Monthly Archives: July 2015

My Sun Phobia—Just Call Me Draculess


Angry sun

I have discovered over the past several years that the splendid and blazing sun is NOT my friend. And I go out of my way to stay far far away from it or use serious protective measures when forced to interact with it.

As a personal choice, and I admit that perhaps I have taken things to excess, I try to avoid going out in the sun when at all possible—especially in the summer. It’s hot, bright, and downright dangerous.

Now I realize that the sun is the star at the center of the solar system. And it is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth, but I am no longer prepared to toast myself under it. Energy splenergy.

In the good ole days, I would varnish myself up with a mixture of Johnson’s baby oil and the dark red tincture of iodine, or Mercurochrome. Like a mad chemist, I would create a murky orange mixture, adding 1/8 cup or 1 fluid ounce of the topical antiseptic to 1/2 cup of oil. Then I would shake it up vigorously and often because the iodine would tend to separate and sink to the bottom.

I’d rub that orange glop all over my hair and body, creating a yellowish brown tint to my skin. Then I would “lay out” for an hour and a half on each side, turning every once in a while like a chicken on a spit, basting myself with the oil compound as needed. Shake and bake. Oh, and because I bit my nails, the antibacterial concoction was fairly painful to apply. And if I had any open cuts they stung like hell.

As if that wasn’t enough, I would use a sun reflector on my face, or create a DIY by wrapping a record album cover with sheets of aluminum foil. I would also check my tan line regularly to make sure I was getting the full Monty. The darker and/or more sunburned I got, the deeper the satisfaction.

Something about Mary

My best friend Robin is convinced that I am a vampire since I don’t usually make my outdoor debut until it’s dark out. That’s not entirely correct. I happily come out around 6ish, although I still wear sunblock.

While my husband lounges around on our magnificent, ridiculously pricey to install, and useless-to-me Trex deck, I am ensconced in our basement/lower level. I like it there. It’s muggy, dark and dank. I can catch a glimpse of the sun from my basement windows, which is good enough for me. But should the sun’s reflection hit my skin, all bets are off, and I make sure that the curtains hermetically seal all light trying to reach out to me via the windows.

Trips to the beach? A major  undertaking, involving a plethora of clothing, sunglasses, lotions, umbrellas, sun hats, and other paraphernalia. Invitations to pool parties, boat excursions, outdoor barbecues, and the like? Ditto.

I can’t exactly pinpoint when my fear of basking in the sun began to maniacally manifest itself. Nor can I recall any particularly harrowing event that caused me to first mildly dodge, and then completely avoid its rays. But it was a gradual process, and now my unwillingness to absorb vitamin D via sunlight has me wondering if I have developed some sort of sun phobia. Whatever my avoidance behavior means, I have an obvious hang-up, and it is unlikely that I will ever enjoy a spattering of fun in the sun again.

Whenever I have a pressing question or issue, my usual modus operandi is to fire up my computer and Google it. This never seems to work out that well for me. While my Internet searches can sometimes lead to the right answers, they have oftentimes led to the wrong answers. This by the way, (according to one of my innumerable searches) is called Cyberchondria: the unfounded concern over common symptoms based on online literature and research.

Anyway, back to my search. I found that Heliophobia is the fear of sun or sunlight. According to the many online entries I studied, people develop this phobia because they are afraid that if they are in the sun too long it might give them cancer. To be clear, my angst has zero to do with cancer.

If anything, I’m afraid if I stay in the sun too long, my skin is going to morph into leather. Is there a phobia for fear of leather bod?


I was relieved to find that no—there is no phobia connected to skin leathering. But there is a phobia for wrinkles called Rhytiphobia. Phew—I am confident that I do not have Rhytiphobia, because wrinkles don’t bother me, and since I have plenty of them, that’s a good thing, right?

