywood, but you never know. Her face certainly does look like she's holding less tension than before.

At any rate, whether it's igniting brown fat or increased blood flow due to emotional work, so far I'm feeling warmer and I've only turned the heat on twice... both times when CatMan was here. Now, it's not like it's been terribly cold here yet... though it does get down into the 30's at night so the house is generally around 60 degrees in here when I get up... so we'll have to see how this goes as the mercury gets lower. But so far I am encouraged!

So tell me, have you turned your heat on yet this year? Are you a "frozen nose" or do you tolerate cooler weather well. And waddya think about my crazy idea?


  1. I hate being cold. I've always hated being cold. I moved from
    a country where central heating was a given to one where
    (at least in the state I live in) it is almost non-existent. I hate
    living pretty much in the one (heated) room in winter. I hate
    the freezing cold 3 am dash to the toilet and then spending
    15 minutes back in bed trying to get warm again. I hate the
    way my husband - who grew up in a typical freezing cold
    Australian house - thinks I'm a wimp! But I have found that
    I almost never get colds any longer - obviously freezing all
    winter has built up my resistance somehow. But I still hate
    being cold!

    1. Hmmm... I didn't realize that most homes in Australia didn't have central heating. I suppose that makes sense in a relatively warm climate. Well all I can say is that I feel your pain, but this new system really does seem to be working for me. There's something powerful about not fighting the coolness and embracing it.

    2. People think Australia is always warm and sunny and
      everybody wears shorts year round! Southern Australia
      gets cold in winter - not as cold as Denver but it sometimes
      gets close to freezing at night where I live. The biggest
      shock for people moving here from Europe or North America
      is how cold everyone's house is!

    3. That's very interesting... because the temperatures here are getting below freezing at night, but my house has yet to dip beneath 60F (15.5C). However, I have heard this complaint about houses in both Australia and New Zealand before. Makes me wonder if they're just very poorly insulated or something!

  2. Interesting. Just a couple of comments to stir into the mix. Because of hormones, women generally feel the hot more and the cold more than men
    Also, it takes your body about a month to readjust to a temperature change (different blood flow, sweating, etc.). That's why when the temperatures first drop in the fall/winter, you feel colder than you do when they are much colder later. So when you live in a place with a lot of fluctuating weather, it's hard to adjust and you feel cold all winter. I found this to be true during the winters when I lived along the Gulf Coast. I don't have a source for you with this information, but I read it in a magazine article years ago.

    1. Interesting... I always thought that women were more cold sensitive because of fashion - you know, when a man dresses up he wears a wool suit while a woman is expected to have bare arms and legs!

      Anyhow, that's interesting about the body taking time to adjust - could explain part of my problem as temperatures here in Denver are nothing if not variable!

  3. I also don't like the cold and I feel it more as I get older. We set out furnace at 22 celsius in the winter and I'm still cold. I wear extra layer of clothes all winter long.
    I shall read up on the brown fat theory, I would do anything to reset my cold temperature.
    When I went through menopause the hot flashes were a good thing, especially in winter especially, but that only lasted for a couple of years:)


    1. Well, so far I'm doing great with it. There are times when I need to go sit under a blanket or something because I start to get uncomfortable, but generally I'm finding that I'm OK with temps in the mid 60's (around 18 C). I'm also sleeping better at night. Not sure what that's all about!

    2. I'm sure I have read that you are supposed to keep your bedroom 'cool' to help you sleep- apparently it signals to your body that it's night and time to sleep...

    3. I have heard that... and while I do seem to be sleeping better I still need to take a hot bath before bed otherwise I just lay there shivering for hours on end!

  4. Very interesting on many topics. First I love the look of Zellweger's face. She looks happy, content and confident something she lacked when younger. That said even losing weight or changing our emotional makeup I don't think she could have changed her eyes so much without some surgery or treatments.

    Now to the cold. Yes, I do have my heat on. ;-( I am very much like you, cold all the time. I've had many "nicknames" over my intolerance of the cold from houseplant to ice cube. My feet and hands are perpetually cold year round. But unlike you I get worse the longer and colder it gets in winter.

    I hate the cold, I hate feeling cold. I wonder if like Zellweger all I need to do is change my perception to feel better. If only it could be that easy.

    As for your emotional journey. I too went through a huge upheaval when my mother died. I was relieved (sorry if anyone takes offense to that but after being abused for years it was in a strange way a relief), but I also had so much that came to the surface that I had never dealt with.

    I held so much inside of me through those years. I lived with a mask on trying to hide what I'd gone through from the world and attempting to look as if I were strong and nothing bothered me for the rest of the family. But when she died all that came to the surface. I had been diagnosed with cancer a few months before her death, cancer that was directly related to the abuse. I let myself feel that I was a victim of hers again, but when she died I got angry. I refused to be her victim and became so proactive that the cancer healed with help from a vegan diet and I believe the emotional journey I went through in those months. (no chemo or radiation was possible due to my health).

    I bet you are thrilled with your new look and the lack of tension in your body. I know it's hard to deal with those feelings but I hope you will continue to let yourself experience them because holding them in can cause all kinds of horrible diseases in our bodies and hold us back from becoming the person we were meant to be.

    1. Well, I think that the trauma of my childhood pales in comparison with yours, but I can certainly relate to the idea of wearing a mask. I sometimes feel as if I spent my whole life pretending for the sake of people who treated me like crap!

      Anyhow, the Renee Zellweger photos are rather amazing aren't they? I didn't even recognize her. To me it just looks like she's stopped squinting, but maybe there was surgical intervention.

      Anyhow, there is certainly a feeling of freedom that goes with both letting go of the emotions as well as letting go of the fear of being cold.