Google says it is generally assumed that phobias arise from a traumatic event. Not so with me. The most traumatic event I have ever experienced with regard to sun issues is eyeballing the wrinkly and leathery masses who have exposed themselves to way  too much sun. It’s their weather-beaten scraggy neck and face skin that skeeve me out the most, and make me fairly squeamish and a tad on edge. Why and how anyone with skin like that would think it’s attractive is beyond my comprehension.

So now that I’ve thankfully ruled out Rhytiphobia, I am thinking maybe Google is right, and I lean toward Heliophobia. According to my Internet “sources,” bright sunlight can significantly limit the time, and ultimately prevent a heliophobe from venturing outside during the day. Apparently, the experience is so nerve-wracking that a sun phobic person may go to great lengths to avoid it—inconveniencing themselves or even changing their lifestyle. Now this sounds more like me! (And I’m happy about this because?)

Googs says that a typical phobic reaction would include dread, panic, anxiety, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, nausea, excessive sweating, cotton mouth, a loss for words, and shaking. I don’t feel any of that, although I definitely require a plan of action several hours ahead of any type of sun exposure.

Googs also says that sufferers of Heliophobia often cover themselves with long, protective clothing when going out during the day. They may also avoid going outdoors any old time the sun is bright, including incidental exposure like driving in the car or working near a window. I am sensing a familiarity with moi here.

I do have an unlimited supply of sun resistant rash guards, swim tops, sun-protective leggings, swim pants, UPF 50+ sun hats, sunglasses, zinc oxide, and titanium laced sunscreens. Even I will admit that my obsession with a sun-free life is no way to spend my summer days.

That being said, I am still going to be walking around with a white pasty cast to my skin anytime I venture out during the day. I love love pale skin. When my friends alarmingly tell me I look pale, I consider it a compliment. Sorry people, but a tan does not mean healthy.

I did uncover an alarming tidbit on Long, long ago in a faraway land, Heliophobia was considered a telltale sign of vampires. For those of you who are wondering, NO, I am not a vampire—despite my Draculess nickname. But am I a heliophobe?

My favorite kind of day is cloudy, gloomy, rainy, and stormy. I’ve been known to hotfoot it out to my fab Trex deck on a thunderous, menacing day—and wash my hair.

And so that you don’t think this blog entry is entirely centered around my selfish, myopic and phobic self, I have put together some sun info I’ve discovered post baby oil and iodine to help you all out.

Call it sun protective tips from the Draculess:

Number one thing I have learned is that all sunblock products are not the same. Ingredients matter. A lot.

UV picks up at midday, so I plan around the sun. When running errands, I try to get outdoors in early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is lower. UV rays from the sun can nab you on cloudy and hazy days as well as bright and sunny days, so beware between 9am and 4pm.

Sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory for me—they are a necessity. UV radiation can cause cataracts and other serious eye issues. And never rely on sunglasses alone.

Men seem to think they are immune to the sun’s negative rays. Hey you guys: DO NOT ignore sun safety. You do so at your own peril. According to’s online guide to sunscreens, in 2012, twice as many American men died from melanoma than women.

Stay away from vitamin A when choosing a sunscreen. Too much pre-formed vitamin A in anything, including retinol, retinyl, retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate, can cause a variety of serious health issues. And it’s in a whopping 20 percent of all sunscreens. Vitamin A is an antioxidant and is added to skin products because manufacturers believe it slows skin aging. And perhaps it does help to make skin look more youthful in night creams and lotions—when used at night and indoors.

Government data show that creams laced with vitamin A can actually speed up the growth of cancerous tumors and lesions when used on skin exposed to sunlight.

Avoid Oxybenzone, when picking a sunscreen—especially for children because it can disrupt the hormone system. It penetrates the skin, and gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body.

Look for products with zinc oxide, that toothpaste-like lotion that lifeguards smear all over their nose and cheeks. This powerful mineral is also known for its sun-deflecting ability as well as its nonirritating and non-allergenic properties and recommended for those who have sensitive skin, acne or rosacea.

And don’t fall for high SPF labels. Any SPF value above 50, trick you into believing they will prevent sun damage. It’s a load of bull and gives people a false sense of security. SPF protection tops out at 30 to 50. The FDA is considering banning any SPF claim above 50 and rightly so.