  5. That's an interesting theory on altering your internal thermostat. I can tolerate cool indoor temps much better than my husband, but for sitting at a computer, the current temp of 65 feels a little chilly. Anyway, I'll be interested in a follow-up on how this works for you.

    I'm glad you're seeing some benefits from the emotional work -- sounds like it's hard but important.

    1. CatMan doesn't do well with cool temps either. I think it's probably because the man has virtually no body fat! And I think you've described the emotional work thing perfectly - hard but important. I'm under no illusions that I'll ever be "done" but I do feel like I've made some important progress.

  6. Um, we still have the air conditioning on! But I love your idea. And not just because I'm wearing long sleeves and long pants in our 78 degree house and thinking that one more layer might be nice. Research showed that subjecting yourself to cold only 2 hours a day helped? Nice.

    1. Ha! Well, I suppose "cool" is a relative term! But I can totally relate to feeling chilly once the summer heat dissipates!

  7. There was a blip on a news program here about a year ago in which a man was trying to lose weight by being cold--if I remember correctly, shivering was a way to raise his metabolism. Not a technique I would choose ...

    I am Goldilocks. "This room temperature is too hot". "This room temp is too cold". "This one is juuuuuuuuuuust right!" I find that porridge (the hot kind!) helps warm me up ... all to say, yes, I have turned on the heat. And I'm proud of it. Well, not proud, but it keeps me from being grouchy. I'm a fan of warm socks and layering sweaters and fleecy throws and hot tea. And classical music warms me up on chilly days. Really! Analyze THAT!

    1. Yikes! According to this research if you're shivering you're too cold - but I could see how that could work, as shivering would use up the white fat cells. Anyhow, the stuff I read said you should aim for cool but not shivering.

      Now the classical music thing is very interesting. I wonder if it helps you relax and increases blood flow? Maybe?

    2. Could be! I pull out classic rock and disco in the spring (I have a secret obsession with ABBA--well, not so secret, now that I've told you!) which I think has to do more with feeling young and energetic when the weather starts improving. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Been accused of that before.

    3. Ha! I don't seem to have the ABBA gene, but your secret is safe with me! :-)

  8. Wait until you hit menopause... you'll probably have a rise in body temperature then. I don't have hot flashes but I am always overly warm at night. This year I am looking forward to winter!

    I can say when I travel south, even in the winter, I don't usually feel cold. It's so bitter cold her at times that what other parts of NY State considers cold is comfortable/normal to me.

    Good luck!

    1. Ha! Now there's an explanation I hadn't considered... perhaps it's peri-menopause!

  9. Good luck! I wish you had a way to measure your white fat vs. brown fat to see if you had similar results. (Have you heard about babies sleeping outside in Europe?)

    I'm also easily cold. I read a few years ago that women are built to have a warmer core than men, but at the expense of their extremities (the researchers thought it might be because women need a super warm core when pregnant).

    That said, I usually keep my heat around 55° (unless I invite people over). It saves money and I sleep better. Plus I think it's silly to artificially keep my house 75° all year round rather than experience all the seasons. It's good to be a little cold :)

    The first month of cold weather is always the hardest for me, then it gets easier. Then I have the opposite problem as I try to adjust to the warm weather in May :)

    1. Holy Moly! 55?!? You are hard core! I doubt I'll get my cold muscles quite as primed as yours, but it's 64 in here right now and I still haven't reached for a sweater.

      You know, I lived in Norway for a year and don't remember any babies left unattended outdoors... of course, I wasn't exactly hanging out around coffee houses either. But everybody I came in contact with spent a good deal of time outside because most people walked or took the bus... in the winter they use a sled-like thing called a spark to get around... well that and skis!

    2. Our thermostat is set to around 55 for daytime and perhaps 46 at night/when we are out (rough figures as I am converting from centigrade!)
      It's been freakishly mild here, so the heating hasn't come on at all- though I did turn it on yesterday as the house was getting damp.

    3. Y'all are polar bears! Seriously... do you sleep with a hat on or something? It hasn't fallen below 60 inside at night yet (15.5C) and I need 4 blankets on the bed and have to wear socks so my feet don't go numb! It's 63 in here right now (around 17C) and my nose is running and my ears are cold. Maybe my body will adjust, but I can't imagine sleeping in temps that cold! It wasn't very many weeks ago that I felt guilty about cooling the house down to 75 (24C) at night!

    4. 24C would be toooo hot for me to sleep I think...and 20C would be uncomfortable too...
      I sleep with all three cats on or around me, pehaps kitty blankets are the answer?!

    5. I'm thinking that perhaps our temperature extremes here are part of what makes this challenging. And in terms of cats... while I did cave and let them stay in the bedroom last night, I generally have to evict them because I haven't found a way to get them to stay in designated "kitty areas" on the bed. Princess wants to sleep on my head, Smoky spends all night clawing at the covers to get under, then out, then under, then out... and then he starts climbing the curtains at dawn, and Jasper always ends up smack dab in the middle of my belly so I wake up with a backache. Sigh...

  10. Mr. Money Mustache wrote something way back on the opposite effect: how working outside in the summer can help you adjust, and keep the AC off.

    I think my 'thermostat' was set oddly, too, as I was born in AZ...then raised in Pittsburgh. I'm always cold. I was always cold in the winter when we lived in San Diego, which is ridiculous. I might try your challenge when winter rolls around here, which is still fairly mild. I doubt I'll get many props for enduring the 55 degree nights. :)

    1. I've read similar things about the heat as well. Perhaps the body is more flexible than we give it credit for! But I gotta admit that I'm surprised that houses in Arizona even have furnaces... well, in Flagstaff I could see it, but not southern AZ! Perhaps it's not actually over 100 year round there? :-)


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