And aerosol sprays may be convenient, but they can harm lungs, especially young lungs and can pose serious inhalation risks. Aerosol sprays are a definite no no for children.

And speaking of children, it is very  important to keep babies out of the sun. Infants lack the tanning pigments known as melanin to protect their skin, so keep them in the shade at all times.

If you insist on sunning, here are some good sunscreens and sunblock lotions I’ve discovered along the way:

Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30+

Babyhampton beach*bum Sunscreen, SPF 30

Babyhampton beach*bum Sunstick, SPF 30

Badger All-Season Face Stick, Unscented, SPF 35

Belly Buttons & Babies Sunscreen, SPF 30

Block Island Organics Baby Block Non-Toxic Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby, SPF 30+

derma e Antioxidant Natural Oil-Free Sunscreen, Face, SPF 30

The Honest Company Honest Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30

Solar Defense by Body Therapeutics SPF 35

True Natural Ultra Protect 50 Antioxidant Sunscreen, Natural Coconut, SPF 50

And here are some of my tried and true moisturizers:

BeYOUtiful Girl Daily Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30

DeVita Natural Skin Care Solar Body Moisturizer, SPF 30+

SanRe Organic Skinfood Shaded Rose Organic Rose And Coconut Healing Day Cream, SPF 30 COOLA

Suncare Face Plant UV Sunscreen Moisturizer, Unscented, SPF 30

And call me neurotic, but the best way to protect oneself from the sun? It’s called shade.

Girl living in dark


How I Lost 100 Pounds and Why Fat-Free Is so Overrated

Diet Art

As someone who was the skinny girl growing up, I could eat pretty much anything I wanted. My friends and family watched with jealousy, as I scarfed down French fries, banana splits, pizza, Twinkies, and the fatty like. It wasn’t until I quit smoking (because I was pregnant), did my fat intake catch up with me.

I gained over 100 pounds during that pregnancy—and I have to admit, I savored every last fat gram.  Hovering around 225 pounds, I was hoping to deliver a 50-pound baby. Nowhere near 50, but at almost 9 pounds, my first born came via C-section. As if having my stomach muscles cut in half wasn’t enough, I was obese, depressed, in excruciating pain, and insatiably hungry. I left the hospital a little over 205 pounds, and I was freaked.

Since food and weight gain had never been an issue for me, I was in the dark as to next steps. Plus, I couldn’t do anything physically strenuous for 6-8 weeks post C-section.  On top of that, I was on maternity leave from Newsweek magazine and was required to return to work 4 weeks after giving birth. To put it mildly, I was one huge blob of misery.

I absolutely 100% wanted to get back to work as thin as possible. Yeah right. In my mind, even if I lost 20 pounds by the time I reported for duty, it was like removing a quart of water from the Long Island Sound. I waited as long as I could (a week before work D-day) to go through my closet.  Sure, I had lost a few pounds, but nothing I tried on came close to fitting my new overly svelte self. Even my shoes were too small.

So I ran over to my go-to boutique, where I was a regular customer and gave the saleswoman a cheery hello. She looked at me with disdain and I quickly realized that she didn’t recognize me. I decided to keep my identity to myself when she snottily informed me that I looked to be a size 16 and the largest size she carried was a 14. Ouch. I was humiliated and browsed around unassisted, hurt and ashamed. I managed to tearfully squeeeeeeze myself into a size 14 while vowing to lose the weight if it killed me. I bought several suits, and a few pair of shoes and skulked out of there as quickly as I could.

The day after my humiliating shopping excursion I called my obstetrician’s office and frantically asked if he was in. His receptionist/office bully blandly asked me what my problem was.  “I’m fat,” I whimpered pathetically and tried every which way to get the doctor on the phone. “I’ll make sure he gets your message,” she uncaringly responded and bid me a curt goodbye.

My next call was to a diet doctor who answered his own phone and set me up with an appointment—that day. When I arrived, he weighed me, measured my waist circumference, and snapped some photos. Then he sat me down and gave me the dispiriting low down.  According to Dr. Diet my fat cells needed to be retrained. And he strongly suggested that I consume no more than 20% of total fat based on a daily intake of 1,200 calories. The 20% he recommended, equated to a measly 24 grams of total fat daily. He also suggested that I analyze the Nutrition Facts labels to find foods highest in vitamins and minerals and lowest in carbs, saturated fats, and sugars.

Thus began my intense fear of fat.  I was like a nutritional label maniac. I read with due diligence every single food label I could get my hands on and calculated every calorie, carb, sodium, fat and sugar gram I put into my mouth.  And I began working out. Thirteen months later, I had lost nearly 100 pounds!

I make it sound easy, and I’m giving you the bare minimum cliff notes. Those thirteen months were the longest of my life. But all the hard work paid off.

Here are some important lessons I learned along the weight loss way.

First off, a measly 1,200 calories a day left me feeling hungry—but I still had enough energy for some mandatory exercise. And at 1,200 calories I was able to shed a good amount of weight every week, especially if I added in the dreaded daily workouts. I also eventually realized that good fat was necessary for energy, vitamin absorption and healthy brain development. And drinking water filled me up, so I drank lots and lots of it. And I tried to burn more calories than I consumed. I repeat, I tried.

I forced myself to stick to the old adage: Eat Real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

And I stayed far away from stuff like monosodium glutamate, high fructose corn syrup or Yellow No. 5. These ingredients are found in most processed foods on grocery store shelves, from chips to ketchup. And they have been linked to everything from cancer, obesity and diabetes to brain and liver damage. If there is anything on the nutritional label you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.

Potassium sorbate is used as a preservative in many foods. It’s also used to kill bugs. And sucralose is often used as a sweetener, but it contains chlorine. Do yourself a favor and go for the gusto with plain old sugar.

Oh and avoid anything white, like bread, pasta, rice, sugar and flour. White means it’s bleached so unless you like to eat bleach, stick with whole grains.

BAD: Saturated Fat, which increases your risk of developing heart disease. Saturated fat is present in high-fat meats such as bacon, and full-fat dairy foods like ice cream, butter, sour cream and whole milk.

BAD: Trans Fat, which increases your unhealthy blood cholesterol levels and reduces your good cholesterol. Trans fats are present in fried food, shortening, margarine, and most processed foods.

GOOD: Unsaturated Fat can help improve blood cholesterol levels. Heart-healthy, unsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, nut butters, fish oil, avocado, salmon, tuna, olives and plant-based oils such as soybean, flaxseed, canola, olive, walnut and peanut oils.

Saturated or trans-fat molecules have a natural tendency to bond with each other on contact, resulting in the formation of artery-clogging plaque.

Unsaturated fat contains larger molecules that tend to slide past each other in the bloodstream, resulting in little to no plaque build-up.

Bottom line: Eat less processed foods, and more fresh vegetables, fish, whole grains, and lean meats like skinless poultry.

Stick with pork, lamb or beef cuts with “round” or “loin” in the name and choose meat between 90-95% lean. If it’s within your budget, choose lean cuts that are free-range, organic or grass-fed, since most commercial cuts contain antibiotics and hormones. Grill, bake, steam, poach, or broil lean meats to keep their fat content low.

As obsessed as I was with fat-free, it came as no surprise to my palate that it was mostly taste-free. To make up for no taste, food makers tend to use ingredients like sugar, salt, and chemicals, so don’t be fooled by the whole fat-free scam.

The most shocking thing I learned through the weight loss process is that people don’t give overweight folks the respect they deserve. When I was overweight, I was painfully invisible. And so many people made shallow assumptions about me without even bothering to look beyond my physical appearance.

I learned that I couldn’t control how other people treated me, but I could control how I treated myself. I made sure to make “me” time, and made my health a priority. And I took one day at a time. And if I messed up? I took a deep breath and began again.